After last week’s review of The Last Vampyre, I thought I’d take a quick diversion into more undead encounters. I am a big fan of the various worlds that Sherlock Holmes inhabits. I say various because he can fit into nearly any world an author can device to place him in. However, one area that I’m especially fond of is the stories that incorporate Sherlock and Watson into conflict with classic horror. My personal favorite version of that horror pits the Great Detective against the Elder God Cthulhu. But there are other stories that have Holmes battle terrifying monsters too including Mr. Hyde, zombies, and even vampires.
Some years ago, I discovered Sherlock Holmes and the Plague of Dracula. In this story, Mina Harker asks Holmes to find her missing husband. Anyone who knows the story of Dracula knows what happened to Jonathan but to add Holmes to the mix was a brilliant move. Author Steven Seitz does a good job merging the two worlds although my memory of it was that it seemed to favor the history of Dracula. In fairness, that’s perfectly acceptable considering Holmes is asked to investigate the events of that story, but I’m a bigger Holmes fan so it stood out to me as favoring the wrong side of that equation. I wanted it to feel more Holmesian. But if I had one real gripe, it’s one I have with nearly every pastiche I ever read: there’s only one villain for Holmes and that’s Moriarty. That’s not actually true though, is it? It’s like saying the only enemy for Kirk is a Klingon or the only one for The Doctor is a Dalek. Come on! Let the title villain have his time in the sun… um, well, time in the limelight at least without having Moriarty steal the thunder.
Full disclosure, I have not read Sherlock Holmes and the Plague of Dracula in years having picked it up around the late 2000s but that memory remained. I also picked up Loren D. Estleman’s Sherlock Holmes Vs. Dracula: Or The Adventure of the Sanguinary Count. That’s a great title, isn’t it? This gets better reviews than Seitz’s work, and it stands out in my mind more than the former. The most notable thing is that it felt more like it was a Sherlock Holmes story. I think Estleman did a better job capturing the voice of Doyle. I also loved how Estleman depicted some of the events like the murder of Lucy Westenra by Van Helsing and company. Again, a notable feature of the story is that Holmes is against Dracula, which is as it should be, but try as I might, I do not recall Moriarty in this one, which also helped make it a stronger story, albeit one I read even further back than the aforementioned Dracula tale.
Recently I was in Barnes and Noble and I spotted one more Dracula rendition and this time it jumped out at me for the most banal reason: the cover is really good looking. I know, I know… never judge a book and all that, but how can you not admit to the attraction of a good cover? Alas, time has been more restricted to me lately, so instead of getting the physical book, I picked up the unabridged audio version through Audible of Sherlock Holmes and Count Dracula by Christian Klaver. And was I genuinely surprised…
The story offers us proof that the author knows his canon as he references events from The Cardboard Box, The Sign of Four, Charles Augustus Milverton, The Illustrious Client, The Six Napoleons, The Man with the Twisted Lip, and more. There’s also indication that he may have been a fan of the BBC series Sherlock (could we blame him) referring to Holmes fighting on the “side of the angels”. He also sticks with Watson’s middle name of Hamish, which Martin Freeman states on one of the episodes. (This goes back to a fan theory that in one story Mary refers to John as James – an evident time where Doyle didn’t pay attention to what he wrote, but fans fabricated a theory of it being his middle name; the Scottish form of James is Hamish, apparently. The more you know…) Then we also get numerous references to Orangutan’s murdering people which alludes to Poe’s Murders in the Rue Morgue. For my money, this all helps to establish the time period while also providing Klaver some points for having done his research.
All good so far; the author has established an awareness of loads of literature of the time, so where does he take the story? Well, let me start by saying SPOILERS FOLLOW. The really amazing thing about this book is what it does with Dracula… he comes looking for Holmes’s help. Let me be specific: he’s not the bad guy!! I’ve always wondered why Dracula was depicted as a monster when he’s motivated by a love so strong, that he renounced God. Why not realize that this was the very message God wanted: we should love one another. So, he turns to Holmes to help find what happened to Mina. Call that shock #1. Then they begin to uncover references to the actual baddie: the “Mariner Priest”. Now, I had hopes but it’s 5 hours into the story before there’s even a reference to Innsmouth and I was beside myself with joy! The Esoteric Order of Dagon? Really? This is amazing. Talk about something I simply had no idea was coming.
The story lasts about 8 hours and had me very impressed on many levels. Mina does recognize that Watson is the moral compass for Sherlock and that’s a lovely recognition. Baron Gruener, from The Illustrious Client, is said to have been a vampire (which I found clever) and I loved how capable Mina was in this story, reminiscent to me of Alan Moore’s version of her in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. But one of those real surprises was when Lady Carfax came up in connection with Carfax Abbey! Remember I made that comment weeks ago?!
I do have one gripe and that’s around the Mariner Priest, but as this is a newer book, I won’t spoil it for you. Suffice to say, one of my gripes above rears its ugly head. It’s done well enough but I really wish there could be more …well, I can’t say originality, can I? I love that Holmes goes up against Lovecraftian monsters, so that’s hardly original, but I do wish we didn’t have to rehash old faces so often! Still, the story ends with hints of other bizarre encounters for Sherlock and Watson. There are things that change the dynamic for them in this story, but it adds a level of mystery if I save those revelations for the reader. They are big revelations and I am curious to see how that will be addressed in subsequent books. Overall, I think this is an excellent addition to the vampire chronicles of Sherlock Holmes and one you can really sink your teeth into! ML
When the Sherlock Holmes legacy occasionally diverges into the supernatural realms like Dracula, I can easily appreciate more how the mystery and supernatural genres have often intertwined in our literature. As for whether or not Dracula should be quite accurately defined as a monster, given the more lonely aspect for the character that I liked most, thanks to the performances of Frank Langella and Gary Oldman, that aspect should be a more personalized challenge as an adversary for Holmes, given how Holmes and Dracula are two of the best fictional characters of their times to be so deeply personalized even for their negativities. Thank you, ML, for including this in your Sherlock Holmes reviews.
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