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My name is Marianne Plumridge. I am an artist of mythic fantasy works and fine art images. I also satisfy my creative muse with sewing, cooking, writing and reading. These are my thoughts and adventures with whichever muse drives me each day. You can find more of my art at

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Location: New England, United States

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Shadows Over Baker Street...A Book Review

Edited by Michael Reaves and John Pelan

October 2003 – A Del Rey Hardcover/Ballantine Books, ISBN 0-345-45528-2, Hardcover, 464 pages, $23.95

“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
Sherlock Holmes, (Arthur Conan Doyle), 1890.

Was there ever a better set up for a more mystical Holmsian adventure than the above quote from Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective in ‘The Sign of Four’*? In this, and other stories by Conan Doyle, the mythical Holme’s uncanny abilities and knowledge appear almost supernatural in the setting of late Victorian London. With that antique society’s predilection for, and whole-hearted embracement of mystical and semi-occult tinkering, it is a very natural extension for the character of Sherlock Holmes to step forward into the realm of the Elder Gods and Old Ones as recounted by H.P.Lovecraft.

Indeed, in ‘Shadows Over Baker Street: New Tales of Terror’ a gathering of well known genre authors have attempted to produce a convincing marriage of these two equally well-known universes. And they’ve done very well indeed, dear reader.

This collection opens with the tremendous and disturbing contribution from Neil Gaiman, “A Study in Emerald” set in 1881. This story begins in a regular way, told in the first person by someone presumably recognizable as Doctor Watson. Things get a little iffy after that: the odd appears commonplace and the bizarre and unnatural, normal. Nothing appears what it seems to, or should be, in the regular Holmsian world. Evil is perceived as the conventional norm, and fighting against it has the feel of underground furtiveness. It is revealed at the end which personas have been switched, and who is actually who. I had to read this story twice to find all the foreshadowing elements that the author subtly fermented the text with.

It was nice to encounter the character of Irene Adler again in “Tiger! Tiger!” by Elizabeth Bear. Although, there is ample presence of Lovecraftian myth in this story, and plenty of adventure, the removal of it from the sordid backstreets and veiled drawing rooms of gaslit London, to the mores and dangers of the African bush smacks faintly of something from the pen of H. Rider Haggard, than that of Doyle. Still, it is smartly paced and well characterized enough to frame the era quite well. A nice read.
“The Case of the Wavy Black Dagger” by Steve Perry is set in New York of 1884, and introduces a characterization of Sherlock Holmes that I’m not wholly comfortable with. Holmes has always maintained a certain kind of cold arrogance of tone in his dealings with associates and clients, but always with an impeccable politeness. The interplay between Holmes and his nocturnal lady visitor implies a seduction as they verbally spar with each other in an intricate dance of intellect. Holmes appears arrogant, smarmy and sensually aroused by the intelligence and appearance of the lady. Other than his being impressed by Irene Adler in past adventures, I do not consciously remember Holmes being portrayed thus at all: unless of course it was a Hollywood screen treatment of the character. A good idea, but a difficult version of Holmes.

Steven-Elliot Altman spins another twist in the coupling of the Holmsian and Lovecraftian universes by adding a third: the presence of H.G. Wells as the narrator of the next Holmsian adventure, “A Case of Royal Blood”. Wells replaces Watson as the sidekick and point of view ‘voice’ as it were. He also picks up some inspiration for future stories along the way.

The excellent “The Weeping Masks” by James Lowder is set pre-Holmsian and is told in flashback style of Doctor Watson’s experiences as a subaltern physician newly arrived in the wilds of Afghanistan, and the war being waged there. The legendary Afghani caves are the setting for Watson’s encounters with the Weeping Mask deaths, and ultimately ‘the unspeakable one’, ‘The One Who Must Not Be Named’. Cthulhu, even?

There are a more tales in this excellent collection, some straightforward, some not: telling of curses upon men and women, involving supernatural transmutation and horrific metamorphosis; black arts revolving around the Necronomicon; human sacrifice and transplantation of evil spirits; and the odd megalomaniac or two. All of them make compelling reading for fans of Sherlock Holmes mysteries and of period drama, however, I’m not completely sure if purists of the works of H.P. Lovecraft will agree. I thoroughly enjoyed this anthology of supernatural Sherlock Holmes tales, enough to remind me that too many years have passed since I last read the works of Conan Doyle. An enjoyment well remembered. The frequency of Afghanistan being represented in some of these tales as a place where evil dwells, or hosting access to demonic dimensions, speaks eloquently of current events and world feeling. As much as Afghanistan is a part of Doctor Watson’s military past, I find that the literary associations contained in this anthology to be an interesting response to recent tragedies in the Middle East, also here, and abroad. I wonder if it was intentional.

All in all, I found the stories collected here a wonderful addition to the worlds of both Sherlock Holmes and H.P.Lovecraft. The authors have recreated a splendid mythical history that works in either universe, or both. This is a book that will remain on my shelves for years to come, to be taken down and read again from time to time, when winter creeps too close and the windows rattle on a windy night…

Marianne Plumridge

* On the page preceding the Contents page in this volume, the quote by Sherlock Holmes is incorrectly attributed to Doyle’s story, ‘A Study in Scarlet’. The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations and the New International Dictionary of Quotations give the original reference as ‘The Sign of Four’.


Blogger Jay said...

I liked the book too, but it's been years since it was published. Supposedly there was to be a sequel so I set up a google alert. I've given up hopes of seeing more like this. You might also look at "hardboiled Cthulhu". I haven't had a chance to read it all. What I read so far wasn't too bad.

7:46 AM  
Blogger Marianne said...

Yeah, this came out some years ago, but I wrote the review the same year. This is one of my backlog reviews which I post while writing other reviews. :-)

Haven't seen 'Hardboiled Cthulhu', but I do have 'Tales of the Lovecraft Mythos'. I'll be posting that in the future.


9:50 AM  

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