Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula–Loren D. Estleman

sherlockdracula

“Who is Count Dracula,” he intoned, frowning.  “As well may you ask me who is Lucifer, for the two have much in common.  Perhaps I should begin by telling you who was Count Dracula, and by this means prepare you for the odds we face in dealing with who he is.”~Abraham Van Helsing.

Over the past few years, Titan Books has published a series of Sherlock Holmes pastiches by various authors placing Sherlock Holmes and his stalwart companion Watson in a series of unique situations.  Many involve the good detective interacting with other famous characters of literary and historical fame such as the fictional Dr. Jekyll or the real life serial killer, Jack the Ripper.  Loren D. Estlemen decided to pit Holmes and Watson against one of the literary greats of the 19th century, a character whose influence on the genre of horror may even eclipse Holmes’ influence on the modern mystery.  Who could provide Holmes an opponent of the same intellectual caliber as Moriarty, and yet add a taste of gothic horror to the milieu?

Dracula—Count Dracula.

Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula may seem an odd addition to the mythos, yet Watson admitted on several occasions that the Sherlock Holmes case files were far from complete–some redacted due to their less than interesting nature, but others—perhaps because they would be unbelievable or distressing to the general public?

Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula (a. k. a. the Adventure of the Sanguinary Count) begins with Dr. John Watson’s admission that he wrote the tale to “set the reader straight” about the events described in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  Watson is somewhat miffed by the exclusion of his and Sherlock’s involvement in the investigation of the wreck of the Demeter and subsequent events leading to the Count’s demise.  Why he stored it away instead of publishing is left to the reader’s imagination.

The novel begins with the arrival of a reporter on Holmes’ doorstep, entreating him to come down to Whitby and investigate the wreck of the Russian clipper Demeter, which sailed into harbor the night before and mysteriously ran aground.  Onboard, coast guard officials discovered the crew missing, save the corpse of the captain, tied to the wheel with a crucifix in his hand.  Upon further examination, the corpse was found to be exsanguinated, bearing two fang marks upon the neck and a look of absolute horror on his face.  Sherlock (and Watson) quickly make their way to Whitby and are allowed to board the wreck.  Once he makes his rounds of the deck and hold, Sherlock discovers clues that suggest to him that each member of the crew was killed in a similar manner and then thrown overboard by a being of extraordinary strength.

At this point the investigation is suddenly halted when officials discover the ship’s log and judge it “obvious” that the first mate was deranged and responsible for the murder of the entire crew.  On the basis of his initial observations–and his own examination of the log–Holmes finds this explanation ludicrous.  Clearly there has been a cover up, but without the chance to further inspect the ship or her cargo, he realizes the adventure of the foreign schooner will most likely be unsolvable.

Flash forward a few weeks and Watson receives an unexpected guest, carrying a copy of the Westminster Gazette and a synopsis of what the paper describes as, “The Hampstead Horror.”  Apparently children have been disappearing only to reappear on the heath, shaken and confused but otherwise unharmed, except for slight injuries to the throat and tales of “The Bloofer Lady, an apparition that lures them into the shadows and steals their memories.  Holmes immediately makes the connection between the adventure of the Whitby Horror (a more apt description of the events of the Demeter) and that of the Bloofer lady and has come to ask Watson for his help resolving both cases.

Once on the heath, it is only a matter of time before they find the Bloofer lady and thwart her from claiming another victim.  After tracking her to her lair–even then Holmes has his suspicions as to what she might be–they come across another group of adventurers. This group is not set upon solving the case, but rather embarking upon what Watson might describe as, “murder most foul!”

And thus it is that the dauntless Sherlock Holmes meets the indomitable Abraham Van Helsing and his band of vampire hunters at the moment they release Lucy Westerna from the pernicious clutches of one Count Dracula, a being as near the devil as can be without taking his crown.  Watson, a man of medical science, takes their explanation ( staking her heart and cutting her head off will break the curse!) with such a grain of salt he almost chokes, and even questions Holmes’ sanity when Sherlock explains that what Van Helsing is saying is the truth.  There is a vampire loose on British soil.

