Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Cthulhu Casebooks: Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows - James Lovegrove

THE CTHULHU CASEBOOKS #1: SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE SHADWELL SHADOWS

JAMES LOVEGROVE
TITAN BOOKS UK 2016

Sent to me by Titan Books UK in exchange for an honest review

Book Info: Hardback, Crime/Thriller, 440pp

Buy/Read Now (links): Amazon UK/Amazon US/Goodreads

Rating: 3.5/5

Audience: Readers who appreciate the world of Sherlock Holmes and also the writing style/themes of H. P. Lovecraft. 

Summed up in a few words: Ambitious. Mysterious. Curious. Sinister.

First Impressions: I have been reading a lot of Sherlock Holmes recently and I have to say that this is one of the most ambitious cases that the great 'consulting detective' has ever had. I was curious to see how James Lovegrove would incorporate the Lovecraftian style/tone into the format of a Sherlock Holmes story and I am pleased to say that it worked really well...but I felt there wasn't enough!

Author Bio: James Lovegrove is the author of more than fifty books, including the New York Times bestselling Pantheon series, the Redlaw novels and the Dev Harmer Missions. He has written three Sherlock Holmes  novels for Titan Books - The Stuff of Nightmares, Gods of War and The Thinking Engine, with The Labyrinth of Death and The Devil's Dust forthcoming - in addition to his Holmes/Lovecraft mash-up trilogy, The Cthulhu Casebooks. He has been shortlisted for numerous awards, including the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, the Bram Stoker Award, the British Fantasy Society Award and the Manchester Book Award. He reviews fiction regularly for the Financial Times and writes about comics for the magazine Comic Heroes. He lives with his wife, two sons, cat and tiny dog in Eastbourne, not far from the site of the "small farm upon the South Downs" to which Sherlock Holmes retired.

Book Synopsis: 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 had imagined. Forces that can be summoned, if one is brave - or mad - enough to dare...

My Thoughts: I was immediately intrigued by this book, due to the fact that it was taking a tried and tested story and sending it in a new direction. After finishing the book, I felt Lovegrove was half way there. The new Lovecraftian influence is top notch and I had a great time with it, the darker tones, the blood, gore and intense mythological beings all added a interesting dimension to a new Sherlock Holmes story arc and I definitely look forward to the next 2 instalments.

Lovegrove is a dedicated Sherlock Holmes writer and he knows the lore inside and out, writing new and alternate versions of the great detective's story lines. But in The Shadwell Shadows, it seems like he was more focused on the Lovecraft part of the mash up, therefore the Sherlock side was left lacking. In my opinion, there was nothing wrong with the SH side of things, there just wasn't anything new/fresh and the book only really stood out when the Lovecraft writing style and story elements were in full swing.

Watson returns from war and meets Sherlock during a chance encounter that brings them together.  A mutual appreciation for each other, some interesting developments in a local crime case and a few escapades keeps them glued together for the duration of this book. It was only when the horror/mythological elements became involved, such as when Watson's friend chews through his own arm whilst speaking an ancient dialect or when Watson is chased out of a underground city by lizard men, did I feel that the story evolved into anything more exciting or amazing.

I loved the Sherlock/Watson dynamic in this book more so than other books. Sherlock is not as overly condescending and annoying as he can be and is actually more over-protective of Watson than usual. Watson is more influential in The Shadwell Shadows as well, not just being taken along for the ride but actively charging ahead with the investigation/escape strategy when needed. The involvement of other key characters in the SH universe worked really well but I did find it unnecessary for Lovegrove to try and actually re-write the overall story arc for SH. 

Lovegrove obviously has a great passion for both SH and H. P. Lovecraft and he does a great job threading them together, and the Lovecraftian side of things winning out is not necessarily a bad thing. I adored the involvement of Cthulhu and the Great Old Ones, it was intense, jaw dropping and nerve-wrenching and Lovegrove lets events get right to the brink of oblivion on many occasions. Though to be honest I was left wanting more of the darker tones and events as the other events and interactions just felt like filler until the next big set-piece.

Overall, I am absolutely going to check out the next instalments of this series, I enjoy Sherlock Holmes and H. P. Lovecraft very much so Lovegrove's writing is perfect for me, I just hope that he can rustle up a more interesting storyline for Sherlock as JL already had the Lovecraftian vibes down perfectly.

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