Tag Archive: The Cthulhu Casebooks


Our borg Best of 2019 list continues today with the Best Books of 2019.  If you missed them, check out our review of the Best Movies of 2019 here, the Kick-Ass Heroines of 2019 here, the Best in Television 2019 here, and the Best Comics of 2019 here.

We reviewed more than 100 books that we recommended to our readers this year, and some even made it onto our favorites shelf.  We don’t print reviews of books that we read and don’t recommend, so this shortlist reflects only this year’s cream of the crop.

So let’s get going.  Here are our selections for this year:

Best Read, Best Fantasy Read, Best New Edition of Previous Published Work, Best Translated Work – A Hero Born: Legends of the Condor Heroes 1 by Jin Yong, translated by Anna Holmwood (St. Martin’s Press).  The first book in one of the most read books of all time finally makes its way to the U.S. after its premiere in Great Britain.  Readers will learn why George Lucas pulled its concepts for his Skywalker saga, and why generations of Chinese fans of fantasy of flocked to its heroes and villains.  Honorable mention for Best Fantasy Read: A Labyrinth of Scions and Sorcery by Curtis Craddock (Tor Books), The Dark Lord Clementine by Sarah Jean Horwitz (Algonquin Young Readers).

Best New Novel, Best Horror Novel, Best Historical Novel, Best Mystery Novel – The Cthulhu Casebooks: Sherlock Holmes and the Sussex Sea-Devils by James Lovegrove (Titan Books).  A truly literary work combining a smart Holmesian adventure and the dark mind of H.P. Lovecraft.  Readers will love Lovegrove’s approach, Holmes and Watson’s journey, and all the creepy surprises.

Best Sci-Fi Novel, Best Thriller – The Andromeda Evolution by Daniel H. Wilson (HarperCollins).  Wilson successfully conjured the spirit of Michael Crichton for this smart, creepy, and oddly current sci-fi sequel to The Andromeda Strain.  A cast of characters just like Crichton would have put together, and a must-read.

Best Franchise Tie-In Novel – Firefly: Magnificent Nine by James Lovegrove (Titan Books).  One of the best authors around crafts a worthy story to expand the Firefly canon and give fans their own new movie of sorts for the franchise.  Runner-up: Alien: Prototype by Tim Waggoner (Titan Books).  Honorable Mention: Death of the Planet of the Apes by Andrew E.C. Gaska (Titan Books).

Best Retro Read – Mike Hammer: Murder, My Love, by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins (Titan Books).  Collins continues to bring Spillane’s characters to life with thrilling prose and all the best pieces of noir drama and action.  Honorable mention: Brothers Keepers by Donald E. Westlake (Hard Case Crime).

Best Genre Non-Fiction – Industrial Light & Magic Presents: Making of Solo: A Star Wars Story by Rob Bredow (Harry N. Abrams).  Bredow’s unique access to the production made for a rare opportunity in any production to see details of the filmmaking process.  Every movie should have such a great deep dive behind the scenes.  Honorable mention: The Making of Alien by J.W. Rinzler (Titan Books).

There’s much more of our selections for 2019’s Best in Print to go…

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In his new novel Firefly: The Magnificent Nine, author James Lovegrove embarks on his next journey with the crew of Serenity following his highly successful launch point for the first ever novel series for the franchise, last year’s Firefly: Big Damn Hero (reviewed here at borg).  It’s been thirteen years since we last saw a Firefly story like these two novels, which each contain the contents of about an entire movie.  Along the way creator Joss Whedon has authorized some shorter tales via the comic books (discussed here).  Firefly: Big Damn Hero was the Firefly event of last year, and this year we’ll have two novels competing for that honor, with Tim Lebbon′s contribution to the series of novels coming this fall in Firefly: Generations So how did Lovegrove’s Firefly: The Magnificent Nine compare to his Firefly: Big Damn Hero?

As with Firefly: Big Damn Hero, Lovegrove writes the voices of the entire crew perfectly.  This is another space Western, the core of the original series, and both books feel like natural progressions following the original 14 episodes (Firefly: The Magnificent Nine fits between the last episode and the 2005 film Serenity, allowing the inclusion of two fan-favorite characters–and they’re all fan-favorite characters–Hoban “Wash” Washburne and Shepherd Book).  In a significant way the challenge of writing new Firefly stories is that writers only have 15 “canon” stories to build from, along with any notes from Whedon’s story development.  The potential pitfall is mining the original episodes too much for throwback references.  At 336 pages that’s not anything to worry about for Lovegrove.  Yes, fans will appreciate the Easter Eggs throughout the tale: Jayne Cobb’s famous hat (“a giant piece of candy corn gone wrong”) does not get ignored here, and neither does his weapon of choice, Vera.  But the framework of the story allows for plenty of opportunities for Lovegrove to do more with the characters.  It’s hard to beat his ability to get inside the head of River in Firefly: Big Damn Hero–a difficult character who didn’t get enough time to get fleshed out in the series.  But this time River takes a backseat and Jayne gets the spotlight.  As a completely original story Firefly: Big Damn Hero wins, but not by a lot.

As the title should indicate, Firefly: The Magnificent Nine is an homage to the classic, epic Western The Magnificent Seven, its source Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, and countless adaptations since.  It’s notable and important that this isn’t another actual adaptation or full retelling of the story, as Lovegrove takes his own tangent from the story after setting up the novel’s first act.  But he peppers the story with familiar references, like using actors’ names and Kurosawa himself for new characters in his story.  He also has plenty of Louis L’Amour tropes and references.  One thing this novel makes clear is there are at least as many opportunities for new novels in the series as there are Kurosawa movies and L’Amour novels to pull good ideas from.  So this isn’t merely another take on The Magnificent Seven so much as establishing that the nine heroes of the Serenity are worthy of that title.

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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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