Right now, as you are reading this there are thousands of works of fiction sitting on dusty shelves waiting for our adventurous minds to seek them out. It is the goal of this little effort of mine to seek out these shuttered tales and see how well they hold up. Are they hidden gems full of contemporary meaning? Or are they clunky relics of the past who’s time has long slipped through the hourglass? Let us find out.
Shylock Homes: His Posthumous Memoirs #2 by John Kendrick Bangs
Where did I stumble across this one?
Somewhere along the way I became a part of a cool mystery book club group called The Black Cat Mystery. They send out a selection of hand picked books every now and again, and as part of it they send out a free ebook. It’s their sort of way of getting people who are non-paying subscribers to get a taste of what they could be getting in a greater quantity. Anyway, this past collection included a bizarre little title called: Shylock Homes: His Posthumous Memoirs #2. Which I initially shrugged of as another in a huge list of Sherlock Holmes stories, but then became intrigued when I realized that this particular parody was written/serialized in 1903. What sorts of things did an author at the time think was ridiculous with the Holmes cannon? How had parody humor changed in the past 100+ years? These are questions I wanted answers to, and so I was sold.
From the moment of my arrival I have found much to occupy my time and to divert my mind, and plenty of opportunity likewise for the practice of my profession. Most diverting was the spectacle afforded my eyes on the first day after my arrival here as I walked up the main business street of Cimmerla, a busy, busting avenue, whereon in the course of an hour;s walk one might encounter the greatest figures in all history from Adam down to Bismarck, great figures in art, letters and science, great soldiers, great actors, princes- it was diverting, I say, to see swinging overhead, amid all these interesting scenes, flaunting garishly in the public eye, a great gilded sign denoting the location there of the office of Hawkshaw, Le Coq, Sleuth & Company…and a hundred others, by which it seemed evident that this precious trio had gained the idea that the science of deduction was the practice of quacks rather than the subtlest of professions.
About the author
John Kendrick Bangs (May 27, 1862 — January 21, 1922) was a humorist, editor and satirist from New York City. He is notable for having found a voice lampooning some of the popular works of fiction in his day, having left his profession as a lawyer to write for Harpers, Munsey’s, and other magazines at the time.
It also is amusing to me that he was known among his community as a jokester and a prankster, which seems totally in character with his body of work¹.
Summary of story
The story is told from the perspective of Shylock Homes. Now granted,his name has been changed a bit from the actual Sherlock but as you read it you realize that the events that have taken place in the story are the same as the ones from Conan-Doyle’s cannon and so you make the jump that they are the same person pretty quick. The events take place right after the detective has taken his supposed fatal fall from the Reichenbach Falls. He is now in a sort of purgatory type city along the river Styx. The premise of the stories is that he is now writing to Watson from his new residence and sharing with his living friend his exploits/escapades in the underworld. So right from the get-go you know that this story is going to be wacky.
Shylock on his way to his newly acquired residence comes across a sign for a detective service (which you probably gathered from the quote above). So outraged that his profession is reduced to mere commerce in the underworld he puts it upon himself to go inside this detective agency, retain them for their services, and trick them with a case that they will be unable to solve.
The language here is pretty funny, Bangs gets the general tone of the elitist detective pretty spot on, and you can’t help but get a chuckle from the ridiculousness of his character. Things get even more wacky when you find out that the fake case that Homes is going to hire the detective firm for is to find out who he is. Claiming to be suffering from a kind of mental disorder whereby he is unable to remember his own name.
The real strength and meat of this story comes from this dialogue he has with the other detective; and I’ll be the first to admit that there is probably a lot of references and gags that go right over my head, having not lived at the time of the writing of this. The humorous back and forth between the characters and the bumbling methodology of the underworld detective would make for an amusing little play I think.
The story concludes with Shylock coming to respect the other detective, and tying things up with a sort of platform for Bangs to write more from this new alternate reality of Holmes.
While definitely not worth reading if you are unfamiliar with the Holmes stories, it does have merit if you are. It’s such a short read I think it is well worth the time.
Mystery | 01/10
Innovation | 7/10
Entertainment | 5/10
Sexiness | 1/10