Category: Comics & Books


cthulhu 1

Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

We’re big fans of James Lovegrove here at borg.  This time, I managed to beat C.J. to one of the books!  Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows is the first volume in Lovegrove’s The Cthulhu Casebooks trilogy, an alternate history of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson’s adventures that sets the record straight about their real cases, those steeped in the paranormal and supernatural.  As the series title suggests, the trilogy draws on the canon not just of Arthur Conan Doyle, but of Lovegrove’s “distant American ancestor,” H.P. Lovecraft.  The result is a lively and somehow entirely natural mash-up.  (See our previous review of the final volume, Sherlock Holmes and the Sussex Sea-Devils, here).

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Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

An “inverted mystery” is a story that follows a criminal through the planning and commission of a crime–usually murder–from initial conception through the culprit’s ultimate downfall and apprehension (think Law & Order: Criminal Intent).  The focus is on the criminal’s mindset and how his dark scheme unravels.  Tim Major’s The New Adventure of Sherlock Holmes novel The Back-to-Front Murder is a twist on this subgenre… sort of.  Beginning with the classic Sherlockian setup—a client with a curious conundrum—Major’s novel unravels the puzzling murder of a London widower whom it seems no one would have any reason to want dead, least of all Holmes’s new client.  The trouble is, the client did plan the murder, down to the very last detail.

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Beast of the Stapletons

Review by C.J. Bunce

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1902 story The Hound of the Baskervilles finds a sequel 120 years later in the latest Sherlock Holmes spin-off novel from writer James Lovegrove.  Readers will find further adventures of not only that novella, but more connections to past works in Sherlock Holmes and The Beast of the Stapletons, a novel in the same series as the author’s Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon, previously reviewed here at borg.   The question for readers of Lovegrove’s other works, including his Cthulhu Casebook novels and other stories from Titan Books, is: Will he or won’t he? That is, will the beast of the title be something out of the real world (as in Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon) or, as in his Cthulhu tie-ins, something from the world of fantasy?  The best part of this story is the absence for the bulk of the tale of Sherlock’s right arm, Dr. John Watson, who tends toward the whiny and needy in past recent retellings.  A new, interesting foil steps in for this mystery, taking Holmes more in the direction of another famous British franchise.

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In the next of what has been literally thousands of adaptations over the past 134 years of Doyle stories of his famous detective Sherlock Holmes and companion Dr. John Watson, Holmes takes the backseat and Doyle’s street urchins called the Baker Street Irregulars take center stage.  Netflix’s The Irregulars is an eight-episode series set in Doyle’s traditional Victorian London, following the local troubled young adult/teenagers who now solve crimes at the behest (as in blackmail) of Watson, leaving an elusive, drug-addict Holmes to get all the credit for their successes.  The crimes aren’t garden-variety either, with dark supernatural twists promised for the series.  Henry Lloyd-Hughes (The Pale Horse) plays Holmes, Royce Pierreson (Death in Paradise) is Watson, and the ubiquitous Aidan McArdle (Ella Enchanted, Humans, Mr. Selfridge) is Inspector Lestrade, but they aren’t the leads.  Those are played by young Thaddea Graham (The Letter for the King), Darci Shaw (Judy), Jojo Macari (Cursed), McKell David (The Gentlemen), and Harrison Osterfield (Chaos Walking).  It feels like Sherlock Holmes with a Doctor Who spin.

Take a look at the trailer for Netflix’s The Irregulars:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In the Victorian holiday tradition of spending Christmas sharing tales of ghosts and other haunts, comes James Lovegrove′s latest novel, Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon Another excellent addition in Lovegrove’s long list of new tales of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s hero and his earnest confidante and co-conspirator in sleuthing, Dr. John Watson, here readers encounter the master detective in a tale of murder and high crimes in the yuletide season.  Like Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, expect an ample serving of curiosity and cleverness, and perhaps a side of the supernatural.

