It’s back! The blog advent calendar. I enjoyed last year’s blog theme last year—re-reading twenty-four books of my youth—so much, so this year I’m applying the same approach to short stories, trawling through a myriad bunch of collections and anthologies I’ve read in the last few years.
December 15th: Woman’s Work by David Barnett
Tell me about your first time: Before I became a gibbering fanboy for David Barnett’s Gideon Smith series, this was the first time I encountered his work. Both the Encounters and Further Encounters collections (ed. by George Mann) have some excellent Holmes stories in them, in which Holmes it as his usual brilliant best. But in ‘Woman’s Work’ this is not quite the case, which is precisely why it is brilliant.
Sum it up: Holmes and Watson, lauded as they are, are in fact… well, completely useless. The real work is done by Mrs Hudson, who follows the clues and arranges things so that her lodger and his companion believe that it is themselves who have solved the crime…
Give me a quote: “’Then the game’s afoot!’ said Holmes, laughing delightedly, but to blank looks from the gathering in the parlour. He sighed. ‘It is a game fish, you see. And in length, about twelve inches.’
‘Ah, the game is a foot!’ said Watson, clapping his hands. ‘Oh you are clever, Holmes!’”
Second reading: Love Holmes as I do, it remains highly entertaining to see such an insipid iteration of him; meanwhile, the erstwhile Mrs Hudson is astute and endearingly down-t-earth – in fact, I would happily read an entire series in which Mrs Hudson solves things whilst Holmes and Watson knock around high on morphine and completely unawares.
I also benefited from having just watched The Blue Carbuncle (yes, I know, I’ve never watched a single of episode of Jeremy Brett and I should be ashamed of myself), which meant that I was particularly fresh on the details of the case. (‘Woman’s Work’ isn’t a direct parallel; more a retelling, which allows a final swipe at the Holmes canon as Mrs Hudson reads Dr. Watson’s far more grandiose version of events.)
Where can I read it: You can find it in Encounters of Sherlock Holmes (ed. George Mann.)