Cozy to Cold-Blooded: The Not-So-Elementary Universe of Sherlock Holmes, Part 2

by Sara Farmer
published in Reading

Here it is, the second installment of my Sherlockiana column. (Be sure to check out The Not-So-Elementary Universe of Sherlock Holmes, Part 1) This one is a wilder ride than the last, including a warlock, a group of crime-fighting female monsters, and Holmes and Watson teaming up with Freud. Once again, I have rated them by Cumberbatches. 


Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse 

Series or standalone: Series

Case: Mycroft’s friend Douglas hears that children are dying back home in Trinidad. The douen (children with backwards feet) are calling them to play and when the children come the lougarou (a werewolf-like creature) kills them by draining all their blood. It’s only happening on one side of the island and whole villages have been abandoned. 

When Mycroft tells his fiancée Georgiana, also from Trinidad, she is horrified and immediately plans to return home to make sure all is well with her family. She insists on going alone, but Mycroft convinces Douglas to go and books passage on the same ship without telling Georgiana. 

Mycroft is swiftly felled by seasickness, but then it becomes apparent it is something much more serious. Attacks and threats continue through the voyage. It is obvious someone does not want them in Trinidad, but who and why? 

Type of Sherlock: Supporting character (Mycroft) as main character, prequel to original series

Evidence of similarities: Not much except that it’s in the Sherlock Holmes universe

Evidence of differences: Mycroft is the main character, much of the book takes place on a ship then in Trinidad, earlier time period when Sherlock is still at university and Mycroft is in his early 20s, the characters of Georgiana and Douglas 

Deduction: KA-J is a legit writer! I had no idea he majored in English and History at UCLA. He is an amateur historian who has written history books, an autobiography, kids’ books, and for the past 7 years, a series about Mycroft Holmes. He’s also a regular op-ed writer in newspapers across the country. He’s written an episode of the Veronica Mars reboot. He’s a nerd! I thoroughly enjoyed this story that’s not my usual cup of tea: two men adventuring across the sea and in the Caribbean in the 19th century. 

I’ve never been particularly interested in Mycroft, but I found his background interesting, as well as his similarities and differences to Sherlock. And I loved it when young university student Sherlock popped up a few times. 

This book was absorbing, compelling, full of interesting historical detail, and had a creepy mystery based in Caribbean lore. Specifically Trinidad, which is part of KA-J’s heritage. 

The story and solution were a bit convoluted and heavily based in the politics and legalities of the time, which might bore or confuse some. I had to go back and reread a few pages at least once to make sure I understood what was going on. It was worth it. 

I am so impressed with KA-J and hope to read more of the series. 

Cumberbatches: 5

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution by Nicholas Meyer

Series or standalone: Series

Case: Holmes’s cocaine addiction has worsened and Watson is at a loss as to how to help him. A man named Moriarty comes to see him and Watson is frightened at first, knowing Moriarty as a criminal kingpin from Holmes. He explains to Watson that Holmes only fears him when he is high. He was actually the math tutor to Mycroft and Sherlock when they were young. Sherlock has been harassing Moriarty while under the influence, sending threatening telegrams and keeping watch outside his house. When he isn’t high, Holmes has no clue who Moriarty is. 

Watson goes to Mycroft and they hatch a plan. Stamford, the doctor who introduced Holmes and Watson, has heard of a doctor who has come up with a cure for cocaine addiction. His name is Sigmund Freud. 

Mycroft reasons that if Sherlock is tracking Moriarty, they can get him to Freud in Vienna by getting Moriarty to go there. Moriarty resists at first, but Mycroft has some sort of hold on him and he gives in. 

Soon the game is afoot and, of course, there is more to the story than curing Holmes’s addiction. 

Type of Sherlock: New story including a real historical figure

Evidence of similarities: The main characters, the time period, Holmes’s drug problem, the writing style

Evidence of differences: The worsening of Holmes’s addiction, the depiction of Moriarty, the Vienna setting, and, uh, Freud. 

