Cozy to Cold-Blooded: The Not-So-Elementary Universe of Sherlock Holmes, Part 1

by Sara Farmer
published in Reading

I didn’t come to appreciate the Great Detective (AKA Sherlock Holmes) until I reached my 30s and saw the BBC series Sherlock. I then read some exceptional YA pastiche and became hooked. Those books led me back to the original series. I’m nowhere near having read them all, but I read some of the more famous ones like A Study in Scarlet, A Scandal in Bohemia, and The Speckled Band

The original stories inspired others to create wonderful art. Sherlock Holmes contains endless possibilities. He is the type of character that opens up all sorts of avenues when cast into a different time period, age, race, or gender. There are even many series centering members of the supporting cast.

This will be a 2-part column, because of the volume of Sherlockiana. Even narrowed down to my favorites, it’s still a long list. Several excellent Sherlock pastiches are absent from this post since I’ve already spotlighted them. These are the Lady Sherlock series by Sherry Thomas, the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop series by Vicki Delany, and the Enola Holmes series by Nancy Springer. 

I rated the entries between 1 and 5 Cumberbatches, 5 being the best. 

The Baker Street Letters by Michael Robertson 

Series or Standalone: Series 

Case: Solicitor Reggie Heath just wants his brother Nigel to get his life together. Nigel is also a solicitor but is suspended at the moment. He now works for Reggie at his law chambers on the second floor of a building that takes up the entire 200 block of Baker St. 

Nigel informs Reggie that they regularly receive letters written to Sherlock Holmes. This has been happening for decades. The lease requires every occupant of the second floor to answer the letters with a specific form and to never attempt to contact the writers. 

Nigel has discovered two recent letters written by a woman who also wrote twenty years before as a child to ask Sherlock to help find her father. Now she wants the enclosures sent back. But Nigel doesn’t think she wrote the new letters and he isn’t the type to ignore something fishy. 

Type of Sherlock: “Real” world where Sherlock is fictional, modern world 

Evidence of similarities: Baker St., brothers working together as Sherlock and Mycroft often did 

Evidence of differences: Set in 1997, Sherlock Holmes is not actually in the story, versions of other Sherlock characters don’t appear.  

Deduction: The mystery is interesting and intricate. It is well written and you care about the characters. The visceral descriptions of LA really painted a picture of the smog and the heat. 

Cumberbatches: 4

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

Series or Standalone: Series 

Case: The great-great-great-granddaughter of Sherlock Holmes and the great-great-great-grandson of Dr. Watson have ended up at the same boarding school in Connecticut. Both Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson struggle with their familial legacy, as well as the problems and pressures of being teenagers. 

Charlotte, especially, has a rough history, starting with the fact that the Holmes family is very exacting and focused on excellence, unlike the more easygoing Watson clan. 

At first, they avoid each other but a murder on campus brings them together. It bears an eerie resemblance to one solved by their three times great-grandfathers. 

Type of Sherlock: Modern retelling, descendants of Sherlock and Watson, female Sherlock, teenage Holmes and Watson 

Evidence of similarities: Charlotte’s personality, intelligence, and vices. Jamie’s stability. Place names and cases pay homage to the original stories, as well as some of the non-canonical ones. 

Evidence of differences: Set in the 21st century, female Sherlock, teenage Holmes and Watson, Moriarty family has a truce with the Holmes and Watson families

Deduction: This is a kick-ass series, emblematic of the talent in children’s and YA literature these days. It is witty, fun, and at times heartbreaking. The mysteries and plot arcs in the books and the series as a whole are complex, emotional, and masterfully handled. 

Cumberbatches: 5

Sherlock Holmes and the Glad Game by Matt Ferraz

Series or Standalone: Standalone

Case: During the time that Holmes is presumed dead after his encounter with Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls, Mrs. Hudson encounters a young woman walking home with a bag of oranges. The bag breaks and Mrs. Hudson invites the young woman with a strangely positive attitude back to 221 Baker St. 

