Monday, June 1, 2015

Not THAT Hound

By Michael Hardwick (1924-91).
Villard Books.
1987. 310 pages.
For sale HERE.
It is Coronation Summer 1902, and there has been such a lull in criminal activity that Sherlock Holmes is thinking about retiring. The fact that Dr. Watson has become engaged to a young American heiress also plays no small part in Holmes's thinking—without his "Boswell," The Great Detective's ego is threatened as well.

But soon come reports of a spectral hound haunting, not Grimpen Mire, but Hampstead Heath, the commons just north of London. The press goes crazy, the police are clueless, the public is just short of panic—yet Holmes is completely unimpressed and dismisses the whole thing as a hoax.

Soon enough his plate is full again: Lady Frances Carfax has disappeared on the Continent, an indiscreet letter with embarrassing potential for the new king (Edward VII) needs to be retrieved, the bones of Oliver Cromwell have just been disinterred (the Lord Protector's corpse had been decapitated, a fact of keen professional interest to Holmes), and Holmes and Watson narrowly miss witnessing a murder on a cross-Channel ferry. All in all, enough to consume the detective duo's time and attention.

But could any of these seemingly isolated events relate to each other? Need you ask? The terrible hound in Hampstead, Bertie's letter, Cromwell's bones, and the Channel stabbing all have something in common, with dire implications for the future of Fair Albion. Yes, the security of the Empire hangs in the balance, and only Sherlock Holmes can tie all the threads together in time.

Michael Hardwick was an eminent Sherlockian (or Holmesian) scholar, and it shows in The Revenge of the Hound, as allusions to quite a few of Holmes's cases thread their way through the narrative. For readers of "The Canon," these constitute delightful moments of recogni-tion; for others not in the know, however, the references should not prove intrusive.

Hardwick admirably captures Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's rhythms. The first-person narration filtered through Dr. Watson's limited perception of events is so well done that the reader entirely forgets he is reading a pastiche produced nearly half a century after Doyle's demise. (The main worry for a pastiche writer is avoiding slipping into parody, something that is all too easy to do, but Hardwick nimbly evades that pitfall.)

Pastiche writer or no, Hardwick could also produce engaging prose on his own. For instance, when Holmes first suggests that a revolution may be brewing in England, a horrifying prospect for Watson, the good doctor's thoughts stray:
I glanced out of the cab window. We were entering Baker Street from Portman Square. Respectable-looking couples were strolling arm-in-arm on their way to the park to listen to the band, or perhaps as far as the Serpentine, to join the line for a boat. A housemaid in her trim black and white was walking an immaculately clipped little dog. Down a side road, an Italian ice-cream-seller's cart was surrounded by bareheaded children, cheerfully waiting their turn. One of his compatriots was playing a barrel organ nearby. His scarlet-uniformed monkey was parading on top of the instrument like a midget soldier, holding out his tin can for pennies. Children gathered about, laughing and clapping, and two little girls twirled together in a dance to the jangling music.
We had had a glimpse or two during the South African war of the British populace in its rare state of frenzy. I could recognize no portents of trouble now.
"You sense something?" inquired Holmes, reading my mind.
"I can't say I do, Holmes. A few poor folk were put out over missing their Coronation dinners, if you count that. They will have them soon enough and have to look for something else to grumble about. It is a British trait."
"Then you would rule incipient revolution quite out of the question?"
What I took to be a mock-serious expression made me chuckle. Such a notion could only be a joke.
In several passages like this one Hardwick displays his powers of description, with the finale being as vivid as any the best pulp writers could manage.

- Several more of Michael Hardwick's Holmesian books are still available on
The Sherlock Holmes Companion (reference) HERE
Sherlock Holmes: My Life and Crimes (an "autobiography") HERE
Prisoner of the Devil (Holmes pastiche) HERE
The Complete Guide to Sherlock Holmes (reference) HERE
The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (novelization of the film) HERE
The Man Who Was Sherlock Holmes (reference) HERE
The Game's Afoot: Four Sherlock Holmes Plays HERE
Four More Sherlock Holmes Plays HERE.

Category: Detective fiction (The Great Detective division)

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