- The Cthulu Casebooks – Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows.
- James Lovegrove.
- 352 pages.
- Fantasy / Thriller / Urban / Mystery Horror.
- My Rating: 4 stars out of 5.
It is the autumn of 1880, and Dr John Watson has just returned from Afghanistan. Badly injured and desperate to forget a nightmarish expedition that left him doubting his sanity, Watson is close to destitution when he meets the extraordinary Sherlock Holmes, who is investigating a series of deaths in the Shadwell district of London. Several bodies have been found, the victims appearing to have starved to death over the course of several weeks, and yet they were reported alive and well mere days before. Moreover, there are disturbing reports of creeping shadows that inspire dread in any who stray too close. Holmes deduces a connection between the deaths and a sinister drug lord who is seeking to expand his criminal empire. Yet both he and Watson are soon forced to accept that there are forces at work far more powerful than they could ever have imagined. Forces that can be summoned, if one is brave or mad enough to dare…
I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows is the first in a new trilogy of books by author James Lovegrove merging together Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic canon and literary characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson with the Cthulu mythos created by H. P. Lovecraft.
The Shadwell Shadows is the first book to be followed by Sherlock Holmes and the Miskatonic Monstrosities in November 2017 and then by Sherlock Holmes and the Sussex Sea-Devils in December 2018.
After a short preface by the author (interesting in its own right and unique). The book starts with a short foreword by an aged Dr Watson knowing that time is catching up with him as he’s an old man nearing his end. He seeks to unburden his soul of these last tales of his and Holmes exploits finally revealing the three stories that make up The Cthulu Casebooks, forever changing the Sherlock Holmes canon we all believed to be true. Giving you an alternate retelling of their first meeting along with some of the other events that transpire during their relationship together throughout the years.
The story starts in the winter of 1880 with Watson newly returned from Afghanistan and very troubled in both body and mind. The bullet wound injury to his shoulder that fans of the series know he sustained in the war in this retelling wasn’t caused by a rifle bullet and was in fact a result of an expedition going awry in a lost city in the Kandahar Province – this is the first glimpse we get into the Cthulu mythos with a vague mention of a subterranean city and its inhabitants, tantalising you into wanting to find out more.
Watson, on a foray into a tavern of rather questionable repute bumps into an old medical friend in Stamford at the same place. Stamford is trying to procure the use of a young girl for the night from two Lascar’s and subsequently ignores Watson pretending not to know him. Stamford won’t pay the going rate for the girl and this is when Watson gets involved, attempting to get Stamford to leave and go to a different tavern to share a drink with him. The Lascar’s take affront to this interference as it would mean losing Stamford’s custom and tell Watson to back off, those fans of Sherlock Holmes will know that Watson has a hot-headed streak about him and he realises that this was actually what he was looking for all along, confrontation to release some of the anger he was feeling within. With violence imminent, an older gin soaked Yorkshire gentleman appears, he has been sat, nondescript and unnoticed by all in the corner of the tavern and now makes his appearance known taking on the two Lascar’s with an unknown martial arts that he is more than adept at, during the commotion and fighting Stamford disappears. We then find out that the elderly Yorkshire man was now none other than Sherlock Holmes in one of his vaunted disguises, he had been training Stamford and Watson bumbled in, trying to do the right thing and allowed Stamford to make good his escape and this dear readers is how in this alternate retelling Dr Watson and Sherlock Holmes meet.
We then learn that Holmes had been trailing Stamford as he’s a suspect in a spate of murders that have been taking place. After attempting to find the trail he left after leaving the tavern and failing, Holmes and Watson end up back at Baker Street, where they start talking, resulting in Watson staying the night and agreeing to aid Holmes in his apprehension of Stamford and thus the partnership is born.
The murders have been taking place regularly in the Shadwell district, a very poor part of London and the victims have been nobodies, people who no-one will miss, just another forgotten death amongst the poor. In gothic nature there’s the usual rumours and superstition of the supernatural, vampire’s, hanged men hanging from the gallows on street corners and Shadwell’s own creeping shadows. The murders occur on the night of the new moon when the night is darkest, but is that because in the darkness it’s easy to dispose of a body or is it something altogether more sinister and that in the blackest of nights and the darkest of dark something more than just shadows can manifest.
When the bodies are found, the murder victims look like they have been starved to death over weeks but there are reports that the victims were alive and well just days before.
