In the first story of The Manifestations of Sherlock Holmes, an exasperated Dr. Watson asks Holmes, “Would you not allow that there is at least an outside chance that something other, something ineffable and indefinable, surrounds our lives and from time to time permeates them?” Author James Lovegrove positions his new Holmes book to consider Watson’s premise: what boundaries will readers accept for the great detective?
Across half of the twelve stories, Holmes encounters cases quite unlike anything Arthur Conan Doyle wrote throughout his four decades with the detective. Brimming with the fantastic and the macabre, Lovegrove’s Manifestations offers new insights into Sherlock Holmes and the world he inhabits. Between the more plausible stories are those which feature Lovecraftian cosmic horror, a dark pastiche of Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and a countryside romp in which the duo meet a murderous pterodactyl kept by Professor Challenger, who was first introduced in Conan Doyle’s adventure novel The Lost World.
For the seasoned Sherlock Holmes reader, The Manifestations of Sherlock Holmes offers a collection of stories that expands beyond not only Conan Doyle’s original 56 short stories and four novels, but a century of rigidly inspired imitations. And for the science fiction or horror fan, Lovegrove offers an avenue to begin reading Holmes or else to indulge in a delightful combination of genre with the world’s greatest detective. Despite the speculative elements of the stories, Lovegrove successfully maintains the rational heart of the Sherlock Holmes stories in circumstances radically divergent from Conan Doyle’s Victorian England. He deftly presents a Holmes continuously adjusting the calibre of his willingness to engage with the irrational according to the world of each story; Sherlock Holmes faced with Dr. Jekyll’s potion that turns a man into his most amoral, base self is no less Conan Doyle’s Holmes who would reject the notion outright. Even the stories in which logic rules, a flavour of the fantastic seeps in, as with Lovegrove’s closing story, “The Adventure of the Deadly Séance,” which dismantles the supernatural entertainment as fraud in a singularly Holmesian manner.
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Author of five Sherlock Holmes novels and an extensive oeuvre of short fiction, James Lovegrove evinces a familiarity with the great detective in this new collection of short stories. His obvious ease writing Holmes guides the reader through the six genre-bending stories that one doesn’t usually find stocked alongside traditional pastiches. Unfortunately, the experimental nature of these stories also tends to conclude without sufficient development. Occasionally, the dénouement falters; with too little time spent on the crime and hurtling toward the revelation, several of Lovegrove’s stories would benefit from more detective work. Save for “A Bauble in Scandinavia,” which foregrounds a particularly fraught Christmas, a shallow emotional depth between Holmes and Watson, whose relationship has sustained the public’s interest in Sherlock Holmes stories for almost 150 years, often pairs with the awkward pacing. Nevertheless, Lovegrove offers such a colourful and engaging array of cases these faults are easily forgiven.
Although through Manifestations Lovegrove affirms Sherlock Holmes is fiction’s most versatile character – and he ought to be, having been adapted on film and television over 250 times – he more significantly proves Holmes is Holmes no matter what case he undertakes, whether it involves superhuman abilities or an alien stone that causes ceaseless bleeding. Even as Lovegrove stretches the bounds of what a Sherlock Holmes story may be, a comforting certainty remains in knowing that we may rely on Holmes and his faithful doctor when all logic goes out the door and down the street to a séance.
The Manifestations of Sherlock Holmes by James Lovegrove is published by Titan Books. Buy the book.