The young woman is Pollyanna Whittier. THE Pollyanna. Her back pain from an old injury has returned and she is in London seeking treatment. Dr. Watson knows the doctor is a quack and convinces him to tell Pollyanna the treatment is done and to refund the rest of the sessions. 

Pollyanna returns to America and her aunt. But both she and Sherlock will be back and Pollyanna’s connection to the quack doctor will embroil her in a case that threatens her life and her positivity. 

Type of Sherlock: Literary mashup, female sidekick 

Evidence of similarities: Time period, supporting characters 

Evidence of differences: Just Pollyanna. But she is a big one. 

Deduction: This book is better than it has any right to be. Pollyanna and her game grew annoying at times and the author’s attempts at American dialect grated (Why was that even necessary?), but Pollyanna won me over.  

The book also explores some interesting psychological territory with Dr. Watson pondering if the Glad Game is always a healthy response. The relationships between characters ring true, especially when they admit annoyance with the Glad Game, while still loving Pollyanna.

Cumberbatches: 3

A Study in Honor by Claire O’Dell

Series or Standalone: Series 

Case: Dr. Janet Watson served as a doctor in the New Civil War. She was wounded and lost her arm, which put an end to her career as a surgeon until she can get a new device. (The one supplied in the field belonged to a soldier who died and it had to be retrofitted. It’s also an older model.)

She returns to her hometown of Washington, D.C., and gets set up with the VA for counseling and job searching. She finds a job as a medical tech at the VA. And meets a mysterious woman named Sara Holmes who wants a roommate. She has a beautiful apartment. It’s a no-brainer for Watson to leave the hostel she has been living in. 

But then a former soldier dies suddenly. Then another. After Janet searches for info in the VA system, she is attacked on her way home. More soldiers die, all from the same unit. Janet discovers a dark conspiracy that someone will kill to keep from her … and that Sara Holmes knows just what to do about that. 

Type of Sherlock: Alternate universe Sherlock, female Holmes and Watson, Black Holmes and Watson, LGBTQ+ Holmes and Watson, American Holmes and Watson, modern retelling 

Evidence of similarities: Character names and roles, Holmes’s off-putting behavior, Watson’s background as a soldier

Evidence of differences: Race, gender, time period, sexuality 

Deduction: The alternate universe fascinates, as does Sara Holmes’s mysterious role. The mystery is solid and emotional. I love Dr. Janet Watson with her grit and determination laced through with sympathy and compassion, as well as some pessimism and fear about her future and the world’s. 

Cumberbatches: 4

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King

Series or Standalone: Series

Case: Sherlock Holmes and teenager Mary Russell meet by chance on the Sussex Downs when she almost walks over him while reading. She is an orphan, having lost her parents and brother in a car crash. She lives on a farm with her aunt, with whom she doesn’t get along. 

Holmes has retired to a nearby farm and keeps bees. He occasionally does top-secret work, but he misses London and the chase. Mrs. Hudson lives with him as a housekeeper and cook. 

Mary is an exceptionally intelligent and rather odd young woman. She and Holmes quickly discover their similarities and become friends. He teaches her about detecting. They solve some petty crimes, like stolen money from a pub, before moving on to a kidnapped senator’s daughter and finally dealing with a personal enemy of Holmes who threatens his life and the lives of everyone he loves. 

Type of Sherlock: Continuation with new characters, new partner, older Sherlock, female partner

Evidence of similarities: Main characters, Sherlock’s personality

Evidence of differences: Smart, witty female partner. Sherlock lives on a farm and keeps bees. He is also older and feeling it a bit. 

Deduction: This book lives up to the hype. I instantly adored Mary Russell and her dynamic with Sherlock. King’s aging Sherlock is a knockout characterization and Mary Russell fits right in with the gang while remaining a completely original character. King’s depiction of the setting is vivid and evocative. 

Cumberbatches: 5

The Final Solution by Michael Chabon

Series or Standalone: Standalone

Case: It is the 1940s, and World War II dominates life. One day, an old man looks out his window and sees a little boy with a parrot on his shoulder. The boy is a Jewish refugee from Germany and mute. The bird talks and sings, mostly in German, particularly the numbers 1-9 in German over and over in random order. 

