Monday, December 18, 2017

recent read; The Papers of Solar Pons


I'll come right out and say I wanted to enjoy this book more than I did but that is not to say it is bad. I brought a lot of expectations to the Kickstarter-funded book. As such, this review is probably longer than it needs to be.

I am new to the Arthur Conan Doyle Holmes original stories and also new to Pons. I was fortunate enough to secure the first Derleth Pinnacle paperback collection, so I had some familiarity with Pons before starting.

Pons has a long history. In a nutshell - August Derleth was a Sherlock Holmes fan. When no more Holmes stories were coming, he created a pastiche character, Pons, who is essentially Holmes. All the bells and whistles of Holmes are in Pons - a London address, a doctor confidant, a untouchable enemy, a gang of helpful street urchins. Later, Basil Copper took over the character. But, Pons has been dormant a long time until now.

THE PAPERS OF SOLAR PONS, authorized by the Derleth estate, are new tales that harken back more to Derleth's style, though Marcum has his own style, certainly.

The book opens with many essays from various writers about Pons and their joy at seeing his return. I did enjoy their excitement.

The stories are all well written and I enjoyed them to an extent. Some went where I wasn't expecting. One story even turned out to be of the "weird menace" category, which was pleasant surprise. Marcum certainly knows the ins-&-outs of Pons canon.

Now, on to some of the negatives.

First, there was constant cross-referencing to other cases - both Holmes's and Pons's. Being new to both canons, I never knew when Marcum was referencing previous tales or creating "lost tales." It's an old tradition to drop hints of cases we've never read but it just felt overboard in this collection.

The final story is a long one. It is a Holmes story, concerning the origins of Solar Pons. It isn't a bad story and it written well enough. But this novelette-length story just didn't jibe with me.

If you know me by now you know I'm a big Robert E. Howard fan. I have mixed feelings on continuations and pastiches, anyway. When it comes to origin stories, I am of the mind, mostly, that any origin story from the original author is fine. But I really have a hard time with origin stories coming from follow-on pastiche writers.

There is that old quote about whether a nude picture is art or pornography, and the answer is "I know it when I see it." I feel the same way about amateur fan fiction vs. a professional tie-in or authorized by an estate story. Don't get me wrong, sometimes (as with anything) you can find better fan fiction than authorized canon and sometimes fan fiction vibes creep into authorized canon.

I felt the story - as regards to Pons's origins - was fan fiction and far too obvious. The constant Easter egg cross-referencing of stories also felt like fan fiction - if only because it was done so often. But it is authorized canon, so that's fine.

If I gave it stars - as someone new to Holmes and Pons - I would give it three out of five, I'd say. It's not a bad addition to the canon. But as a starting point for someone new to Pons, I would have preferred something a bit more accessible and in the vein of a restart than something with deep tendrils into the canon world of Pons (and Holmes.)

Your mileage will almost certainly vary.


  1. I've never even read the originals. I should certainly give some of them a try

  2. Thanks for reading and reviewing! - David Marcum