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Posted on 22 Mar 2018 in Crime Scene |

CHRISTOPHER SEQUIERA (Ed.) Sherlock Holmes: The Australian Casebook. Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

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An accessible dip into the world of fan fiction, these 16 illustrated short stories are not just for lovers of Sherlock Holmes.

Seventeen different authors have contributed to this collection, including the overall editor Christopher Sequiera, himself a Sherlock Holmes devotee. As the introduction by Bill Barnes suggests, it appears the idea came from a short reference in Conan Doyle’s The Sign of the Four, when Dr Watson, looking around the grounds of a house being searched for treasure, remarks that he has seen something similar at the gold diggings near Ballarat.

The premise behind the collection is that Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson visited various locations around Australia for several months in 1890. The conceit is established in Sequiera’s fictional foreword:

I suppose it was something of an inevitability that the cache of documents I have come to call ‘The Antipodean Case Files’ came into my possession a few years ago.

… So it was then, that when a large assortment of notes was uncovered in an auction of a deceased estate in Sydney a few years ago and the contents appeared to be related to Holmes and Watson, the buyer was directed through two or three parties, eventually to me. I examined the collection and was astounded (still am!) to see it was an assortment of notations, diary entries, newspaper clippings, the odd photograph and other pieces of ephemera relating to Mr Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson’s visit to the shores of Australia for a period of several months in 1890.

The individual short stories are written in the style of Arthur Conan Doyle, with Watson as the narrator. Each relates to a case they were involved in during their period in Australia, varied slightly by the authors’ approaches and, perhaps, their level of Holmesian fandom.

While on one level this is fan fiction to the extreme, it is also a series of short stories, developed around a theme, allowing a range of well- and lesser-known authors to ply their trade creating that most elusive of things – a solid, short, well-developed crime tale.

The types of cases and the locations within Australia are quite diverse – from the opening story by Meg Keneally, The Play’s the Thing, set in the theatre world of New South Wales:

‘Oh, please don’t concern yourselves. The theatre is a place for inflamed passions, even in one such as Louisa Fraser.’

– to Melbourne and ‘A Wild Colonial’ by Kerry Greenwood and Lindy Cameron:

No doubt Holmes would be wondering what was keeping me from the hotel, as it was I who’d been desperate for a cool drink, but a necessary walk across the dusty yard to the outhouse had thrown more strangeness in my path in five minutes than we’d encountered in the previous two weeks.

The reader is immediately provided with a feel for the language and style of Conan Doyle, as well as for the way this anthology is going to move them around the country. Staying in Melbourne, next up is Kaaron Warren’s ‘Shadows of the Dead’, but it’s not all city-based, and Raymond Gates in ‘The Sung Man’ soon moves proceedings to a very different location:

We had been in Australia for some months when we found ourselves in the bleakest, most godforsaken part of the country. I had experienced the desolate, unforgiving climates of Afghanistan and Asia, yet the physical challenge in withstanding the scorched, red earth that made up the interior of Australia was even greater.

From there to Perth in Will Schaefer’s ‘The Prima Donna’s Finger’, South Australia in ‘The Adventure of the Demonic Abduction’ by J Scherpenhuizen and back to Melbourne for the train to Ballarat – and my personal favourite in the collection, ‘The Mystery of the Miner’s Wife’ by Narelle M Harris:

‘Watson, the delay can’t be helped. Take a walk to exorcise your frustration if you must.’

I scowled my ill temper over the top of the newspaper at my friend Mr Sherlock Holmes, and told an outright lie as we sat in the Melbourne coffee palace that brisk, sunny day.

‘I don’t know what you mean, Holmes.’

‘You’re throttling that broadsheet as though it’s done you personal injury,’ he said. ‘I can’t imagine the reported discussions on federating the southern colonies are at fault. Therefore, your mood relates to this morning’s letter from England, which contains no worse news than that your practice is performing perfectly well without you, and that your wife is happily taking the waters in Bath with her friend, Mrs Forrester.’

Harris has a particularly deft touch at all the Holmesian elements – her depiction of both characters is perfect, the plot is clever and everything is woven beautifully into 1890s mining town Ballarat.

From there we head back to Sydney in Jason Franks’s ‘The Problem of the Biggest Man in Australia’ (with a particularly nice segue from Ballarat to Sydney via the SS Burrumbeet), and we remain in Sydney for Robert Veld’s ‘The Murder at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair’. Back to Melbourne and ‘The Mysterious Drowning at St Kilda’ by Steve Cameron, then towards Queanbeyan in LJM Owen’s ‘The Adventure of the Lazarus Child’. We go adventuring in Sydney again with Doug Elliott and ‘The Adventure of the Flash of Silver’; Christopher Sequeira heads to Queensland with the wonderfully titled ‘The Dirranbandi Station Mystery’ and then we are taken back to South Australia in ‘The Adventure of the Purloined Bunyip’ by Philip Cornell. Rounding the collection out are ‘The Case of the Vanishing Fratery’ by TSP Sweeney, set back in the bush, and then to Hobart on the way to New Zealand with ‘The Story of the Remarkable Woman’ by Lucy Sussex and a small hat tip to Fergus Hume himself.

From this list it probably feels a little like a travel anthology, but the change of settings is seamless, as the continuing thread is always the interactions between the great Sherlock Holmes and his faithful companion, friend and confessor Dr Watson. Given the frequency of mentions of Australia throughout Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories, it’s not a great leap to believe the pair could have visited our shores, making the premise for the anthology not far-fetched at all. There is, however, variation in the level of success at getting the tone right, and there are considerable differences in the quality of the most basic elements of plot versus character, and sometimes in plot consistency and execution.

As with all short story collections, fortunately there is more than enough difference to provide some favourites for all readers, and more than enough to give those readers a whole new list of authors to follow.

Christopher Sequiera (Ed.) Sherlock Holmes: The Australian Casebook Echo Publishing 2017 HB 384pp $34.99

Karen Chisholm blogs from, where she posts book reviews well as author biographies.

You can buy this book from Abbey’s at a 10% discount by quoting the promotion code NEWTOWNREVIEW here or you can buy it from Booktopia here.

To see if it is available from Newtown Library, click here.