Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Sherlock Holmes versus Dracula

1979 Paperback edition
Author: Loren D. Estleman
First Published: 1978
File size/Pages: 1432KB / 224pp
Ebook Publisher: Titan Books
Ebook Date: November 2012

In a nice coincidence, the final pages of Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula takes place at the end of the year, so it seems fitting that I should end 2019 with this book.

The novel was originally published in 1978, and is now available via a recent reprint from Titan Books in both paperback and eBook format. They have been reprinting old and new Sherlock Holmes pastiches via their "The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" series for a while now.

I'm a great fan of Arthur Conan Doyle's creations, the consulting detective Sherlock Holmes and Dr John H. Watson M.D. I have been reading Holmes books since an early age, and have been actively supporting the publication of the fantastic MX books of new Sherlock Holmes stories via Kickstarter for a number of years. If you want to read new Holmesian fiction, check out their regular Kickstarter projects, you cannot go wrong.

Author Loren D. Estleman was born in Michigan, U.S. in 1952. Estleman first published novel was The Oklahoma Punk in 1976. The books for which he is most famous for, the P.I. Amos Walker series, launched in 1980 and currently runs to twenty eight instalments. He has also written Western books about Marshal Page Murdock and hitman Peter Macklin. He followed up Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula with Dr Jekyall and Mr Holmes in 1979.

The title of this book pretty much gives us the plot of the story. This is a pastiche that pits the Vampire King against the world's greatest detective. Estleman does not try to change the events of the Bram Stoker novel, but instead weaves the events of his creation around those of the classic gothic horror. Characters such as Jonathan Harker, Van Helsing, Dr Seward, Lucy Westenra and Mina Harker have cameo appearances as Holmes and Watson cross their paths in the hunt for Dracula.

The premise here is that Mr Thomas C. Parker of Whitby employs Holmes to assist in the mysterious case of the grounding of a ship named Demeter, near the seaside town. It appears that all hands barring that of the captain of the Russian ship that last set sail from from Varna have perished without a trace. The captain of the ship had been tied to the helm of the Demeter and died due to a lack blood - yet the only mark on his body was that of two small jagged punctures on his neck. Observers had reported seeing a large dog or hound leaping on to the shore and melting away into the night.

Holmes and Watson set off for Whitby to look over the scene of the 'crime' and the reader is taken on a breathless race against time as the two determine to rid England of the Transylvanian terror for good.

Estleman handles the atmosphere of the late 1890's very well. His voice for Holmes and Dr. Watson are good, and apart from a single instance in the early section of the novel he doesn't allow Holmes to get too dramatised. He remains loyal to the traditional format of the tale being narrated by Watson via a lost manuscript (discovered by Estleman himself of course), and thus when the doctor is separated from his friend we are blind to the actions of the greatest detective.

There are numerous references to previous Holmes canon stories such as Hound of the Baskervilles or The Sign of Four to name but two. Characters make appearances such as Toby the bloodhound and the Baker Street Irregulars.

My only criticism is that Holmes does not get enough time to 'deduct' as only he can. We are treated to some in the first chapter or two, but from that point onwards, Sherlock is reduced to a more ordinary detective than you would expect. There are times during the story when I thought that any crime fighter worth their salt could have worked out the next steps to take, or deduce what had happened to Dracula or his henchmen. The number of times he resorts to bribery to get information rather than actually analysing it himself even becomes a running gag in the novel as he refers to Watson, "how much this case is costing us".

The plot becomes a good old race against time when Dracula sets his sights on Mrs Mary Watson. Estleman treats the reader to a fine climax, with pursuit across England by coach and boat, and it makes up for the lack of Holmes exercising his brain, by exercising his and Watson's bodies!

All told, I enjoyed Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula, I would recommend the book, mostly to Holmesians, but not if you want a traditional Holmes story - be prepared to allow a little flexibility.

Happy New Year!