Review: Observations by Gaslight by Lyndsay Faye

Review: Observations by Gaslight by Lyndsay FayeObservations by Gaslight: Stories from the World of Sherlock Holmes by Lyndsay Faye
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback
Genres: historical mystery, mystery
Pages: 295
Published by Mysterious Press on December 21, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Lyndsay Faye—international bestseller, translated into fifteen languages, and a two-time Edgar Award nominee—first appeared on the literary scene with Dust and Shadow, her now-classic novel pitting Sherlock Holmes against Jack the Ripper, and later produced The Whole Art of Detection, her widely acclaimed collection of traditional Watsonian tales.  Now Faye is back with Observations by Gaslight, a thrilling volume of both new and previously published short stories and novellas narrated by those who knew the Great Detective.
Beloved adventuress Irene Adler teams up with her former adversary in a near-deadly inquiry into a room full of eerily stopped grandfather clocks.  Learn of the case that cemented the lasting friendship between Holmes and Inspector Lestrade, and of the tragic crime which haunted the Yarder into joining the police force. And witness Stanley Hopkins’ first meeting with the remote logician he idolizes, who will one day become his devoted mentor.  
From familiar faces like landlady Mrs. Hudson to minor characters like Lomax the sub-librarian, Observations by Gaslight—entirely epistolary, told through diaries, telegrams, and even grocery lists—paints a masterful portrait of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson as you have never seen them before.
 

My Review:

There’s a conceit in regards to Sherlock Holmes stories, beginning with Doyle himself. That Doyle was merely the publisher of stories written by Dr. John H. Watson that were somewhat sensationalized accounts of Watson’s adventures with his friend and flatmate, Sherlock Holmes.

So it is with the collection, that someone is putting together a book or booklet of previously unknown Holmes adventures, written by people who were occasional or even frequent assistants to the “Great Detective”. As this book is to be published in commemoration of Holmes’ retirement from public life, the collator of this volume has reached out to acquaintances of Holmes throughout his career, ranging from his housekeeper Mrs. Hudson to his former lieutenant Henry Wiggins to his frequent foil Inspector Lestrade.

With, naturally, a contribution from “the Woman” herself, Irene Norton née Adler recounting the one time that she and Holmes were on the same side of a thorny and fascinating case.

There are six stories in this collection, with the entries rounded out by contributions from two minor characters in the Holmes canon, Detective Stanley Hopkins and the sub-librarian A. Davenport Lomax who becomes acquainted with Holmes through his long-standing friendship with Watson.

The stories range from the slight to the profound. Mrs. Hudson’s story, “A Life Well Lived,” is one of the slighter – and also fluffier – works in the collection. There is a small mystery to be solved, but the heart of the story is on Mrs. Hudson’s reflections that her life has been richer and more satisfying because of the occasionally explosive presence of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson in the flat she offered for rent so many years before.

Lomax’ story, “The Gospel of Sheba,” is also a bit on the lesser side, as Holmes himself doesn’t appear until nearly the end, and most of the mystery is wrapped around Lomax’ fears regarding his absent wife’s fidelity and his nearly-fatal idiocy surrounding his own investigation of a poisoned book.

Hopkins’ story, “The River of Silence,” shows Holmes in the role of mentor to the young police inspector, a role that surprises and delights and is perfect for the length of the story.

But the shining lights of this collection belong to Adler, Wiggins and Lestrade. Adler’s contribution, “The Adventure of the Stopped Clocks,” shines as brightly as the footlights that illuminate the opera stages which are her accustomed milieu. This story, unlike Adler’s famous introduction to Holmes, “A Scandal in Bohemia,” places “The Woman” and “The Great Detective” on the same side, investigating a criminal organization that has its hooks into Holmes’ beloved London in general, and Adler’s despicable in-laws in specific. What makes this story sing is its portrayal of their brief but brilliant collaboration as not just colleagues, but also friends for this one sparkling moment in time.

On the other hand, both Wiggins’ story, “The Song of a Want,” and Lestrade’s, “Our Common Correspondent,” are heartbreaking in their sorrow.

Wiggins, now a prosperous and successful solicitor, looks back on his days as a mudlark, when Holmes, himself younger and considerably poorer, teamed up with 9-year-old Wiggins to find a kidnapped young girl, bring down a sick and twisted criminal preying on the young and the desperate, and scratch out the humble beginnings of an organization that became the bane of criminals throughout London, the famous ‘Baker Street Irregulars’.

At least Wiggins’ story, as dark and desperate as it seems in the middle, manages to scrape out a happy ending. Lestrade’s account of his first ‘case’ with Holmes and the tragedy that turned him towards a career bringing criminals to justice is a story about one man who is keeping on keeping on a quest that can never be fulfilled and a grief that can never be assuaged. The light that shines through this story is the kind that is seen through a glass very darkly indeed. It’s a story that inspires both weeping and rage. As it should.

Dust and Shadow by Lyndsay FayeEscape Rating A-: This review is just a bit early, but I couldn’t resist picking this one up now. I’m considering it a Hanukkah present – and a marvelous one for any reader who loves Sherlock Holmes stories as I do.

My first exposure to the author of this collection was through her utterly marvelous Dust and Shadow, an account of Holmes’ involvement with the Ripper case. There have been plenty of attempts to portray Holmes assaying that investigation, but Dust and Shadow is still the best, the most true to both the Holmes we know and love from the canon and the known facts about the infamous Ripper.

Her previous Holmes collection, The Whole Art of Detection, was equally marvelous and definitely worth a read.