It’s 1890 and Holmes and Watson are called to Fellscar Keep in Yorkshire by one Eve Allerthorpe, the heir-apparent to a family fortune.  She believes she is haunted by a Krampus-like being, the legendary Christmas demonic spirit known as the “Black Thurrick.”  Holmes and Watson believe she’s being duped–the family fortune will belong to her when she turns 21 this Christmas Eve unless she is found to not be of sound mind.  So who is trying to prove that she is insane?  As the family and extended guests arrive for the holidays, Holmes and Watson ruffle feathers, encounter strange happenings, and investigate the wing of the house where the family matriarch died, as Watson finds himself the next target for the demon.

Lovegrove knows how to take Holmes and Watson for an unusual spin, having wrapped his Holmes trilogy The Cthulhu Casebooks this year with the final chapter, Sherlock Holmes and the Sussex Sea-Devils (reviewed here at borg and just out in paperback).  As with Lovegrove’s previous Sherlock Holmes novels and his Firefly novels Big Damn Hero and The Magnificent Nine, the story is rich and funny, and the action clips along to a surprise, satisfying ending.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

So many genre novels are quick reads, full of action and modern surprises.  Once in a while you stumble upon the slow read–the book that is so smartly written, so exciting and enjoyable you never want it to end, and you force yourself to take it slow and enjoy the author’s use of language.  With his latest book I’ve now added James Lovegrove to my shortlist of authors I will make sure to read as soon as his next work is released.  His new novel is Sherlock Holmes and the Sussex Sea-Devils, book three of his trilogy, The Cthulhu Casebooks.  In short, this work has it all–tie-ins, a mash-up, genre-bending, and immersive storytelling in a suspense-filled mystery adventure.  It’s a big feat because the very subject matter and project has much to overcome.  First, it is the third book in a series, not your usual place as a reader to begin.  As it is a new release, I delved in anyway, and discovered Lovegrove crafted a complete end-to-end story requiring no prior knowledge of the first two books in the series.  Second, it’s a tie-in and a mash-up of the most well-known historical characters in all of fiction, Arthur Conan Doyle‘s Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson twisted together with the macabre, dark world of H.P. Lovecraft.

I’ve reviewed several Watson and Holmes stories written in the past decade and the challenge is always the same–getting two voices just right, voices that are so familiar after reading original Doyle writings, and watching countless modern sequels and a host of television series and movie versions.  One misstep and it’s easy to pull a reader out of the narrative, yet Lovegrove doesn’t skip a beat in this regard.  Whether you’re drawn to the TV series with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, the classic Basil Rathbone film version, modern retellings, or just Doyle’s own marvelous words, you will feel this book is a believable sequel to the original stories and the voices are spot-on.  Another barrier for Lovegrove to overcome is getting right that rich world of H.P. Lovecraft, whose works and words drip with a uniquely strange brilliance and eerie beauty.  Again, Lovegrove fully captures the spirit of his creations and seaside environments, too, as if he’d conjured Lovecraft for this story.  This strange mash-up of the logical, rational Holmes and Watson and the dark and fantastical Lovecraft probably shouldn’t work so well.  These are opposites, right?  But Lovegrove fuses them into one, evoking the 19th century wonder of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne science fiction and fantasy along the way.  Not merely a fun romp for fans of either world, Sherlock Holmes and the Sussex Sea-Devils has all the realism and research of a scholarly work, sinking us into the world of England, the nautical life of coastal peoples at the turn of the 20th century.

The story begins a few years after the retirement of Holmes and Watson.  In Doyle’s story “His Last Bow” we learned the character retired to a farm at Sussex Downs taking on beekeeping as a pastime.  Only two original stories take place during Holmes’ retirement.  This is where Lovegrove’s Watson catches up with Holmes: The date is 1910 and as England and the world moves toward war, Holmes and Watson learn the leaders of the famed Diogenes Club are all dead, found under strange circumstances.  When three young women go missing in a nearby town, the detective duo takes on sleuthing out their disappearance as their final case, where they encounter local lore that speaks of monsters from the deep and a foretold legend of the return of a phantom from long ago.  Locals believe that is why the women are missing, and Holmes knows it must all be connected.  How much is real, how much is fantasy?  Is it possible Holmes could discover both worlds might co-exist?  Can Holmes ever escape the specter of his lifelong nemesis Moriarty?  And what of his brother Mycroft?

