Top 5 Holmes Actors

The other day at my knitting group, someone asked me who my favorite Sherlock Holmes actor is. After about half an hour of trying to answer, I had given her about a dozen different responses. I don’t really think I could get it down to one, but here are my top five, in no particular order. (Note: Jeremy Brett does not show up on this list. While I fully acknowledge his expertise and legacy, he’s not a personal favorite, which is what this is about.)

1) Basil Rathbone


He’s got the look. He’s got the feel. Even when he’s in a totally AU time period, he’s Sherlock Holmes through and through. Basil Rathbone is, without a doubt, my favorite Holmes of the early years.

2) Barrie Ingham


The voice of Basil of Baker Street, Ingham fully embodied the world’s only consulting detective mouse, and he did it with an incredible amount of panache, making The Great Mouse Detective not only a fantastic children’s film, but also a worthy part of the Holmesian film canon.

3) Peter Cushing


I don’t hear the illustrious Peter Cushing mentioned in connection with Holmes as often as with his other work, but he deserves to be. His portrayal is cerebral, complex, and compelling, a treat to watch from a time when Holmes adaptations were in transition from the propaganda films of the Rathbone era to the deconstructionism of the 60s and 70s.

4) Robert Downey Jr


At this past 221b Con, I was much encouraged, at one point, to find myself in a room full of people who all appreciate Mr. Downey’s take on Sherlock Holmes. RDJ Holmes appreciation can sometimes be a lonely island in the Sherlockian world. And yet, in my opinion, the man who reminded us that Holmes is funny, physically adept, and extremely psychologically complex deserves a place in the pantheon of Holmesian greats.

5) Benedict Cumberbatch


It almost goes without saying at this point in time. “That guy from ‘Amazing Grace'” who made me want to check out that new Sherlock Holmes show (though I doubted a modern adaptation could work) has become a household name in Britain and the United States. Other Holmeses will no doubt come and go, but it’s hard to imagine a future in which we look back without seeing the tall, spare figure of Mr. Cumberbatch looming over them all.


How to get my newest book:

(Book 3) The Detective The Woman and The Silent Hive is available from all good bookstores including   Amazon USAAmazon UKWaterstones UK, and for free shipping worldwide from Book Depository. In ebook format it is in Amazon Kindle.

How to get the previous two books in the series:

(Book 1) The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

(Book 2) The Detective, The Woman and The Winking Tree: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

Revisiting the Guy Ritchie Holmes Films


This past weekend, I rewatched 2009’s Sherlock Holmes and 2011’s A Game of Shadows after not doing so for a few years. These films, directed by Guy Ritchie and starred in by Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law, have always been polarizing, ever since they were first announced.

When Sherlock Holmes came out in 2009, the Holmesian world looked very different. There was no Sherlock, and there was no Elementary. There were Scion societies and people who enjoyed Holmes very much, but it was not the global, Internet-era phenomenon it soon became. I saw the film in the theater having not read any canonical Holmes stories for many years, my main link to that world being the Laurie R. King Mary Russell series. Beyond her, I hardly knew such a thing as Holmes pastiche even existed.

When Sherlock hit in 2010, everything changed. By the time I saw A Game of Shadows in the theater, I had re-read the Holmes canon and written my first Holmes novel, The Detective and The Woman, and generally become astronomically more Holmes-literate than I had been. The two experiences were intensely different from one another. I saw Sherlock Holmes as a casual consumer. I saw A Game of Shadows as a superfan. Now, years later, I rewatched the two back-to-back to try to unpack my real feelings about the films. I’m going to talk about them as a unit, because that’s how I viewed them.


The Good:

First off, I like them. I like the humor. I like the atmosphere. I like the action sequences. I enjoy the fact that for once, it’s not all serious business. I went back to them with the memory that they’re not purist adaptations and was pleasantly surprised by how close they really are in a lot of ways. If you like your Holmes straight-up serious, they’re not for you, but I like a shot of humor in mine, as did Doyle, since he wrote a huge amount of tongue-in-cheek humor into the stories that I only recognized as an adult.

