Around this time, seven years ago, I became a Sherlockian; come January, it will be five years since I began this blog. In the paradoxical way of time, it seems like both yesterday and forever-ago. So many things have happened, and so many things have changed. This is not the same blog I began back in 2012; it had to evolve as I learned what was possible, what was advisable, what was good–and, more importantly, perhaps–what was not. By the same token, I am not the same nervous, intimidated, slightly (?) dogmatic and isolated Sherlockian I was when I first finished reading the Canon through. In the end, I believe most of these changes have been for the better. A couple, perhaps, have not. But they have all come through time, experience, and a conscious desire to see what I could do.
When we left the young Sherlock Holmes at the end of University, he had just left Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, under a literal cloud, his name stricken from the rolls.* Now he’s back in London, having broken into Mycroft’s flat; estranged from his father in Yorkshire, he has nowhere else to go. After some rest, a trip to the Turkish baths in St. Jermyn Street, and a discussion with a very patient Mycroft, he decides, however, that it’s for the best. If he wants to be a consulting detective, he’s got to look elsewhere for his education; the university has nothing more to teach him.
Sidney Sussex is still very much a part of his life, however; he owes them big £££ for the “incident.”** And as he is no longer being supported by his father (and doesn’t want Squire Holmes to know about the debt) he needs to find a job–quickly. This isn’t easy, but fortunately he runs into another disgraced (and former) Cantabrigian, his one-time nemesis, Lord Cecil. Much as the people you disliked (and for whom the feeling was mutual) in high school seem so much nicer once you’ve graduated, Cecil and Holmes begin a wary friendship. It turns out they have something in common–disappointed fathers–and the young nobleman also has a suggestion for an intriguing job.
Lord Cecil has become an actor with the Corycian Company (managed by the rather exotic and mysterious Michael Sassanoff), taking the stage name, “Langdale Pike.” Holmes quickly sees the potential acting has, not just for clearing his debt, but for his long-term career goals. A good detective should, after all, know the art of disguise, and as an actor he’ll definitely learn the art of transforming himself into all sorts of people. As we know from a future friend and colleague that “the stage lost a fine actor….” when Sherlock Holmes became a detective, he gets the job and soon has his own stage name–“William Escott.”***
Quite a few people have these “stop-gap” jobs–positions they take until they find a foothold in the career they trained for. I was a telemarketer, for instance. And a data entry clerk. And a historical re-enactor. And a secretary. And a cashier. And…well, you get the picture. But in all of those jobs, I went to work (and to work again), ran errands, went home, then repeated it all the next day. There was an occasional disgruntled customer, lost message and, once, an abusive boss, but in general my dramas were fairly low-key. I never travelled to another country. I never had to rescue children. I may have had a nervous breakdown, but it wasn’t on stage in front of God and Everybody. My love life wasn’t so horrid as to cause me to swear off romance forever, none of my workplaces were cursed, I never went undercover and, most certainly, no one tried to kill me once, let alone twice.
Yup, twice. And as the saying goes, “Once is an accident, twice is a coincidence….”
Obviously, the young Sherlock Holmes experiences all of these things–and quite a bit more. Not all of it is exciting–Holmes does a lot of traveling, line-memorizing, and reading about crime in the papers–but that’s what I think makes Cypser’s books stand out. There are quite a few “young Sherlock Holmes” books out there–I’ve reviewed several of them, and they often tend towards the fantastic–like a Victorian Harry Potter, without wands. I’m not saying this is bad, necessarily–I am still hoping Andrew Lang has a few more waiting in his brain-attic, actually–but it is very evident that these are “stories” in every sense of the word. A friend and I have often discussed why we like the “Consulting Detective” series so much, and I think it comes down to two things in particular: a relatable Sherlock Holmes and the fact that it isn’t a story–it’s a biography.
Let’s examine the first, for a moment. I admit, when I read (and re-read) The Crack in the Lens, I did feel that teen Sherlock was a bit…melodramatic. But was he, really? He had suffered an unbelievable loss, lacked the parental support that would perhaps have allowed him to emerge stronger–let’s be honest, as helpful as Mycroft and Sherrinford tried to be, they were young and inexperienced–and, most importantly, was not a 40 year-old man in Baker Street. If I push past the world-weariness of the middle-aged, I can appreciate a younger person’s less-controlled grief and angst. In that prequel, Cypser began to explore reasons why Sherlock Holmes was, in the eyes of many (including quite a few Sherlockians) a reasoning machine. She continued to do so in University, which saw Holmes gain even more control over his emotions, as well as the people he chose to allow into his life. This journey† continues in On Stage, but it’s overshadowed by Sherlock’s development as a detective. There are more cases–and more kinds of cases–and more opportunities for him to learn the skills he’ll hone to near-perfection as an adult. Again, Cypser does something I always appreciate: she keeps her cases realistic. Sure, in the future, Holmes will deal with an old man climbing up vines under the influence of monkey glands, and a doctor who has trained a snake to kill, but…perhaps those have been embellished by that incorrigible lover of romance, Dr. Watson. The cases in Ms. Cypser’s book are either (in the case of The Crack in the Lens and a particular mathematics tutor) from Baring-Gould’s Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street, or derived from actual events and situations from Holmes’ time. As in the other books, there are a few cameos–from the Canon, and from real-life. The Canon instances are clever, and while I’m not really a fan of famous (or eventually famous) people turning up in Sherlockian fiction, those in On Stage are not really a stretch.
It’s funny–I always think of Baring-Gould’s placing Holmes in the States as a little silly, but if there’s any fault with University that stands out to me, it’s that Holmes’ visit, which stretches from January through the summer, is a little short, and occasionally seems hurried. It might strain credibility to add another case or adventure, but the Chicago tour is over too quickly, and the return home, although there is some excitement with the train, also passes without much comment. That being said, one of the marks of maturity is that you start to appreciate the routine days where nothing goes wrong, and Holmes does deserve a few of those–much as he might protest them.
Just as University ends with Holmes leaving Cambridge, On Stage ends with him deciding not to return to the stage. His competitors can rest easy; he may wish to spend his life pursuing leads, but they are of a completely different sort. Nor is he going to presume upon his brother’s hospitality any longer; he’s going on…to Montague Place. And if there are, as there were in the previous book, a few loose ends left dangling, I have it on good authority (and the author’s occasional FaceBook posts) that all will eventually be known.
With Sherlock Holmes, one can hardly expect anything else.
The Consulting Detective Trilogy, Part II: On Stage, is available through Amazon in both paperback and e-book form. Darlene Cypser is on Facebook and Twitter, and also has a Facebook page dedicated to The Consulting Detective Trilogy itself.
Star rating: 4 out of 5–Well worth your time and money!
Canon rating: Follows the Baring-Gould timeline; I can never find canonical errors in Darlene Cypser’s work.
Darlene Cypser has been kind enough to provide a copy of On Stage for a giveaway; we will add to it a copy of The Crack in the Lens and University. If you are interested, leave a comment either here on the blog, or on The Well-Read Sherlockian Facebook page; a winner will be drawn at random on Halloween night–so, definitely a treat!
*Rather harsh, we agree, but it obviously happened, as you cannot find a “William Sherlock Scott Holmes” on the list of Cambridge students who matriculated in 1872.
**No, I am not telling you. You will have to read the book.
***A gold star to every reader who figures out the origin of the name, and knows where it appears in the Canon!
†Yes, yes, I hate using “journey” in this context, too.