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Stranger Things’s Millie Bobby Brown leads up a cast of Harry Potter alumni in Netflix’s fun new Victorian mystery, Enola Holmes, a sure-fire selection for streaming this weekend on Netflix.  Based on the novels by Nancy Springer, Enola Holmes puts a new face—and name—to the Sherlock Holmes legend.  Enola (“Which backward spells alone”) is the much younger sister of the disapproving elder Holmes brothers, and their unconventional mother (played by Harry Potter’s Bellatrix Lestrange, Helena Bonham Carter).  On the morning of her sixteenth birthday, Enola wakes to discover her mother has left without warning, leaving her only a hidden message in a book of flowers, and a hidden stash of cash.  Disappointed in her brothers’ lackadaisical approach to solving their mother’s disappearance, Enola determines to do it herself—finding herself tangled in another mystery along the way.  The runaway Marquess of Tewkesbury (Medici’s Louis Partridge) falls into Enola’s path, and she’s swiftly drawn into his case, which leads her from London, to his family estate, to a ghastly finishing school, and back again.

Brown turns in a strong performance as the headstrong Enola, the best moments of which come when she breaks the fourth wall to speak—or simply look—at the audience. She and Partridge have good chemistry, adding a hint of innocent young romance (but only a hint) to their partnership.  Brother Mycroft (Sam Claflin, My Cousin Rachel) steps into the role of film’s antagonist, while Sherlock (in a fun performance by Superman Henry Cavill) becomes an unexpected, if distant, ally.  Supporting cast includes Harry Potter film series alumni Frances de la Tour and Fiona Shaw, Doctor Who’s Claire Rushbrook, The Golden Compass’s Hattie Morahan, and one of England’s best villain performers, Burn Gorman.

Viewers looking for a faithful adaptation of the Springer books should prepare themselves for some changes.  Enola and Tewkesbury are older, and Enola’s search for her mother reveals a secret life behind her disappearance.  There’s more work for stuntmen and women, and less for the makeup artist, as the movie opts to showcase Enola’s physical prowess over her mastery of disguise and cryptography from the novels.  Looks for some young adult/adult violence in excess of the middle grade books, too (16-year-old Enola is drowned, beaten, choked, kicked).  It’s a bit difficult to pin down the time the movie takes place–a date of 1884 is given alongside the scene of Enola’s birth, which would put the date at 1900 for most of the action—but the plot centers around a suffrage reform bill before Parliament, the last of which was in 1884.  The clothing and technology likewise span the last quarter of the 19th century, including elaborate bustle-era dresses alongside early automobiles and film (both of which arrived in the mid 1890s).  So it’s a hodgepodge of Victoriana that sometimes works and sometimes confuses, but if you’re prepared not to take things too seriously, it all looks rather good (except for a gaffe with some obviously 21st century plastic shotgun shells).

Although it’d be fun to look forward to, unfortunately it doesn’t look like a series of movies lies ahead–marketing images for the film show Brown is not likely to be playing young teenagers much longer (which also doesn’t bode well for anyone wanting many more seasons of Stranger Things).

With attractive production design, lively performances, and a surprising mystery, Enola Holmes is a must-watch film for fans of Sherlock Holmes, detective stories, and Millie Bobby Brown.  Enola Holmes is streaming now on Netflix.  And be sure to check out Netflix Life’s recommendations for books to read if you enjoy the movie—including borg contributor Elizabeth C. Bunce’s new Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries, coming to bookstores October 6.

Review by C.J. Bunce

In his fourth novel expanding on the world of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson, The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols, writer and movie director Nicholas Meyer adds another mash-up to his repertoire, weaving Doyle’s dynamic duo together with real-life contemporaries and events in England and Russia in 1905.  In keeping with Doyle’s subtext of having his heroes address and attempt to thwart social injustices, Meyer takes a real-life hoax document used for more than a century to discredit Jewish people and weaves it into the fictional narrative to address and mirror racism, governance, and propaganda in current government and politics.  Meyer overlays his own lessons of history on a murder plot brought to Holmes by renowned brother Mycroft, the solving of which takes Holmes and Watson outside their familiar England to far-off Russia.

