Date posted: 9th January 2017 / Book Reviews
Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell is the kind of genre mashup you wish you’d thought up first.
Granted the worlds of Barker and Sherlock may not be the most immediately obvious combo, but the more you think on it and the deeper you read the more inspired it becomes. In the end, Paul Kane has written one of the most enjoyable Holmes crossovers I’ve read in years.
In any case, Conan Doyle’s work has always had an undertow for the eerie and the dark – creeping figures in the darkness, hideous poisons, devil hounds – so on a very basic level an arcane puzzle box seems deeply fertile Sherlock country. For example, the Poe-like terror of Conan Doyle’s ‘The Musgrave Ritual’ may not be graphic, but it’s horrible in the imagination. In practice, Sherlock Holmes investigating ‘The Case of the Lament Configuration’ quickly becomes completely plausible.
Kane wisely keeps the full extent of the Hellraiser horror-show under wraps; nothing about the Cenobites is for the faint hearted. Instead, what begins the book – and Kane confidently sustains this right up to the point where the dimensions start to shift for our heroes – is a really first rate Holmes pastiche.
It’s darker in subject matter than most, sure, and as always this will mean trips out of classic Conan Doyle development and tone, but it’s really well achieved. Kane’s grip on the Watson narrative as the duo explore a sequence of disappearances is excellent. Of course, if you know Barker’s world, it’s clear what’s going to happen. If not, the first section could easily be just one of those particularly hard-hitting new Holmes stories where supernatural trappings belie human hands at work. Kane could surely turn his hand to a ‘normal’ Holmes pastiche – I’d be in the queue to read it.
But once it’s clear a properly devilish game is afoot, the book switches gear and has to take traditional style down with it into the maelstrom – then even deeper down. It would be too much of a spoiler to talk about what happens, I think, and how much you enjoy our heroes literally crossing over will depend on how much you’re into the Hellraiser mythology. You’ll need a strong stomach, put it that way. I preferred the first two-thirds, I can’t deny, but you can’t help but be drawn in by Paul Kane’s bravado – the book really does end with a big old sequence of bangs and has a highly visual and cinematic impact that’s excellent fun. Holmes purists might wriggle on the hook(s), but it’s grandstand stuff.
Kane knows his source material – he’s the author of The Hellraiser Films And Their Legacy and features in Gaslight Arcanum: Uncanny Tales of Sherlock Holmes alongside writers like Christopher Fowler and Kim Newman. Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell respects both fields admirably and takes Holmes way out there – neck-deep from the comfort zone.
Sherlock Holmes & The Servants of Hell is published by Solaris Books, priced £7.99.