Second, they’re not just for the casual viewer. Among some sectors of the Holmesian world, there’s a weird hierarchical thinking, as if “serious” adaptations like the Granada series starring Jeremy Brett are for “real” fans, while things like A Game of Shadows and Elementary are for the masses. You know what? That’s ridiculous, because it’s all subjective. I know passionate fans who love all of those and passionate fans who think no one’s ever gotten Holmes right on screen. I personally am not a fan of Elementary, but I know plenty of Holmes-literate people who can’t get enough of it; that’s true of any adaptation. We all enjoy the Holmes stories for different reasons, and taste in adaptations is no indicator of how “good” of a fan anyone is. (Well, if Asylum Holmes is your favorite, I might worry about your sanity…)

Third, the casting is fantastic. I know that a lot of people balked, and still do, at the idea of Robert Downey Jr as Sherlock Holmes, but there’s a reason the man is in possession of a Golden Globe Award for it. I have read interviews in which he talked about spending countless hour upon hour preparing, and that comes through. Of all the actors I’ve ever seen portray Holmes, his articulation and pacing of lines might be, in my opinion, the most canonical. When I’m watching him talk through deductions, I get the exact feeling I have when I read the Doyle stories. I really can’t ask for more than that. Sure, he’s a quirky Holmes, more Columbo than Poirot, but that’s definitely an interpretation that comes through in the 60 stories Doyle wrote about the character. Sometimes we read about Holmes’s urbane side; other times we see his awkward, endearing vulnerabilities, and that’s what Downey shows us. So what if he’s not tall? There’s a longstanding theater tradition of casting actors who are physically different from characters they play. It works because acting is about being something you’re not. In this case, he carries it off, if you give him a chance. Jude Law as Watson and Jared Harris as Moriarty are less-contended choices, and both give brilliant and very canonical takes on the characters.

Fourth, the action is fun. When the first film came out, a lot of people were bothered that Holmes and Watson were so action-ready. These individuals appeared to have forgotten that the canonical Holmes is a baritsu (bartitsu) and boxing expert, and Watson is a gun-toting, far-from-squeamish veteran of a very nasty war. Several of the stories contain action sequences, and it’s only cultural distillations of Holmes that have made him into a Poirot-like thinking machine who rarely moves from his easychair.


The Ok:

First, the choice of Holmes’s sexuality is questionable. Ritchie wisely doesn’t depict anything explicit on screen, but it’s clear the detective has a history with Irene Adler. A lot of people have done this, but it’s more of a nod to cultural perception and other adaptations than the canon. Irene, I think, works as a character in her own right in these versions, but I’m not insanely enamored of giving her a specific romantic history with Holmes, though Downey and Rachel McAdams make the scenes themselves work.

Second, Irene’s connection with Moriarty is also not my favorite. Granted, in the context of the movies, making Irene the bridge to Jared Harris’s chilling Professor Moriarty was a continuity-boosting narrative choice, but I’m not usually a fan of the film penchant for taking disparate characters in a big franchise and smooshing them together with each other in slightly lazy ways that bear no resemblance to the original. It works in the context of the films, but it’s a canon difference that is always in the back of my mind when I’m watching.


The Not-So-Great:

First, the “Ritchie Technique” is overused, especially in A Game of Shadows. If you’ve ever seen one of these films, you know what I’m talking about. There’s slo-mo, there’s freezing people on screen, there’s blowing things up-making huge things fall down-explosions and reverse explosions. I don’t dislike any of it individually, but there’s too much of it. This is more of a stylistic comment; even if these weren’t Holmes films, I would find the length and amount of artsy action sequences a bit tiring.

Second, the plots get overcomplicated. This is specifically a criticism of A Game of Shadows. I find Sherlock Holmes to be the superior film because its plot is simple and clear, the driving through-line of Mark Strong’s Lord Blackwood and his nefarious deeds. Shadows gets muddled in the middle. We meet Moriarty, but then a lot of other things happen before we get back to the simple, clear issue of two equally-brilliant men facing off with each other. One of the genius things about Doyle is the clear simplicity of his mysteries that doesn’t detract at all from their cleverness. Sherlock Holmes replicated this clarity; A Game of Shadows would have benefitted from some revision to get there.


Overall, I count myself a big fan of the Ritchie-verse. A third film is supposedly in the works (finally), and I look forward to seeing the post-hiatus conception of Downey’s Holmes and Law’s Watson. If you’re someone who dismissed these adaptations at some point on your Holmesian journey, I recommend giving them a second chance.


Now that I’ve been part of the Holmes-verse for over three years, I’ve come to the conclusion that no adaptation is perfect, but almost all of them say something unique about the Holmes canon that others skip. The Ritchie films are not my favorite Holmes adaptations, but they’re immensely enjoyable, and they elaborate on the humor, humanity, and pure joy of Holmes in a way I’ve never seen another adaptation equal.


(Book 2) The Detective, The Woman and The Winking Tree: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

(Book 1) The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

29 Sherlockian Faves for my 29th


Tomorrow is my 29th birthday, and I’ve decided to celebrate with a list of 29 of my favorite things about the world of Sherlock Holmes.

1) The ACD Canon

Nothing compares to the 56 short stories and four novels penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Now that most of the stories are in the public domain, it’s easy to find them on the Internet for anyone who wants to take a look. My favorite story is “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches,” but there’s something I love in every single one.

