Shadows Over Baker Street
Edited by Michael Reaves & John Pelan
Del Rey / Random House HCVR: ISBN 0345455282 PubDate: 10/01/03
Review by Dave Goldfeder
464 pgs. List price $24.95
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"Holmes, Horror and H.P. Lovecraft? That's the general idea, executed by a collection of writers of considerable talent, including Neil Gaiman, Barbara Hambly, and Poppy Z. Brite. "Curious," Holmes mused. "a rare juxtaposition of superlative prose and supernatural horror. This bears closer scrutiny indeed." - ed
Synergy. Crossover. Team-up. These are very popular terms today. They've been big parts of entertainment for a long time. In television, it's common during sweeps to have guest appearances by actors from related shows. Think Buffy and Angel, Ally McBeal and the Practice, Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley, or the many different flavors of Law and Order. Complement and Contrast are what you look for when putting things together. The goal is to get more then the sum of the parts. Shadows Over Baker Street is a really well conceived attempt at capturing that kind of synergy. It should be obvious from the title that one element of the combination is Sherlock Holmes. The other part of the combination is the work of H.P. Lovecraft. Shadows Over Baker Street is a collection of short stories by different authors. The writers were tasked to create a Sherlock Holmes story set in Lovecraft's world.
I have to confess, I like Sherlock Holmes but I'm far from an expert or a fanatic. I've never read Lovecraft. Still, I jumped at the chance to read this book. The parts of this combination are particularly vivid. Sherlock Holmes is probably the most recognizable character in English Literature. H.P Lovecraft's reputation is more known then his actual writing. In both cases you get names that can be used as adjectives. They conjure strong images. Combining them adds context and makes each more vivid. Fred Saberhagen's, Holmes - Dracula File is one of my favorite books. Holmes and Lovecraft fit together in a similar way. There has always been a mystical element to the Holmes stories. Usually, Holmes is playing the role of debunker and truth teller: the rational man defeating superstition. Given a world where magic and myth are palpable, tangible fact, Holmes fits in surprisingly well.
The different authors take very different approaches. Some insert Holmes and Watson into Lovecraft stories. Some add Lovecraftian elements to Holmes stories to greater or lesser levels. The book's not perfect. It is a story collection and suffers the weaknesses of the form. Some stories are much stronger then others. My particular favorite is Neil Gaiman's "A Study in Emerald."
As I mentioned, I'm not an expert on either Holmes or Lovecraft. The stories made a lot of references that I didn't pick up on. That's not a bad thing. I enjoyed them even if I didn't get all the jokes. I think that true devotees of Holmes and Lovecraft may have mixed reactions. Arthur Conan Doyle himself not too fond of his creation after Holmes overshadowed everything else he wrote responded to an inquiry as to whether another author could write a Holmes story, by saying: "Do what you want to him and send me a check." Though he might enjoy watching these authors do their level best to endanger Holmes, the Baker Street detective’s spirit endures and perseveres, even in the face of the supernatural.