The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes

June 8, 2013

I’ve been an avid Holmes fan since I was seven. I know that there were antecedents in the annals of detective fiction, as well as imitators, but I had never got round to reading any; I knew vaguely of the existence of three anthologies of stories edited by Hugh Greene, and recently I laid my hands on a copy.

Gripe about 1980s penny-pinching publishers: they used awful glue in mass-market paperbacks for several years; it dried hard and creamy-while and soon crumbled like cheap toffee, showering you with debris as you read and pages and whole sections became detached from the book. I’ve lost count of the number of books I’ve had to take apart completely and re-bind in order to read them. This was another: shame on you, Penguin Books.

There was an astonishing variety and range of stories here: some involved absolutely no detection at all; some involved individual sleuths, some the traditional pair of detective and side-kick; some had female detectives and foreshadowed Miss Marple; others involved criminals and other shady characters using the skills of detection to further their own interests… Some of the mysteries were worthy of the master, and sometimes I detected not quite plagiarism, but influence and imitation, particularly in the matter of plots.

If you are a Holmes fan, then I think you will enjoy reading these stories; Conan Doyle had rivals and imitators, some who were pretty good. Hugh Greene gives useful information about sources and potted biographies of the writers, too: clearly a labour of love.

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