On The Stalwart Companions

Long time Allynologists know two things.

1) I am a Sherlock Holmes student/fan/scholar.
2) I am a Teddy Roosevelt Republican.

Over the weekend, I bought a book that brought the two together — H. Paul Jeffers’ The Stalwart Companions.

Originally published in the late-1970s, The Stalwart Companions is an hitherto untold Sherlock Holmes tale that brings the Great Detective to New York City in 1880 (a year before Stamford introduced Holmes to Watson) where he becomes involved in a murder investigation with Teddy Roosevelt, not yet Police Commissioner of New York, at his side.

I had been wanting to read this book for a number of years, and fortunately for me Titan Books reprinted it last month as part of their Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes series, more of which anon.

Holmes, visiting New York as part of a traveling theater company and performing in Twelfth Night under his stage name, William Escott, meets Roosevelt, with whom he has had, at this point, a long and fruitful correspondence, begun when Roosevelt, a student at Harvard, read Holmes’ monograph on distinguishing cigar ash. While dining together with Roosevelt’s friend, New York policeman Wilson Hargreave, word comes that a man was murdered in the Gramercy Park district, on the very doorstep of Samuel J. Tilden. Holmes, naturally, volunteers his services as a consulting detective, and Holmes and Roosevelt scour the city for clues.

This is a short, slight book. The story proper begins on page 27 of the Titan Books edition, and it finishes on page 136, with another forty pages of notes about Sherlockiana, historical matters, and other ephemera. The mystery is rather mundane; it’s clear that Holmes has worked out a great deal, and much of the book is simply Holmes getting information about a city he doesn’t know to flesh out his ideas. There is no great moment of “A-ha!” There are no great plot complications; Holmes and Roosevelt have a rather easy time of it all.

The one thing of interest about the story — it is written by Teddy Roosevelt, not by John H. Watson — is not, unfortunately, that remarkable. In truth, the narrative of the book reads like Watson, and not just because Roosevelt fulfills the Watson role in the story. There simply isn’t anything that sounds Roosevelt-ian.

The Stalwart Companions is short, reads fast, is entertaining enough, but is ultimately slight, and thus somewhat unsatisfying.

That said, I continue to be impressed with Titan’s Further Adventures line of reprint Sherlock Holmes pastiches. When I first heard of the series last year, I had my doubts — not in regards to the choices of the line, but rather in terms of production values. The books were announced as trade paperbacks at just under ten dollars, and I had concerns that the physical quality of the books would be poor; I bought the Terminator: Salvation novels from Titan last summer and found them to be, quite frankly, cheap. Imagine my surprise, then, when I found that the Further Adventures books are high quality, with sturdy covers and heavy paper. My only complaint would be this — the proofreading on the books has been somewhat haphazard. Otherwise, these are a quality product, and someone looking to build their library of modern Sherlock Holmes fiction would be well served to investigate Titan’s offerings.

I have another book of Jeffers’ Holmes stories I have yet to begin — the anthology, The Forgotten Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, which novelizes the 1940’s radio plays starring Basil Rathbone and written by Anthony Boucher. I think I may start this sooner rather than later.

And Boucher was no stranger to Holmes. He wrote one of my favorite pastiches, “The Adventure of the Bogle-Wolf,” in which Holmes, out of his mind on cocaine, draws a number of very interesting conclusions about the story of Little Red Riding Hood. 🙂

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