Sherlock Holmes—the World’s Greatest Detective, using logic and reason rather than emotion to work out his mysteries. But what happens when you take him out of his comfort zone? When you confront him with the unexpected and the unexplained?
For me, there was always more than a whiff of horror about some of those original Holmes tales, and not just because I discovered them around the same time as I started reading King, Herbert, Campbell and later—probably most crucially—Clive Barker. I mean, just look at that setting. The fog-filled streets of Victorian London that were also the stomping ground of Jack the Ripper (who has himself faced our hero in various tales). It just cries, or maybe that should be screams, out horror. In my latest book, Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell, it is also the background for one of Holmes’ most gruesome adventures, where he comes into contact with the Cenobites from the Hellraiser mythos. But it’s by no means the first offering to tackle such Holmesian horror—here, for my money, are five of the best.
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Arguably the most famous of the original stories, and one in which the tropes of horror are used to excellent effect, this takes place not in Holmes’ beloved London, but out on the equally atmospheric Moors. There’s a monstrous beast in the form of the titular Hound, which glows in a ghostly way as it bounds after its victims—members of the supposedly cursed Baskerville family. There’s a mansion out in the middle of nowhere, Baskerville Hall, which wouldn’t have been out of place in any gothic supernatural tale. And, most intriguingly, this splits up Holmes and his dependable companion Watson—something I wanted to play with myself in Servants. Not only are they taken out of their comfort zone of London, they are also exposed to a legend apparently made flesh. Of course, it all gets explained away, but I can’t help wondering: what if it had all been real?
Shadows Over Baker Street, edited by Michael Reaves and John Pelan
All right, a bit of a cheat as this is an anthology—but it’s possibly the finest example of what has now become a popular crossover sub-genre, that of Lovecraftian Holmes stories, and specifically here the Cthulhu mythos. There are some cracking tales in here, by such talented writers as Caitlín R. Kiernan, Tim Lebbon, Paul Finch, Poppy Z. Brite and Simon Clark, but if I had to choose just one it would be Neil Gaiman’s Hugo award-winning “A Study In Emerald” which just happens to also be one of my favourites of his (reprinted in his collection Fragile Things). It has such an outlandish and genius premise, you can’t help but fall in love with it after just one reading—but I won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t come across the tale yet.
Sherlock Holmes: The Breath of God by Guy Adams
Over the last few years Titan has become one of the go-to publishers for Holmesian horror, with authors like James Lovegrove and George Mann delivering the goods. This is my favourite of the current crop, though. Written by Clown Service and World House author Guy Adams, it has people being killed by a mysterious force—which our investigators have to… well, investigate. Thrown into the mix are famous black magician Aleister Crowley and William Hope Hodgson’s supernatural detective Thomas Carnacki, both immediately at odds with the kind of case Holmes is used to. Incidentally, if you like this one, you should also track down Adams’ The Army of Dr Moreau, which sees Holmes and Watson clashing with H.G. Wells’ famous mad doctor after a series of grisly deaths by “animal” attacks. Both are infused with the author’s trademark wit and style.
Gaslight Grimoire, edited by J.R. Campbell and Charles Prepolec
Not just an anthology, but a series of anthologies this time—because for me Canadian publisher Edge and editors Campbell and Prepolec set an incredibly high bar in terms of Holmesian horror. In the interests of full disclosure, I’m in the third volume with “The Greatest Mystery,” but that’s only because I was so desperate to be included, having read all the fantastic stories from the first two in the trilogy. But I will settle on Grimoire, because it was the one that kicked it all off, containing a vast array of supernatural subject matter and even a crossover with that other Conan Doyle favourite Professor Challenger in Martin Powell’s “Sherlock Holmes in the Lost World” (the editors would go on to do a full anthology of Challenger stories from the same publisher). My favorite of the bunch, though, is probably Kim Newman (no stranger himself to Sherlockian territory with his Moriarty novel The Hound of the D’Urbervilles) here with a quirky number, “The Red Planet League.”
Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? by Paul Cornell
Bringing us slap-bang up to the present, the latest in Paul Cornell’s Shadow Police series of novels, this gives us a world where Sherlock Holmes’ ghost can be murdered and the deed investigated. But that’s not all: someone is committing crimes in the style of the original stories—and only DI James Quill and his team, now firmly established in London Falling and The Severed Streets, can get to the bottom of it. Cornell, known also for his comics and TV work (most recently contributing an episode to the Sherlock re-imagining Elementary), is just as at home with pros—painting a vivid and believable world where reality and fantasy slide easily into each other. In a funny coincidence Paul is the guest writer on my site and you can read an extract to decide for yourself.
Top image from The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)
Paul Kane is the award-winning, bestselling author and editor of over sixty books, including the Arrowhead trilogy, The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy and Voices in the Dark. His genre journalism has appeared in the likes of SFX, Rue Morgue and DeathRay. His work has been optioned and adapted for the big and small screen, including for US network television, plus his latest novels are Lunar (set to be turned into a feature film), the YA story The Rainbow Man (as P.B. Kane), the sequel to RED (Blood RED), and Sherlock Holmes and The Servants of Hell from Solaris.