Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes





Summer is a time for reading.

Or at least that's as tradition holds. I used to read voraciously, a book tucked somewhere on my personage at all times. Then a disaster came along and pretty much destroyed my concentration for the longest while. Still, I eventually reverted to one of my sanctuaries for troubled times: the library. As I perused the shelves, I came upon a most engaging series of books.

The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is series where contemporary writers mash-up literature's greatest detective with/against other literary and historical figures of the 19th Century, such as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Jack the Ripper. I have been, and probably always will be, a fan of narrative mash-ups. As a kid I delighted whenever I'd see King Kong vs Godzilla listed in the TV Guide (I'm aware just how much that single sentence dates me.) As a teen geekboy, I was overjoyed when I learned that Dark Horse Comics was writing a series of Aliens vs Predator comics, a concept that seemed so explosively exciting yet obvious all at the same time. Ditto for DC's Batman vs Dracula. My very first foray into writing as a young lad was a mash-up. I had Sherlock Holmes (no kidding) meet Captain Nemo. Naturally, I was drawn in to the FAOSH concept. In fact, I couldn't make up my mind as to which titles to read first.

Before we go on any further, a word about my particular tastes regarding the Holmes mythos. I'm something of a purist. The Robert Downey Jr movies are fun and Benedict Cumberbatch is great in everything he does, but my Holmes will always be Basil Rathbone and my Watson will always be Nigel Bruce. I believe that those actors and their corresponding films were the closest in keeping with the spirit of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original literature. That means they aren't slam-bang action yarns and they're not especially brooding. I also believe that the source books are also somewhat unique in that they break a few rules of what is considered to be "good" writing. In the whole of the Holmes collection, there might be two pages worth of character development. Nevertheless, the stories work. The reader is drawn into the story, cares about the characters, and more than anything else, wants to see just how Holmes deduces the solution to the mystery at hand. It works. My point being, all of these literary sensibilities are in my mind when evaluating a new entry to the mythos.




Loren D. Estleman gets it. He is the writer of Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula, the first title of the FAOSH series that I selected (how could I not?) I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. I might not have heard of Estleman before taking this book from the shelf, but he is an award winning mystery author. Indeed, the mythos of both Holmes and Dracula were in capable hands the whole the time.

Remember when I said my seven year-old self wrote (or tried to, anyway) a mash-up of Sherlock Holmes and Captain Nemo? Well, I distinctly remember taking "voice" into consideration. When I wrote dialogue, I asked "did it sound like Holmes?" I was writing my thoughts to come out of his mouth, but it needed to sound like he was saying them. I would later do the same with action figures of various characters, making certain that their rhetorical choices were in keeping with their personalities. I was engaging in composition theory and didn't even know it.

Safe to say, Estleman captured the voice of not only the characters, but also the style and presentation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself. Same goes for the Dracula characters, although I would argue that's a somewhat easier task as they are a bit less distinctive, save for the Count himself of course.

The story begins more or less where the English portion of Bram Stoker's Dracula picks up. A schooner called the Demeter sails into a harbor with not a single man on board...save for the corpse of the captain, lashed to the wheel and drained of blood. Sherlock Holmes sets off to solve the riddle of this mystery ship and that inevitably brings him to meet the characters of Dracula. Yes, we get to see Holmes interact with Van Helsing, even if briefly. It's amusing to find that the two don't especially get along that well. Of course we also see Holmes go one-on-one with the lord of vampires.

While it's solid, fun read for the most part, it does tend to drag at the end. The author has a protracted chase sequence that is ostensibly meant to be thrilling, but I found it to have the opposite effect. Instead of biting my nails, I kept grumbling "get on with it, man." On the plus side, remember what I said about character development? Well, Estleman has a marvelous moment where Dracula confronts Watson, asking why he would sacrifice so much for Holmes. "Sherlock Holmes is my friend," Watson replies plainly...and Dracula is absolutely flummoxed. Love it,

I also checked out the War of the Worlds installment of the series, written by Manly Wade Wellman and his son, Wade Wellman.





I had read a bit of Manly Wade Wellman's "weird tales" in college, thanks to my theater director. While I didn't have strong recollections of the prose style one way or another, I was interested enough to see how he would mash up Conan Doyle with the H.G. Wells story that I likewise love. The writers do this in part via another Conan Doyle character, Professor Challenger from The Lost World and a few other books I admittedly have not read. Anyway, Challenger joins Holmes and Watson as Martian cylinders fall on England and eventually London is in flames.

While this was entertaining to read, the writing lacked description and there were missed opportunities for turns of phrase. It also didn't seem quite Holmes enough. I don't mean that the authors didn't capture the voice. They were at least as good as Estleman in that regard. No, this just didn't quite seem to fit the Sherlock Holmes milieu once you get past the first quarter of the book.  What I really liked was a series of chapters that could only have been executed with the written word and not with cinema.

Holmes comes into the possession of a crystal egg. He and Professor Challenger examine it and find that they can see a whole other landscape through the crystal. For pages the two go on evaluating what it could or couldn't be and eventually deduce that they must be looking at the planet Mars. I was engrossed as I read of how they eventually came to the conclusion, even though the very title of the book was something of a natural spoiler. That's good writing.

One other handy feature of this series is that each book comes with preview pages of another installment in the series. I managed to read part of one before my copy was due back at the library. It was for The Ectoplasmic Man. This one features Holmes meeting the real-life escape artist, Harry Houdini. Houdini has been framed and sent to prison for espionage. Holmes vows to clear him and go after blackmailers bent on menacing the Prince of Wales.

TL;DR It's on the whole a fun, if modestly written, series for anyone who loves Sherlock Holmes. Next time, more weirdness.

Take care everyone.


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