05 January 2024

Sherlock lives, and lives forever!

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

A military man returns home wounded from the war in Afghanistan. Desperate for lodgings but short on funds, he meets with a potential roomie slumming in a chem lab at St. Bart’s. They hit it off, despite that the fact that the guy gleefully pricks his own fingers to get blood for an experiment.

Turns out, this eccentric oddball solves crimes for a living. Blood, you might say, is his business. He invites his wounded roomie to accompany him to the scene of his newest case. An individual has been slaughtered in an abandoned building, the word RACHE scrawled on the wall—

You’re thinking, dude, I so know this story.

But you don’t, because this is not the story by Conan Doyle. It’s the story by Neil Gaiman, which means that the word RACHE isn’t scrawled on the wall in scarlet, but in a hideous green ichor.

I wish I could remember when and where I’d first read that Gaiman had written two short stories in the Sherlock Holmes universe. Whoever mentioned it did so obliquely. I’m not exactly a fan of Gaiman’s work. I read one novel of his that was not to my taste, but I did enjoy the Sandman graphic novel series. But I am a Holmes geek, so I had to investigate further. Doing so turned into an interesting reminder of the seemingly endless adaptability of short stories.

The first Gaiman story, “A Study in Emerald,” is set in an alternate Holmesian universe, melding Conan Doyle with H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythology. It first appeared in a 2003 anthology of Holmes/Lovecraft mashups, Shadows Over Baker Street (Del Rey/Ballantine). Unfortunately, I can’t say more about the plot without spoiling it for you. What I can say is that the story crystalized for me that the more a reader knows about the Canon, the more pleasure they’ll derive from a great pastiche or parody. Each little reference—to a Persian slipper, say, or the letters VR or the name Jabez—brings a smile to the face of someone who holds that world dear. I shouldn’t have been surprised by Gaiman’s grasp of Holmes, knowing what he pulled off with Sandman, but I was.

The graphic novel in hardcover.

Some years later, Gaiman went out and did it again with another story, “The Case of Death and Honey,” which first appeared in the 2011 anthology A Study in Sherlock, edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie Klinger (Poisoned Pen Press). This story claims to be the final chapter of Sir Arthur’s “The Adventure of the Creeping Man,” the wacky tale of a university professor who starts exhibiting simian characteristics.

In Gaiman’s tale, Mycroft has died, Watson is ailing, and the elderly Holmes journeys to China in search of an elusive subspecies of bee raised by an Asian apiarist who is likewise getting on in years. I won’t say more about this one either, but suffice to say that the story belongs solidly in the realm of science fiction and fantasy. But so did Conan Doyle’s “Creeping Man”!

A quick look at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (here and here) informs us that each of these Gaiman stories has been reprinted a bajillion times, either in Gaiman’s own collections, or in “best of” anthologies and “weird” detective anthologies, so you won’t have trouble finding them. “Emerald” alone has been pubbed in foreign anthologies, been spun out as a game, a graphic novel, and a story-specific audiobook. A small boutique publisher brought out three gorgeous editions of “Death and Honey,” at three different price points, with or without an accompanying edition of the original “Creeping Man.” Depending on the rare book dealer you buy from, you can easily spend between $500 to $800 on the Gaiman-signed volume, if goatskin binding and gold-leaf edging are your thing.

Now, yes, you could look at all this and say, well, sure, we’re talking about Gaiman, a worldwide bestseller, so of course two short stories of his would engender this sort of treatment. And you’d have a point. But I’m constantly reminded that the short stories of lesser-known or downright unknown authors can inspire better-known works of pop culture. Every year at Thanksgiving, my wife and I watch a minor Holly Hunter film called Home for the Holidays, based on a short story by Chris Radant. Mary Orr’s story in a 1946 issue of Cosmopolitan was the basis for the Oscar-winning movie All About Eve. The 2016 Amy Adams science-fiction film Arrival, which I love, was derived from a short story by Ted Chiang, a nonfiction writer and SFF short story specialist.

Hoping to inspire myself, I read one or two short stories a day between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day 2024. I was often left thinking how many of them were so rich that they could easily serve as the source material for entire movies or stage productions. (I was especially charmed by the shorts and novellas of Connie Willis, contained in her collection, A Lot Like Christmas. )

Click to download PDF.

Getting back to the Canon, since tomorrow is Sherlock’s birthday, I might mention that the two Gaiman stories I discussed are apparently so beloved by fans that you can easily find and read them online for free. If you’re the sort of Irregular scamp who respects copyright, however, I’d suggest you download the free pdf of “Emerald” that Gaiman makes available on his website. It’s designed to look like an old Victorian newspaper, and the price is just right if you’re jonesing for a January Holmes fix.

Happy New Year!

See you in three weeks...



  1. Interesting piece. As I have whined, I mean said, many times, I am not a fan of the pastiche, where a writer simply creates another story in the style of the original author but I often enjoy a homage where the writer explores aspects of the original writer's universe. (And I wrote one of those about Poe's Dupin.)

    I heartily endorse Connie Willis and am currently reading her comic science fiction novel The Road to Roswell.

    As for Gaiman and copyright, at the start of the Covid lockdown LeVar Burton was recording readings of stories for children and asked the public for suggestions of good material in the public domain. Gaiman gave him blanket permission to record ANY of his works, which led a lot of authors to do the same.

    1. I didn't know about Gaiman granting such permission for Burton's project. That is a really gracious thing to do. I remember well your Dupin piece; it was wonderful. I think I might agree with your assessment of pastiches, since there's little new about most of them. I will move on to other Willis works after I finish this monster Christmas collection. I'm very curious about her Roswell book.

  2. I haven't tackled a Holmes story yet, but I did do a short-story sequel to both "Moby Dick" called "Bait" (BOULD* Awards 2019 Short Story Anthology: (*Bizarre, Outrageous, Unfettered, Limitless, Daring), Jake Devlin, Editor – November 17, 2019) and to "Emma" - "Truth and Turpitude: Murder at Abbey Mill Farm" (Murderous Ink Press’ Crimeucopia: The Cosy Nostra, Winter, 2021).
    Some day, Holmes will come calling....

    1. Eve: Thanks for mentioning those stories. Moby-Dick? Awesome! I just went and grabbed the ebooks. If anyone else would like to mention their pastiches/parodies/homages—for Holmes or any other literary universe—this might be a good time to do so.

  3. Gaiman seems to be a really decent sort. By the way, he co-wrote Good Omens wit Terry Pratchett and I am currently watching the second season of the TV series based on the book. NG co-wrote the tv show. In my opinion the second season is even better than the first.

    I first discovered Willis with a book in that series called To Say Nothing of the Dog. As a fan of Jerome K. Jerome's masterpiece Three Men in a Boat, Not To Mention The Dog, I had to read that one. It's part of the series I believe she calls the Oxford Time Travel books. Years after reading that i picked up a book of her short stories and rediscovered a great one I had read in The Twilight Zone Magazine in the 80s, but didn't connect the name.

    1. I have wanted to watch Good Omens but feel I must read the book first. I have always felt he was decent and generous. I know that he has donated signed copies of his books for years to the Worldbuilders charity run by Patrick Rothfuss.


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