THE INCREDIBLE SCHLOCK HOMES
by Robert L. Fish
(Marilyn Reviewed on April 15th, 2017)
And now for something completely different, as Monty Python would say. In this book, the late Robert L. Fish created the most clever and enjoyable pastiche I’ve ever read.
The Incredible Schlock Homes deconstructs and “destroys” twelve of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved stories featuring Sherlock Homes. In the process the reader, or at least this reader, is completely captivated by Fish’s word play, his twisted logic, and his obvious devotion to the most famous detective in fiction.
Do the stories’ titles–“The Adventure of the Adam Bomb,” “The Adventure of the Spectacled Band,” and the “The Adventure of the Artist’s Mottle”–give you a clue about Fish’s style? In “The Adventure of the Adam Bomb,” Homes arranges a fake funeral for himself because his disappearance is essential to solve a crime. When his colleague Watney questions the amazing disguise Homes needs to wear while presumably dead and yet be able to investigate, Homes explains. The body in the casket? “An excellent example of Madam Tussand’s art.” The “corpse’s” extra weight? “One of Mrs. Essex’s pillows.” His present stature, at least a foot shorter than Homes’ actual height? “Special shoes,” responds the detective. Are you beginning to get the idea?
True to the style of Sir Arthur, Fish begins each story with the year it takes place and a brief history of other cases the celebrated detective solved. In the intro to “The Adventure of the Spectacled Band,” Watney describes the mystery of a gang of Parisian cabbies as “The Adventure of the Taxi Drivers’ Métier.” Honestly, I was laughing and rolling my eyes at the same time.
The two men live at 221-B Bagel Street (truly) on the second floor of Mrs. Essex’s boarding house. While trying to get to the location of the house featured in “The Adventure of the Artist’s Mottle,” Homes and Watney need to decide what train to take. “There is a train that runs on even days that fall on odd dates,” Watney complains. “Besides, it has the notation M-W-F listed above, which I frankly do not understand.” “Milk, Wine, Food,” replied Homes curtly. “It has a combination restaurant car and bar, is all.”
“But that one is annotated T-T-S,” Watney continues. “What can that mean, Homes?” “Most probably, Tewksbury Temperance Society, indicating that on that train the bar is closed,” is Homes’ thoughtful explanation. Who wouldn’t come to that same conclusion?
With the brilliant introduction by Anthony Boucher, for whom the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention is named, the reader is swept away into the nineteenth-century world of telegrams, hansom cabs, and veiled women. Boucher is quick to point out Fish’s other, more serious achievements–winning the 1962 Edgar from the Mystery Writers of America for the best first novel of the year (The Fugitive), penning police procedural short stories and novels, and his completion of Jack London’s unfinished The Assassination Bureau, Ltd., in which Boucher contends it’s impossible to detect any difference between the writings of London and Fish.
In his closing paragraph, Boucher writes, “Robert L. Fish, I am by now pretty thoroughly convinced, can do anything….but I shall never forgive him if his unpredictably assorted output does not continue to include, from time to time, a fresh triumph/fiasco of Schlock Homes.”
I will leave you with this from Robert L. Fish: “Author’s note: The characters in this book are all real, and any similarity to fictional characters is strictly coincidental.” Want to have a feel-good hour or two? Start reading The Adventures of Schlock Homes asap.
I’ve always been a reader and, starting with “Nancy Drew” (my favorite, of course), I became a mystery fan. I think I find mysteries so satisfying because there’s a definite plot to follow, a storyline that has to make sense to be successful, and, of course, there’s always the fun of trying to guess the ending!
My blog, published every Saturday, can be found at: www.marilynsmysteryreads.com.