Shadows Over Baker Street

Reviewed: April 18, 2007
By: edited by Michael Reeves and John Pelan
Publisher: Ballantine Books
446 pages, $21.00

Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle created the character of Sherlock Holmes and launched him upon the world in 1887. Five years later he got sick of the fellow and threw him over a waterfall in, but the death didnít take and he had to bring him back, continuing the tales, while all the while hoping that people would pay more attention to his other work, until 1927.

Conan Doyle died three years later, but Holmes seems destined to live forever.

Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born three years after Sherlock Holmes and died ten years after Conan Doyle penned the last of the tales. he was nowhere near as prolific as the creator of the Great Detective, but his work was no less seminal.

Nearly every horror movie youíve seen in the last 20 years, not to mention Joss Whedonís complicated Buffyverse, owes something to Lovecraft. Nearly every major writer of horror fiction will acknowledge his or her debt to the man.

He wasnít as well known as Conan Doyle during his life time, but his prodigious personal correspondence (estimated at more than 87,000 letters during his lifetime) meant that he had a wide circle of literary chums, including a writer named August Derleth, who was also a fan of Conan Doyle's work..

In his creepy and atmospheric short stories Lovecraft created the source material for the Cthulhu Mythos, the notion that this world was once the playground of the elder gods, cruel, inhuman creatures with names like, Yig, Shub-Niggurath and Nyarlathotep. Several other writers picked up Lovecraftís ideas and expanded on them. Derleth was the most influential of the lot, mostly because he became H.Pís literary executor and made sure that his work, which had appeared mostly in periodical pulp magazines, stayed in print, and did so in both hardcovers and paperback editions.

Derleth also loved Sherlock Holmes, and wrote a long series of pastiche mysteries about a similar character name Solar Pons. However, I donít think it ever occurred to him to put his two favorite writers together.

Thatís whatís been done in this collection of short stories. Eighteen authors were invited to have Sherlock Holmes deal with adventures and situations of a Lovecraftian nature. This is not as unlikely as it might seem, for Conan Doyle had a very atmospheric style and stories like The Hound of the Baskervilles are basically horror stories with a detective twist. So what the writers had to do was take detective fiction and and inject it with a chunk of Cthulhu.

They did a very good job. We are taken to mysterious villages, down into the London sewers, off on seemingly normal mysteries that sudden turn odd. Writers include Brian Stableford, Steve Perry, Barbara Hambly, the editors, Elizabeth Bear and Richard A. Lupoff, among others.

The standout story of the lot is ďA Study in EmeraldĒ by Neil Gaiman. Thatís not just my opinion. This alternate world detective story won the 2004 Hugo Award for Best Short Story, quite a feat in the science fiction community, where detective/horror stories donít tend to capture awards.

It was an enjoyable collection of stories, though not one to be read at a single sitting. I read one every week of so until I finished it this week.