After Arthur Conan Doyle’s wife Louisa was diagnosed with tuberculosis, the Sherlock Holmes creator moved their family from the English seaside and constructed a new home in Surrey, whose climate was thought to be more beneficial. They lived together at the residence, called Undershaw, from 1897 until Louisa’s death in 1906, a period that saw Doyle write 13 Holmes stories, including The Hound of the Baskervilles. He left in 1907 and sold the property a few years later; it became a hotel in 1924 and later fell into disrepair. By 2012, Undershaw faced demolition.
A campaign to save it drew support from a variety of sources, including independent London publisher MX, which at that time published a range of Sherlockian titles, including nonfiction, traditional novels, fantasies, and children’s books.
The DFN Foundation purchased Undershaw in 2014 so that one of its initiatives, the Stepping Stones special needs school, could open a second site. Extensive renovations were needed to transform the property into a school, and to help that effort, MX founder Steve Emecz launched the MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories series. Contributors donate their royalties to Stepping Stones, and that money goes toward supporting Stepping Stones’ Undershaw operations.
The New Sherlock Holmes Stories volumes consistently garner starred reviews from PW; the stories in a 2018 installment, for instance, “manage to remain faithful to Conan Doyle and to display the creative plotting gifts of their authors.” As of November, the number of short stories in the series totals more than 500, dwarfing the 56 that Conan Doyle wrote.
That impressive figure and sustained level of quality is a credit to the series’ editor, David Marcum. In 2015, Marcum, who had published Holmes pastiches with MX before, approached Emecz about editing an anthology of a dozen or so stories. “My requirements were that these new adventures had to be absolutely traditional,” Marcum says. “No parody, no anachronisms, no actual supernatural encounters, and nothing that showed any influence from the then-current Holmes-type television shows.”
Marcum began by tracking down authors of Holmes books he had in his personal library. Word of the project spread, and the initial book soon became three. The submissions kept coming, leading to three spring annuals, whose stories have nothing in common beyond being traditional pastiches, and three more anthologies every fall that share a theme, such as seemingly impossible crimes or supposedly supernatural mysteries.
This November’s releases expand Conan Doyle’s offhand references to cases he never developed into full-fledged mysteries. Writers include prior series contributor Denis O. Smith, regarded as one of the best at channeling Conan Doyle. In Smith’s “The Broken Glass,” Holmes investigates a sudden death at an eccentric gentlemen’s club whose members dress up as beggars, inspired by Watson’s passing mention, in “The Five Orange Pips,” of the Amateur Mendicant Society.
Marcum also landed someone connected to the original Undershaw: a great-grandnephew of Bram Stoker, who’d been a guest of Conan Doyle’s there. Dacre Stoker and Lev Butts collaborated on “The Tired Captain,” another tease from the original Holmes canon; it was, Stoker says, “a fitting tribute to introduce Holmes and Watson to Bram’s characters, to investigate one of the non-supernatural deaths in Dracula.”
More MX anthologies are already in the works for 2021. The concept of using Holmes to benefit a good cause would likely have appealed to Conan Doyle: he wrote the 1896 short story “The Field Bazaar” to help his alma mater, Edinburgh University, fundraise for a new building. Words spoken by Holmes in the last paragraph of the story, though meant in a different context, could also be used to inspire future fund-raisers: “It is as easy as possible,” said he, “and I leave its solution to your own ingenuity.”