Doyle is often credited for creating amazing characters and intriguing mysteries. He’s less often given his due for how funny the stories are and how much truth about friendship and tolerating differences they contain.

Visual media adaptations are a wonderful way to enter the world of Holmes, but there’s no reason to stop there. The canon beckons, and Sir Arthur has so much to offer.

2) The Granada/Jeremy Brett Series

Jeremy Brett’s life was, in many was, a tragic one, but he (and his Watsons) left behind a stunning legacy–hour after hour of beautiful television adaptations of the canon, painstakingly and brilliantly traditional in character.

Unlike many of my friends, I don’t consider Brett my favorite actor to play the role, but he is certainly one of my favorites, and his immense legacy defines the question of what it means to portray Sherlock Holmes.

3) Internet Memes

Sherlock Early Years

4) Young Sherlock Holmes

In 1985, Paramount tried to jumpstart a franchise about a teenaged Sherlock Holmes (and Watson). The idea didn’t take off, but I still find Young Sherlock Holmes an extremely enjoyable watch, and I count star Nicholas Rowe among my favorite actors to portray the detective, enough that I wish he would have another go as an adult.

5) Big Finish Audio 


The often-overlooked art of audio drama is one where Sherlock Holmes continues to flourish, particularly in the capable hands of Nicholas Briggs and the Big Finish team.

I recently had a chance to help interview Nicholas about the challenges and joys of playing Sherlock Holmes in an audio format. Listen here

6) Dodgy Adaptations 


We all know of Holmes adaptations that are disputable–some people love ’em, other’s hate ’em. Then there are those adaptations so terrible they’re like the Sharknados of Sherlock Holmes adaptations.

If you want to see the mother of them all, check out the one simply titled Sherlock Holmes and put out by The Asylum. You will not be disappointed.

7) BBC Sherlock 

Three series of pure bliss, that’s what show creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss have given us, along with the brilliant Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, and a host of gloriously idiosyncratic side characters. I was skeptical when I first heard about the idea of a modern Holmes, but I gave it a try anyway, because of the people involved. Nine episodes later, I’m still stunned by a piece of art that continues to be both gloriously traditional and thrillingly of-the-moment, all at the same time.

8) The Fandom

I’ve never engaged with a fandom as much as I’ve engaged with the world of Sherlock Holmes in the past three years. I’m perpetually stunned by the sheer creativity, brilliance, and good will. I know Holmesians in their 80s and Holmesians in their teens, along with everything in between. Like in every fandom, there’s a conflict now and then, but overall, I’ve found the world of Sherlock Holmes to be an astonishingly pleasant place.

I’m not exactly sure why, but I like to think Sherlock Holmes and John Watson appeal to the best in all of us.

9) The Russian Series


I’ve never been lucky enough to see the classic Soviet Holmes series from the 1980s with English subtitles, but there’s a new Sherlock in town. He’s quirky, extremely Russian, and ultimately as clever and captivating as any I’ve ever seen.

This is a new discovery for me, and I have yet to see more than the feature-length first episode, since translation is currently occurring, but here’s a link to start the journey along with me. (Make sure to turn on the English subtitles if you don’t understand Russian.)

10) 221b Con


Conventions have long been a chance for fans to connect and enjoy shared interest in particular shows, books, and films, and 2013 saw the inaugural year of 221b Con, a weekend filled with Sherlock Holmes-themed parties, panels, and insane fun.

I had a wonderful time at 221b Con (enough to be back for 2014), and what delighted me most was the range of ages, genders, and interests. BBC Sherlock devotees rubbed shoulders with Brett-philes, and young and old mingled in a wild cacophony of Sherlockian glee. It was truly a celebration of Sherlock Holmes in every form.

11) The Guy Ritchie Films

Sherlock Holmes

Holmesians are somewhat divided on the Ritchie-Downey Jr outings, but I’m a huge fan. I don’t watch them expecting purist canon adaptations. I’m looking for a stylized, fun romp through Holmesian settings and stories.

Jude Law is justifiably venerated for his Watson, but I don’t think Robert Downey Jr gets enough credit for portraying the complexity and vulnerability of Holmes’s personality, aspects that are sometimes overlooked in other adaptations.

12) The Baker Street Babes


In Holmesian terms, they complete me. The Baker Street Babes is an all-female Sherlock Holmes-themed podcast. We cover everything from the canon to The Great Mouse Detective, and we have a blast doing it.

If you love us, please consider taking a moment to vote for us in the Podcaster category of the Shorty Awards.

13) Sherlock Holmes’s Introversion

Holmes is not a traditional hero. He’s moody, introverted, and uses his mind to solve most of his cases, rather than his physical strength. He’s physically capable, but his superpower is his mind.

I love the fact that just as Western society finally begins to appreciate the advantages of introversion, Holmes is a role model and emblem for introverts everywhere.

