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Literature / Solar Pons

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After publication of The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes in 1927, Arthur Conan Doyle stated flatly that there would be no more Sherlock Holmes stories, period, the end. After waiting a year to see (Doyle had said such things at other times), the young August Derleth, then but a college freshman, wrote Doyle a letter asking whether, if it were indeed so that Holmes' career was over, Derleth could publish pastiche tales, though not purporting to be actual Holmes stories. Doyle, it seems, gave the project his blessing, and so was born Solar Pons.

In the event, the series continued at irregular intervals for over four decades, and is widely considered the most successful Holmesian pastiche of all the many. Pons is not exactly just Sherlock Holmes with the serial number filed off; he exists in the same world as Holmes (by then retired), to whom he occasionally refers (though not by name) as The Master. As Holmes entered the world at the tail of the Second Afghan War and exited it on the eve of World War I, Pons enters it at the end of WWI and exits it on the eve of World War II.

The parallels are many and overt: Solar Pons himself; his companion and amanuensis Dr. Lyndon Parker; their shared bachelor quarters at Number 7B Praed Street (which lies about a half mile east of 221 Baker Street), with long-suffering but faithful landlady Mrs. Johnson; his even more acute but lazy and unclubbable elder brother Bancroft, who is a shadowy but high figure in the British government; a small assortment of semi-incompetent but grudgingly admiring Scotland Yard inspectors (notably Inspector Jamison); a ragtag collection of street urchins, whom he calls "The Praed Street Irregulars", who do spying chores for him, led by the cheeky Alfred Peake; and even an evil mastermind, though of espionage, not crime per se, Baron Ennesfred Kroll, the German spymaster.

The tales in the Pontine canon (as the collected works are known) can be broadly divided into two classes, the straight and the humorous, the straight being more or less straightforward tales of detection in the classic Holmesian mode, while the others—a minority—have some gentle fun, most notably by involving fictional characters from outside either canon (most notably Dr. Fu Manchu, who recurs); perhaps the most outstanding example is "The Adventure of the Orient Express", in which we encounter, among others, very thinly disguised versions of Ashenden, Hercule Poirot, and The Saint.

Several of the Pontine tales have titles taken from the famous "unrecorded" cases of Holmes which Watson often alluded to, including the matters of of Ricoletti of the club foot (and his abominable wife), the aluminium crutch, the Black Cardinal, and that of the politician, the lighthouse, and the trained cormorant. Others of the canon are riffs on Holmesian tales, such as "The Adventure of the Tottenham Werewolf" paralleling (in some ways) Holmes' case of the Sussex Vampire.

As there is a society of Holmes devotees, the Baker Street Irregulars, so also there exists a Praed Street Irregulars, founded in 1966 by Luther Norris.

There is a dedicated Pontine web site, Praed Street, that even went so far as to produce a brand new Pons novel in 2008. Other Pontine pages of interest include the Solar Pons article at that other wiki, and a concise bibliography of the canon, which includes more stories than Doyle ever wrote about Holmes (all are short stories save one novel, Mr. Fairlie's Final Journey).

The canonical tales have been augmented by a carry-on series penned by Basil Copper, now up to several books' worth. Copper also edited a 1982 two-volume omnibus collection of the canon, published by Arkham House, a publishing firm founded by Derleth himself and chiefly publishing weird fiction (such as Cthulhu-mythos tales); in that edition, Copper "edited" most of the tales in ways that many Pontine aficionados found objectionable. A later omnibus, The Original Text Solar Pons Omnibus Edition, was issued in 2000 under the imprint of Mycroft & Moran (a name which is itself a Holmesian jest); ironically, Mycroft & Moran was long a subsidiary of Arkham House (but is no longer so).

Noted admirers of the Pons stories include Ellery Queen, Vincent Starrett, Anthony Boucher and Robert Bloch.

