“I never guess. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” –The Sign of Four, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Let me just put it out here right from the start: I absolutely love Sherlock Holmes. The savant-genius character, the gothic settings, the plot twists, the buttoned-up language, the razor sharp logic, everything. I hold Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works in the highest esteem. And so when I saw that Titan Books publishing a series of books based on Sherlock Holmes, I knew I had to read it.
But when the advance review copy of James Lovegrove’s Sherlock Holmes: The Stuff of Nightmares, arrived, I was bit dismayed at the cover, which displayed a steampunk character leaping into action over the rooftops of London. Now, I like steampunk but I feared that the product of the combination with my beloved detective would end up being, well, irreverent. Alas, I was being a bit too hasty and committed the capital sin of hypothesizing prior to data collection for James Lovegrove has located the voice of Doyle and imbued it with contemporary modulation.
The Stuff of Nightmares begins with a gruesome terrorist bombing of the Waterloo station. The upstanding Dr. Watson is present but unharmed and provides ministrations to the wounded before setting off to visit his old friend, Sherlock Holmes. Together they set about to solve the mystery behind this series of attacks and bring the perpetrators, who are suspected to be Irish separatists, to justice. Along the way, they encounter the elusive Baron Cauchemar, our steampunk emissary, in addition to a number of familiar cast members, Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard, Holmes’s Mensa-rival brother, Mycroft, and even the despicable Moriarty. The story is skillfully crafted and wraps the reader up as tightly in Watson’s narrative of the adventure as Doyle’s stories did.
Along the way, Lovegrove adds trails of thought with modern relevance: effective and impotent deterrents to crime, the snares of combating terrorism, the fiat of privacy, and others. All this he does while maintaining a plausible atmosphere of turn-of-the-century London. Even the fantastically inventive weapons of Cauchemar are not anachronistic. In short, this novel is everything a Sherlock Holmes fangirl like me could ask for. I sincerely hope Titan Books can convince Lovegrove to write further installments.