Holmes is in turn surprised when his offer to help hunt down the vampire is rebuffed by Van Helsing and company.  Due to Watson’s writings, apparently Holmes has a certain ‘notoriety’ that the hunters would rather not embrace for fear of panicking the general public.  At this point Holmes decides that if he cannot help Van Helsing, perhaps Mina Harker might feel differently…

…and next thing you know, they’re chasing down locomotives, exploring Dracula’s various crypts and generally thwarting the Count’s  efforts to assimilate into British society.  So much so that Dracula finally decides to flee the country, taking Mrs. Watson along as insurance that the intrepid duo will leave him to his business.  Dracula’s choice of hostage proves ill thought out, galvanizing the detective and his biographer to become a threat rather than a nuisance, culminating in a confrontation on the deck of another clipper some time later.

Having read Fred Saberhagen’s The Holmes-Dracula File a few years ago, I was relieved to find Loren D. Estleman’s take on the odd match up of Sherlock Holmes and Dracula greatly more satisfying.  Lately I’ve been reading the original Sherlock Holmes stories (I know, I know, what was I waiting for?) and was pleasantly surprised to find that during the course of reading Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula, the author managed to capture both the voice and character of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s signature creation.  Estleman’s Watson is very much one Doyle would recognize, and Sherlock is very much true to form, something I would imagine hard to achieve when attempting to emulate the writing style of a master of his genre. After all, Saberhagen was a master in his own right, and his attempt met with much less success.

Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula is also very much Watson’s story, with Sherlock as his main character and Dracula as the man (demon?) behind the curtain, much discussed but rarely seen.  However, on those few occasions, Holmes and Watson only manage to escape with their lives because the Count underestimates their tenacity–and Holmes’ intellect–or is occupied by something else.  Along the way we get a look at Holmes and his process of deductive reasoning, and a fair bit of action, whether hopping a moving train or chasing down a vampire by bloodhound, by carriage, and even steam cutter.

The one complaint I have with this novel is the one that can’t be avoided.  Sherlock’s portion of the story of Count Dracula of necessity has to end before the threat that is Dracula can be resolved, keeping the chronology of Stoker’s novel intact.  Knowing that the villain will not be vanquished by the end of the novel is somewhat unsatisfying, but necessary to the continuity of Stoker’s tale.  However, it leads to a novel which “stops short,” leaving you wanting more.  Luckily, Estleman also wrote Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes, another adventure I plan to pursue in the near future.

Rating: A

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Justin Cronin’s The Twelve gets a release date.

Of all the books I didn’t review last year, the one I most regret was Justin Cronin’s The Passage Not only was it a post-apocalyptic story with a vampiresque feel, the writing was brilliant and had a vein of seriousness not often seen in a horror novel.  Awhile back I heard Cronin was writing a sequel but it was only today that I became aware of a release date.  Lovers of The Passage will be pleased to note that The Twelve will be released October 16th of this year.  

Thanks to EW.com for the heads up!

Also important to note:  Ridley Scott’s production company has optioned all three books of the eventual trilogy for $1.75 million.  Let’s hope they don’t muck it up.

Monster Hunter Vendetta-Larry Correia

“When Monsters have nightmares, they’re dreaming about us.”  MHI Company Handbook

When we last met with Owen Zavasta Pitt, he was still reeling from the discovery that the world as he knew it was not the world as it is.  Monsters are real, the government has a black ops division of the F.B.I. that deals with them, and after a nasty run in with his manager at work (who was also a recent convert to lycanthropy), Pitt discovers that the life of an accountant may not be for him.   Monster Hunter-yes; middle management drone-no.

Fast forward a year, and we find Owen in a state of relative contentment.  He’s managed to save the World at least once, met (and courted) the girl of his dreams, and does a job that he loves for a salary that makes life quite comfortable.  Everything should be gravy, right?

Well, not so much.

You see, during the course of saving the world from the evil forces of another dimension, Owen attracted the attention of an elder God.  Apparently, destroying the artifact that would allow it to enter our dimension and slaying a multitude of its acolytes merits attention, as did the tactical nuclear weapon delivered into its posterior, courtesy of the U. S. government.  Owen’s not to blame for that, but someone’s got to take the fall, and the Old One (picture Lovecraft’s Cthulu) has decided Owen shall be the one.  Ironic that a bounty hunter should have his own bounty. 

