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by James Lovegrove
Titan, November 2017
352 pages
ISBN: 1783295953

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

James Lovegrove's Sherlock Holmes pastiche novels include the World War I-themed GODS OF WAR and THE THINKING ENGINE, a whirring, clacking ode to Holmes and Victorian computing pioneer Charles Babbage. Lovegrove also contributed one of its better tales: “The Noble Burglar,” narrated by Toby the Dog to the delightful FURTHER ASSOCIATES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (2017).

Lovecraft's latest foray into the Holmes fan universe is less impressive. SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE MISKATONIC MONSTROSITIES is the second instalment of his Cthulhu Casebooks: a series that mashes up Holmes spinoffs with the Cthulhu mythos inaugurated by H.P. Lovecraft. The tale of Holmes and Watson's investigation of a supernatural attack on London, the disappearance from the Bedlam madhouse of a possessed madman, and the fortunes of an undergraduate necromancer from New England, SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE MISKATONIC MONSTROSITIES reads like a sutured jumble of oddly-fitting parts. In this sense, the novel resembles one of its major inspirations: Lovecraft's Frankenstein-inspired tale "Herbert West--Reanimator" (1922). There is very little of Sherlock in the composite body, but a great deal of the Lovecraft Mythos, which might please its fans.

After a frenetic chase scene opening, SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE MISKATONIC MONSTROSITIES takes a good while to get started, largely because Lovegrove devotes many passages to backstory: namely, the events of the previous his Cthulhu Casebooks mystery and of canonical Sherlock Holmes tales reinterpreted as evidence of supernatural creatures' invasion of earth. These are related by Watson, of course. As in the canonical Holmes novel A STUDY IN SCARLET, SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE MISKATONIC MONSTROSITIES incorporates a frame-and-tales structure that includes an interpolated "manuscript" by an American, and set in America just before the events of the frame story. In SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE MISKATONIC MONSTROSITIES, this inner tale recounts vivisectionist misadventures at and beyond Miskatonic University, the fictional institution invented by Lovecraft to serve as his reanimator's Ingolstadt.

For all its complexity, this tale is hardly original. "You cunning fellas went an' made yerselves a monster," says "grizzled" riverboat captain Skipper Brenneman. "He's got ter go." James Whale, someone has reanimated your material without permission from Universal Studios.

Equally unoriginal is the recycling of Lovecraft's notorious racism. A potent potion is associated with a "lamasery" of "Tibetan monks," "three Sikhs" go on an idol-seeking quest reminiscent of Wilkie Collins' THE MOONSTONE, and Holmes and Watson shudder at their narrow escape from "the grip of the" vaguely Egyptian-sounding "Nyarlathotep's tentacle." Then, there is Charley, Skipper's African-American servant-crewmate. Constantly verbally abused by Skipper's lout of a son, Junior Brenneman, Charley's attitude to workplace racism is straight out of GONE WITH THE WIND. "He don't hate me," Charley says of Junior. "He just wants me to know my place."

Of course, diehard Lovecraft fans are accustomed to Lovecraft's white supremacist anxieties, and Lovecraft gives his most overtly racist character a particularly nasty end. However, this Holmes fan had trouble understanding what the point of mashing up the worlds of the Thames and the Miskatonic is intended to achieve. Neither universe seems to provide unprecedented insight into the other.

§ Rebecca Nesvet is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay. She specializes in nineteenth-century literature. https://uwgb.academia.edu/RebeccaNesvet

Reviewed by Rebecca Nesvet, November 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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