Date posted: 30th May 2017 / Book Reviews
"The devil I will, sir! I would sooner nail both my feet to a charging rhinoceros than call a member of the British aristocracy 'Hank'!""
Hell-Hound‘s predecessor A Study in Brimstone was a delight – a darkly comic, subversive delicious delight. If anything, this follow-up might be even better. It’s exciting, inventive and frequently downright hilarious.
Like that prequel Hell-Hound is joined by some ‘adaptations’ of Conan Doyle stories – albeit featuring the fantastical Warlock as opposed to Sherlock. In this volume we have ‘The Adventure of the Blackened Beryls’, ‘The Reigateway to Another World, ‘The Adventure of the Solitary Tricyclist’ and, but of course … ‘Silver Blaze: Murder Horse’!
These are brilliant, but centre stage definitely goes to Hell-Hound. If you’re a long time fan of Doyle’s original Hound of the Baskervilles – so much so that you even feel you could recite the opening teapot and walking stick dialogue by heart – the opening of this story is just going to be a gobsmacking joy. It’s really inventive, hilarious and typically Warlock all at the same time – off kilter, otherworldly, amazing. If you take the Canon super-seriously, however, it might just be a stick too far. But if not, it’s superb.
And like Brimstone, it continues to be superb because one of the things about Denning’s books that is so successful is the way the characterisation, the sheer madness of it all, is sustained – kept spinning in the air alongside all the references and nods and winks. It really is incredibly well done. There’s really every possibility that such an idea – Holmes is a Warlock not a detective, Watson is the competent detective (which is an already worn boot of a device, so to speak) – could start to dismantle over extended pieces, but not here. In fact, the Warlock stories have something of that balance of zip and suspension of disbelief that makes the Doyle originals so thrilling.
Here the familiar story of the Baskerville heir (Hank) and his challenging bit of curse is brilliantly played – already established in Brimstone, Denning’s assembled cast & clash of monster grotesquerie and upright Victorianiana is great fun. It’s like the original story, but then again it is not. Madcap though it is, Conan Doyle is kept in the heart of this narrative, and that’s in the end the wizardry that makes it fly.
The Hell-Hound of the Baskervilles is out now, from Titan priced £7.99
Fired up by the sulphurous otherworldy adventures of Warlock Holmes, here are some of our favourite non-Conan Doyle Sherlock moments ...
The Seven-Per-Cent-Solution by Nicholas Meyer
Sherlock Holmes? Sigmund Freud? Star Trek legend Nicholas Meyer’s 1973 classic must have been a trailblazer for the armies of Sherlock pastiche that followed. Was this fun psychoanalytical mash-up an influence on plots to come – like Loren D. Estleman’s Holmes and Dracula tale? You’d have to think so. It was made into a pretty enjoyable movie – with the Consigliere himself Robert Duvall as Watson, no less.
The Last Sherlock Holmes Story by Michael Dibdin
Dark, ingenious, unexpected – Michael Dibdin’s The Last Sherlock Holmes Story is something of a macabre masterpiece. Known for it’s divisive ending, it really is pretty classic but stern stuff. It would be no surprise at all to find out that the magnificent Ripper Street was inspired in some way by Dibdin’s tenebrous bit of Holmes in Whitechapel pastiche.
The Secret Files of Sherlock Homes by June Thomson
June Thomson writes some of the very best Sherlock Holmes pastiches – we could have chosen any one of her collections to represent her work here. She has the pacing, the dialogue and the atmosphere of the stories properly down to the absolute and very tee – unmissable. Her most recent, Sherlock Holmes and The Lady in Black, was reviewed on this site last November.
Mr Holmes starring Sir Ian McKellen
With every repeat viewing, McKellen’s superb performance as Holmes becomes deeper, more nuanced and in many ways, more devastating. Based on Mitch Cullum’s excellent novel A Slight Trick of the Mind – which could easily be on this list in its own right – this elegiac study of greatness fading is magnificent. It is a Logan for the Victorian superhero.
The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: After Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ed. Richard Lancelyn Green
This is a really super collection from Penguin, and no Sherlock shelf would be complete without it. It even includes a story from Sir Arthur’s son, Adrian Conan Doyle. In Stuart Palmer’s ‘The Adventure of the Marked Man’, Holmes heads off to Cornwall. You see mixed reviews, but the anthology is great fun. And of course, the orange and white Holmes paperbacks from this era are a joy of book design.
The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R King
Admittedly, it could possibly be argued that this series does lose something of its impact over the many years it encompasses, but the debut is a brilliant marvel. Familiar territory to the movie Mr Holmes, this is another study of Sherlock’s later years. More hopeful than elegiac though, the first in King’s long sequence is incredibly popular.
The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes by Jamyang Norbu
This is a proper curio, and perhaps now something of a collectible – even though you can see hardback first editions for extremely reasonable prices – £0.01 and not a penny less. Addressing the famous ‘missing years’ post Reichenbach in India and Tibet, this ripping yarn features a Kipling crossover and Holmes in his famous guise as the Norwegian explorer Sigerson. Well worth the voyage.
The Young Sherlock Holmes starring Nicholas Rowe
This great film seems to be on its way to becoming either a footnote or a much-loved favourite – it’s hard to say. Possibly too scary for tiny kids and too whimsical for older audiences, it somehow seemed to miss the mark at the time. Which is a shame, because there’s some great central performances, an exciting Indiana Jones kind of atmosphere and some really well achieved nods to the future detective to be. It’s great fun all round and darker and deeper than you’d expect.
The List of Seven by Mark Frost
This is cheating slightly because Mark Frost’s List of Seven is not strictly a Holmes novel – it has Conan Doyle himself in it. But it’s steeped in the Sherlock world – particularly the darker, edgier stories – and it’s now something of a cult classic. Frost co-wrote Twin Peaks, and this occultish adventure has much of that darkness. Wikipedia explains that “sketches for a potential movie adaptation of The List of Seven” feature in Guillermo Del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities. Now if only …
The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula by Loren D Estleman
It’s probably a common daydream of many Holmes fans to have every single one of Titan’s brilliant ‘Further Adventures’ series on the shelf at home – even when copies from the original publishers are already sitting there. They just look so cool. Impossible to pick just one from the series, today let’s go with Loren D Estleman’s classic ripping yarn – Sherlock Holmes pits his wits against the great Vampire himself, Dracula. However improbable, it’s grand stuff.
Basil the Great Mouse Detective by Disney
Sure, it looks a bit dated now in the face of the animation miracles of things like Moana, but Basil the Great Mouse Detective is still a lovely film, and for many Holmes fans it will always be special. A mouse detective who lives underneath 221b Baker Street, the real Holmes seen playing the violin up above in silhouette? It’s priceless.
The Hound of the Baskervilles starring Vasily Livanov
Okay, okay – this is more cheatery because of course this wonderful Russian film adaptation is based on a Doyle original. But it’s a delight, with a brilliant Watson and a great, great Hound. Livanov was so acclaimed overseas for his series portrayal of Holmes he was awarded an Honorary MBE. There’s something magical about Sherlock on the Steppes – the wildernesses of Pushkin and Turgenev. The starkness anticipates the icy beauty of the Ralph Fiennes Onegin from 2000. But that’s another story – another story for another day.