Here we have an anthology of eleven stories by diverse hands set in Sherlock Holmes’ universe. As the subtitle implies, however, there are more fantastic creatures roaming around in this particular universe than ever Holmes encountered in the days when Arthur Conan Doyle was getting the royalty checks.
Holmes, as written by his creator, professed a flat disbelief in the supernatural and the Holmes stories never contain anything spectral. Apparent weirdness is always proved to have a mundane cause: the Hound of the Baskervilles is just a big dog dressed up with luminous paint, an apparent vampire is merely a mother trying to suck the poison from an arrow wound in her child’s neck, a were-ape turns out to be the result of self-medication with monkey glands . . . and they’d all have gotten away with it, too, if not for that meddling detective!
Many people have felt, however, that Holmes’ world should have contained a few real ghost stories. Maybe it has something to do with the mythological quality Victorian England has now taken on for us. Why shouldn’t there be unseelie things lurking in those dense fogs, roaming those desolate moors? And therefore Gaslight Grimoire.
Of the eleven tales, five involve Holmes interacting with other famous characters from fiction. Holmes goes in search of a missing Professor Challenger in Martin Powell’s “Sherlock Holmes in the Lost World.” In Barbara Roden’s “The Things That Shall Come Upon Them,” Holmes partners with one supernatural specialist, Flaxman Low, and it must have presented the editors with a mild quandary when Chico Kidd and Rick Kennett submitted a story along the same lines, “The Grantchester Grimoire,” wherein Holmes works with another famous detective of the spirit world, Thomas Carnacki. Fortunately they made the decision to include both stories, as both work very well and have an excellent period feel.
Barbara Hambly’s “The Lost Boy,” in which Holmes works with Peter Pan, worked less well for me. Hambly is a fine writer and the story is well-drafted, but she and I clearly subscribe to two different viewpoints on Peter Pan. The one I remember from the original book is a lot less helpful and sympathetic. The story ends a little abruptly as well. Bob Madison’s “Red Sunset,” on the other hand, in which Holmes encounters a 1940s private eye and a certain celebrated vampire, is short, sharp and funny.
Chris Roberson ventures into alienist territory with the gore-splashed “Merridew of Abominable Memory,” not a supernatural story but a neatly-plotted creepfest nonetheless. Holmes lovers will take issue with Christopher Sequiera’s “His Last Arrow,” but you’ll have to read the story to discover why.
Three stories are more or less straight pastiche with one supernatural element, and all of them work well: M.J. Elliott’s “The Finishing Stroke,” Peter Calamai’s “The Steamship Friesland,” and J.R. Campbell’s “The Entwined.”
The odd man out is Kim Newman’s “The Red Planet League,” in which Holmes doesn’t even appear. It concerns rather an adventure of Professor James Moriarty, as chronicled by his unfaithful amanuensis Col. Sebastian Moran. Wickedly funny! If George Macdonald Fraser’s estate is looking around for someone to finish editing the Flashman Papers, they could do worse than tag Kim Newman.
The Foreword by David Stuart Davies was concise and on topic. The Introduction by Charles V. Prepolec was not.
All in all, Gaslight Grimoire is well worth picking up if you enjoy lighting the fire, curling up in your armchair with a glass of sherry at your elbow in the gloom of a winter afternoon, and having a good Victorian-era read.
Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, 2008)