The Triviahound of Baskervilles

Pastiche novels are a guilty pleasure. Who are you going to admit to that you enjoyed reading about Leia and Hans Solo’s children in the Star Wars novel series? Just as you may secretly enjoy puns but are publicly obliged to groan and condemn them.

But that’s about the consumer of pastiches. The writer of a good pastiche novel is necessarily a clever animal, elbow deep in the lore of the original. She has to breathe the time, the mood, but surpass the sequel mentality of the movie business. Imagine sustaining over a novel length the stamina and ear required to write the formidably witty Digested Reads that the Guardian produces on its books pages.

Years ago, Jamyang Norbu gracefully skipped trying to channel Watson or Holmes and adopted instead the eccentric speech of Kipling’s Hurree Babu to write his pastiche. Norbu’s The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes was an intelligent specimen of the Sherlock Holmes pastiche industry, one as flourishing as the Sylvia Plath biography business. It took us into Tibet through the lost years after he toppled over the Reichenbach falls and before his reappearance in Watson’s study.

Partha Basu is a man of enormous cleverness. And as king of the quiz mountain, trivia is his slavish minion. The Curious Case of 221B: The Secret Notebooks of John H Watson begins in the 1970s when Jit, a young man in Deogarh, discovers his recently murdered parents had been friends with Watson and had his secret notebooks. The notebooks also bear the comments of Emma Hudson, daughter of Mrs Hudson, Holmes’ tolerant housekeeper. (How tolerant, we find out eventually.) And of course secrets about Holmes that Watson did not reveal. So we find out what Irene Adler was up to. And who was the Illustrious Client? And one wonderful adventure that springs whole from Basu’s imagination and a single Doyle line.

Jit, Watson and Emma’s successive monologues are extremely successful in raising the ouija board of period-bound syntax and preoccupation. But the shortness of each narrator’s excursion into a well-loved adventure leaves you dizzy. And whose wisdom was it to change typeface for each narrator? The relentless forward motion of the Holmes adventures brakes under the analysis of these angsty narrators. The most likeable of characters is the friend Jit invokes, Muddy Madhavan, Basu’s doppelgänger and Holmes fan.

The delicious, utterly wonderful mystery writer Dorothy Sayers acquired a pastiche writer in the late 1990s. Harriet Vane and Peter Wimsey sailed into a world we knew and wanted to see more of in A Presumption of Death and Thrones, Dominations, novels written out of fragments left behind by Sayers. Most importantly, it gave us more mystery. Which Basu does not. It could not have been want of stamina, so one can only imagine it was the thrall of trivia, minion no more.


Newer Post Older Post Home