Sherlock Holmes and the Sussex Sea Devils is the third in the “Cthulhu Casebooks” series by James Lovegrove, being preceded by Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows and Sherlock Holmes and the Miskatonic Monstrosities. In this volume we find Holmes and Watson mostly retired, having (at least for the moment) triumphed over their recurring enemy The Hidden Mind, an eldritch monstrosity from the depths of who knows where. It is not long, however, before things start to stir in the darkness and mist, and Holmes and Watson find themselves again embroiled in the machinations of the Hidden Mind and its ongoing war against Cthulhu and the rest of the Old Ones as it threatens to drag the real world into chaos and conflict as well.
James Lovegrove has conjured up a world that not only feels like it could easily have come from the pen of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself, but with effortlessly intertwines the mundane and fantastical. From strange, jellyfish abominations to mysterious murders, from the halls of an embassy to the shores of R’lyeh itself, it simply works. Gibbering, shapeless horrors and German U-Boats stand shoulder to shoulder, spells and mysterious music jostling for space alongside motorcars and revolvers but even as things spiral further and further into the mystic and profane, the story remains grounded and believable in the way these things are described and the way characters react to them.
Holmes and Watson themselves are described wonderfully, with Holmes as mercurial and quick witted as ever despite his advancing years, and Watson a solid, reliable companion willing to lay down his life for his friend if need be. Where generations of movies have, unfortunately, painted Watson as ever the lesser partner (at least until Jude Law’s portrayal in the Guy Ritchie directed Sherlock Holmes), there is none of that in this book, and the pair’s respect for each other is clear to see.
The final two chapters of the story are where things get a little meta, a little fourth-wall-breaking, with the author directly addressing the reader as well as a final epilogue being added from Titan Books themselves, giving the whole thing something of a “found footage” feel. Also, always remember –
Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn!
Unlike one of the previous reviews, I Only Killed Him Once, stepping directly into the trilogy at book number three is a bit more of an issue here, although it is somewhat mitigated by an in-character introduction which helps to set the scene for new readers and the story stands on its own as a self-contained adventure. However, references are made to previous events and characters and sometimes it can feel as if there are comments being made, subtext being hinted at, that refer back to events from the prior two novels. It is definitely recommended, then, that new readers begin this series with book one for the best experience, though this novel can and has been read as a standalone novel for the purposes of this review.
While the story is drenched in the atmosphere of a classic Holmes novel, the story is somewhat slow and can drag in places. The title is also, to be entirely pedantic, something of a fib. There are Sea Devils in the story, but they only appear over halfway through the book and only for a couple of chapters before they’re gone. Still, when trying to come up with alliterative titles that connect to Cthulhu, there is only so much source material to draw on!
James Lovegrove has written a number of other Sherlock Holmes novels and has a new Firefly tie-in novel coming out soon. If you are not already familiar with this work, then this is definitely an author worth looking up.
Sherlock Holmes and the Sussex Sea-Devils is now available from Titan Books.