The Cthulhu Casebooks: Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows by James Lovegrove
Publication: November 15th 2016 by Titan Books
Format: Hardback Pages: 352
‘In the stews of London’s East End, an outbreak of insanity sees ordinary men and women reduced to gibbering, incoherent wrecks; a mysterious creeping fog hides terrifying apparitions within that rob the wits of all who see them and even inspire suicide.
Sherlock Holmes, in the infancy of his detecting career, deduces a connection between these sinister “shadows” and an Oriental drug lord who is bent on expanding his criminal empire. Yet there are even more sinister forces at work, as the great detective faces a challenge so fearsome and deadly that his career may be over almost as soon as it has begun.’ – Goodreads.
What we have here is H.P. Lovecraft and Arthur Conan Doyle’s love child. The blurb had me at ‘Sherlock Holmes’, and then I saw the cover and I was all I need this now. Just look at that typography *slow clap for design team*. I picked up this novel at a time when I was looking for a light crime read. I wasn’t in the mood for a slow-paced 500+ page detective novel, I was too busy to sit down and dedicate brain space to that sort of thing, so a Sherlock mystery was perfect. Since I was reading in October, a sprinkling of Lovecraft was a bonus.
Initially, I was both intrigued and a little sceptical of the combination. We know of Sherlock as being the logical man, the one who lives in good ol’ London. Sherlock’s mysteries are believable because they’re set in the ‘real’ world. Lovecraft, on the other hand, is a whole lot of wacky. Turns out, the combination of logical genius man meets things of nightmares is precisely what held my interest as I began to read. I wanted to know how Sherlock, with his mentality, would interpret something that didn’t fit in with what he thought was reality – Lovegrove did a great job of portraying this.
The Cthulhu Casebooks is narrated by the same character that narrated Doyle’s Sherlock stories, Dr. Watson. The series of events described by Watson in The Cthulhu Casebooks occur before the famous duo officially began working together, but they are written by an older Watson revisiting the past. The Sherlock in this book is young and has just started his detective career, although his personality and way of thinking is familiar, he does have an air of someone who is inexperienced. Watson frequently refers to the other cases they were involved in to clarify any contradictions that arise in The Cthulhu Casebooks, I liked this because it gave the narrative more credibility.
The prose follows Watson’s familiar report style, so it was easy to breeze through and I didn’t feel bogged down by heavy details or unnecessary descriptions. Lovegrove did an excellent job at building suspense and merging the supernatural with nineteenth century London. There were times when I wished a more thorough explanation of how Sherlock did something had been provided. To keep clear of spoilers, all I’m going to say is there was something about a concoction mixed with blood, and I couldn’t figure out how Sherlock got hold of that idea or why he thought it would work.
The Lovecraft elements certainly didn’t suffer under Sherlock’s shadow, they got an equal amount of show time. I loved how Lovegrove brought Cthulu into the story but I didn’t feel scared by anything in the novel; Cthulu and the other weird and wonderful occurrences in the novel didn’t give me the chills I thought they would.
Watson’s reactions to the supernatural were believable – the terror, desire to forget and desperate attempts to repress the memory. You could see all of this from the way he talked and behaved. Lovegrove’s portrayal of Watson, who was likeable, and his character development made it easy to see how and why he would stick around, and why Sherlock would want his help.
I enjoyed reading The Cthulhu Casebooks and hope to see more Sherlock adventures by Lovegrove! If you’re looking for a bit of light crime that’s interesting but not draining, give The Cthulhu Casebooks a shot and let me know how you find it. I highly recommend getting a hardback copy because it’s so damn beautiful.