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The Cthulhu Casebooks – Sherlock Holmes and the Sussex Sea-Devils by James Lovegrove book review

The final book in James Lovegrove’s The Cthulhu Casebooks triptych of Holmes & Lovecraft mash-ups brings the series to a grand betentacled finale and leaves you wondering why the collision of these two worlds works so well. 

James Lovegrove has, in recent years, made a name for himself writing Sherlock Holmes pastiches for Titan Books. The last three, making up The Cthulu Casebooks series, however, have gone beyond pastiche and attempt to rewrite the canon by infusing the eldritch world of Lovecraft with the rationalist one of Sherlock Holmes.

On the surface, it makes absolutely no sense.

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In Conan Doyle’s original stories, Holmes, the ultra-rationalist, shunned the supernatural. But here, Holmes and Watson are fighting against supernatural forces, otherwise unbeknown to the general public. Lovegrove’s setup is metafictional; in the prefaces to all three books he claims he is merely editing lost manuscripts of Watson’s (or perhaps Lovecraft) handed down to him as a distant relative of his close namesake. These seem to serve a dual purpose, one of blurring the lines a little between fact and fiction, and two of reminding the reader not to take this all too seriously.

And, for me at least, it works. In a world where supernatural forces are observable phenomena, Holmes has no reason to share the scepticism of the world at large: the supernatural is simply another branch of science, one which takes an intellect like his to comprehend.

What also helps matters is Lovegrove’s consistently strong writing. It is easy to accept that Professor Moriarty at some point transformed into the Outer God R’luhlloig – who has plagued Holmes for much of his professional life – when the witty writing propels you through this quite bizarre adventure.

The adventure itself involves the retired Holmes and Watson, set against the backdrop of a world approaching the Great War, investigating the deaths of the most eminent members of London’s Diogenes Club in an apparent mutual suicide and the disappearance of three young women in the coastal town of Newford, who, so the locals claim, have been abducted by humanoid sea creatures known as the Sea-Devils.

It is silly. But it is fun. This book doesn’t set out to scare you or make any serious points (although I did like the theme of hope in the face of rationalism as a vicar explains to Watson why, even when faced with spiritual doubts, he keeps returning to the pulpit: “Hope keeps Beelzebub at bay”).

It simply wishes to make you smile and, for that, it deserves a recommendation.

The Cthulhu Casebooks – Sherlock Holmes and the Sussex Sea-Devils by James Lovegrove is published by Titan Books. Buy this book from Amazon.

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