Kissing Sherlock Holmes by T.D. McKinney and Terry Wylis – Amber Quill Press – Novel: Historical, LGBTQ, Mystery, Romance – Buy it here – Our Rating: One Pipe
“My dear Watson, how does one go about kissing a woman?”
Sherlock Holmes’ question leads to a lesson Watson never expected to teach. And feelings he never thought to explore. A single kiss alters Watson’s world while the announcement of Holmes’ upcoming marriage sets an odd fear in his heart.
Amidst the beauty of an English country party, the greatest detective the world has ever known searches for a traitor. Somewhere among the glittering nobility a sadist lurks, using blackmail to destroy lives and endanger a nation.
Only Sherlock Holmes can save an innocent man and bring the traitor to justice. It’s a search that could cement the greatest friendship of all time into something far deeper and stronger…if the hunt doesn’t end Watson’s life first.
Warning: snark ahead.
Oh, how I wanted to love this novel. After all, it’s not as if I have terribly high standards for romance novels. Let alone erotic romance novels. Let alone gay erotic romance novels written by presumably heterosexual women. From such novels, I require only a believable relationship between the two protagonists, some semblance of a plot beyond the main relationship, and prose that doesn’t make me vomit. Really, by all rights, I should have loved Kissing Sherlock Holmes. I need no elaborate proof of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson’s eternal love for one another, and I found the title charming despite the danger of seeming trite (Kissing Jessica Stein, Kissing Kate, etc.). What’s more, the premise really is adorable and all too believable. I can imagine Sherlock asking how to kiss a woman, John providing a demonstration, and the result being something more than John had bargained for. Really. It shouldn’t have been difficult for this novel to render me incoherent in my fangirling.
But it didn’t. Quite the opposite. In fact, I’ve awarded Kissing Sherlock Holmes one pipe for the very reason that it failed so dismally at what should have been an astonishingly easy task. And that, dear reader, takes an abysmal sort of talent.
Now, let me chronicle the myriad ways this book fails.
One: Sherlock fucking Holmes. Simply, Holmes is too sentimental. Yes, I understand that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original Sherlock is considerably more emotive than either the Robert Downey Jr. or the Benedict Cumberbatch adaptation, but the Sherlock of Kissing Sherlock Holmes is far too free with his affections. Not only does he make friends during this countryside case, but he also expresses himself to Watson with far more fluency than he should be capable of. After that first kiss, the floodgates are broken, and Holmes takes every opportunity to remind Watson how very much he cares for him. While I have no problem with this emotion existing in Holmes, I do have a problem with him expressing it. McKinney and Wylis try to explain this away by rationalizing Holmes’ prior coldness as a defense mechanism against the festering wound of past heartbreak. Such intellectualization is a rationally valid psychological ploy, to be sure, but it rankles all the same. By denying the possibility that Holmes is, at heart, unsentimental, something of the magic of his character is destroyed. Frankly, the reason I love Sherlock Holmes is because he’s an unapologetic, narcissistic ass. This book took that away from me.
Two: The Case. Or rather, what case? It’s painfully obvious from the start who the traitor is, but Sherlock ignores obvious clues to follow obviously false ones. He even admits, once he does solve the case, that he was an idiot not to see it sooner. While his self-awareness is touching, it doesn’t absolve him of the idiocy he exhibits for eighty percent of the novel. And, you know, after a certain event in canon that Watson briefly mentions, Holmes really should know better than to let certain biases get in the way.
Three: Structure. As a general rule for romance novels, I don’t want everything resolved between the main pairing in the first chapter. They aren’t supposed to confess their love, jump into bed, and live happily ever after. There needs to be some sort of conflict in the relationship, preferably tied to the plot. Kissing Sherlock Holmes isn’t like that. It’s hardly a spoiler to say that Sherlock and John get together in the first chapter. And that’s basically it. The rest of the novel alternates between them sharing tender moments while ignoring the case and the case rearing its ugly head in retribution. It’s horribly unbalanced, and the quick shifts from plot to non-plot sentimental schmoop gave me vertigo.
Four: Terms of endearment. Yes, this is a big enough problem to deserve its own discussion. I swear to god, there’s only so much “my dearest Watson” and “my darling Holmes” a reader can take. First of all, let’s remember that, in a normal conversation, normal people don’t feel the need to modify each and every sentence with the name of their conversational partner. No one else is within earshot. It’s unnecessary to repeat names, let alone embarrassingly sentimental terms of endearment. It’s too much. Just way, way too much.
Five: Women. There are two primary female characters in the novel. These are Miss Winifred Farnham and Lady Lucy Wyre. Though both beautiful and of noble blood, they are opposites. Miss Winifred is young and willful and rather too clever for her own good. It’s no surprise, really, that she becomes Sherlock’s fiancée. Lady Lucy, on the other hand, is a widow, a masterful cellist, and the picture of propriety. Her kindness wins her John’s friendship, though, of course, she hopes for more. I can’t go into greater detail without spoilers, but needless to say, both these characters pricked my feminist sensibilities, albeit for very different reasons.
There’s more, but this is already beginning to feel rather petty. So let’s recap. What do I really want from a Holmes novel? A mystery; a real honest-to-god mystery, not a paper-thin plot an idiot could deduce two pages in. A Sherlock who expresses sentiment sparingly but genius frequently. And, nine times out of ten, a good romp around London. Kissing Sherlock Holmes has none of that. I can forgive the lack of London, but not idiot-in-love Sherlock and the stupidly simple case he can’t seem to solve.
This isn’t to say Sherlock and John can’t be done right. The anthology A Study in Lavender, edited by Joseph de Marco, features a number of brilliant Johnlock stories. Then, of course, there’s any number of brilliant works of fanfiction available free online; I’d be more than willing to provide a list of recs, if necessary. Or, just watch BBC’s Sherlock because, regardless of whether any character besides delicious dominatrix Irene Adler acknowledges it, John and Sherlock are most certainly in a relationship. So do yourself a favor and don’t read Kissing Sherlock Holmes. Unless you really want to read the character-butchering of the greatest sleuth literature has ever known; then by all means, go ahead.