Wednesday 24 July 2019

More Rivals of Sherlock Holmes

The first person to compile an anthology of stories featuring rivals of Sherlock Holmes was Hugh Greene, brother of Graham, and at one time the Director-General of the BBC. I received his first anthology as a birthday present, and loved it. He came up with three more anthologies and some of the stories were televised - the episodes have reappeared recently on the Talking Pictures TV channel. There have been similar anthologies to Greene's in the intervening years, and Nick Rennison produced one back in 2015. He's now edited another collection, More Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, which is published by the splendid No Exit Press.

I haven't read Rennison's earlier anthology, but a few years ago I greatly enjoyed his "unauthorised biography" of Sherlock Holmes. His evident knowledge of Victorian crime fiction means that he's well-qualified to put a book of stories of gaslight crime together. The first question is: do we need yet another book of this kind?  The second question is: given that the stories are out of copyright, is there enough fresh editorial material to justify the purchase?

My answer in principle to the first question is yes, provided it doesn't just round up the usual suspects, in terms of authors and stories. And here I think Rennison does a good job. Believe me, I've read a lot of stories from this era, but there are three authors featured here whom I can't remember having read: Herbert Kean, David Christie Murray, and Percy James Brebner. These are not the strongest stories in the book, admittedly, but I was glad to be introduced to them, as well as to meet again Arthur Morrison's unscrupulous Horace Dorrington (one of my favourite rivals) and Richard Marsh's Judith Lee, an accomplished lip reader.

As for the second test, again I think Rennison passes it. He doesn't deluge his readers with information, but certainly gives enough to put the stories and their authors in context. As he says, he set out to demonstrate the range and variety of late Victorian and Edwardian detective fiction. The title of this book may be less than original, but  that doesn't matter: the Greene books appeared a long time ago.  I'd say that he has succeeded in this aim.

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