Review: Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows

Series: James Lovegrove's Sherlock Holmes: #1

You are far too stolid and unimaginative, Watson, to invent a tale like that.

Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows is a strange book. In a nutshell, Sherlock Holmes and The Call of Cthulhu are both in the public domain now, so author James Lovegrove essentially took them and mashed them into this unholy (yet at times awesome) abomination. In universe, these stories are told by Watson as ’the real story’, where all of the rest of the Sherlock Holmes mythos was fiction made up to hide the darker, Cthulhuian truths. They found their way from Watson to Lovecraft…

Lovecraft will know what to do with the books, which is to lock them in a strongbox and throw away the key. I do not need him even to read them. I merely want them out of me, as it were, in the manner of a diseased organ removed by a surgeon. Before I die I wish to be rid of their accumulated weight, the plague of their presence in my soul. This, then, is a kind of literary exorcism.

…and eventually to Lovegrove.

Storywise, I’ve read all of Lovecraft, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually read any of the original Sherlock Holmes stories, but rather only seen them. I’ll have to fix that. So I can only assume that Holmes is accurately enough portrayed. He’s certainly got the pretentious-but-with-cause smarter than everyone attitude I expected down pat:

“Yes, lost. Dr Stamford is the reason I am in this den of iniquity, passing myself off as a ne’er-do-well. If not for you, I would still be observing his activities, unseen, and he none the wiser. Now, come. We must hurry if we are to pick up the scent again.” And that, in all honesty, was how I first met Sherlock Holmes.

And he’s completely sure that the the supernatural doesn’t exist:

“No, the world is big enough for us, Watson,” he concluded with finality. “No ghosts need apply.”

“There is no correlation between them and Stamford’s activities, I can assure you of that, mostly because he is real and they are not.”

Until… he cannot any more:

“My intellect saved me, Watson,” he said. “The science of analytical reasoning in which I have trained myself rigorously since adolescence was what brought me back to myself. Without the power of my brain, my soul might even now be the plaything of some Outer God while my body would be discovered on that hilltop, bereft of sense and wit – something to be locked up and studied in vain by alienists, a drooling, incontinent wreck.”

One thing leads to another, Professor Moriarty shows up, things get nicely creepy, and in the end Holmes and Watson save the day.

For now.

Overall, I went back and forth between ‘good enough but not great’ and ’this is pretty awesome’. At times, it feels like it’s trying too hard to lean on the Holmes and Cthulhu mythoi1 and losing out to that. Especially when it basically has to say ’throw out everything you know about Holmes, now I’m going to tell you the real story’ to make any sense what so ever. But it’s still a fun story and I enjoyed it well enough to not only finish it, but give the sequels a try.


  1. That’s apparently the right plural? Who would have expected that? ↩︎