Sunday, 13 March 2011

Erasing Sherlock - Kelly Hale (2008)

There's one truly shocking line in the otherwise brilliant Erasing Sherlock, a sentence so unbelievably bad, so implausible and unlikely, that it suspends belief for a second, jerks the reader out of the narrative and leaves him glaring at the page, daring the words to re-assemble themselves into something which more nearly approximates to a sensible universe.

'After 3o years of writing short stories, Kelly Hale has had two published'

The Author's Note also mentions one novel co-authored for the BBC Doctor Who range and, of course, the current volume, in the copy to hand the penultimate novel in the Faction Paradox range of loosely linked novels.

One and a half novels and two short stories (actually now three, after I had the pleasure of publishing the quite lovely 'Big Horn Casino' in Iris: Abroad last year) in 30 years for a writer as talented as Kelly Hale? That's horrible.

Anyway, enough of the soapbox stuff - what about Erasing Sherlock?

First thing to point out is that if anybody's worried that they don't know a bloody thing about this Faction Paradox malarkey, don't worry. As with all the best Faction stories, ES has only the most tenuous link to anything else in the series and, in truth, the actual Faction stuff occurs only very late on and has a very 'tacked on' feel to it (presumably the new Kindle version of the book removes the Faction entirely which will, I suspect, make it an even better book).

The second thing worth noting is that it's a fabulous novel, not a fabulous science fiction novel or a fabulous Sherlock Holmes sequel. True enough, it's the story of a modern day academic who goes back in time to study the real life Sherlock Holmes as part of her doctoral thesis into 19th century crime. But, no matter how that sounds, this is neither merely competent genre fiction nor simple above average pastiche.

Holmes and Watson live and breathe in this book in a way that brings to mind Conan Doyle himself rather than the ranks of hacks and cash-in artists who followed him, and Hale has clearly studied the more seedy elements of Victorian society and demonstrates that study on the page to great effect. Gillian Petra is a believable heroine and the story itself is a fascinating one, moving from serial killing in smog bound London to torture and murder near Krakatoa as it erupts and covers the world in ash.

But at the heart of the book is the relationship between Holmes, Watson and Petra. Hale thankfully doesn't shy away from...well, from anything. Actually, maybe it's that which prevented this novel from being a deservedly massive hit. Where it should have picked up impetus from Sherlockians desperate for new Holmesian adventures, it possibly scared them away by talking about - the horror! - periods, rape and masturbation, and by depicting the Great Detective as a sexual human being. But the fact is that, as with Hale's portrayal of Watson, nothing in the characterisation of Holmes feels askew. Rather, Holmes suddenly feels imbued with a third dimension (for reference, playing the fiddle and being a bit of a junkie do not a genuine personality make) and Watson becomes more than a mere cypher.

'I have a fondness for the game - the challenge and the chase - which I fear will fade once the puzzle of you has been pieced together...It is craven of me to want you the way I do, when I know I will not when you cease to be a mystery to me.'

I drew one hand dramatically across my brow. 'You have no affection for me? Mon Dieu. I shall die!' His mouth pursed in annoyance. 'If this is supposed to be an apology, it's a piss-poor one.'
Erasing Sherlock is a more up to date and modern take on Sherlock Holmes than the recent Robert Downey Jr movie or anything from the past 100 or so years of sequels, parodies and pastiches (though you can spot certain similarities with the new BBC tv series written, co-incidentally, by another couple of Doctor Who writers). As demonstrated by it's change from a prize winning entry in the North American Fiction prize in 2000, to its existence as a Faction Paradox novel in 2008 and now a Kindle standalone novel in 2011, it's good enough to work on any number of levels and with any amount of different emphases.

Seriously though - three short stories and one and half novels in thirty years? That's a bloody disgrace. Someone give this woman a three novel contract, now!

You can buy Erasing Sherlock for Kindle here (not for the superior epub format though, which is something which needs fixed)


  1. Yes. Kelly is definitely first class. By rights, publisher's should be fighting each other to get her on board.

  2. She's one of half a dozen former Who novelists that I'd love to be able to afford to pay to write a novel each. It'd be a fantastic series of books...