Sherlock Holmes is one of the most beloved characters in fiction. He’s not particularly lovable, or even likable; in fact, he’s a depressed, drug-addicted, arrogant, misogynistic, obnoxious know-it-all. Even his creator tried to kill him off. There’s just something about him that draws people to read about Holmes and his faithful chronicler, Watson, and to visit and revisit the characters. Holmes can’t be contained to just the stories Arthur Conan Doyle wrote anymore, most of which are now in the public domain. He belongs to his readers, the visitors to Baker Street.
Or does he?
The estate of Arthur Conan Doyle approached the publisher of the soon-to-be-released anthology In The Company of Sherlock Holmes, co-edited by Leslie Klinger and Laurie R. King, and attempted to extract a license fee, threatening to discourage distributors from carrying the book unless the fee was paid. Klinger sued the Conan Doyle estate in federal court, asking for a judgement that Sherlock Holmes and a variety of characters and elements from the Holmesian universe were in the public domain and that reference to them does not require that a license fee be paid to the Conan Doyle estate. The judge mostly agreed with Klinger. You can read that story here.
What’s important about this is that people don’t just want to read the original stories. They want new takes. There’s a tradition of Sherlock Holmes pastiches– homages to the Master Detective. Some are very good, and some are a lot of fun to read. And many of these fall into the horror genre. Did Arthur Conan Doyle deserve to profit from his creation? Absolutely. But should his estate be bullying writers and publishers a hundred years later, even after the majority of the stories have entered the public domain? It doesn’t make sense to me. It’s past time to explore characters that just can’t stay in the pages of their original stories, and see what new writers can do. Want to check out some of the horror genre’s takes on the Great Detective? Here are some possibilities.
Victorian Undead by Ian Edginton, illustrated by Davide Fabbri . Victorian Undead is a graphic novel that collects the comic books for this limited series of six issues, which pit Sherlock Holmes and Watson against zombies, led by Professor Moriarty. It is followed by Victorian Undead II, in which the duo go up against Dracula. The Monster Librarian, a zombie fan, really enjoyed this series. Be warned, there is a fair amount of gore, which is not exactly a signature of the Holmes oeuvre, so this is probably a better way to introduce a zombie-loving reader to Sherlock than a Sherlock lover to the horror genre.
Gaslight Arcanum: Uncanny Tales of Sherlock Holmes edited by J.R. Campbell and Charles Prepolec. This is the third volume in a series of anthologies that introduce the supremely rational Holmes to the supernatural and horrific. You can read our review here. Gaslight Grimoire: Fantastic Tales of Sherlock Holmes and Gaslight Grotesque: Nightmare Tales of Sherlock Holmes precede this volume in the series. While these books have both excellent and not-so-excellent stories, there are definitely more winners than losers, and there are some fantastic authors included. Gaslight Arcanum includes a fantastic story by Kim Newman. This is a good volume to offer to both Holmes lovers and horror lovers, so if your library doesn’t have it already, you might consider it for its appeal to both mystery and horror readers.
Sherlock Holmes: Revenant by William Meikle. William Meikle grew up in Scotland reading Sherlock Holmes, and you can really tell. Read our review here. It’s not long, but it gets the point across. Again, keeping in mind that you can’t please everyone all of the time, this is a great story appreciated by lovers of both Holmes and the supernatural.
Shadows Over Baker Street (Sherlock Holmes) edited by Michael Reaves and John Pelan. Here you’ve got a collection of stories in which Sherlock Holmes and company encounter the gods and creatures of the Cthulu mythos. I am admittedly not a fan of Lovecraft, so I haven’t picked this up, but it’s an intriguing concept and when the two come together in the right way, could make for some really effective storytelling. This might be a way to introduce Lovecraft and Lovecraftian fiction to a new audience– like Sherlock Holmes, the Cthulu mythos has moved beyond the original stories to reach its tentacles out in many directions.
The Canary Trainer: From the Memoirs of John H. Watson by Nicholas Meyer. Nicholas Meyer’s pastiches are considered to be some of the best. Preceded by The Seven-Per-Cent Solution and The West End Horror, The Canary Trainer pits Holmes against The Phantom of the Opera.
Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson by Lynsay Faye. Naturally, as a horror review site, we couldn’t leave out Jack the Ripper. The combination of Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper is a tempting one for many authors, so there are quite a few pastiches that take on this theme. Faye’s 2009 debut novel received great reviews, so if you’re looking for a pastiche that pits Holmes against the Ripper, this one is a good choice.
Sherlock Holmes and the Horror of Frankenstein by Luke Kuhns, illustrated by Marcie Klinger. Now, frankly, I don’t know anything about this book, but it appears to be a graphic novel, and just the cover makes me want to open it up. Frankenstein and Sherlock Holmes– what a perfect combination! It’s just out, so if you decide to try it out I would love to find out what you think of it.
This is not anywhere near the number of pastiches of varying quality out there that you can check out, and I’ve shared just a few of them here (so please don’t feel indignant if I left one of your favorites out). There are many short stories as well, including Neil Gaiman’s excellent “A Study in Emerald”. For more suggestions, you can visit this blog post at Tor.com, which did a project a while back titled “Holmes for the Holidays”. Enjoy!