This Series Contains Examples of:

  • Accident, Not Murder: In "The Adventure of the Three Red Dwarfs", the Body of the Week accidentally stabbed himself while attacking his literary partner. His partner, however, confused the issue by attempting to cover things up.
  • Always Someone Better: August Derleth regularly notes in story that Solar Pons is the "world's second best detective".
  • Anachronistic Clue: In "The Adventure of the Spurious Tamerlane", Pons identifies a supposed first edition of Tamerlane and Other Poems by Edgar Allan Poe—first published in 1827—as a forgery because the paper is made from chemically treated wood pulp, not used until the 1880s, and the typeface lacks the kerns which were standard until the 1880s.
  • Animal Assassin:
    • The murderer in "The Adventure of the Ipi Idol" kills one victim with a venomous insect (before the story starts) and makes attempts on the life of Pons' client with a tarantula and a green mamba.
    • In "The Adventure of the Missing Huntsman", one victim is rendered insensible and dumped in the stall of a temperamental stallion who stomps him to death in an effort to Make It Look Like an Accident.
  • Archenemy: Baron Ennesfred Kroll, the German spy who fulfills the Moriarty role.
  • Book Safe: In "The Adventure of the Spurious Tamerlane", Pons and Parker are searching a blackmailer's apartment. Having found a safe hidden behind a paining, Pons dismisses it as too obvious and keeps looking. He soon discovers that the two volume leather bound Old and New Testament on the bookshelf are actually hollow fakes where he stores his blackmail material.
  • Captain Ersatz: The entire Holmes cast each has a counterpart here.
  • Concealing Canvas: In "The Adventure of the Spurious Tamerlane", Pons and Parker are searching a blackmailer's apartment. Having found a safe hidden behind a paining, Pons dismisses it as too obvious and keeps looking. He soon discovers that the two volume leather bound Old and New Testament on the bookshelf are actually hollow fakes where he stores his blackmail material.
  • Convenient Photograph: In "The Adventure of the Perplexed Photographer", a photographer taking photos of the facade of a mansion for a real estate agent happens to catch the murderer standing at the window. The lace curtains make the figure unidentifiable, but Pons is able to use the photo's existence—and that the killer does not know what it shows—in Bluffing the Murderer into confessing.
  • Crossover: Including one with the Cthulhu Mythos.
  • Dead Animal Warning: In "The Adventure of the Sealed Spire", one of the stunts performed during the Gaslighting of the rector is the killing of friend's pet cat and planting the body in the rector's holdall.
  • The Dead Guy Did It: In "The Adventure of the Grice-Paterson Curse", Pons tells Parker that the true killer has been decades: being the result of a revenge plot set up decades ago and allowed to continue after the instigator's death because no one else knew about it, until it eventually killed someone unconnected to the killer.
  • Diabolical Mastermind: Kroll is the spymaster version of this.
  • Eye Scream: In "The Adventure of the Fatal Glance", the Victim of the Week is killed by a gimmicked set of binoculars which drives a pair of needles into his eyes when he adjusts the focus knob.
  • Expy Coexistence: Holmes himself himself was Pons's mentor.
  • Gaslighting:
    • In "The Adventure of the Frightened Baronet", the villain is attempting to make the title character believe he is being haunted by an Indian spirit in an attempt to have him either declared insane or to scare him to death.
    • In "The Adventure of the Sealed Spire", a country rector approaches Pons after being subjected to a series of malicious pranks designed to make him appear to be going insane, such as hiding his slippers in his secretary's typewriter and murdering a friend's cat and planting the corpse in the rector's holdall.
    • In "The Adventure of the Circular Room", the villain uses a specially constructed room in an attempt to drive his aunt—who was recently released from a sanitarium—to relapse into insanity so he can keep control of her fortune. he rotates the circular room while she is asleep so it looks completely different when she wakes up,and then returns it to normal before she can return with anyone to verify her claim.
  • The Grand Hunt: In "The Adventure of the Missing Huntsman", Pons and Dr. Parker take part in a fox hunt while investigating a murder at the hunt club.
  • Heterosexual Lifepartners: Pons and Parker
