Charlie Milverton and Other Sherlock Holmes Stories
If you’d like to read five classic Arthur Conan Doyle mystery stories, modernized in tawdry, tabloid fashion, Charlie Milverton and Other Sherlock Holmes Stories by Charlotte Anne Walters is the book for you.
For me, it was an excellent piece of evidence that putting a present-day Holmes story in print doesn’t automatically make it better than the free fic you can read on AO3. In fact, I would have enjoyed this more online, as there I would have been more forgiving of the wrong words, missing commas, and other typos. If you want me to pay for an actual book, though, I do want evidence that there’s been a copy editor involved.
Perhaps I was feeling less charitable because none of my favorites came off well here. Sherlock is remote and rude, more of a plot device than a character, as it’s assumed we already know him. John Watson didn’t get licensed and is chasing fame as an author. He’s working for shady lawyers signing off on people lying about their medical conditions, something I would never believe from our beloved army doctor, and he fears and dislikes his controlling wife (whom we never meet).
Worst treated is Gareth Lestrade, who got drummed out of Scotland Yard when John’s book made it seem like Holmes did all the crime-solving. Admittedly, it makes for an enjoyable twist for the first story in the book, the titular “Charlie Milverton” (based on, obviously, “Charles Augustus Milverton”).
Lestrade is now providing security for a pop star who is afraid of her controlling manager boyfriend and being blackmailed. There’s a lot in this story that is short-cutted, and it would have benefitted from more space, as we don’t ever really meet Milverton, and the solution is rushed through.
The other stories brought up to date here are “The Noble Bachelor”, “The Creeping Man”, “A Case of Identity”, and “The Abbey Grange”. They do play off of each other, creating a bigger narrative as events proceed. Modern twists include a marriage between a glamour model/reality star and a rich football player, youth-driven anti-aging treatments, stalkers and date rapists, online dating, and an aged former rock star. I found the book slightly entertaining, a light piece of fluff.
Walters also has written 56 Sherlock Holmes Stories in 56 Days, in which she gives thoughts on and rates each of the Doyle stories. She originally did these (in 2011) as blog posts, and most work out to 2-3 book pages apiece. I assumed they’d be cleaned up and polished for publication, but if they were, it was with a very light hand, as many of the entries are rather personal. We often hear about how she’s rushing to get her daily post in during a busy day and crowded commute or in spite of work distractions.
She has opinions about all the stories, although some of the reactions are simply “I like/don’t like this” — they aren’t always reasoned, sometimes just emotional. Most of the time, she does give enough detail to identify which story is which, in case the reader doesn’t have recall based just on the titles. (I don’t, any more, once I realized just how many of them are named after the house or location where the mystery takes place.) Sometimes, though, she’s more interested in what a particular story shows about Holmes’ personality or how Holmes and Watson’s friendship works than the events of the tale. And she doesn’t avoid spoilers if the ending is what she wants to comment on.
Her favorites are “Charles Augustus Milverton” and “The Six Napoleons”, followed by another 11 that scored 9 out of 10. The worst is “Wisteria Lodge”, with 4 out of 10. For the book, she added thoughts on the four novels and some information about which posts were most popular at the time. This book is not a reference, by any means; it’s closer to sitting around talking about a favorite hobby with an opinionated friend. But without the ability to answer back, which means we lose the fun of discussion.