It was over a year ago that I last reviewed one of James Lovegrove’s Sherlock Holmes pastiches. Going into it, I will admit, I was sceptical. Not only can pastiches be poorly done, but this particular book was not an ordinary pastiche. While, I have subsequently learnt, this wasn’t a new concept, Lovegrove had transported Sherlock Holmes into the world of Lovecraft, a bizarre mash-up that, on paper, should never have worked. To my surprise and delight, it did. Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon, however, is a more conventional Sherlock Holmes story, but it still has plenty of ability to surprise and delight in almost equal measure.
As suggested by the title, there is a supernatural element to this Christmas case, but in the tug of war between uncanny ghost story and rational crime-solving story, the latter is a far stronger force. Perhaps a little too strong, but I’ll come back to that.
Holmes and Watson are called to the Allerthorpe family castle in Yorkshire after a chance encounter with the youngest daughter of the family, Eve, in London. Eve is troubled by two strange occurrences. The first is that the east wing of the castle is disturbed by an apparently ghostly visitation, one which the superstitious members of the household believe to be of Eve’s mother who committed suicide earlier in the year by throwing herself off of the castle’s tallest turret. The second is rather more unusual: Eve believes her family is being terrorised by the Black Thurrick, an anti-Santa Claus of folklore who punishes those children who have been naughty that year. How does Eve know this? The Black Thurrick leaves bundles of birch twigs outside the windows of naughty children and Eve has discovered three such bundles. And, to confirm her suspicions, she glanced a hunched figure skating across the ice of the frozen lake which surrounds the castle. While Holmes is hugely sceptical of the supernatural, he suspects foul play: Eve Allerthorpe is due to receive a large inheritance from her dead aunt on her 21st birthday in just a few days on Christmas Eve. A stipulation in the will states than Eve should only receive the inheritance should she be of sound mind – perhaps someone is trying to drive her a bit mad with these supernatural antics?
As with Lovegrove’s last Sherlock Holmes book, The Christmas Demon is an absolute delight. It’s been a long time since I read Doyle’s own stories, but Lovegrove’s voice feels right. The writing is consistently entertaining and witty, and it is evident that Lovegrove is enjoying himself. The very first line of The Christmas Demon is “Father Christmas! Halt right there!”, and Holmes proceeds to chase a criminal dressed in a Santa Claus costume through a crowded London department store. Never taking itself too seriously, always trying to entertain.
The only real criticism I could level at The Christmas Demon I referred to earlier in the review. Holmes, as you might expect, pooh-poohs the idea of the supernatural. Despite Watson’s own fears that there are things in this world that we simply don’t understand, the possibility of the supernatural from very early on is unmasked. There is no illusion that there is anything other than fraud going on. This doesn’t get in the way of the unfurling mystery, but it does mean that there is less spook-factor than I would have desired.
Despite this, I would heartily recommend Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon. It’s a delightful read, and while I would have preferred it to be more of a ghost story (this is a horror website after all), it will keep you entertained throughout.