The old man is Sherlock Holmes but is never addressed as such. He is in his 80s and retired with his bees on the South Sussex Downs. 

The boy and the bird live in the home of the vicar and his family. They keep a boarding house. One of the boarders is murdered and the bird goes missing. For the first time in decades, the game is afoot and Sherlock is overjoyed. The bird’s cryptic utterings might mean something very important and one side does not want the other to hear them. 

Type of Sherlock: Continuation with new characters, aged Sherlock 

Evidence of similarities: Sherlock himself 

Evidence of differences: Very old and infirm Sherlock, no other original characters, Sherlock never mentioned by name

Deduction: I really liked it. The writing was a pleasure to read with some beautiful and creative word choices and metaphors. Although a few of the sentences are so convoluted that by the time I got to the verb, I went back because I forgot the subject. So many clauses lay in between that I got lost again.

Cumberbatches: 5

The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz 

Series or Standalone: Series

Case: A man named Carstairs visits Baker St with an extraordinary tale. He is an art dealer. A valuable shipment to Boston was interrupted by train robbers and the paintings were destroyed and two men killed. Carstairs and his customer united to capture the group responsible called the Flat Cap gang. The police managed to kill all but one. 

Right before Carstairs boarded the ship for his return to England, the customer was gunned down in his garden, presumably by the remaining gang member. 

A young woman befriended the distressed Carstairs on the ship. They married. Shortly after their return home, a man in a flat cap began appearing wherever Carstairs happened to be. Carstairs fears he is next. But there is more, oh so very much more, to the story. 

Type of Sherlock: Continuation with original characters, darker Sherlock

Evidence of similarities: Writing style, characterizations, time period, setting 

Evidence of differences: Darker story with more violence

Deduction: Anthony Horowitz was chosen by the Arthur Conan Doyle estate to write new Sherlock novels and is one of my favorite writers. I love his Susan Ryeland and Hawthorne and Horowitz series, both of which I covered in this column. He also adapted Midsomer Murders, a British police procedural/cozy mystery show, which has aired since 1997. 

All of which is to say, he knocked it out of the park. 

Like Chabon and King’s contributions to this list, his writing was pleasurable to read with a cracking good story contained within. 

Cumberbatches: 5

Lock and Mori by Heather W. Petty 

Series or Standalone: Series

Case: James “Mori” Moriarty and Sherlock “Lock” Holmes attend the same private school in modern-day London. They are also neighbors on Baker St. But they don’t formally meet until Mori tries to drag Sherlock out of his lab at the behest of a teacher during a fire drill. 

Sherlock soon attempts to draw Mori into his latest “game,” solving the murder of a man found stabbed in Regent’s Park. She resists, but finds herself meeting up with him anyway. They feel a connection beyond an interest in crime. 

But Mori begins keeping secrets as she discovers her late mother’s connection to the victim and delves into her mother’s past. Mori is trying to protect herself, but learning to trust Sherlock could change her life … and save it. 

Type of Sherlock: Modern retelling, darker Sherlock, YA Sherlock, romantic Sherlock 

Evidence of similarities: Living on Baker St., Sherlock’s intelligence and personality, Mori’s gift for math and dark side

Evidence of differences: Very dark story, female Moriarty, the nicknames, their ages, their friendship and attraction to each other, the modern time period 

Deduction: I enjoyed it very much, although the parts where Moriarty, Sr., abuses his kids were hard to take. I like Mori and really hope she doesn’t grow up to be an evil criminal mastermind. 

Cumberbatches: 5

Tell us in the comments: Which Sherlock Holmes pastiche is your favorite? Do you prefer the original stories or new ones?

Sara Farmer lives in Austin, TX, with her husband, three kids, and two cats. When she’s not chasing kids and cats, she reads and writes mysteries. You can find her at and on Twitter @avonlea79.

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