by Robert C. Hahn
There’s no end to what authors can do with characters created by other writers. Sometimes even the original author becomes a character as well. No fictional sleuth has spawned more offshoots than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Authors both established and aspiring have borrowed Doyle’s creations and taken them in radically different directions.
Some have borrowed ancillary characters, too, such as Holmes’s housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson, his brother Mycroft, or his nemesis, Professor Moriarty; others have constructed humorous pastiches such as Robert L. Fish’s “The Incredible Schlock Homes”(1965) or the more admiring efforts of H. Paul Jeffers in The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Stalwart Companions (1978).
Laurie R. King’s brilliant series featuring Mary Russell and a recently retired Sherlock Holmes has grown to an impressive fifteen novels since The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (2010), in which the two meet, and subsequent volumes in which they become partners, fall in love, and get married. Hard to imagine, but Sherlock Holmes, in spite of all his brilliance, is somewhat secondary in this award-winning series. Marrying Sherlock was a device King found natural, though it would seem unnatural to fans of Doyle. Her latest is The Island of the Mad (Bantam, $28). Holmes and Russell trek across Europe in search of a woman gone missing from Bedlam.
Leonard Goldberg has created two fictional characters named Joanna Blalock. In his most recent series she is Holmes’s daughter, a nurse and sleuth working alongside the son of Holmes’s companion John Watson, Dr. John Watson Jr. A Study in Treason (Minotaur, $25.99) is the second in Goldberg’s Daughter of Sherlock Holmes series. Joanna Blalock is also the name of the heroine of Goldberg’s contemporary medical thrillers. As explained in the author’s note in A Study in Treason, the contemporary character, a forensic pathologist, is her granddaughter. Thus Goldberg establishes a detecting line that stretches from the late 1800s to the present. The modern Joanna Blalock has been featured in nine mysteries.
Karen Lee Street pairs Edgar Allan Poe with his fictional detective, C. Auguste Dupin, for her novels. Her first novel was Edgar Allan Poe and the London Monster (2016). Her latest is Edgar Allan Poe and the Jewel of Peru (Pegasus, $25.95). Set in Philadelphia amid tensions arising from an influx of Irish immigrants, Poe and Dupin are drawn into a kidnapping case shaded by claims of ghostly visitations and messages from birds.
Early in his distinguished career, Loren D. Estleman wrote two novels pitting Sherlock Holmes against infamous fictional villains: Sherlock vs. Dracula (1978) and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes (1970). He soon went on to create one of the best and most enduring private eyes in the business, Amos Walker.
Estleman’s latest, Black and White Ball (Forge, $25.99), is a triple threat, combining his famous detective Walker with his famous mob hitman Peter Macklin, and as always the featuring the city of Detroit, whose fortunes Estleman has tracked throughout his writing career. Estleman is an excellent mystery writer in terms of plot and characters but his ability to capture the changing pulse of his chosen setting is remarkable.
Estleman introduced Detroit’s Amos Walker in Motor City Blue in 1980; Black and White Ball is the twenty-eighth entry in the series that has earned the author the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Private Eye Writers of America. But his body of work includes a short story series of Nero Wolfe pastiches, featuring Claudius Lyon and Arnie Woodbine.
Rex Stout’s first Nero Wolfe novel, Fer-de-Lance, didn’t appear until 1934 and Stout continued to produce novels and novellas featuring the orchid growing, reclusive resident of the New York brownstone until his death in 1975. Robert Goldsborough picked up his pen in 1986 and continued to add new volumes to the series with Murder in E Minor. Since then Nero Wolfe, his able but sarcastic assistant (and the one who does the necessary legwork) Archie Goodwin, cook Fritz Brenner, and NYPD cops such as Lionel T. Cramer, have gotten a new lease on life. The Battered Badge (Mysterious Press, $14.99), Goldsborough’s thirteenth entry in the revived series, revolves around the murder of a vocal critic of the NYPD Homicide department, and of Inspector Cramer in particular.