What is it about the power of deduction that so fascinates people? The ability to spot a bit of dirt on someone’s cuff and instantly deduce that their second cousin’s dog’s vet is left-handed? The crime-solving applications? The fits of lethargy and cocaine usage?
Whatever the source, it has inspired one of the most enduring fictional detectives: Sherlock Holmes, the creation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Holmes has been the epicenter of countless film, comic, and book adaptations beyond the original tales–such as the recent BBC Sherlock series, or the two Sherlock Holmes films starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law (both the films and series are intense, clever, fun, and come highly recommended by yours truly). Holmes has also been transplanted many a times into the speculative genres, having his wits pitted against agents of darkness such as Dracula, zombies, and even Cthulhu.
So, how about we put a few of his more fantastical tales under the magnifying glass and see which ones lead us on the merriest chase?
THE RUNDOWN: This short story collection pits the genius detective against the horrors found within H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos. It’s an interesting mashup, considering Holmes depends on logic and the utmost rational approach, while Lovecraft’s creations are known for their inherent alien nature and driving the most intelligent men insane through a glimpse of unfathomable horrors.
THE CONTRAST: Unlike the other two short story collections being covered in this post, this one focuses solely on pairing Holmes with Lovecraftian devices. Of course, this is hardly limiting in its scope, and the wide variety of authors and styles make for a unique anthology that sheds some new light (and darkness) onto the famous detective.
THE RUNDOWN: This is the fifth such Sherlock Holmes story collection put together by this pair of editors. Their enthusiasm for this character shines through in a superb gathering of new adventures that use Holmes to explore the supernatural side of existence. Oddly, what is often noted as the best piece, “The Adventure of the Six Maledictions,” by Kim Newman, doesn’t involve Holmes at all, but rather his nemesis, Moriarty.
THE CONTRAST: While many collections fight to keep Holmes true to his solely rational, scientific approach, several stories in this one take a wildly divergent route, presenting Holmes as an avatar and master of the supernatural, eschewing logic altogether. Holmes purists–beyond the genre shift itself–might be a bit put off by these departures.
THE RUNDOWN: This is a reprint collection that culls from numerous Sherlock Holmes anthologies, including Shadows Over Baker Street and the previous publications by Charles Prepolec and Jeff Campbell. It is no less enjoyable for repeating a bit of the source material and, in fact, might be a good entry point for readers wishing to sample how the more supernatural sleuth has been developed over the years.
THE CONTRAST: As noted, all but one of the twenty-eight entries here are reprints, whereas you might find more original tales in the other two. This doesn’t detract from its quality, but if you’re already familiar with many of the other Holmes collections available, you might already find yourself familiar with many of these selections.
The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes does provide a great sampling from many well-known authors, such as Neil Gaiman and Stephen King, who have tried their hand at placing Holmes outside his usual realm of rational comfort. However, since it draws most of its entries from already published collections, readers might have to sift through it for stories they haven’t already experienced.
Shadows Over Baker Street is also a fine collection, but knowing there are readers who aren’t interested in or don’t enjoy the Lovecraft universe, this could push some away from considering it in the first place.
Gaslight Arcanum then comes up as my top pick in this round, both for its more unique selection and the wider variety of subgenres that authors employ. Plus, it has a rich history of Holmes prequels backing it, as the two editors continue to experiment with the marvelous character Doyle first brought to life.
In my next post, we’ll discuss the ultimate question: “Who is actually the greater detective–Holmes or Batman?”
I think my brain is close to exploding, just asking that.