Here’s the scene: My entire life is in piles across every available surface of the flat. I’m laying half in a suitcase, half on top a pile of bedding, engaged in an epic battle with my laptop. I just received an email with the link to my review copy of Compound a Felony: A Queer Affair of Sherlock Holmes and THE 4G INTERNET MY KINDLE IS CONNECTED TO IS NOT FAST ENOUGH TO SATISFY THE URGENCY OF MY NEED. Never mind that I’m moving from one side of Europe to the next in less than 48 hours and still haven’t packed. Never mind that there’s a zipper digging into an unfortunate place. EVERYTHING ELSE IS IRRELEVANT, FOR I MUST CONSUME THIS BOOK AS QUICKLY AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE.
I’ve read bits of Compound a Felony before. In fact, I think I beta’d one of the chapters once upon a time, in the book’s earlier incarnation. Compound a Felony is the latest in ‘pulled to publish’ (P2P) fiction – that is, fanfiction that’s been removed from it’s original online home in order to be published and sold in the Real World as an Actual Book. All this means I’ve been waiting for the release of this book ever since Elinor Gray (known to the internet as mistyzeo) announced that her series would remain incomplete on AO3 and then be removed pending publication.
P2P fiction has a bit of a bad rap (perhaps not a surprise, considering the most famous example of it is 50 Shades of Abuse). Criticism ranges from rants against the presumed low quality of writing inherent in fanfiction to accusations of laziness and theft. Compound a Felony neatly avoids both of these traps by being 1) masterfully written and 2) a pastiche.
The difference between pastiche and fanfiction is subtle (non-existent?) – except, crucially, in the eyes of the law. If you can call your fanwork a pastiche, you don’t have to file the serial numbers off before you can publish it. Which means that I now have, in my possession, a book in which Sherlock Holmes and John Watson engage in some seriously indecent activities. A book which has been published. For real. By a publisher. Legally.
It’s sodding Christmas.
In Compound a Felony, we are treated to a collection of snapshots from the lives of Holmes and Watson; a chronicle, if you like – or a series of adventures, as Arthur Conan Doyle liked to call them. Indeed, if you’ve ever read the Sherlock Holmes stories, you’ll recognise the format of Compound a Felony easily – and if poor ACD could ever stop rolling in his grave (not likely), I’m sure he’d have suggested a subtitle like Sherlock Holmes and his Adventures in Submission. I’m just not sure the subtitle A Queer Affair of Sherlock Holmes really captures just how queer or just how hot this book is.
If you’re looking for a complex plot, or even character development, you’ll have to really squint to see it. Here, again, the reader is reminded of the ACD canon. (Pastiche, of course, means the resemblance is intentional and, in fact, crucial.) The characters are presented as-they-are, take them or leave them, with just a smidge of Reichenbach-related adjustments in later chapters – but the characterisations and the little episodic snapshots are all so delicious that this doesn’t matter at all.
Just as ACD did, Elinor Gray is pretty much assuming that you know who Dr. Watson and Mr. Holmes are and what they’re like. To be honest, if you’re reading this book (or even this review), you almost certainly do know all that. As an avid ficcer in the Sherlockian fandom (largely of the BBC-era, though I dabble in canon-era and, very occasionally, the RDJ-Ritchie movie ‘verse), I’d say Gray’s Holmes and Watson are a mish-mash of BBC and Granada characterisations – her Holmes is definitely softer, more genteel than Cumberbatch’s; her Watson much more of a war-hardened badass than Burke or Hardwicke. It’s definitely a characterisation that works, though, especially when the Dominant/Submissive element is thrown into the mix.
There are few authors I would trust as implicitly with a D/S relationship in fiction (and, indeed, with many other things) as Elinor Gray. I think the most striking accomplishment of this book of hers is not the fact that it nearly drove me to initiate myself into the mile-high club on my flight home (true story); No, it’s the fact that the dominant/submissive relationship is not, as in Some Other Books I Might Name, a construct that her characters are shoe-horned into, kicking and screaming as they go. Instead, the dominant/submissive dynamic flows organically from her characters – the characters drive the porn, for once, rather than the other way around. Holmes, a chaotic whirlwind of a man in every other way, needs Watson’s restraint (and guidance) to order and protect the most precious facet of his life. In turn, Watson, usually so amenable (affectionately resigned) to letting Holmes run riot over both their lives, needs the reassurance that comes with Sherlock’s complete submission to him in this one area of their relationship.
And as for the porn.
Let me say, ever so eloquently, just one thing about the porn: wklejwsadfslfholyfuckinghell.
If you’re looking for hardcore S&M with your D/S relationships, this book isn’t going to scratch your itch. However, if the idea of feathers and blindfolds and victorian vibrational therapy machines being put to nefarious uses sounds even slightly titillating, then seriously, do yourself a favour: Schedule some alone time and buy this book. It really is that
Compound a Felony: A Queer Affair of Sherlock Holmes is available for pre-order now, and will be released as an e-book by Full Fathom Five Digital on July 29th. My advance review copy was kindly provided by the publisher in return for my honest opinion.