I wrote about this topic in depth here.

14) The Great Mouse Detective


15) Forensic Advances

It’s not often that a fictional character impacts the real world to the extant that Sherlock Holmes did. When the character was created, the police were barely using forensic techniques, and Doyle’s texts were required reading for police training for quite a while. He’s credited with having a huge part in changing the face of police work to be what it is today.

16) Dr. Joseph Bell 


Had there never been a Joseph Bell, there might never have been a Sherlock Holmes. As a young man, Doyle saw Bell deducing patient complaints the way he later wrote Holmes making deductions about his clients, and the idea of an immortal character was born.

17) Graphic Novels

Sherlock Holmes has been the subject of many phenomenal graphic novels over the years. A notable current example is the racebent, modernized Watson and Holmes series by New Paradigm Studios.

18) Holmesian Scholarship

Sherlock Holmes isn’t only a hobby. He’s also the subject of all kinds of serious and tongue-in-cheek scholarship. (It’s hard to separate the two, but why try? They’re both great to read.)

One place to find all kinds of fantastic articles about Holmes is the Baker Street Journal. Another is the recently-published collection One Fixed Point in a Changing Age: A New Generation on Sherlock Holmes.

19) Playing the Game

Doyle’s inclusion of near-factual events and near-historical characters has long tempted fans into playing The Game, which simply means reading the stories as if Holmes and Watson are real historical figures and fitting all of their exploits into a historical context.

I did this in my first novel, The Detective and The Woman, in which I wrote about Holmes meeting inventor Thomas Edison.

20) The Tropes


The pipe, the hat, the cape…Sometimes I roll my eyes at the overuse of the tropes we’ve come to associate with Sherlock Holmes, but it’s always a fond eyeroll.

Like a secret handshake, Holmes tropes are the little emblems of a shared world. They’re the things that remind us that whether we’re watching Sherlock or a Basil Rathbone film, we’re all appreciating the same thing.

21) Basil Rathbone

Speaking of Rathbone, his classic films illustrate the timelessness of the character of Holmes, taking the detective out of the Victorian context to fight Nazis and other miscreants.

22) The Mary Russell Series

I first encountered the Holmes canon as a child, but during my teens and early 20s, my strongest link to Holmes was through Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series, stories about the post-retirement Holmes and his partnership with a young woman.

If it wasn’t for Laurie, I don’t believe I’d be a pastiche author today. Her writing broke the glass ceiling of what I thought was possible in the world of Sherlock Holmes.

23) Irene Adler


She’s The Woman, she outsmarted Sherlock Holmes, and I love her.

24) Holmes’s London

In my books, I refer to London as Holmes’s mistress. Doyle’s writing is so atmospheric that it’s as if the setting is a character in its own right. The name Sherlock Holmes is instantly synonymous with hansom cabs, dirty streets, and gas lights–an alternate universe London that never existed but really, really should have.

25) Nicholas Meyer and The Seven-Per-Cent Solution

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution by Nicholas Meyer remains one of the most famous Sherlock Holmes pastiches ever penned, and Meyer followed it up with two respected sequels.

Seven-Per-Cent isn’t perfect, but it’s a brilliant take on Sherlock Holmes that introduces him to Sigmund Freud and manages to turn a lot of things we think we know about Holmes on their heads–without seeming disrespectful in the least.

26) Continuity Errors

Eternal thanks to Sir Arthur “Continuity” Doyle for things like having Mary Watson forget her husband’s name, inexplicably calling Mrs. Hudson Mrs. Turner, and various other major timeline shenanigans.

Reading Holmes would be way less fun if it all made sense.

27) 221B by Vincent Starrett


Here dwell together still two men of note

Who never lived and so can never die:

How very near they seem, yet how remote

That age before the world went all awry.

But still the game’s afoot for those with ears

Attuned to catch the distant view-halloo:

England is England yet, for all our fears–

Only those things the heart believes are true.

A yellow fog swirls past the window-pane

As night descends upon this fabled street:

A lonely hansom splashes through the rain,

The ghostly gas lamps fail at twenty feet.

Here, though the world explode, these two survive,

And it is always eighteen ninety-five.

–Vincent Starrett

28) Epic Mashups

There are some truly fabulous mashups of Sherlock Holmes with other universes–Doctor Who, Frankenstein, The Phantom of the Opera–the list could go on forever.

One of my personal favorites is the book My Particular Friend by Jennifer Petkus, which reimagines Holmes and Watson as women in Jane Austen’s Regency England.

29) It’s Personal


We all bring something different to the experience of Sherlock Holmes; we all get something slightly different out of it. And yet, we can all find common ground through our love of the greatest detective character the world has ever known.

That’s why it’s brilliant.


The Detective, The Woman and The Winking Tree: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.