I started my love affair with Sherlock Holmes when I was a pre-teen, sometime after Edgar Allan Poe and before Ray Bradbury, so I was well acquainted with reading stories with one hand on an open dictionary. I had, of course, enjoyed the movies with Basil Rathbone, but something about the character grabbed me more than the mysteries did. Oh, they were interesting enough, but not as interesting as Holmes himself. The queerling in me recognized a kindred soul, but I would never have thought Watson shared his bed. In L.A. Fields’ wonderfully imagined My Dear Watson, this relationship is explored in detail.
And who explores this relationship? It’s seen in detail by Watson’s second wife, and in a particular bit of genius, Fields chooses to have her review Watson’s affair with Holmes on a chronological basis according to case. Thus, she begins with their meeting in 1874 on “The Adventure of the Gloria Scott” and sees them through their ups and downs (including Watson’s first marriage) to their final case together, “The Last Bow” in 1914. But this is, in itself, framed and commented on by Mrs. Watson during a visit Holmes makes to them after his retirement in 1919.
Naturally, she dislikes the effect Holmes has on Watson; the inexorable pull he maintains on the doctor would be enough to drive anyone close to Watson round the bend, and in the segments about Holmes’ visit in 1919 are fraught with tension as she and Holmes do a bit of sparring:
“Hmmmm,” I hum brightly at him, and once again his face goes sour. I’m sure he heard every subtle facet of that noise, my implication that I know his nature, that I imagine he would be Watson’s wife if he could, my lording over him the fact that I have that official status in Watson’s life, that I have won. It is a hit against him, a palpable hit. Alas, however, I am playing against a master, and I can admit when I’ve clearly been outdone. “You are such a unique person,” Holmes says poisonously. “What a shame that history will most likely never remember your name.”
Holmes can be such a bitch. But we always knew that about him, didn’t we?
All Holmesiana is covered, from his cocaine addiction (“The Sign of the Four”) to his faked death and three year disappearance at the hands of the evil Professor Moriarty (“The Final Solution”) as well as the effects all of these events have on his paramour, Dr. Watson. What I find most admirable about My Dear Watson is how familiar Fields is with the Casebook and how effortlessly she weaves some of the principal characters from the mysteries themselves into the relationship between Holmes and Watson, creating jealousy, confusion, and empathy at times between the men. It’s masterful work, and only someone with a thorough knowledge of the stories could have accomplished it.
Fields also does masterful work voicing Watson’s second wife, a woman with wit and intelligence who not only realizes her husband’s faults, but knows that they are outweighed by his virtues. As seen above, she is wary of Holmes but respects his hold on her husband and does not try to break those bonds for fear they would only grow stronger. Fields finds her voice from the very get-go and never once falters. Kudos are also due to Lethe Press, which seems to be scoring well in the “queering” genre, as evidenced by its recent queering of Edgar Allan Poe (Where Thy Dark Eye Glances) as well another upcoming volume queering Dracula. This volume fits well with those.
Extremely readable and undeniably creative, My Dear Watson should be on your bookshelf if you have even a passing interest in Sherlock Holmes. And even if you don’t, this is a remarkable portrait of fame, its effects, and the power one man can hold over another.
© 2013 Jerry L. Wheeler