Owen is blissfully unaware of  either the nuke or the bounty, contentedly hunting down chupacabras  and keeping the Mexican Riviera safe for both the locals and drunken Spring break kids.  So, it comes as a surprise to him when he gets a knock on the door, and then a subsequent knock on the head, from a mysterious Englishman, a shadowman of sorts, who remains incorporeal in the shade, but packs a real punch in the light of day.  Nor does it help that he’s brought a truckload of Zombies with him and released them on the resort’s party-goers.

Fast forward a couple of hours and poor Owen is stuck in a Mexican prison accused of multiple murder and disavowed by his own government.  If that’s not enough, while there, he gets a visit from his in-laws.  At the best of times that can be a pain in the neck, but when your in-laws are also Vampires of the nastiest sort, metaphor and reality can become mixed up.  Lucky for him though, they subscribe to the adage that, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and have come to Owen with a proposition. 

The Englishman is a necromancer, and being Undead themselves, they don’t really want to become enthralled to him, hence, a truce and an alliance.  However, Owen has a problem being allied with the Undead, subscribing to the less known adage that, “the enemy of my enemy is sometimes also my enemy,” so that idea is a no go. 

You really don’t want to say “no” to Owen’s mother in law.  You. Really. Don’t.

Okay, Evil necromancer on one side, Evil Undead on the other.  Should be enough to deal with, right?

Aha, let’s not forget about the United States government.

Yep, that’s right, that same government that ticked off the Elder God.  Specifically, the Monster Control Bureau, a subsidiary of the Department of Justice and royal pain in the ass under the leadership of one Agent Myers, himself a former MHI alumni (with a grudge).  They’ve been following the movements of the shadowman and his cult organization, “The Sanctified Church of the Temporary Mortal Condition,” and now want to use Owen as bait to draw out their leader.  With that, the stage is set for a rollicking story full of non-stop action as Owen and his compatriots try to thwart the plans of the Death Cult, deal with a government agency that would rather see them disbanded, and as a byproduct of stopping the shadowman, keep him alive. 

 There are a lot of things to love in a Correia novel.  His writing is both witty and so fast paced that you don’t want to put the book down for any reason while you’re reading it, and feel a sense of dissatisfaction when you get to the end and realize it’s over.  His take on the supernatural is both quirky and refreshing, taking accepted mythology and turning it on its head.  In the first novel, we’re introduced to the Trailer Park Elves; this time around, it’s a gang of garden Gnomes.  And I do mean, “Gang.”  (If those THUG LIFE tats don’t tip it off, the sawed off shotguns and turf wars will.)  Fans of his first novel also get several questions answered, such as:

  • What’s the deal with Agent Franks? (and really, shame on me for not figuring it out earlier)
  • Why the animosity between Agent Myers and Earl Harbinger, and what does it have to do with one Martin Hood?
  • What’s the reason for Owen’s dad training him from birth to be a survivalist?
  • Who is Mr. Trash Bags, anyway?

Honestly, the Monster Hunter series reminds me a lot of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, with Owen playing a role very similar to Harry Dresden, the difference being that while Owen is a bounty hunter, Harry is a detective.   Both series are thoroughly enjoyable and a great addition to the genre.  It’s going to kill me to wait until July of this year for the release of the third book of the series, Monster Hunter AlphaIn the meantime, if you’d like to keep abreast of Larry’s writing projects (and other interesting stuff), he maintains a blog at Monster Hunter Nation that you can check out.

(p.s. Want to read about the Trailer Park Elve’s?  Larry’s got a nice little story about them over at Baen Books)

Monster Hunter International- Larry Correia

Monster Hunter International: Larry Correia (Baen Books, 2009; 713 pp.)

Owen Zastava Pitt is just your average mild-mannered accountant working in the finance department of a small firm in downtown Dallas.  Sure, he’s over 300 lbs of solid muscle and worked his way through school engaging in back street bloodsports, but still, he’s an accountant.  An accountant with your stereotypically angry boss.  Seems like nothing he does pleases Mr. Huffman, not even working late.  However, when Huffman calls Pitt into his office one night, Owen expects another irrational dressing down, not a company dinner.  Especially when Huffman has decided that the dinner is going to be Owen.

