Titan Books, out now
The faithful Doctor Watson recounts another “lost” story from the canon, as he and Holmes battle terrorists and encounter the highly-inventive Baron Cauchemar…
Rule number one, as far as I’m concerned, with these sorts of pastiches is very simple: does the author emulate the style and story-telling of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? There have been quite a few Holmes tales released recently where either the author has point blank refused to write in Watson’s “voice”, or has tried to do so and ended up with the written version of a transatlantic accent – neither late 19th/early 20th century, nor contemporary. If the author can’t be bothered, then neither can I!
James Lovegrove’s debut Holmes novel passes the test: there are odd moments where the style and phraseology become more contemporary (particularly in some of the action sequences), but overall this is a homage to Doyle’s writing which doesn’t regularly provide speed bumps as you read.
That helps considerably, as this is a Holmes meets Steampunk tale: the events of the third act are outlandish enough that you need that familiarity with Holmes and Watson to maintain a degree of plausibility. A lot of the inventions that Lovegrove ascribes to the Baron appear credible, because of the way he’s set up the situation (in a way that some Steampunk stories singularly fail to do).
Lovegrove hits all the Holmes buttons: he makes quick deductions about people on first meeting them; he has a difficult relationship with his brother; there are disguises, fogs and mysterious foreigners. There are attempts to rectify some of the errors of the canon, which occasionally come across as a little self-serving on Watson’s part, and even a crossover with another of Doyle’s series (which is the only bit which really felt out of place).
As Lovegrove has proved with his Pantheon novels, he’s very good at writing action, and the prose certainly feels most fluid in these sections. There’s little doubt as to the identity of the villain of the piece, but Lovegrove gives us a Holmes and Watson keenly on the scent, refusing to let anything – especially a one-armed thug – deter them.
Verdict: A highly entertaining fusion of Holmes and Steampunk. More please. 7/10