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by James Lovegrove
Titan, October 2019
372 pages
ISBN: 1785658026

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

James Lovegrove's Sherlock Holmes novels are distinguished by playfulness with neo-Victorian language, tongue in cheek humor, and clever, unguessable plots that pay homage to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Holmes canon and other cult literature. This is particularly true of Lovegrove's trilogy of Holmes and Lovecraft (Cthulhu) mashups, the Cthulhu Casebooks, which riotously strain Doyle's rule that the solution to a Holmes mystery cannot be supernatural.

Which brings us to Lovegrove's latest, THE CHRISTMAS DEMON. This tale begins with Holmes in hot pursuit of Father Christmas: not the real thing, but a department store Santa who moonlights as a jewel thief. There is always a rational explanation, as Holmes always tells Watson. The pagan gods who became patrons of a Christmas are never real. Watson bears this in mind when their next client, a Yorkshire heiress, Eve (for she was born on a Christmas Eve) Allerthorpe. She has a family history of female "madness," claims to be haunted by a traditional folkloric Black Thurrick: the eponymous "Christmas Demon." Like the hound of the Baskervilles, this myth haunts the moors. If it can't be more than a myth, what is it, or who?

Holmes and Watson head to Yorkshire to find out, producing a story with echoes of the Baskervilles and the Brontės. Lovegrove's depiction of the view from the windows of the beleaguered Allerthorpe family's ancient keep are particularly picturesque, sublime, and appropriately for Watson, medically inspired, going well beyond the poetic capabilities of Doyle's Watson, even as exercised in THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES. "There was no telling the lake's depth," Lovegrove's Watson observes. "No knowing what lay beyond the sheet of ice it had drawn over itself like a glaucous shroud. I thought of an eye paled by a cataract, revealing nothing with its blind stare."

Genuinely building on the reputation of this landscape, debates about mental illness, women's property ownership, and the role of folk culture in modern industrial life, THE CHRISTMAS DEMON is never derivative. Lovegrove's characterization mines Holmes and Watson's memory of their canonical adventures, which turn out to be name-dropped but never explained. Finally, THE CHRISTMAS DEMON is always more than a Sherlockian romp, though what an exciting, well-paced, often humorous, arguably Gothic romp it is. This reviewer can't wait for Lovegrove's next one.

§ 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, December 2014

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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