I wonder if the Warlock Holmes series has a bit of the Star Trek (+Galaxy Quest) movies syndrome, where each other one is really terrific whilst the rest are somewhat average. Which isn’t at all a slur against either series, as both are still entertaining even when not at peak quality.
The Sign Of Nine, the fourth book in our extraordinary pastiche, cleverly collects two sets of tales from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s canon — the ones dealing with addiction and with, mostly unrelatedly, Italians and other assorted foreigners — to present Doctor John Watson’s descent into self-destruction. Because, despite the name on the series, the real deductive hero here is Watson as he tries to corral the efforts of our small-w warlock Holmes, the vampiric Inspector Lestrade and the literally trollish Inspector Grogsson as they solve particularly odd crimes and foil malevolent supernatural entities. Unfortunately, as the book begins, Watson has unwittingly discovered the joys of mystical drug abuse, which he uses to chase visions of the elusive but captivating Irene Adler through space and time.
Alas, she only appears here in said visions (a by-product of Sir Conan Doyle’s writing about her in only one story himself,) leaving poor Watson to the real-world predations of that insufferable treasure hunter Mary Morstan. I had wanted a showdown between the two women, but I suppose that that will have to keep till the next book, The Finality Problem, hopefully coming out in a year or so’s time. What I did get in this novel was the heartbreaking threat of the permanent dissolution of the bond between Watson and Holmes, rendered far more convincingly (and affectingly!) than in the source novels. G. S. Denning has managed to make me care about these characters far more than Sir Conan Doyle ever could, and has actually made me go back to consult with the canon on the cases featured. That’s about the best thing any loving pastiche could possibly do: spur the reader to revisit the source material and reappraise its worth for the better.
That said, this novel isn’t perfect: while I know Mr Denning was satirizing the the xenophobia of the originals and Victorian society at large, it was still a bit uncomfortable reading the bit about the Italian/chimpanzee, but there is only so much gold one can spin from dross, after all. Elsewise, this is a refreshingly modern (in terms of manners, if not setting) and hilarious paranormal take that I recommend to anyone who enjoys mysteries + humor + weird fiction.
Interview with the author to come soon! Meanwhile, check out my first interview with him on the release of the preceding book in the series, My Grave Ritual. You can also look for my reviews of his other novels in the search box above.