Observations by Gaslight: Stories from the World of Sherlock Holmes
Expected publication: December 7, 2021, by Penzler Publishers
The first Sherlock Holmes pastiche stories were published before Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote his last story about the famed detective, and the trend isn’t likely to end any time soon. Observations by Gaslight is author Lyndsay Faye’s latest outing to Victorian London. This time, her stories feature narration, not by the trusty Dr. John Watson as they did in her previous books, The Whole Art of Detection and Dust and Shadow, but by secondary characters that longtime Holmes fans have grown to love: Irene Adler, Inspector Lestrade, Stanley Hopkins, Mrs. Hudson, and others. Their stories are told through diary entries, letters, and in the case of Mrs. Hudson, through recipes and lists. Each story features a mystery of some kind, though not all are a matter of life or death, and that’s as it should be. Not all Holmesian characters are meant to be following criminals down dark alleys or engaging in hand-to-hand combat.
As with any collection, the reader will prefer one story over another. Adler’s mystery of the stopped clocks, for example, has a jaunty tone that is far more engaging than Lomax’s quieter mystery, though Adler’s saccharine adoration for her husband may get on the nerves after the first dozen pages or so. But that’s a minor drawback when it comes to seeing The Woman square off against Sherlock Holmes one more time, though in far different circumstances from the original ‘Scandal in Bohemia’.
Lestrade’s story has a deeply personal edge to it, delving into the history of a character who is often the butt of Holmes’s jokes. And while Faye’s story has no real effect on the official canon, it’s always interesting to speculate about a character’s background. There is the occasional morose edge to Lestrade, and Faye develops a heartbreaking story about why that is so, and also why Lestrade joined the London police in the first place.
Mrs. Hudson’s story is entirely domestic as she ponders her longtime lodger and his relationship with Watson, and how morose Holmes will get without his friend or a case to occupy his mind. She bemoans the excellently cooked meals that go untouched, which reminds her of the ingredients she needs to purchase for the next few days’ meals. Mrs. Hudson’s mystery is the lightest, most homebound of them all, which is fitting for her character and her place in the world. After all, even if it’s not strictly canonical, if Mrs. Hudson were to leave Baker Street, we all know that England would fall.
The most intriguing parts of Observations by Gaslight are not the mysteries, however. It is the observations the narrators make regarding Holmes and Watson, to a lesser degree. John Watson might be aware of (and comment upon) Holmes’s dramatic tendencies, it is fascinating to see how others observe (or not) these tics, and what they think of them. Adler, for example, finds Holmes’s melodrama endearing, while Lestrade finds it irritating at best. Hopkins hardly notices at all.
Lyndsay Faye has written many other Holmesian stories for her own books, as well as for numerous anthologies, so it’s no surprise that she has the Victorian writing style down pat. Each story has its own voice and feels as though it could have been pulled from a Victorian-era diary. Authors of Holmes pastiche usually aim for that nineteenth-century feeling, but not all of them pull it off. Faye nails it every time, which gives her stories a wonderful sense of authenticity.
Whether one is looking for the further adventures of Sherlock Holmes (albeit from a slight distance), or just looking for some engaging Victorianesque stories to read on a rainy day, Observations by Gaslight is sure to please.
Thank you to NetGalley and Penzler Publishers for providing me with a free ebook in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion.