Over the last several months, Standard Ebooks has released nicely made, free ebooks of the Holmes canon, except only The Casebook because it’s not in the public domain yet in the United States. They’ve also released several books of Maurice Leblanc’s Arsène Lupin, gentleman burglar, and since I was unfamiliar with the character (save for the story reprinted in Ellery Queen’s The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes) I’ve begun reading the series, beginning with The Extraordinary Adventures of Arsène Lupin, Gentleman-Burglar.
The second book in the series, Arsène Lupin Versus Herlock Sholmes, pits Lupin against the great English detective, Herlock Sholmes. Knowing that the original meeting of Lupin and the detective was originally titled “Sherlock Holmes Arrives Too Late” and that the character was (lightly) renamed on republication after Doyle’s lawyers complained, I took the liberty of editing the ebook of Arsène Lupin Versus Herlock Sholmes to restore the character names to what they should have been (and what Leblanc no doubt intended) — Herlock Sholmes became Sherlock Holmes, Wilson became Watson, 219 Parker Street became 221B Baker Street. Five minutes work, and I had a new Sherlock Holmes novel to read.
The premise of the book — an antique desk is stolen, a blue diamond disappears. Inspector Ganimard of the Paris police is stymied in his investigation; he knows that Arsène Lupin, the notorious thief, is behind the crimes (admittedly so in the papers in one case), but Lupin and his accomplice, the “Blonde Lady,” keep escaping from Ganimard and the police when seemingly trapped, and when Ganimard believes he’s captured the Blonde Lady, the witnesses say that she’s the wrong person. With the police stymied, the people robbed by Lupin write to Sherlock Holmes, and he takes their case, eager to match wits with Arsène Lupin and bring him to justice. This tale is followed by a second story, “The Jewish Lamp,” in which Holmes takes the case of a client in Paris whose antique lamp is stolen, apparently by Lupin, only Lupin warns Holmes via letter not to meddle in the case because the situation is far more complex than anyone else knows.
This is not a tale written by Watson. Instead, it’s written by Lupin’s Boswell (whose tale of how he came to chronicle Lupin’s adventures and misdeeds is written in The Extraordinary Adventures of Arsène Lupin, Gentleman-Burglar, the first Lupin collection), and Watson doesn’t fare very well either in the telling or the doing. If Watson wasn’t particularly bright in the Rathbone/Bruce films, he’s somehow even dimmer here. Holmes, on the other hand, is every bit as brilliant as yet somehow even more arrogant than Doyle’s original; I kept thinking of the characterization as “Cumberbatch unchained,” though in retrospect Downey, Jr.’s portrayal is probably even closer. Except for an especially dippy Watson, nothing here feels especially wrong for a Sherlock Holmes story.
Though obviously not published as a Sherlock Holmes book, and maybe not meant to be read that way, Arsène Lupin Versus Herlock Sholmes, names changed back to the originals, presents a serious take on Holmes, tinged occasionally with Gallic farce, in which Leblanc finds a way for both Holmes and Lupin to “win.” Lupin is far more anti-hero than villain — I expected a character much closer to E.W. Hornung’s A.J. Raffles, which Lupin is very much not — and Holmes and Lupin have an interesting relationship; they’re far more alike than Holmes would ever care to admit, and they could be genuine friends if only Lupin weren’t a thief. But the law comes between them, and they will always be rivals when their paths cross.
All in all, a fun book.