When it comes to the BBC show Sherlock, there are (of course) those who have seen it and those who have not. First, I’d like to address those individuals who have not watched a single episode of the hugely popular modern take on Sherlock Holmes. Here goes:
You do NOT need to have ever read a single Sherlock Holmes story to enjoy this TV show. You do not need to know any details about the characters that Arthur Conan Doyle brought to life in his novellas and short stories. This is a show whose popularity is through the roof for a very good reason: fewer than a dozen extremely interesting characters involved in six (so far) 90-minute episodes making up Season 1 and Season 2. It takes some shows two or more seasons of 12-24 episodes to develop this level of character development and love from viewers. Yes, many of the fans have the benefit of knowing the Holmes canon and all the secrets and character quirks and villains, making the modern version of Holmes and Watson so much more entertaining when you have a slight clue about where a story may or may not be heading. But trust me… without one bit of knowledge on Doyle and his most famous character, it is so easy to get hooked on this show, especially given Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the two lead roles. So… get to it. You’ve got the rest of this year (and maybe a bit of 2014) to watch and enjoy the first two seasons before Season 3 makes its way to the US. (Of course, UK viewers only have a few more months to wait, I believe, and yes, there are always ways to catch the BBC presentation when it finally happens.) Once you’ve caught up, feel free to come back and hunt down this post, as I’ve got a great book to recommend to you if you add yourself to the long list of the show’s fans. Don’t read any further for right now, though, because there be spoilers ahead!
Now I’d like to speak to fans of Sherlock:
Are you as anxious to see how Season 3 starts as I am? Have you rewound and paused and zoomed in on digital frames of the ending of the last episode of Season 2, looking for clues, trying to figure it out? (Of course, most everyone has their theory, and I think mine has some merit.) It’s an amazing bit of writing squeezed into just six episodes, and I’m already wondering myself which of the stories will be used as baselines for the modern versions. (If you know, please don’t tell me — I have been avoiding news and spoilers and discussion on Season 3 as much as possible.)
Well, while we wait and wait and wait… pick yourself up a copy of The Sherlock Files: The Official Companion to the Hit Television Series, written by Guy Adams. If that name sounds familiar to you (in terms of a Sherlock context), it’s for a good reason: Adams is the same writer who created The Case Files of Sherlock Holmes, a scrapbook-like book full of notes from some of the most popular crimes and “artifacts” that can be examined — tickets, letters, photos, and much more. I have a copy on my shelf and it’s one of my most favorite Holmes reference books of all time. (I’m copying my short review of the Case Files book to the end of this post, so check it out if you call yourself a Holmes fan and don’t already own a copy.)
Well, Adams has put together a similar book for the show Sherlock. This book mirrors the Case Files book in that it’s presented as a scrapbook put together by Watson. But the difference here is that this scrapbook is modern, with digital photos, handwritten summaries in ballpoint pen, and sticky notes everywhere that contain very funny back-and-forth bits of dialogue between Sherlock and John (and sometimes Mycroft).
Breaking up the scrapbook portions of each of the six cases from the first six episodes is a series of essays that will make any Sherlock fan smile. There are behind-the-scenes details on how the show came to be, direct from the show’s two writers, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss (who also plays Mycroft). Spread out in the essays are short interviews with cast members about their respective roles and discussion on how the various stories were developed and brought up-to-date while at the same time giving all kinds of nods and winks to fans of the original stories who will more than likely discover at least one secret tucked into an episode that they never knew before. For example, I totally missed the coffee cup (Criterion written on the side) in John’s hand in the first episode, “A Study in Pink,” that nods to the Criterion Bar where Watson and Stamford discuss Watson’s need for a flatmate in the original story, A Study in Scarlet.
