"Matilda Briggs was not the name of a young woman, Watson, ... It was a ship which is associated with the giant rat of Sumatra, a story for which the world is not yet prepared."
"The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire"
Aaaand this is the first review I wrote today. Mind you, this review won't be posted online until another six months...
Back in 1984, Shimada Souji wrote a book titled Souseki to London Miira Satsujin Jiken ("Souseki and the London Mummy Murder Case"), a hilarous parody of Sherlock Holmes that also featured famous Japanese novelist Natsume Souseki (Sherlock Holmes also met Souseki in a 1953 story by Yamada Fuutarou by the way, as well as in the 2015 videogame Dai Gyakuten Saiban). And now Shimada has returned to the setting in 2015, even though New 15 Fried Rats is not a sequel to his earlier parody (I don't remember the details, but I think continuity-wise, they don't even match up).
EDIT: It appears Yamada's story is available in English by the way.
As a revisionist look on Holmes history, New 15 Fried Rats has both its high and lows. As often seen in Holmes pastiches/parodies, we have a Holmes with a bit too much love for cocaine, which eventually leads to an admittance into a mental hospital. Left alone is a Watson, who was not only wounded by Holmes, but also has to take care of several problems. The 'easiest' and funniest part is definitely the troubles he has with his editor. Because Holmes' breakdown must be kept a secret, Watson comes up with one lie after another and is eventually forced to write a story not based on an adventure he had with Holmes, but one he invented himself. The result is an entry in the Holmes canon which is indeed a bit strange.
A large part of the story revolves around the famous Holmes story The Red-Headed League. In New 15 Fried Rats, it is revealed that the solution Holmes arrived at was actually a fake solution prepared by the real criminal, with John Clay (who was fingered as the brains behind the operation by Holmes) simply being a distraction. This part has some troubles. Part of the problem is because the true criminal and his plans are already revealed in the prologue of the book. Chapter two of the book then contains the story of The Red-Headed League as we know it (because it's written from the point of view of Watson/Holmes), but this chapter is basically the same The Red-Headed League as we've known it for over hundred years. I guess this part is needed for people who don't know the story, but for people who do (and let's be honest, most people reading a Holmes parody will be familiar with the Holmes stories), the whole of chapter two is a boring retelling of a familiar story with nothing new to add. New 15 Fried Rats adds an aftermath to this story, with the prison escape of John Clay and others, but the resulting story is a bit unlike any other Holmes story (a love story subplot featuring Watson!) and is more like an adventure novel that relies a bit too much on coincidence.
The final part of the book has Watson trying to figure out how the people behind the Red-Headed League managed to escape an inescapable prison in the first place, and that's where the title New 15 Fried Rats becomes important. Apparently, the phrase "new 15 fried rats" has been going on in the prison for some years now as some kind of song, but the clues show that the phrase also has something to do with the prison escape. I had kinda expected a locked room mystery here, considering Shimada's reputation, as well as his earlier Holmes parody, but I was kinda disappointed when I discovered this wasn't really one. I wouldn't even say this part was particularly clever, even if the way Holmes finally returns to sane society is something to behold.
The biggest problem of New 15 Fried Rats is it's a bit too long, with sections that don't work that well together. Both chapter one and three for example feature events and characters that in this continuity provide inspiration to Watson for several of Holmes' most famous stories. They can be quite funny and sometimes help make sense of some of the inconsistencies in the canon. Yet, they do so little for the greater context of the book (the Red-Headed League) and I even think those chapters would've been more enjoyable as standalone short stories. The part with the Red-Headed League on the other hand has a very boring beginning (because it's basically exactly the same as the story The Red-Headed League) and the sections afterwards feel a bit un-Holmes-like. On the whole, New 15 Fried Rats is never as cohesive or entertaining as Shimada's own Souseki to London Miira Satsujin Jiken.
I think that for Holmes fans, there are loads of neat references to be found in New 15 Fried Rats and the re-casting of Watson as the hero of the tale is certainly a trick many of us love (I know I do). There are also some interesting elements like the "true" solution to The Red-Headed League and some very comedic parts, but overall, I think that Shimada's 1984 effort into Holmes pastiche/parody was much more enjoyable.
Original Japanese title(s): 島田荘司 『新しい１５匹のネズミのフライ ジョン・Ｈ・ワトソンの冒険』