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THE GAMER’S BOOKSHELF: THE BIG BOOK OF SHERLOCK HOLMES STORIES

reviewed by Herb Levy

Edited and with an Introduction by Otto Penzler (A Vintage Crime/Black Lizard Original, 816 pages, ISBN: 978-1-101-97281-1), Hardcover $40, Softcover $25)

Where do game designers get their inspirations? For many over the last 100 or so years, the inspiration came from the adventures of the world’s first consulting detective and arguably, the most famous and successful detective of all time: Sherlock Holmes. From Sherlock Holmes (a card game published by Parker Brothers in 1904) to today (with recent games employing the persona of the Great bigbookshDetective including A Study in Emerald and Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective), Holmes has been the springboard for a legion of mystery and detective games. What is true for gaming has also been true for literature. When it comes to critiques and commentaries, outside of The Bible, more has been written about Sherlock Holmes than anything else.

In The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories, editor Otto Penzler (a formidable force in mystery literature himself as editor of many anthologies including The Big Book of Pulps and The Big Book of Black Mask Stories as well as owner of The Mysterious Bookshop in Manhattan) has gathered together an amazing collection of stories centering on Holmes. This is NOT a collection of the 60 stories penned by (if you’re “playing the game”) Dr. John H. Watson and sold by his literary agent Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that make up, what is referred to as, “the canon”. Rather, this is a masterful compilation of stories written by some of the finest writers over the last dozen decades that use Holmes as the inspiration for homage, imitation and/or satire.

The volume is arranged in sections that group the entries into loosely fitting categories. Leading off the volume is the 1900 published interview, “Conan Doyle Tells the True Story of Sherlock Holmes’s End” followed by “The Master” that reprints Conan Doyle;s own satire on his most famous character. But we’re just warming up.

Although vintage pieces make up the bulk of the volume (the most recent being from 2011), Penzler has unerring taste in his choices for inclusion.  Within the covers are some wonderful pastiches which place Holmes back in Victorian England such as Vincent Starrett’s “The Unique Hamlet” as well as placing him as a sort of “Sherlock in Space” such as Poul Anderson’s “The Martian Crown Jewels” (both read years ago and worth a return visit).  There are loads of entries from well known and respected writers such as best-selling authors Stephen King (“The Doctor’s Case”) and Neil Gaiman (“The Case of Death and Honey”). Authors who have made their marks in the mystery genre are well represented here as they tackle the Master Detective with work by Stuart Palmer (“The Adventure of the Marked Man”) and Edward D. Hoch (“The Adventure of the Cipher in the Sand”). It might also surprise some that such venerable talents as O. Henry (“The Sleuths”) have also found Holmes appealing and worth their attention.  The rainbow of talent attracted to the subject matter is a testament to Holmes’ enduing appeal. The icing on the cake is the wonderful introductions by Penzler for each section and story, giving some welcome historical background and insight.

For those who only know Holmes from the current television series Sherlock (with Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role) and Elementary (with Jonny Lee Miller as the spectacular sleuth), this volume offers a whole new world of detective delight. Those long enamored of the famous detective can once again revisit and enjoy, as Watson has said, “the best and wisest man” he had ever known. With this volume of top-notch Holmesian stories safely in your hands, you can settle in and say to yourself that, once again, “the game is afoot”! – – – – – – – Herb Levy


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