Ah yes 221B Baker Street. It has been home to many a mystery in its time: The case of Silver Blaze, The Five Orange Pips, The Adventure Of The Dancing Men and The Adventure Of The Six Napoleons just to name a few from Doctor Watson’s illustrious archives. But there are many more of which the general public remains unaware. Perhaps the principals were men and women of high import to the standing of society, perhaps Watson simply never put pen to foolscap or perhaps Holmes forbade him to tell the tale? Whatever the reason some of the tales have now been told through the writing of Mr Bert Coules.
Mr Bert Coules is a well-known name in radio dramatisation, having worked on many projects ranging from dramatisations of the Rebus novel Resurrection Men, the Brother Cadfael series and The Guns of Navarone to what he is most known for and what is most pertinent to this article: The complete Sherlock Holmes canon by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with Clive Merrison as Holmes and Michael Williams as Watson. As a matter of fact Merrison is the first actor to have played Holmes in every story written by Doyle on radio. Sadly Mr Williams passed away in 2001 shortly after the release of the adaptation of The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes. However it was eventually decided to produce some original Holmes stories for Radio 4. Coules wasn’t quite finished with the detective.
The Further Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes is a 16 part series of audio dramas – split across four volumes when released physically (A note to readers: Volumes 3 and 4 seem inordinately difficult to obtain compared to Volumes 1 and 2) with Clive Merrison returning to the role of Holmes and Andrew Sachs as Watson, produced in 2002, 2004, 2008/9 and 2010 respectively. Each story in the further adventures is based on a reference made by Watson in the original Conan Doyle stories. These references are expertly woven into a tale all their own. Be it the return of the famous cat burglar The Ghost after years of retirement, Lady Addleton who hired Holmes’s services to save the family name, one of those rare cases of Holmes’s early career of which we know or the only two-part tale in the series involving the lighthouse, the politician and the trained cormorant.
The writing is very well done with a clear effort made to keep the stories in the same spirit as the originals. If you didn’t know better I could easily imagine these stories being woven in seamlessly between the Conan Doyle originals without any obvious clues they had been written by someone else. The Abergavenny Murder and The Star Of The Adelphi are personal favourites and I will congratulate Mr Coules on achieving his goal so successfully. It genuinely does make me smile sometimes and tickle that part of my mind that loves a good mystery story.
The performances are especially notable with Merrison and Sachs – Manuel from Fawlty Towers – throwing their all into it. You truly get the sense they are really enjoying themselves. There have been many performers playing the consulting detective and his chronicler over the years but these performances should be up there with the best. The guest cast is also varied and their performances are very entertaining. Examples include Stephen Thorne as Inspector Lestrade, Tom Baker – He of the scarf (and Scratchman Audiobook Review: Doctor Who: Scratchman by Tom Baker with editorial assistance from James Goss – link here for the interested) as a rather jovial influence on Holmes’s early career and Hugh Bonneville as noted stage performer Frederick Merridew. You never know who is going to appear next and I often find myself lost in the stories and wanting to rush to the next when they end! If that isn’t an endorsement of both the writing and the casts I don’t know what is!
In conclusion I highly recommend this series. The complete run is available on Audible digitally and for the curious Volume 2 on CD and the download version both come with an interview with Bert Coules about the series. Some of my readers may be sticklers for the Doyle originals and nothing else but I feel if anything was to come close in spirit and intention to the originals it would be this series.
The mysteries are definitely worthwhile and more than a few have surprises all their own. I hope I can persuade some of you to join me in giving them a listen.
My next article will be the – long delayed due to Halloween and Holmes – promised review of The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett.