Sherlock Holmes: Master of Disguise

Contemporary writers of Sherlock Holmes pastiches take inspiration from real events and characters, as well as having occasional fun with familiar Holmes tropes. In the entertaining volume Sherlock Holmes: A Year of Mystery 1885, published late last year by Belanger Books, editor Richard Ryan included several stories in which Holmes capitalized on his considerable talent for disguise.

Here’s what some of the anthology’s authors say about that particular aspect of Holmes stories

“The ‘manic,’ childlike energy of Holmes’s disguises—particularly those in A Scandal in Bohemia or The Hound of the Baskervilles—is an oft-overlooked part of his character. Holmes is often seen as sober and serious, so I wanted to explore a different side of him,” says George Gardner.

Gustavo Bondoni said Holmes’s disguises let the detective mix and mingle with all classes of people, bringing him “out of the drawing room and into the world.” In my stories in which Holmes takes on a disguise, I deploy it for humor, as well as information-gathering. Poor Watson, poor Lestrade! They never recognize him. But the Irregulars? Not fooled for a minute. In another clever twist, in Katy Darby’s story, Watson, not Holmes, is the one getting to act for a change, when he impersonates the Lock Hospital Inspector Q. Forrest? Luckily the head surgeon who meets him is rather short-sighted … !

“A frail and twisted old man” with “rather strange personal grooming” appears in George Jacobs’s story, revealing himself to Watson in time to participate in a very interesting interview with a trio of Bengalis seeking justice. And in a Kevin Thornton story, an Irish navvy appears, “looking for all the world like he’d just finished a shift on the docks,” fooling Holmes’s astonished client, but this time, not Watson, who had guessed what Holmes was up to.

Let’s look at how two of these clever stories handle disguises:

Gustavo Bondoni’s story, “The Burning Mania,” takes a cue from two significant events of 1885: a new law permitting the operation of crematoria and the Irish bombings in various London locations. Lestrade asks Holmes to investigate the recent disappearances of eight criminal gang members very possibly linked to the bombings.

As they track the culprits, Watson says this about Holmes and disguises: “I always felt more comfortable when he did that”—a consideration as Holmes’s growing notoriety increases the possibility of recognition. Later, Watson acknowledges that, even without different hair or clothing, Holmes “could become completely unrecognizable in moments by changing the way he looked or even his personality,” persuading others “to see him as something different from what he was.” An insightful comment from the good doctor.

In “The Adventure of the Damaged Tomb,” George Gardner’s story, he similarly refers to heightened public alarm after the Fenian Bombings, so when Hamworth’s Catholic church of St. Mary’s is attacked with dynamite, severely damaging the ancient tomb of the Mountfalcon family, assumptions are made. In their lodgings one day, Watson nervously encounters “a heavy-set, red-haired man of about fifty,” with the “distinctive twang that categorized him with the Irish-American set.” Another disguise success!

The authors mentioned above used disguises to good effect in their stories in Sherlock Holmes: A Year of Mystery 1885. Their stories are:
George Gardner – “The Adventure of the Damaged Tomb”
Gustavo Bondoni – “The Burning Mania”
Victoria Weisfeld – “A Brick Through the Window”
Katy Darby – “The Adventure of the Lock Hospital”
George Jacobs – “The Mystery of the Cloven Cord”
Kevin Thornton – “Tracks Across Canada”

One thought on “Sherlock Holmes: Master of Disguise

  1. Good point about Holmes being a master of disguises. In the pastiches I’ve written, I always take advantage of his ability to disguise himself. I’m ordering this one today. Good luck

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.