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: In "The Adventure of the Perplexed Photographer", the murder victim is found pinned to the floor of his study by a steel-tipped javelin through his chest.
  • Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: The stories often feature these by famous characters from detective fiction:
    • For example, "The Adventure of the Orient Express" features an appearance by an unnamed young adventurer who is unmistakably The Saint. That same story also includes a moustachioed Frenchman named Hercule "Poiret", an aged spy named Ashenten, and an unnamed character implied to be Bulldog Drummond.
    • One of Pons' recurring adversaries was a Chinese master criminal referred to only as "the Doctor".
    • Pons' mentor is Sherlock Holmes himself, addressed solely as "the Master", since Doyle's stories weren't yet in the public domain. (However, since the copyright on the original Holmesian canon has lapsed, some of the post-Derleth Pons stories have paired the two Great Detectives together properly.)
  • Lighter and Softer: Although the cases he gets involved in can get quite dark, Pons himself is a lighter and happier character than Holmes.
  • Man-Eating Plant: The solution to "The Adventure of the Grice-Paterson Curse" involves a killer vine that drains blood.
  • Murder by Mistake: In "The Adventure of the Sotheby Salesman", the murderer arranged for his intended victim to enter an empty house. However, the intended victim was warned and did not turn up, but the eponymous salesman, looking for a place to spend the night, found the unlocked house and entered. He struck a match to look around and the killer fired at the match light.
  • Obfuscating Postmortem Wounds: In "The Adventure of the Perplexed Photographer", the killer plunges a javelin into the chest of his victim to make it appear he had been Impaled with Extreme Prejudice. The killer did this to erase the track of the actual murder weapon—a wavy-bladed kris dagger—and to frame the one suspect strong enough to have used the javelin as a murder weapon.
  • Orient Express: The Adventure of the Orient Express
  • Scenery Porn
  • "Scooby-Doo" Hoax: In "The Adventure of Buffington Old Grange", the villains fake a haunting in an attempt to drive a family out of their home.
  • Self-Deprecation: In "The Adventure of the Six Silver Spiders", Pons tells Parker that the catalogue of a sale of supposedly rare occult books is fake because the books listed are from the Cthulhu Mythos, or, as he puts it "All of these books have a precarious existence only in the writings of certain minor authors of American origin, all apparently followers, in a minor way, of Edgar Allan Poe". One of these "minor authors" is August Derleth.
  • Serial Killings, Specific Target: In "The Adventure of the Sussex Archers", a would-be murderer sends a cryptic warning to the six members of the eponymous archery club, and then murders one of them; shooting him with an arrow. He intends his actual target second, while making the murders appear to be an act of vengeance for a suspicious death the Sussex Archers were connected to twenty years earlier.
  • Sherlock Homage: Quite possibly the Ur-Example.
  • Shout-Out: Holmes actually exists in the Pons universe and Pons clearly points out that Holmes is the superior detective.
    • Pretty much every famous character in mystery fiction gets one of these at one point or another.
    • Some of the titles (e.g. The Adventure of The Orient Express) are shout outs to other, more famous stories.
  • The Spymaster: Pons' archenemy, Baron Kroll is a German spymaster with a wide network of agents throughout England and the continent.
  • This Bear Was Framed: In "The Adventure of the Tottenham Werewolf", the killer uses a backscratcher with sharpened tines to rip out the throat of their victims; making it look like the claws of an animal.
  • Thriller on the Express: The Adventure of the Orient Express
  • Trouble Magnet Gambit: In "The Adventure of the Missing Huntsman", the killers knock a victim unconscious and then run a pet fox over him, so that the hounds of the fox hunt pick up the scent and lead the riders over him and he is trampled to death by the horses.
  • The Watson: Parker
  • When Trees Attack: "The Adventure of the Grice-Paterson Curse" features a creeper plant that is able to reach its vines through a window to strangle its victims.
  • Yellow Peril: Some of the stories feature appearances from a thinly disguised Fu Manchu, referred to as just the Doctor. Interestingly, this version is written as more of an anti-hero than typical depictions.