And that’s one of my favorite things about this book, by the way: the “By the Book” essays that point out sometimes hidden and oftentimes blatant nods from the episodes to the original tales. Some of them I picked up on during my viewings, but quite a few I totally missed. You’ll find “By the Book” essays for the following episodes: “A Study in Pink,” “The Great Game, “A Scandal in Belgravia”, and “The Hounds of Baskerville.” (Unfortunately, “By the Book” essays are missing for “The Blind Banker” and “The Reichenbach Fall” episodes– maybe those will find their way into a future companion book.)
Essays and interviews for each episode are followed up by John’s scrapbook collections. The recollections of the key elements for each case are provided in John’s handwriting and will make for an excellent recap for fans who might not have time to rewatch the episodes before Season 3 hits. Scattered around each of the scrapbook pages are sticky notes with John and Sherlock (and Mycroft) trading barbs. This isn’t dialogue found in the episodes, but the voice and language are so well done that you’ll actually hear John and Sherlock’s voices as you read them. They’re often hilarious and match the personalities and dialogue that viewers have seen develop between the characters. You’ll also find close-ups of a lot of the details that only get a split second on screen — maps, tickets, IDs, text messages, and much more. There are even some new artifacts that are created that are mentioned but never seen in the episodes — emails, letters, pages from books and newspapers — all that lend a bit of realism to the scrapbook feel of the book.
Complaints? I only have one, and it’s that Adams’s Case Files book got me spoiled with its physical artifacts that could be pulled out of the book (some, not all) and examined closely. All of the artifacts in this book are created digitally and exist only on the page, not as physical objects glued into the pages or easily removed. That said, the cost of this new book would have been significantly higher and would probably have covered a lot less territory if physical artifacts had been included. I’ll take the much more comprehensive coverage of all six episodes that this book offers as a fair trade.
The book is in full color and comes in at 160 pages. The sheer volume of photos, evidence, notes, and other scrapbook bits is surprising. The layout of the various props on the page is eye-catching and logical in its order. As an official companion book to the series, I cannot imagine anything more it could include. All in all, it’s a very well done fan book and I’m hopeful Adams will be doing a follow-up for Season 3 or waiting for a Season 4. (Given Cumberbatch’s and Freeman’s growing popularity with some recent movie hits, I’m hoping a Season 4 is still a possibility).
The Sherlock Files will be available on July 16, 2013.
Note: I’d like to thank Cayla at Harper Collins for providing me a review copy. And below you’ll find my short (and updated) summary review of Adams’s previous Sherlock Holmes book, The Case Files of Sherlock Holmes. Up to now, it’s been a hard to find book, but it looks like the book is being re-released with a slight change of title — The Case Notes of Sherlock Holmes.
The Case Files of Sherlock Holmes is a bit older book and may be a little more difficult to find, but for a true Holmes fan, it’s worth the hunt. [UPDATE: It’s being re-released as The Case Notes of Sherlock Holmes.] This is Dr. Watson’s personal case book, complete with over 18 pieces of removable items that include a photo of a most famous woman of Holmes’ acquaintance, a full page police report, a map of Baskerville Hall and surrounding area, a message consisting of strange, dancing men (a code of some sort?), and much more. But in addition to the 18 removable items, the book goes completely overboard with images of realistic post office telegraphs, newspaper clippings, sketches, business cards, ransom letters, photographs, handwritten notes, maps, and much more… all “taped” into the book and surrounded by hand-written notes from Dr. Watson himself. Now, this one case book only covers six of the many tales (“A Scandal in Bohemia,” “The Adventure of the Red-Headed League,” “The Boscombe Valley Mystery,” “The Adventure of the Dancing Men,” The Hound of the Baskervilles, and “The Final Problem.” But those six tales have enough physical evidence taped/pasted (or contained in bags) into the case book that you really feel like you’re examining the actual photos, notes, and evidence that were being collected as Holmes and Watson performed their investigations. It’s a full-color book, with pages that look like an actual journal — worn, with rips and stains and hand-scrawled notes. This is a must-have for any Holmes fan.
Here’s the updated cover for the Sept 2013 re-release (note the slightly modified title) of The Case Notes of Sherlock Holmes: