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Observations by Gaslight: Stories from the World of Sherlock Holmes


Observations by Gaslight: Stories from the World of Sherlock Holmes

I have been a Sherlockian for most of my life. Not only have I been reading the exploits of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Great Detective, I have been a card-carrying member of the Sherlockian Society for many years. As a thespian, I portrayed both Sherlock Holmes and William Gillette --- the actor who played Holmes more than anyone else on stage --- in several theatrical performances. As a published playwright, I penned an award-winning short play that featured Holmes and his archrival Moriarty.

I count myself fortunate to know Lyndsay Faye, who out-Sherlocks me and proves it with this incredible collection of stories, OBSERVATIONS BY GASLIGHT. She also hails from the greatest borough in the world --- Queens, New York --- where I spent a good part of my life. Based on this huge buildup, you can be sure that I was extremely excited to learn that this is unlike any Holmes collection I have ever read. Fans of Holmes are well aware that his work is actually penned by Dr. John Watson as witness to the unmatched detection work of his friend and colleague. In these six wonderful stories, Faye has utilized a different narrator from within the world of Sherlock Holmes.

"OBSERVATIONS BY GASLIGHT is so authentic and real that readers will practically be able to see the dark smoke billowing from the chimney tops and smell the lamplighter’s oil as he lights each gaslight in London."

Now that your interest is piqued, I shall give you a brief summary of each story. The first is a heavy hitter right out of the gates and is told to us from the perspective of the one female who has proven to be a match for the Great Detective: Irene Adler, who is now married but still carries her distinctive New Jersey accent with her. “The Adventure of the Stopped Clocks” finds Irene back in London for the first time since marrying Godfrey Norton, who is insanely jealous of Holmes and the possible semi-obsession his new bride may still have with him. Of course, you know she must find reason to run into her ex-rival/crush sooner or later. The mystery involving Godfrey’s no-good brother, an evil baron, and a series of curiously stopped clocks is great --- but nothing compares to the verbal sparring between Holmes and Irene.

Next up is “The Song of a Want,” which is told from the perspective of young solicitor Henry Wiggins, who was one of the Baker Street Irregulars. This macabre tale finds Holmes stepping in to save a young female cohort of Wiggins from the clutches of a villain known on the streets as the Lullaby Doctor. Holmes meets the nefarious character while in disguise and deduces that he is no man of medicine. The rumors are that the mostly young women who go to this “doctor” for treatment (if they come back at all) are minus most of their locks and claim to have seen his previous victims alive again right before their eyes. Just chilling!

“Our Common Correspondent” is the longest story here and is told to us by Inspector Geoffrey Lestrade of Scotland Yard, who has utilized the services of Holmes on many occasions. At the start of the tale, the tables are turned when Holmes shows up at Lestrade’s office in a near panic over being asked by Dr. Watson to be the best man at his nuptials. Lestrade relishes seeing Holmes in this state but succumbs and gives him advice about matrimonial workings and responsibilities. Holmes is able to pay Lestrade back in fast fashion when he is asked for assistance in an interesting case about two sisters, one of whom may have been victimized by a tricky advertisement in the local paper placed there by someone going by the title “Our Common Correspondent.”

“The River of Silence” is brought to us by Inspector Stanley Hopkins, who fancies himself as a potential protégé to Holmes. He will be more than that when Lestrade introduces him to Holmes and Watson, who are called in to assist Hopkins and Scotland Yard with a gruesome case involving unidentified body limbs turning up. First, it’s a woman’s forearm in a box with curious Chinese decorations adorning it. Then it’s a leg that washes ashore from the Thames River. It’s this very river that provides us with the title of the story as Holmes notes that Edgar Allan Poe referred to the Thames as the River of Silence. This is an exceptional tale with an unpredictable ending.

“The Gospel of Sheba” contains almost for its entirety the unique protagonist A. Davenport Lomax, a sublibrarian who has often provided Holmes and Watson with research materials upon request. Lomax finds himself mixed up with a clandestine group of mostly bankers and the well-to-do who are obsessed with the supernatural and refer to their membership as the Brotherhood of Solomon. When one of the members visits with Lomax at his library, the request is for a rare occult work entitled The Gospel of Sheba. When members of this society begin falling deathly ill after perusing it, Lomax believes that they are somehow being poisoned --- which leads us to the eventual appearance of Holmes, who we all know is an expert in chemistry. This is another great tale that mixes the supernatural with mystery elements.

The final and shortest story in the collection is “A Life Well Lived.” It also is the most heartwarming and personal for readers of Holmes as the narrator is Martha Hudson, his faithful landlady at 221B Baker Street. She has been renting the 221 “B” apartments to Holmes for what seems like forever, in addition to his sometime roommate, Dr. Watson. This is a touching character study from Hudson’s perspective that also contains an interesting mystery sure to bring a smile to the face of every reader.

For those who may not be familiar with some or all of these narrators, Faye does you a huge favor by including a bio for each contributor. OBSERVATIONS BY GASLIGHT is so authentic and real that readers will practically be able to see the dark smoke billowing from the chimney tops and smell the lamplighter’s oil as he lights each gaslight in London. Faye is brilliant and makes me wish I had thought of this idea first!

Reviewed by Ray Palen on January 7, 2022

Observations by Gaslight: Stories from the World of Sherlock Holmes
by Lyndsay Faye

  • Publication Date: December 6, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Short Stories
  • Paperback: 295 pages
  • Publisher: Mysterious Press
  • ISBN-10: 1613163673
  • ISBN-13: 9781613163672