You see, Huffman’s developed a case of Hypertrichosis as the result of an encounter on a recent camping trip, and as a side effect, developed a hunger for human flesh.  However, Owen’s not about to send a memo to Human resources about Huffman’s behaviour, and thanks to Texas’ very liberal conceal and carry laws (and Owen’s very literal interpretation of  the second amendment), he takes matters into his own hands in the form of a .357 Smith and Wesson.  However, Huffman’s not having any of that, and owing to the fact that Owen generally doesn’t carry around silver bullets, things get a little hairy.  Luckily, the law of gravity is on Owen’s side, and his former boss ends up a Lycanthropic splotch on the pavement after a 14 storey fall from a window office.  Owen fares little better.  Hey, let’s see you go ten rounds with a werewolf and see how you feel afterward.

Cue hospital scene:

When Owen awakes from his injuries (five days later), he’s in the company of a couple of federal agents.  Their role…to either put a silver bullet in his head in the event that his blood tests come back positive for lycanthropy, or in the event that Owen’s not going to go all Wolfman next time the moon is full…to threaten him into signing a nondisclosure agreement.  After all,  it is the official policy of the American government that supernatural creatures do not exist.  The penalty?  Prosecution to the fullest extent of the law under the Unearthly Forces Disclosure Act.  However, shortly thereafter Owen is visited by Earl Harbinger, an associate with MHI (Monster Hunters International™), a for profit mercenary group along the lines of the infamous Blackwater.

Monster Hunter International has its own private army, dedicated to pretty much what their company logo says…hunting monsters and making the world safe for your average person…at a price.  Harbinger is both a founding member and head hunter of new talent, and he thinks Owen fits the bill.

As for Owen, he’s not got much else going on.  While still in the hospital he finds out that he’s been terminated from employment at the accounting firm (apparently he was in violation of their no weapons in the workplace rule) and shortly thereafter finds himself convalescing in his apartment and pondering his future employment prospects.

Luckily for Owen, when next Harbinger visits, he brings along Julie Shackleford, a member of Monster Hunters International™’s founding family.  She’s drop dead gorgeous, shares his fascination with all things ordinance (did I mention she’s gorgeous?), and wants to offer Owen a job.  Hunting monsters.  For profit.  She’s also brought along what could be termed his first pay cheque: $50 000 in government bounty for his first supernatural kill owed due to the P.U.F.F. act (Perpetual Unearthly Forces Fund) instituted by Theodore Roosevelt (something else you won’t read in the history books!).  Needless to say, that makes his choice simple, and he decides to sign on.

From there the action really takes off as the novel follows Owen’s training, integration into one of MHI’s hunting teams, and eventual first mission, which, if he doesn’t play his cards right, could be his last.  Oh, and might result in THE END OF THE WORLD.

But I’ve said too much.  Read the rest for yourself.

Cue review:

Monster Hunter International is written from Owen’s point of view, and the writing flows so that you get a great idea of his ideals and motivations.  He’s got a sense of justice and honour that may not be mainstream, but he sticks by his guns (both literally and figuratively) in any situation and shows a strong, unswerving character.  There’s no grey areas here.  The bad guys are bad (really, really bad), the good guys are good (except when they work for the government), and when the two mix, the result is explosive.

Monster Hunter International is not going to win any awards for high literature, but if you want a rip-roaring ride full of non stop action, violence and confrontations of the supernatural sort, it’s the book for you.  713 pages go by in a flash of silver bullets, Vampire Masters, Trailer Park elves, giant gargoyles, one extremely nasty conquistador, a prophecy that if fulfilled would open a doorway to another dimension and let loose the demons within…and young love.  Reading this book I was reminded of John Steakley’s Vampire$ (a great book in its own right) and why not?  They’re both about a group of mercenaries hunting down the supernatural both to keep humanity safe and for a crapload of money.  So, if you like a dose of guns, girls and gore, Monster Hunter International has it.

But wait!  There’s more!

MHI was published in 2009, and in the meantime Larry Correia hasn’t rested on his laurels.  The sequel, Monster Hunter Vendetta ,was released in paperback just this past September.  Larry’s also a blogger, and if you’re interested in reading about his work (and thoughts) you can check in with him at Monster Hunter Nation and read about his work on the third novel, Monster Hunter Alpha.