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Two great things can fail when mixed together - and with this book this is (mostly) the case...
on 12 May 2011
I loved all the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson and I am a great fan of H.P. Lovecraft, so I was very excited at the idea of a meeting of those two great classics of letters. Sadly, I was mostly disappointed. With very limited exceptions texts contained in this collection are at best of very average quality and seem repeating every time the same story. To be fair, I believe that authors who tried to combine Conan Doyle and Lovecraft were facing an almost impossible task, as Sherlock Holmes investigations are a triumph of logic and reason, when Lovecraft build his work entirely on the idea of impossible (and even forbidden) understanding of universe mysteries by human reasoning. I felt tired of this book after reading two thirds of it; still I forced myself to finish it, hoping for some hidden jewels at the end. To my regret, such was not the case.
Below you will find some more details about each story, with very limited SPOILERS:
"A study in emerald" by Neil Gaiman - the BEST story in the whole book and the only one which successfully combines both universes ("holmesian" and "lovecraftian"), when in the same time perversely twisting them; a very original and very well thought story, which fully deserved its Hugo award; also I promise you, that you will never see Queen Victoria in the same way, after reading that one...
"Tiger! Tiger!" by Elizabeth Bear - Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson do not appear at all in this story, but we meet Irene Adler (and later also another Holmes adversary) instead, during a tiger hunt in India; I found this story rather disappointing, with the "lovecraftian" element particularly weak
"The case of the wavy black dagger" by Steve Perry - Holmes receives a surprising night visit, which he more or less expected; very modern and politically correct, written by a collaborator of Tom Clancy, I believe this is the WEAKEST story in the collection,
"A case of royal blood" by Steven-Elliot Altman - this story about a sinister force haunting the royal palace in Netherlands is better than most works in this collection, although once again Lovecraft's mythos is abused rather than used in this story; still, it is well written and rather enjoyable
"The weeping masks" by James Lowder - in this story Doctor Watson recalls his service in Afghanistan and a nightmarish experience he lived once in this country; not bad, but with somehow weak ending
"Art in the blood" by Brian Stableford - as it is a story about sailors, I detected in it some vague echoes of "The adventure of Black Peter" (one of my favourites); it is one of the better in the collection, but still it is not really great; it is also not exactly a lovecraftian story, as it is tainted by Derleth's "heretical" approach of the mythos...
"The curious case of Miss Violet Stone" by Poppy Z. Brite and David Ferguson - a case of a girl who did not eat for three years and still lives; one of the weakest stories in the collection
"The adventure of the antiquarian's niece" by Barbara Hambly - a particularly dark story about a sinister family living in a half ruined manor build upon much older ruins; it could actually have been great and most of it is very good, but towards the end the author - in my modest opinion - lost control off her story and crashed it in a ditch.
"The mystery of the worm" by John Pelan - the title of this story is a nice insider joke for all fans of mythos, as it makes reference to the sinister book "De Vermis Mysteriis", invented first by Robert Bloch and included into the story "The haunter of the dark" by H.P. Lovecraft himself; the book itself is not mentioned in this story, but we heave a sneak peek in some of the reasons behind the title... It is not a bad story, but strangely Sherlock Holmes character appears in it as surprisingly careless and even a little bit silly.
"The mystery of the hanged man's puzzle" by Paul Finch - that one I actually really enjoyed and I think nobody will resist an adventure which includes - amongst other aspects - inspector Lestrade looking for an escaped 20-feet long crocodile, haunting the sewers of London... This story is deliberately quite humoristic and I am ready to bet, that Guy Ritchie read it as one of the inspirations, before making his Sherlock Holmes movie (the one with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law). Lovecraftian lore is here just a pretext for a jolly good sewer crawl, but frankly I can not hold it against the author.
"The horror of the many faces" by Tim Lebbon - this story was (I believe) somehow inspired by classical "The Thing From Another World" by John Campbell; it is however rather weak and Sherlock Holmes is once again presented here as a somehow desperate character
"The adventure of the Arab's manuscript" by Michael Reaves - this story in which the complete and uncut version of Abul Al-Azhred's book emerges unexpectedly in Afghanistan, could have been very good; but author decided to "modernize" and "feminize" Sherlock Holmes to respect political correctness; the result is ultimately very disappointing
"The drowned geologist" by Caitlin R. Kiernan - dealing with writings found together with Mesozoic Era sea reptile fossils, adopting the very lovecraftian form of a single letter, it begins quite well; but it doesn't last and this is - sadly - another failed story, with a particularly weak ending
"A case of insomnia" by John P. Vourlis - a whole little English town is affected by insomnia since four months, and a weird "thing" haunts the neighbouring woods; quite promising in the beginning, with a very colourful character joining Holmes and Watson in the investigation, this story however also disappoints in the second half and particularly in the end
"The adventure of the Voorish Sign" by Richard A. Lupoff - this is a quite honest one, with a rather successful insight into the mind and customs of Cthulhu worshippers; Watson's character is particularly well described here and the brave doctor plays a particularly important role here;
"The adventure of Exham Priory" by F. Gwynplaine Macintyre - this one is about the ultimate (no, stop laughing, no kidding folks, this time it is really really THE ultimate) confrontation between Holmes and professor Moriarty; it is one of the best in the collection; on the surface it is deadly serious, but under the thick cover of seriousness laid generously by the author, this story was made (very deliberately and very cleverly) hysterically funny, with the punch line being the cherry topping on the cake;
"Death did not become him" by David Niall Wilson and Patricia Lee Macomber - this story of a man who was autopsied by Doctor Watson only to walk next evening in his office by using his very own legs, is not particularly good, but I am still glad that I read it, because Sherlock Holmes performs here one of his most incredible mental deductions ever: "Aaron Silverman - he is a Jew!"...))) It cheered me up for the whole day!
"Nightmare in wax" by Simon Clark - in this one, Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty take a train ride to hell - and back...; not a very good story, but readable.
CONCLUSION - summa summarum, this is a rather disappointing thing; only for the most hardened Holmes fans; as for the amateurs of lovecraftian mythos, it is something you can safely skip to save your precious time and money.