Stephen Kendrick, Night Watch (Berkley Prime Crime, 2003)
John Lescroart, Son of Holmes (New American Library, 2003)

Some characters are just so compelling that no one author can write enough about them to sate readers' curiosity. The readers then take up the challenge of extending their favorites' adventures, filling in the missing bits in their biographies.

In science fiction this is called fanfic. In the world of Sherlock Holmes, it's known as pastiche.

Holmesian pastiche has been around for a century or so. Here is a brief look at two recent additions.

To be truly satisfying, pastiche has to "fit." It can't contradict already established facts about characters or events. It has to have the same voice as the original, or a plausible reason for the divergence.

On these criteria, neither Night Watch nor Son of Holmes quite succeeds, though Night Watch comes closer. Its "origin story" at least is plausible and it doesn't contradict anything I know of Holmes, but there are a few hitches. Why would Dr. John Watson have a brother named Jack, a diminutive of John? Why would Mary Watson have had a rosary? Had she been a Roman Catholic, they could not have married in that time or place, but only a Roman Catholic would be likely to have a rosary. When did Mycroft Holmes become enough of a man of action to leave his club? That's the clincher to me, and my other questions are mere quibbles. The Mycroft Holmes in Night Watch isn't the Mycroft I remember from anything of Conan Doyle's. He's much mellower, and a mellow Mycroft is beyond my power to imagine. On the other hand, Father Brown seems rather more sanctimonious than I remember, but that may be a fault of youth (his is the favorite story of mine when I last read Chesterton).

Son of Holmes lacks the plausibility. It passes itself off as a translation into English of a memoir by a French agent from WWI. A stroke of genius for explaining why it doesn't sound like John Watson (or Arthur Conan Doyle), but unfortunately it doesn't sound like a translation either! Lescroart says that "in places where the meaning is clear from context, I have retained the French" (page 12). But he hasn't -- he's butchered it. The rot starts by page sixteen: J'en ai marée instead of J'en ai marre. Unfortunately, it doesn't stop. N'est-çe pas? for N'est-ce pas?, Qui est la? for Qui est là? Not much, perhaps, just daft, sloppy little mistakes that totally destroy the book's credibility. A translation might have errors in the target language, but it isn't going to introduce them into the source language. I'm appalled that Penguin didn't have proofreaders who could catch these mistakes.

The other insurmountable difficulty with Son of Holmes, in my opinion, is what is assumed to happen to the hero. I won't spoil the surprise by telling what name Holmes' son Auguste Lupa assumes in later life, but the fatal error is that the person in question is clearly established in his own canon as being a naturalized citizen of the United States, while Lupa was born an American citizen. I think it's a mistaken attempt to explain how he ends up in New York in the 1930s.

Having said how I feel about these works as pastiche, I now want to say what I think of them as mysteries.

My usual criterion for judging a mystery story is whether I can spot the murderer. If I do, the author can't be very skilful. Both Night Watch and Son of Holmes pass this test. I did get many of the clues in Night Watch, just not enough of them to solve the crime. However, I'm not sure that the action by the villain on which Lupa bases his deductions in Son of Holmes could actually have caused the results Lescroart has it cause, and for me that damages the integrity of the plot.

Despite my quibbles, I enjoyed Night Watch, largely because of the ecclesiastical setting. My husband's grandfather, a reformed (I hope) rake, was an Anglican priest in England in the period in which the book was set, and I could easily imagine him on the fringes of events. Son of Holmes was not nearly as entertaining.

[Faith J. Cormier]

The sequel to Son of Holmes is Rasputin's Revenge.

John Lescroart has a Web site here. There is a long interview with him here. Stephen Kendrick doesn't seem to have a site, but his church does (he is an Unitarian Universalist pastor). If you want to know an incredible amount about Holmes pastiche, have a look here.