My grandma is probably responsible for my fascination with Sherlock Holmes. It was her, many years ago, who gave me my first copy of the canon stories, the 50-odd short stories and four novels about the world’s greatest detective. Since then, I have devoured many pieces of fan-fiction (even published Holmes novels are technically fan-fiction) and watched movies and TV serials featuring various versions of Sherlock Holmes, from the pipe-smoking original to the so-called ‘high-functioning sociopath’ of Sherlock. However, I have always had a soft spot for the original version of the character.
This isn’t too surprising, I feel. Holmes was a creature of Victorian London, not the modern-day world or a far-future starship. He fitted in there (like Flashman fits into the 1850s) perfectly, while moving him to other locations renders him less plausible as a character. Stephanie Osborn, however, has taken the unexpected step of moving the original Holmes from his world to our present-day world. And, surprisingly, Holmes fits in rather well.
To sum up a long story, a scientist – Skye Chadwick – discovers that alternate worlds are real, including those that only exist in our imaginations. Finding a timeline where Holmes dies in his confrontation with Professor Moriarty (shown in The Final Problem/The Empty House), Skye accidentally brings Holmes back to our world with her. Half of the story is centred around Holmes learning to understand the modern world, which he does with aplomb; the other half is centred around a mystery on the base, a mystery that Holmes can try to solve.
Unsurprisingly, as Watson isn’t included in the trip, the book follows a more standard adventure format than the canon. This is a challenge to any author, as depicting Holmes’s thought processes isn’t easy. However, Osborn does a good job of displaying both how Holmes solves puzzles – even when there are aspects of the modern world that are either beyond his comprehension or out-rightly offensive to his sensibilities – and displaying that her Holmes isn’t that different to the Holmes of canon (where he is largely seen through Watson’s eyes.)
Skye Chadwick herself is an interesting character; smart, opinionated and more than a match, in some ways, for Holmes himself. The dynamics between the two are genuinely interesting; Skye does her best for Holmes, but isn’t afraid to kick him in the ass if necessary. She contrasts quite well with Mary Russell, who (at least in the first two books, the only ones I read) is more Holmes’s pupil than his equal. Of course, Watson wasn’t his equal either, but John Watson was an established person in his own right.
One aspect of the book that will cause issues is the developing romance between Holmes and Skye. Purists to the Holmes canon will assert that Holmes had no interest in women, apart from the ones who bring him interesting cases. More cynical eyes will note that Holmes treated (canon) Irene Adler quite badly; she was acting in self-defence, while he was working for her tormentor. (It is notable that neither Irene nor Holmes express any doubt over Norton’s character; there is no reason to think of him as anything other than the good man she calls him, in her farewell note to Holmes.) And yet, Holmes thought highly of her because she had managed to beat him …
Just how sexual canon Holmes was is debatable. There is nothing resembling a sex scene in any of the canon books, because the mores of the time would have frowned upon it. (And can you seriously imagine staid John Watson writing sex scenes?) People have tended to call him asexual, not without reason, even though he does manage to charm women on several occasions. And yet, Holmes was not the sort of man to be attracted to a pretty face with nothing behind the eyes. Irene caught his attention because she might have been his equal, a woman with the intelligence, coolness and courage that Holmes respected. Would someone who was Irene’s equal, without the problem of a husband or a past history with Holmes, be more attractive to him? It is, at least, probable. I do not believe that anyone can reasonably dispute that Holmes had a heart.
It’s interesting to compare it to All-Consuming Fire, where Holmes and Watson (still in London) encounter the Seventh Doctor and his companions. At first, Holmes is more than a little disoriented when taken out of London midway through the book – the Doctor points out that everything Holmes depends on to do his job is no longer with them – but he gets better, much better, as the story goes along.
Overall, though, if you’re not wedded to canon The Displaced Detective is well worth a read.