Inspector Gregson then makes an appearance, after all what would a Sherlock Holmes book or retelling be without both Gregson and Lestrade. We hear Stamford shouting what sounds like incoherent rambling ravings of a madman but to Watson’s shock and dismay is discernible as the same language he himself heard back in the underground city in Afghanistan. From this we learn that Stamford is an opium addict and the investigation takes us to the opium dens of London where we meet Gong-Fen Shou, a creepy yet wealthy and well established and highly regarded Chinaman.
Holmes agrees to go with Gong-Fen and learn the truth about what is going on. Holmes is still very young in this book and at the start of his career as the world’s only consulting detective and reason and logic that it’s a trap go out of the window despite Watson’s fervent misgivings and admonishment as Holmes needs to know the truth behind the murders.
After Holmes learns the truth, he stumbles back a day later into Baker Street where he tells all to Watson, this is where the Cthulu mythos that’s been hinted at during the book so far comes to the front. Holmes revelation is met with one of equal importance by Watson who after trying to forget and put the nightmarish occurrence of Afghanistan finally decides to tell Holmes what really happened in the Kandahar Province and how he his wound was really inflicted.
Realising that there is far more evil out there and that there are many, many more deities and realms other than just God, the Devil, heaven and hell. Holmes and Watson now put there all into uncovering the truth and stopping the malevolent evil force that is behind the murders in Shadwell. These forces can be summoned and there is an ominous presence behind the evil forces engineering their devious master plan in the human guise of Moriarty, Holmes arch rival and nemesis.
From here it’s a race against time for the intrepid duo of Holmes and Watson to stop Moriarty and the evil malevolent force and minions from enacting his evil plan.
The characters in the book really are those that we all love and Lovegrove’s characterisation is spot on. The brief appearances from Mrs Hudson, Gregson, Lestrade and Mycroft add alot to both the story and the book making it feel like an authentic Holmes tale. Likewise Holmes and Watson are the characters we all know, they are younger in the book, just starting out and are as such slightly more reckless than in their later years but Holmes powers of deduction and sleuthing ability is still on show. Lovegrove to me, has added his own little nuances to Conan Doyle’s classic characters but underneath they are still the Holmes and Watson of old. Moriarty himself, is as evil as he has ever been and you really get a sense of his sinister personality.
The addition of Lovecraft’s Cthulu mythos is also nicely done and fits in well with the story, with the beginning and the lost city really drawing you in and taking something as mundane as a set of murders and adding supernatural and dark otherworldly elements.
The writing style of Lovegrove is decent and he keeps a well measured pace throughout the book, pulling you in from the start and moving the story forward before anything ever has a chance to out stay its welcome and as for the story itself, it’s very interesting. The reveal of the dark otherworldly forces when it finally occurs after various little hints and nods during the book building as a precursor, is handled really well and the conversation with Holmes recounting his revelation and what he discovered with Gong-Fen to Watson and then Watson reciprocating with his own secret is one of the best moments of the book.
And, the parts of the book where an aged Watson is writing are a nice addition as he comes to terms with the story he is recounting and the lasting effect it has had on him. But on the whole, Lovegrove has the voices of Watson and Holmes just like their characterisation spot on and it really feels like you are reading a Sherlock Holmes book – that’s the highest praise I can give as I am a massive Holmes fan.
The story told in The Shadwell Shadows is a great adventure, having everything you could want in a Holmes book and more. The two aspects of both classic works fit and gel really well together and Lovegrove creates a story that showcases aspects and elements of both creating a top quality read.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m a massive Conan Doyle and Holmes fan. But, I must admit that I haven’t read anything by H. P. Lovecraft before and had only heard of Cthulu and the Cthulu mythos but that was as much as I knew. However, my lack of knowledge on the subject didn’t detract from my enjoyment of this book at all and you could easily read it without prior knowledge of either the classic works.
2016 really was a good year for new stories featuring Sherlock Holmes that I read. First there was G. S. Denning’s humorous parody in Warlock Holmes: A Study in Brimstone. Followed by Paul Kane’s Holmes and Hellraiser excellent horror mash-up in The Servants of Hell. And, then to conclude the trifecta we have another splendid book in James Lovegrove’s The Cthulu Casebooks: Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows.
The Shadwell Shadows is a top quality mash-up of two classic literary canons, that serves as an excellent read and is a great addition to the legacy of the iconic Sherlock Holmes.
It’s elementary my dear reader, but of course I must say, it’s highly recommended.
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