As is this one, Observations by Gaslight. Of the six stories, two weren’t quite up to snuff, but “The Song of a Want”, “Our Common Correspondent” and “The Adventure of the Stopped Clocks” absolutely made the entire collection a terrific read and a great way to while away a chilly fall evening by whisking the reader away to sit in front of a warm fire at 221B Baker Street in the midst of a London pea-souper. If only for a little while.

Review: The Whole Art of Detection by Lyndsay Faye

Review: The Whole Art of Detection by Lyndsay FayeThe Whole Art of Detection: Lost Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes by Lyndsay Faye
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 388
Published by Mysterious Press on March 7th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Internationally bestselling author Lyndsay Faye was introduced to the Sherlock Holmes mysteries when she was ten years old and her dad suggested she read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story “The Adventure of the Speckled Band.” She immediately became enamored with tales of Holmes and his esteemed biographer Dr. John Watson, and later, began spinning these quintessential characters into her own works of fiction—from her acclaimed debut novel, Dust and Shadow, which pitted the famous detective against Jack the Ripper, to a series of short stories for the Strand Magazine, whose predecessor published the very first Sherlock Holmes short story in 1891.
Faye’s best Holmes tales, including two new works, are brought together in The Whole Art of Detection, a stunning collection that spans Holmes’s career, from self-taught young upstart to publicly lauded detective, both before and after his faked death over a Swiss waterfall in 1894. In “The Lowther Park Mystery,” the unsociable Holmes is forced to attend a garden party at the request of his politician brother and improvises a bit of theater to foil a conspiracy against the government. “The Adventure of the Thames Tunnel” brings Holmes’s attention to the baffling murder of a jewel thief in the middle of an underground railway passage. With Holmes and Watson encountering all manner of ungrateful relatives, phony psychologists, wronged wives, plaid-garbed villains, and even a peculiar species of deadly red leech, The Whole Art of Detection is a must-read for Sherlockians and any fan of historical crime fiction with a modern sensibility.

My Review:

I have an often-confessed penchant for Sherlock Holmes pastiches. As a consequence, I’ve read a lot of them. Some take the Holmes canon into entirely different directions, like Laurie R. King’s Holmes/Russell series, A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas, or Stephanie Osborn’s Displaced Detective series. Others serve to either extend the existing canon or act as homages to it, attempting to recreate the style and the period of Conan Doyle’s original work, using his immortal characters and merely telling us new stories in the same spirit.

Dust and Shadow by Lyndsay FayeOne of the best of the latter type that I have read was Lyndsay Faye’s Dust and Shadow. In that story, she relates the investigation of the Jack the Ripper case as conducted by Sherlock Holmes and documented by his faithful friend, Dr. John Watson. If you have any interest either in Sherlock Holmes, Jack the Ripper, or late Victorian-set historical fiction, this book is a winner on all fronts.

I’ve been hoping for years that the author would return to Holmes, and she finally has in The Whole Art of Detection. Unlike the recent collaborative collections of Holmes pastiches edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger, which do contain some marvelous stories each time, The Whole Art of Detection is the output of a single mind, just as the original Holmes canon was. And also like the canon, all of the stories in The Whole Art of Detection are set in Holmes’ native Victorian age, and for the most part purport to be written by Dr. John Watson in his inimitable style.

And it feels as if we are back there again. These stories feel like the familiar Holmes. They read as though they are part of the whole, merely a part that has been hidden until now. It is marvelous to immerse oneself back in that time and place, and with these two singular characters.

As much as I enjoyed the whole book, the stories that I loved the most were the two that were not told as stories, but as diary entries. It is clear within the stories that Watson is writing for his audience in The Strand Magazine, but in An Empty House we get to read a bit of Watson’s personal diary during March and April of 1894. At that time, Watson was recovering from the recent death of his wife Mary, and still dealing with the death of his friend Sherlock Holmes at Reichenbach Falls three years earlier. Watson’s method of dealing with Holmes’ death was to continue writing up their previous cases, as he is still doing within the pages of his diary. As a method for handling the stages of grief, neither the reader nor Watson himself is certain of its efficacy. And it is completely insufficient for helping him to handle his feelings about Mary’s recent passing. So we read Watson in his internal travails, his and his friends’ attempts to help him, and his resolution to finally quit England and his memories altogether. And then a miracle occurs.

In Memoranda Upon the Gaskell Blackmailing Dilemma, on the other hand, we have a rare case narrated by Holmes himself. Like all the cases in The Whole Art of Detection, this case is firmly set not just within the original canon, but at a specific point within that canon. In this case, we see what Holmes was doing in September of 1888 when he sent Watson to Baskerville Hall ahead of him. In addition to viewing Holmes’ rather non-traditional resolution of this case, we also have the opportunity to read Holmes’ own thoughts and feelings about this case, the Baskerville mess, and his thoughts about his friendship with Watson and the fame that has resulted from Watson’s publications. It is a fascinating peek into a mind that we normally only see from the outside.

Escape Rating A: As is clear, I loved this book and had an utterly marvelous time dipping back into the adventures of Holmes and Watson. While many of these stories have been published before, this is the first time that they have all been gathered together. And there are a lot of them, so hunting them all down would be a task almost worthy of Holmes himself.

Just like Dust and Shadow, this collection gives the reader the feeling that we are back there again at 221B, sitting invisibly by their fireplace and listening to them discuss their cases. Like the original canon, these are all cracking good stories, and they run the gamut of the strange, the unusual, the criminal and the bizarre that the originals did.

As a 21st century reader, I have a sense that there is a bit more acknowledgement of the true depths of their friendship than was true in the originals. But I might be mistaken about that. I guess I’ll have to go back and read them again. Something to anticipate with great pleasure.