Friday, January 26, 2018

Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine #1, edited by Marvin Kaye

Not worthy of the name it bears
Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine is a series of literary anthologies periodically published by Wildside Press. Though they are available in the form of paperback magazines, they are also sold as inexpensive ebooks at Amazon and the publisher’s website. The first issue, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine #1, was published in August of 2011, and so far Wildside has published about two dozen issues. In each of these anthologies, editor Marvin Kaye compiles an assortment of mystery, detective, and crime fiction, both classic and contemporary. Issue #1 includes seven short stories.

The magazine also has a nonfiction component in the form of editorials, letters columns, book reviews, and interviews. Columns written pseudonymously by Holmes’s friends Dr. John Watson and Mrs. Hudson are loaded with bad jokes only a diehard fan might enjoy. Lenny Picker offers a detailed essay comparing different film versions of The Hound of the Baskervilles, and Kim Newman reviews a couple of Holmes anthologies. These film and literary criticism sections go into so much arcane detail they will likely only appeal to true aficionados of detective fiction who have read, reread, and analyzed the entire Holmes canon in various editions. The most enjoyable portion of the editorial matter for me was the interview with mystery and sci-fi writer Ron Goulart, as I always find it fascinating when prolific authors of pulp fiction discuss their craft and career. In general, however, I didn’t purchase this ebook for the editorial content, which is of less interest to me than the stories.

You can’t have a Holmes collection without a little Holmes, so issue #1 reprints Conan Doyle’s “The ‘Gloria Scott’” from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. Told mostly as a flashback to Holmes’s youth, Watson is almost entirely absent from the narrative, and it’s not one of Holmes’s better cases. Keeping with the nautical theme, Kaye pairs this with a modern-day pastiche of Holmes by Carole Buggé, “The Strange Case of the Haunted Freighter.” At first it comes across as a pretty good recreation of the atmosphere of Conan Doyle’s writing, but the story is unsatisfactory, with a pointless séance scene and an ending that resorts to an all-too familiar resolution. The best story in the collection, though that’s faint praise, is likely Goulart’s entry, “The Mystery of the Missing Automaton,” featuring his recurring character Harry Challenge. Goulart is good at setting the scene and adds some nice comedic touches, but it’s not really much of a mystery.

In fact, though Kaye draws a distinction between mystery fiction and crime fiction in his introduction, about half the stories here fall into the latter category, not being mysteries at all. The absolute worst is “Lost and Found” by Jean Paiva, a patience-testing story about a divorced woman who puts a personal ad in the newspaper. Since no crime is committed until the final page, what’s it doing in a “Mystery Magazine”? Of the stories that actually do qualify as mysteries, they are mostly too short to amount to much. Once the characters and setting are established, there’s only enough time for one or two clues before an Encyclopedia Brown solution. For the magazine’s debut issue, you’d think Kaye would have come out swinging for a home run, but this anthology feels more like a bunt. With the exception of “The ‘Gloria Scott’,” nothing here is worthy of a publication branded with the Holmes name. It certainly doesn’t make me want to investigate the contents of issue #2.

Stories in this collection
The Strange Case of the Haunted Freighter by Carole Buggé 
The Mystery of the Missing Automaton by Ron Goulart
The Bet by Marc Bilgrey 
The Automaton Museum by Edward D. Hoch
On the Heir by Hal Charles
Lost and Found by Jean Paiva 
The “Gloria Scott” by Arthur Conan Doyle

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