“Commonplaces” — Naomi Novik

Naomi Novik is the bestselling author of the Temeraire series, which consists of His Majesty’s Dragon, Throne of Jade, Black Powder War, Empire of Ivory, and Victory of Eagles. The series as a whole has been optioned for film by Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson. The first volume of the series, His Majesty’s Dragon, was a finalist for the Hugo Award, and Novik also won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and the Locus and Compton Crook awards for best first novel. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthology Fast Ships, Black Sails, and is forthcoming in the anthologies The Naked City and Zombies vs. Unicorns.

In 2009 a young millionaire named Marcus Schrenker leapt from his single-engine plane and parachuted to the ground, leaving his auto-piloted aircraft to crash just fifty yards from a residential neighborhood in Florida. Schrenker, who apparently intended for the plane to fly into the ocean and be lost forever, was attempting to fake his own death in order to escape from a mounting pile of personal, financial, and criminal problems. Many of us were astounded by Schrenker’s reckless disregard for others, but we also had to grudgingly admit that his plan had a certain panache, however badly he ended up botching things. Of course, when it comes to faking your own death with panache, nobody beats Sherlock Holmes, who spent several years traveling the globe after his apparent death at Reichenbach Falls, and who managed to keep the fact that he was still alive a secret even from his good friend Dr. Watson. But many readers have wondered, why couldn’t Holmes have found some secret way to set the good doctor’s mind at ease? Our next tale, in which we get an old acquaintance’s view of Holmes during the Great Hiatus, suggests an answer to this mystery.