Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Canadian Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Reviewed by Charles Prepolec
The Singular Society of the Baker Street Dozen

It is a strange thing to find Sherlock Holmes outside of his London environs, but it is an even stranger occurrence when you find Holmes in your own backyard, particularly if that backyard happens to be in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Stephen Gaspar in his eBook The Canadian Adventures of Sherlock Holmes has the detective not only in Calgary, but solving cases in just about every major city in Canada as well. Not an easy premise to begin with, or to manage convincingly, but Gaspar makes a fairly successful, if not entirely satisfying attempt.

The Canadian Adventures of Sherlock Holmes begins with a telegram from Sir Henry Baskerville in which the baronet requests Holmes’ immediate assistance. The surprise to the reader is that Sir Henry has renounced his ancestral estate and returned to Canada to take up ranching in Southern Alberta. Needless to say that Holmes and Watson cannot resist the plea from their former client and head off to Canada to lend their help. Along the way they run into a number of mysteries that only Holmes, with his remarkable deductive skills, can solve.

Before even reaching Canada, Holmes manages to solve not only a neat little Marie Celeste type mystery aboard ship, but an unrelated murder case as well. On arriving in Canada he promptly becomes embroiled in a nasty military murder at Halifax with the victim found strapped across the muzzle of a cannon. From Halifax we go on to Montreal where Holmes and Watson determine the truth behind the McCormick fortune in a clever little vignette that hinges on the use of a gramophone. From Montreal to the nations capitol of Ottawa where, surprise, surprise, Holmes and Watson meet and assist no less a personage than the Primeminister of Canada, Sir Wilfrid Laurier in a case that “may affect the fate of Canada and England” not to mention the PM’s marriage and political career! After successfully saving the fate of these two great nations, and a marriage or two, Holmes and Watson at last begin the trek out West. Although this leg of the journey is uneventful, Gaspar does give us the questionable image of Holmes riding riding the train’s cowcatcher to better view the open prairie!?!

At last our heroes arrive in Calgary and book into the Royal Hotel, wherein a clerk promptly describes the establishment as “…the finest hostelry EAST of Winnipeg.” Now this I cannot let pass without comment. Whether this is just sloppy research, writing or editing I cannot say, but I can assure the reader that Calgary in 1897 was precisely in the same location that it stands today, which is to say about 1500 miles WEST of Winnipeg. A minor point, but quite jarring to a native Calgarian such as myself! On heading south to the Circle- B ranch, we find that Sir Henry is haunted by a nocturnal howling and the apparition of what can only be described as a werewolf! Just no rest from howling horrors for old Sir Henry! If that isn’t enough, his cattle are being killed and mutilated as well. Is there a connection between the family curse of the Baskervilles and the haunted hoodoos of Southern Alberta? Paleontologist Joseph Tyrell doesn’t seem to think so, then again neither do the Mounties or even the local Native population, all of which figure in this little prairie mystery. The solution though is elementary and a thankful Sir Henry sends Holmes and Watson off on a holiday to the West Coast for their troubles. After a repeat of the cowcatcher bit, this time through the Rocky Mountains, Holmes and Watson arrive in Vancouver and head immediately out to Canada’s garden spot of Victoria, on Vancouver Island. There they save an innocent man from a murder charge and in doing so uncover the secret of a 35 year old crime as well. Their coast to coast trek now complete, our erstwhile heroes return cross country, stopping over in Quebec just long enough to solve the case of the Weeping Madonna, before boarding ship for Old Blighty once more...

Stephen Gaspar manages to create a fairly reasonable excuse to bring Holmes to Canada, certainly as good as any of another author’s multiple reasons to bring Holmes to Minnesota, then sets him up with a variety of mysteries to solve. The writing, while holding the reader’s attention, is somewhat basic and lacking in atmosphere, but does maintain a fairly reasonable facsimile of the “Watsonian voice” throughout the narrative and dialogue. Perhaps a bit more arrogance and pretension in Holmes than I would like, but still within acceptable boundaries. Watson demonstrates the occasional bit of humour, which quite endeared Gaspar’s take on him to me. The travelogue aspect is unfortunately not as evocative of Canada as I would like, and, in this reviewers opinion, fails to present the sense of diverse geographical features that is a hallmark of this country or the relatively large distances between them. That being said, it is the best “Holmes in Canada” book that I’ve read, easily eclipsing Ronald C. Weyman’s books. Well worth a look for the Sherlockian pastiche reader who enjoys stories featuring Holmes outside his usual environs.

While I’m not a fan of reading lengthy pieces at my computer, purchasing and downloading this eBook was a snap. The eBook format was nicely packaged with everything necessary to get the beginner going and features simple instructions with easy navigation. While I still prefer reading while reclining on a sofa with the printed page before me, this was a pleasant enough diversion, however, I would still rather see this book in a traditional print format. UPDATE: Now available as a trade paperback. Click here to order from The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box

Recommendation: A fair read for the Sherlock Holmes pastiche enthusiast that doesn't mind Holmes being taken from his usual surroundings.

The Canadian Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (e-book)
Author: Stephen Gaspar
First Published as an E-book: 2002 - Blackfriars Publications
ISBN: 1-894709-28-4
Price: $4.95 USD (PDF Format)
Reviewed by: Charles Prepolec

First Print Publication: 2004 - The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box
ISBN: 1-55246-531-4
Format: Trade Paperback 224 pages
Price: $20.00 USD

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