Deduction: This book was marvelous. I can see why it is a classic of Sherlock Holmes pastiche. The connections between Watson and Holmes as well as Holmes and Mycroft were incredibly well done and touching. 

The plot was excellent, partly thanks to the brilliant move of connecting Holmes and Watson with Freud. I don’t know much about Freud as a person, but I loved the portrayal of his family home and his treatment of Sherlock’s addiction. 

The setting—I know they’ve done a good job when I immediately want to travel there. Both the romantic and the darker sides of Vienna were portrayed beautifully. I want some of that Viennese coffee.

Cumberbatches: 5

Good Night, Mr. Holmes by Carole Nelson Douglas

Series or standalone: Series

Case: Penelope Huxleigh’s father, a country parson, has died and she is left homeless and penniless. She is wandering the streets of London hopelessly when a red-headed, beautifully dressed woman swoops in to rescue her from a pickpocket. 

This woman is “the woman,” Irene Adler. She is the only woman ever to outsmart Sherlock Holmes. She discovers Nell’s (as she nicknames Penelope) situation and asks her to be her roommate. Penelope soon discovers that Irene supplements her income as a struggling opera singer with detective work. Penelope is eventually drawn into it. 

The book is episodic, dealing with different cases until Irene goes to Bohemia to perform and meets the future King, triggering the events known to Sherlock Holmes fans. 

Type of Sherlock: Supporting character as main character (sort of), Sherlock story from another point of view

Evidence of similarities: Holmes and Watson along with a supporting character from the canon, the storyline from A Scandal in Bohemia (as the ending part of an original narrative)

Evidence of differences: Irene Adler is the main character and her sidekick is a new character named Penelope Huxleigh (also the narrator), told the story of A Scandal in Bohemia from Penelope’s point of view

Deduction: It was fun seeing real life characters like Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde, and Charles and Louis Tiffany. 

The depiction of Irene did her some justice and I loved it when they got to the part where the King hired Sherlock to get the picture back and we saw the flip side of A Scandal in Bohemia

The book meandered in the first half, not uninterestingly, ultimately proving itself worth the journey. 

Cumberbatches: 3

IQ by Joe Ide

Series or standalone: Series

Case: Isaiah Quintabe (IQ) has lost his guardian, his older brother Marcus, and goes into a tailspin. He takes a neighborhood criminal named Dodson as a roommate and they begin robbing stores together. 

In the present-day timeline, Isaiah and Dodson are no longer roommates or friends and Isaiah now solves mysteries for neighbors and others who come to him with problems. Dodson has a famous friend with a big problem and Isaiah needs money, so they are thrown together again. 

Type of Sherlock: Modern-day Sherlock, Black Sherlock, American Sherlock

Evidence of similarities: IQ’s personality, intelligence, and deductive skills

Evidence of differences: Time period, setting, IQ’s race, IQ’s background, the culture of Black Americans living in 21st century Los Angeles

Deduction: There were very funny moments, sometimes in the middle of mayhem, and moments that broke your heart. The characters are complex and endearing. Ide finds at least a bit of humanity in all of them, even a vicious killer. 

The pacing was excellent with exciting scenes nicely balanced with calmer ones. The cerebral nature of IQ, the Sherlock of the story, helped with that balance. He is a lovely character, doing his best, just like most of the people struggling around him. I just wanted to give him a big hug, although I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t like that. 

The language is rough and there is quite a bit of violence, minimally but vividly described. The opening case is a bit rough for more sensitive readers, but the main case and other events of the book go in a different direction. There are viscerally written action scenes and one of the craziest, most creative methods of attempted murder I’ve ever read. 

This book deserves every accolade it has received and more.

Cumberbatches: 5

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss

Series or standalone: Series 

Case: Mary Jekyll’s mother died and she is left with little money. Her father Dr. Jekyll (yes, that Dr. Jekyll.) died when she was little. After going through her mother’s accounts and talking to her lawyer, Mary discovers that Mr. Hyde, her father’s assistant, is not dead and her mother has been paying a sum monthly for his upkeep at a Magdalen House of all places. 

