A Study in Lavender: Queering Sherlock Holmes – Joseph R.G. DeMarco, ed. (Lethe Press)

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Not that Holmes and his ever-present companion, Dr. Watson needed to be queered. From the very first one I picked up—I think it was The Hound of the Baskervilles—I was relatively certain Sherlock and John were Family. This absolutely delightful volume, however, removes all doubt and adds some fascinating mysteries to the canon.

But even before we get to the stories, editor DeMarco’s introduction sheds some interesting light on the issue. I had no idea Holmes was familiar with Victorian cruising areas or that the aforementioned Hound of the Baskervilles’ mention of a ‘telegraph boy’ related to a Cleveland Street male brothel whose workers were recruited from a nearby telegraph office. Marvelous stuff. But there was always something wonderfully gay about the relationship between Holmes and Watson, despite the good doctor’s marriages, and this is where A Study in Lavender struts its stuff.

Stephen Osborne starts the proceedings off with “The Adventure of the Bloody Coins,” which intimates the notorious homosexual in the Holmes is not Sherlock, but his brother Mycroft who uses rooms in the famed Diogenes Club for boy-shagging purposes. The hint of a brotherly dalliance when they were children only tantalizes the reader for more information. In Rajan Khanna’s “The Case of the Wounded Heart,” however, it is Scotland Yard’s Inspector Lestrade who’s gayed up.

Many of the stories feature Holmes and Watson on gay-related cases (gayses?) such as Katie Rayne’s bit of lesbiana, “The Kidnapping of Alice Braddon,” J.R. Campbell’s public-school revenge scenario, “Court of Honor,” or William P. Coleman’s thoughtful tale of love between two male prostitutes, “The Well-Educated Young Man.” There’s even a delicious transgender switch-up in Vincent Kovar’s “The Bride and the Bachelors.”

But the two pieces that really stick in my mind are the last ones: Michael Cornelius’ “The Adventure of the Unidentified Flying Object” and Elka Cloke’s “The Adventure of the Poesy Ring.” The Cornelius story is a favorite of mine not for its gay underpinnings, which are tangential, but for its uniquely Victorian explanation of a UFO seen near Cleveland Street. The Cloke story is, however, a perfect finisher—one that not only has a great
mystery but one that takes us inside the mind of Dr. Watson who wonders about his friend’s tendencies towards sexual inversion as well as his own. And when Watson kisses Holmes…well, you’ll just have to read for yourself.

DeMarco has put together an intriguing, uniformly well-written batch of gay Holmes tales as worthy of Doyle as they are of Oscar Wilde. May we have a second volume?


Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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