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 18th: The Case of the Pipe Dream by Chantelle Messier
Tell me about your first time: Obverse’s Tales of the Great Detectives may well be my favourite non-canon Holmes book ever. I don’t say that lightly either; I’ve read a shit-ton of them. It’s genius from start to finish. It takes place in the City of the Saved (which ties to the Faction Paradox world, a fandom I know zero about, so I couldn’t comment on that aspect; it’s immaterial to the book though) in which all possible fictional versions of Holmes and Watson exist together, in one Agency. And thus you could have, for example, a cartoon animal Holmes paired with a Victorian Watson, or any other combination you can conceive of (including Young Sherlock Holmes, who shows up in the first story in the collection.)
I should emphasise that when I chose ‘The Case of the Pipe Dream’, although I chose it because it’s my favourite in the book, it’s a close thing. Honestly: you really should just go buy this book right now, because I can’t speak highly enough of it.
Sum it up: A Doyle-format Watson is dispatched to find a ‘broken’ Holmes – one based on a shonky 40s radio serial version – and in doing so uncovers a dastardly plot of literary proportions…
Give me a quote: “At the top where it must connect into the mysterious corporate building, the pipe walls give way to a maze of smaller outlets and pressurized water emitted. The sensation of narrative direction is overpowering, and I feel oddly compelled to ask foolish questions and look for fingerprints through magnifying glass. I even fancy I feel my old war wound throb. Meanwhile, Holmes is singing a jingle for a Labour Day sales even in between conducting a stern interrogation of his left shoe. ‘We’ve got to get out of this thing,’ I mutter, ‘before we both devolve into fictional stereotypes.'”
Second reading: God, there is just so much to love about this story. The whole of the book, given its premise, is brilliantly meta, but ‘The Case of the Pipe Dream’ is meta-on-toast. Without giving too much away, the plot turns on the idea that something is causing everyone to start acting a good deal more fictional, (and thus the ‘broken’ Holmes, who is jolly, full of plot-holes and prone to spontaneous advertising, is merely infected) which gives ample opportunity for lots of referential swipes at both the Holmes canon and Victorian fiction in general. This leads to all sorts of simultaneously very funny and very clever contrivances, while somehow also managing to be a cohesive mystery story (which is pretty tricky given that it exists in a world in which there aren’t any defined rules). And the story concludes with what I’m going to go on record here and say is the finest closing line ever. (Yeah, I know, big talk. I’ll fight you on it.)
Where can I read it: In Obverse’s Tales of the Great Detectives, edited by Philip Purser-Hallard. You should go buy it from them, because they make lots of cool books, and I want them to carry on making more.
(Also, MY GOD, I’ve just discovered that she has her own series of Victorian steampunk detective stories – Shalaby and Fecklace. Guess what I’m gonna be reading next?!)