Mary goes to Sherlock Holmes for help. Watson goes with her to the Magdalen House and discovers Hyde’s daughter Diana, not Hyde. Diana claims to be Mary’s sister and that Jekyll and Hyde are the same person. 

They eventually find Beatrice Rappacini, whose breath and touch are poisonous and also doesn’t need food, Justine Frankenstein who was made to be a mate to Frankenstein’s monster, and Catherine “Cat” Moreau, a woman who used to be a puma. These women are not used to being treated well and are therefore slow to trust, particularly Catherine. But they find the strengths in what makes them “monstrous” and become a crime-fighting team as well as a family. 

Type of Sherlock: literary mash-up with characters from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Frankenstein, The Island of Dr. Moreau, and Rappaccini’s Daughter (short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne)

Evidence of similarities: Holmes and Watson, time period, London setting 

Evidence of differences: The women are the main characters 

Deduction: I have a strange feeling about this book. It was very good and I liked it, but something is missing. I think she put the exciting climax too early in the book and could have worked in Justine’s story earlier. I like the wrap-up part of books and they did need to get the group established, but a bit of momentum was lost. It was barely perceptible and still held my attention, but it was there. 

Overall, though, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and plan to read more of the series. I fell in love with the concept and the characters and this initial entry confirmed the potential of this series. 

Cumberbatches: 4

Warlock Holmes: A Study in Brimstone by G.S. Denning 

Series or standalone: Series

Case: Dr. John Watson, wounded and sickened by war, is destitute and living on the streets. His friend Stamford says he knows someone who needs a roommate. When Watson expresses interest despite Stamford’s cryptic warnings, Stamford immediately drags Watson to the morgue of St. Bartholomew’s hospital to meet Warlock Holmes. 

What follows are 6 short stories that poke fun at the Sherlock tropes and stories such as A Study in Scarlet and A Scandal in Bohemia. These stories are ridiculous and hilarious and turn everything you thought you knew about Holmes and Watson on its ear. 

Type of Sherlock: parody

Evidence of similarities: Holmes and Watson, the basic outline of the stories, time period, London setting, some of the supporting characters appear 

Evidence of differences: The familiar characters are rendered quite unfamiliar through the lens of parody and satire, the supernatural aspects 

Deduction: This is a funny, interesting collection of stories that are well worth the time of any fan of Sherlock pastiche. The dialogue and inversion of Sherlock story tropes is delightful. These parodies could only have been written by someone familiar with the originals who loves and respects them. 

Cumberbatches: 4

Dust and Shadow by Lyndsay Faye 

Series or standalone: Standalone

Case: Women in London’s East End are being gruesomely killed and their bodies defiled. The killer leaves no trace that anyone can find, even Sherlock Holmes. The great Sherlock Holmes and the monstrous killer dubbed “Jack the Ripper” by the press are going head-to-head. 

Will this be the one case Sherlock can’t solve? Are the women of the East End doomed if he can’t?

Type of Sherlock: new story from different author, story involving a real historical figure, Sherlock meets Jack the Ripper

Evidence of similarities: Time period, setting, cast of characters 

Evidence of differences: Sherlock did not confront Jack the Ripper in the original stories (although there are several pastiches that pit them against each other)

Deduction: Faye’s Jane Steele was featured in my column about Jane Eyre adaptations and pastiche. She is an imaginative writer who did a superlative job capturing the time and flair of an original Holmes story while still slightly modernizing the language. 

She lets her imagination go in a different way here than in Steele. She must stay within the confines of a Sherlock story’s conventions as well as historical fact concerning the Ripper killings, but the fact that Sherlock is fictional and he and the Ripper are such outsize characters (and the Ripper being so mysterious) gives her some room to make the case even creepier, if that’s possible. 

She also skillfully injects occasional humor through the supporting character of Mary Ann Monk and Sherlock’s ribbing of Watson. 

Cumberbatches: 5

Well, that brings us to the end! I admit to needing a break from Sherlock pastiche, yet being more interested than ever in the whole Sherlockian universe. Any suggestions for further reading?

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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