Friday, January 03, 2020

‘The Cthulhu Casebooks: Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows’ by James Lovegrove

3 January 2020

New Year is traditionally a time for revelations as previously secret government documents are released under the thirty-year rule. So it felt seasonally appropriate this week to be discovering hitherto undisclosed shocking secrets about the life and work of Sherlock Holmes that suggest everything you thought you knew about the great consulting detective was actually a fiction. ‘The Cthulhu Casebooks: Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows’ by James Lovegrove (which I have just finished reading as an unabridged audio book, narrated by Dennis Kleinman) is the first of three novels apparently written by Dr John Watson in 1928. The three books depict events 15 years apart – in 1880, 1895 and 1910 respectively – starting with the first meeting between Holmes and Watson, which the Doctor reveals did not happen as he had previously recounted it in print. ‘The Cthulhu Casebooks’ are a mashup of Conan Doyle and the fantastical science fiction horror of H.P. Lovecraft (who was also the inspiration for Ned Beauman’s wonderful novel 'The Teleportation Accident', reviewed here in July 2013). In ‘Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows’ Watson explains how a young Holmes was drawn into a world of magic, monsters, aliens and gods – and how he carefully obscured this side of the detective’s character in his original accounts in The Strand Magazine. James Lovegrove has produced a painstakingly meticulous recreation of Conan Doyle’s style – homage rather than pastiche. It’s very engaging but less schlocky fun than I had expected: I had anticipated something more like the steampunk aesthetic of George Mann’s Victorian detective/fantasy/science fiction novel ‘The Affinity Bridge’ (reviewed here in June 2019). This is a much more serious tale and feels closer to ‘The House of Silk’ by Anthony Horowitz (reviewed here in January 2012) which was also supposed to be written an elderly Dr Watson, many years after Holmes himself has passed away. Both books are are lovingly reverential to the original Sherlock Holmes stories and knowingly playful with the genre – though the Shadwell Shadows has more lizard-men!



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