Donald Thomas, "The Execution of Sherlock Holmes"

Donald Thomas, "The Execution of Sherlock Holmes"

The perfect detective spends his final hours in the perfect prison


Come on, the title was just too good to resist. I'm not quite the Holmesian I once was, but the adventures of the Baker Street detective and the good doctor have long stayed with me, as they have millions upon millions of readers around the world. The Execution of Sherlock Holmes: New Adventures of the Great Detective  is a collection of five Holmes adventures, and the third such anthology by Donald Thomas. The first short story starts off with a (literal) bang - the execution of Sherlock Holmes.






Based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 1904 story "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton", Donald relates a story of revenge and ingenuity through the bewildered eyes of Dr. John Watson, who hears his friend leave their 221B Baker Street residence one morning, only to vanish for the next three weeks. Told alternately from Watson's and Holmes' point of view, "The Execution of Sherlock Holmes" sees the detective captured by a cabal of individuals who hold a sizeable grudge against him - men who had apparently died as a result of his investigations, and the ringleader, the brother of Charles Augustus Milverton. They stage a kangaroo court where they find Holmes guilty of Milverton's murder. The punishment is death, and Holmes must spend his final hours in a perfect prison.


What primarily makes "The Execution of Sherlock Holmes" interesting is the solidity of Holmes' confinement. His every waking and sleeping moment is watched. His guards are meticulously careful not to come within arms' reach of him. His food is cut before it is served to him, depriving him of any utensils he might use to escape. The table and chair in his cell is removed every night, merely as a precaution. He is drugged every evening, to rob his strength and dull his memory.


I'm not spoiling anything when I say that Holmes still manages to escape and have the last laugh over his captors.


Donald Thomas will be the first person to tell you that he's no Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, yet his take on the great detective (the only one I've read, anyway) makes for entertaining, if exhausting, reading. His prose is more contemporary than that of Doyle; yet, when the story switches to Holmes, there are paragraphs and paragraphs of nothing but text and background, with no dialog to break the flow. It's necessary, of course, but at times tedious. Describing (in minute detail) the layout and dimensions of Holmes' cell, and Holmes' extensive, polymath background makes for a satisfying conclusion. The problem is navigating and negotiating your way through what feels like hundreds of details.


Then again, this is detective fiction.


Once the details are dispensed with, the pace picks up a bit. Anybody remotely familiar with the many adventures of Sherlock Holmes will lose no sleep knowing Holmes the musician, Holmes the chemist, Holmes the human library, Holmes the escapologist (more than once, Watson calls him a "machine"). Holmes the passive murderer was slightly more of a surprise, but he's rarely been one to play by the rules. Suspension of disbelief comes easily enough, but more satisfying was that Holmes' brilliance worked perfectly with the extreme measures taken by his adversaries. There is a bit of luck involved in his escape, but there's no rabbit-out-of-a-hat stuff here; Thomas has his baddies set up a perfect prison. The perfect detective breaks out, and it makes absolute sense.


Thomas, for some reason, reveals Holmes' full name to be "William Sherlock Scott Holmes". As best as I know, Doyle was satisfied with "Sherlock", so why Thomas would go against such sacred canon is a mystery that maybe even Holmes himself couldn't solve.


4.0/5.0: "The Execution of Sherlock Holmes" is an interesting and entertaining entry in the world of Holmesian fiction.