In this collection of stories, compiled by John Joseph Adams, a variety of authors invent cases that Sherlock Holmes might encounter if our world were just a bit different. These are cases in which the “improbable” occurs. Most of the stories involve some sort of fantastical situation in which Holmes is required to go outside of his normal logic-based abilities and enter the realm of fantasy. The array of horror, fantasy, and sci-fi authors is quite extensive. Laurie King, Neil Gaiman, Stephen Baxter and Robert Sawyer are just a few of the names that grace this anthology.
I enjoyed the premise of the book very much. I’m an urban fantasy fan, and this sounded right up my alley. Many of the stories stay true to the theme, but a significant number are just typical Holmes stories: he gets involved in a case that seems fantastic, but by the end he is able to explain what happened in his usual surprisingly mundane way. I was a little disappointed that so many of these stories were not the “improbable” type that the book advertises. The whole hook was supposed to be that these are Sherlock Holmes stories that go beyond the normal. That small complaint aside, I found the majority of the tales enjoyable. I love a good mystery, and I love to watch Sherlock Holmes pick apart a case using his inhuman deduction skills. You will find plenty of that in The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
There are a few stories that really stand out. Tim Lebbon’s “The Horror of the Many Faces” captures the spirit of the collection perfectly. Watson bears witness to a series of grisly murders. The story takes an unnatural path, and stretches the imagination by the time it concludes. Although the things that happen would be impossible in the actual Holmes universe, “The Horror of the Many Faces” never loses the spirit of a Sherlock Holmes mystery. Neil Gaiman’s entry, “A Study in Emerald,” is another that stood out for me. In a Lovecraftian world, where the dark beasts are now our rulers, Holmes works a case involving a murder of one of the ruling races. Very entertaining and twisted stuff, as we have come to expect from Gaiman.
I listened to The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes on a set of 18 discs released by Brilliance Audio. As in the original Holmes tales, the stories are primarily dictated from the point of view of Holmes’ friend and sidekick, Dr. Watson. Simon Vance provides the voice of the male characters, and he is nothing short of brilliant. He switches from Watson to Holmes seamlessly, and adds inflections that match the ages and personalities of the characters perfectly. His voice acting instantly took me away to the Holmes world. I did cringe a little whenever he was forced to do an “American” accent, but I will say that his American accent is worlds better than my English one! Anne Flosnick is another voice contributor and does a great job as well. It’s obvious that the voice actors were cast with great care.
The beginning of the book gives a welcome introduction to the Holmes universe. I am not altogether familiar with the cast of characters that appear in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work, so I was grateful for the short history lesson, and it left me much more knowledgeable about certain figures in the stories.
I had a lot of fun listening to this anthology, and the production quality was flawless. My hour-long commute to work went by much more quickly, and for that I’m grateful. I would also suggest that readers take their time with Adams’ collection. The stories are best enjoyed one or two at a time. I found they tended to mesh together when going through them one after the other. When I read one or two and then moved on to something else, I found that to be the most enjoyable way to experience these stories.