Readers who haven’t read the original Doyle stories would benefit by tackling a few of those first, or any of the several modern sequels, sidebars, and tie-in books we’ve reviewed over the past decade here at borg.  The Peculiar Protocols is a narrative for diehard Holmes & Watson readers, stuffed full with early 20th century psychology, Easter Eggs, callbacks, and a host of real historical figures interspersed convincingly in the style of a Kim Newman novel.  To absorb all the layers introduced into the story, readers will want to follow Holmes’ lead and pay close attention to the details–something readers will enjoy more after becoming familiar with Doyle’s original style.  Meyer’s “meta” conceit as backdrop for the story is the finding of diary pages believed to have been written by the real Dr. Watson, and so the Special Collections library folks at the University of Iowa, Meyer’s alma mater and keeper of his own original papers, deposited the material into Meyer’s hands for deft handling, knowing he’s done this before.

Meyer never forgets his Star Trek chops (having written three Star Trek movies and directed two).  Meyer, who I interviewed here at borg back in 2016, then confirmed his intent in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country to have created Sherlock Holmes as a real character in the world of Star Trek by having Spock refer to Holmes as one of his ancestors.  That movie doesn’t hide its reliance on Spock as a future master sleuth inspired by Doyle’s detective.  Now if you want to see the source of where Spock got his own signature fighting move, you might check out Peculiar Protocols if only to find Spock’s ancestor using a familiar method to debilitate a foe.

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Coming this week is a new story from the steampunk crossover genre, those mash-ups featuring stories that blend the adventures of the real and the imaginary with Victorian charm.  It’s Adler–after Arthur C. Doyle’s Irene Adler, who he created for his story A Scandal in Bohemia, a popular character in his Sherlock Holmes stories and novels.  The new comic book series features Jane Eyre from Charlotte Brontë’s novel, Lady Estella Havisham from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, Ayesha from H. Rider Haggard’s original Amazon Queen in his 1887 novel She, her confidante Carmilla, a vampire from an 1872 Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu novella, The Dark Blue, and little orphan Annie, from the 1920s Harold Gray comic strip, plus real-life physicist/chemist Marie Curie and Queen Victoria, among others.

A follow-on to the 2014 Adler mini-series also written by Lavie Tidhar with artwork by Paul McCaffrey, the band of heroines are readying to again face their nemesis, also Holmes’ nemesis, Professor James Moriarty.  Artists McCaffrey and Jackson Guice will provide variant cover options, along with a silhouette cover series created by Andrew Leung.

 

Author Kim Newman (interviewed here at borg in 2013) has become the master of the crossover and mash-up genres, but the story device has been around for centuries.  Examples in recent comics history include Bill Willingham’s Legenderry, which merged Red Sonja, Six Thousand Dollar Man Steve Austin, Zorro, Vampirella, the Green Hornet and Kato, the Phantom, Ming the Merciless, and Doctor Moreau.  And then there’s Chris Roberson and Alex Ross’s Masks, including The Shadow, The Green Hornet and Kato, Zorro, the Green Lama, Miss Fury, Black Terror, and the Black Bat, and Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen have included Captain Nemo, Allan Quatermain, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Invisible Man, and Tom Sawyer, and others.  Years before Moore, Newman’s several award-winning novels pulled together more than anyone else, literally thousands of characters, many real, historical people, many others fictional and from other famous works.  (We reviewed Newman’s characters in comic book mash-up form, Anno Dracula 1895, here at borg).  As with Willingham’s Legenderry, look for plenty of steampunk elements in Adler.

Here is a preview of Adler, Issue #1, courtesy of Titan Comics:

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In the first episode of Season 2 of BBC’s Sherlock, we met one of readers’ favorite characters from 130 years of fandom for Arthur Conan Doyle’s ultimate detective.  Initially published in The Strand in 1891 in A Scandal in Bohemia, Irene Adler first stepped into readers’ imaginations.  Of course Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss gave the story and characters their trademark modern twist with their episode A Scandal in Belgravia, and it’s that episode that gets the manga treatment in Titan Comics’ latest manga adaptation.  Fresh from confronting Moriarty in the end of The Great Game, Holmes and John Watson are called to save the royal family from blackmail at the hands of “The Woman,” and Sherlock is truly given a run for his money.  We have a special extended preview of the manga today from Titan Comics for borg readers.

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