Thursday, May 13, 2004

It's hard to write for another author's characters and setting; the more interesting they are, the more this is so. The comparatively colorless Nancy Drew or Bobbsey Twins don't lose much by being handed over to whatever author the Edward Stratmeyer organization had available, while even as a child I found that any attempt at Oz books by writers other than L. Frank Baum were unreadable.

Sherlock Holmes has for a centurty been popular enough for other authors to try and write him, and eccentric enough that most have failed to capture his essence. Nicholas Meyer's The Seven Per Cent Solution was once the only novel-length story that I felt stood up to the work Sir Arthur Conan Doyle dashed off to support his more serious writing. Meyer's Holmes and Watson differed from the original, but it was explained why -- the consequences of increasing use of the cocaine that Holmes had indeed taken occasionally in Conan Doyle's stories.

My father, also a Holmes buff, a few years ago showed me The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie King. He'd enjoyed the story of a retired Holmes entertaining himself training the mind of a fifteen-year-old girl living near him, once she'd shown herself worthwhile material for training. However, my father will not read the sequels that Laurie King has written featuring a Mary Russell who has grown older, because Holmes and Russell have married. For my dad, a married Holmes is just unacceptable. To me, though, it follows perfectly from the relationship they have in the first book -- hardly romantic, but a marriage of best friends and working partners. Conan Doyle's Holmes only ever respected one woman -- Irene Adler, who outwitted him. King's Holmes has found another mind he can respect carried in a female body, and their partnership is merely made formal (and more convenient, given the era) by a marriage certificate. Russell even keeps her maiden name.

The Beekeeper's Apprentice, A Monstrous Regiment of Women, A Letter of Mary, The Moor, O Jerusalem, and Justice Hall have been my reading material for the past week and a half, and I just started the latest in the series, The Game. Previous books in the series have been all over England with sea journeys to Palestine and Canada; this one heads towards an India still under British rule, thirty years after that of the frequently-referenced Kim by Rudyard Kipling (which I have yet to read, but will probably track down after this). So far I am enjoying this well-researched story as much as the previous ones. Like O Jerusalem, it takes place amongst the difficulties of international politics of the era (Holmes' older brother Mycroft, major figure behind the scenes of English government, appears more often in King's works than in those of most others who've tried their hand at Holmes) and the non-English cultures Holmes and Russell must disappear into.

Throughout the series, any differences from the Conan Doyle canon are explained -- there is no feeling of disregard for the original. I couldn't stop re-reading the first six of the series (hence the finishing them all in ten days) and I look forward to finishing the seventh.