Thursday, April 26, 2012

What Makes a Pastiche?

This issue has arisen lately among MX authors and I decided to take a page from MX author, Amy Thomas and write my own opinion about it.

Let's examine the different types of Holmes stories out there.  There are ones like The Execution of Sherlock Holmes by Donald Thomas that I feel very much matches how Conan Doyle wrote our favorite detective.  Then there are ones like Elementary, My Dear where the writing style . . . doesn't.  And let's just leave it at that.  I felt it was an interesting story, even if it does take a bit to get going . . .

Okay, let me stop here and review this book.  Elementary, My Dear is a Holmes book I picked up several years ago.  I think I got it at the same time, or just before I got a copy of Loren D Estleman's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes, and his Holmes and Dracula book.  Anyway, the premise intrigued me.  Moriarty was a vampire and his undead nature was discovered by Holmes, which is why the Reichenbach Falls confrontation took place.  But there was an outcome I believe Holmes didn't expect.  Or perhaps had just hoped would not happen, I can't recall exactly.  Anyway, the outcome: he's turned into a vampire.  I don't recall  how or why, but he's basically put into suspended animation after Reichenbach.

Enter Samantha Watson, a medical student who has horrific nightmares and is terrified of all things blood-related.  She is the descendant of THE Dr. Watson, and inherits a letter and a mission to complete.  If she completes it, she inherits something like six million dollars.  The mission?  To resurrect the undead Holmes.  Because Moriarty didn't die, either.  And he's been spreading his vampirism to many others over the decades.

There are distinctly un-Holmes like parts to this book.  For one, I remember a scene in which Samantha asks him to dance and Holmes, pretty nervously and bashfully, replies that he can't; he doesn't know how.  And another scene where, after the romance has developed between Holmes and Samantha, they have sex.  That's just weird for a number of reasons, but the first and foremost is . . . Holmes having sex?  Generations of people have seen him as the one who doesn't trust the fairer sex.  He has no time to waste on love or other emotions unless they pertain to someone else while he is pursuing a case.  After all, I know I heard it in some Holmes related thing, 'love is an excellent motivator.'  Yes, it is a natural human act, but . . . for Holmes?  It's just weird.

Yet I do love the concept of the book.  When you get down to it, it asks the question should the earth be saved at the expense of humanity, or should humanity be saved at the expense of the earth?

It's by far not the best Holmes book out there, and if you go in thinking that it will be anywhere near the writing style of Conan Doyle, you WILL be disappointed.  However, I think it's a worthwhile read simply because of that very philosophical question it poses.

Okay, after that brief interlude, what makes a pastiche?  I can't help feeling that a pastiche is a higher caliber Holmes novel.  Something well-respected, possibly with even the approval of the Conan Doyle estate, and something where the author has taken loving care to reproduce a Holmes that is an embodiment of everything that Conan Doyle wrote him as, instead of adding in their own elements.

My own novels, for instance, while they are, of course, Holmes influenced, I'm aware they are not the same caliber as say, Loren D. Estleman's books.  Others may or may not agree, but when I read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes, I felt like I was truly reading something that Conan Doyle had hidden away and was found years later by someone else who endeavored to publish it.

I suppose that's what it all comes down to for me.  A Holmes pastiche is one that, upon reading a first, second, or tenth time, the reader still wonders how this was never published as part of the Canon, because obviously, it belongs there.  All the rest, while I don't doubt are very enjoyable, as I've read more than a few enjoyable ones, fall short of being called true pastiches.  They, and my own, are simply Holmes novels, endeavoring to join the ranks of everyone before us, and many after us, who are answering a call.  The call of the brilliant writing and creation that can only truly belong to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but that we all share a piece of.


  1. In general, I agree. I try to keep my own work very close to Conan Doyle. The key to that is research, which is why it takes me so long between books. If I need, say, a bubbling spring in the forest, I will make every effort to ensure a bubbling spring was actually there before I include it.

    Currently, I am researching the life of Charles Augustus Milverton.

  2. I try to do the same, keeping to the speech and atmosphere of Edwardian times. The research is both the best part of writing novels and the most time-consuming. Below is my latest 'sherlock' - it took nearly three years to research thoroughly.
    Tim Symonds' latest sherlock -
    Sherlock Holmes And The Mystery of Einstein's Daughter

    In late 1903 Einstein's illegitimate daughter 'Lieserl' disappears without trace in Serbia aged around 21 months. As Holmes exclaims in the Mystery of Einstein's Daughter, "the most ruthless effort has been made by public officials, priests, monks, Einstein's friends, followers, relatives and relatives-by-marriage to seek out and destroy every document with Lieserl’s name on it. The question is – why?"

    ‘Lieserl’s fate shadows the Einstein legend like some unsolved equation’ Scientist Frederic Golden Time Magazine

    Sherlock Holmes And The Mystery of Einstein's Daughter is available at or Review copies contact Steve Emecz at

    Tim Symonds was born in London. He grew up in Somerset, Dorset and Guernsey. After several years working in the Kenya Highlands and along the Zambezi River he emigrated to the United States. He studied in Germany at Göttingen and at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa in Political Science. Sherlock Holmes And The Mystery Of Einstein’s Daughter was written in a converted oast house in 'Conan Doyle country', near Rudyard Kipling’s old home Bateman’s in East Sussex and in the forests and hidden valleys of the Sussex High Weald.
    The author’s other detective novels include Sherlock Holmes and The Dead Boer at Scotney Castle and Sherlock Holmes and The Case of the Bulgarian Codex.
    He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.