I feel that I need to make a small confession before getting into this review. I have the complete works of H.P. Lovecraft on my shelf, but haven’t read anything set in the Cthulhu universe. Whilst I’m disappointed that I’ve yet to delve into the world of Cthulhu, part of me is glad that Sherlock Holmes Vs Cthulhu: The Adventure of the Deadly Dimension is my first experience with the Old Ones.
When a tram engineer dies in mysterious circumstances, Holmes and Watson are brought in to investigate what they first assume is a fairly straightforward mystery. However, when they learn that more people are dying in similar circumstances, apparently torn apart in an instant, their bones stacked in a pile, and find a strange orb-like bone with mysterious symbols, they realise they’ve stumbled upon something that will challenge their beliefs in what is possible.
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As I said before, I’m not well versed in the Cthulhu mythology, so getting slowly introduced to this world through the experiences of Holmes and Watson is a good way to become acclimatised to it. Whilst this might be a good way to learn more about the world of the Old Ones and Elder Things there is one drawback to seeing a lot of the story from Holmes’ point of view. We know more than he does.
In the majority of Sherlock Holmes stories he’s the smartest man around (though if Mycroft and Moriarty are around that might not be the case), but here he’s trying to find logical, real world answers to what’s happening: answers that just don’t exist. Holmes is dealing with actual magic, ancient entities, and creatures that he doesn’t believe can exist.
This is what the majority of the book is given over to, our heroes having to face the possibility that the supernatural actually exists. Whilst this is an interesting struggle for the two of them, and the world of Cthulhu is incredibly interesting, it does feel like the book takes a long time getting where it’s going. The plot takes time to reach its conclusion, and even then it’s not a real ending as this is the first part of a trilogy. The book would probably have flowed better if it was shorter by a few chapters. Thankfully, this is something that seems to remedied in the second book.
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Lois H. Gresh writes the story well, and manages to capture the characters from Conan Doyle’s work well, and whilst they do possess some differences from the source material (as would be expected) they’re still very recognisable in the ways that matter. Where Gresh seems to really shine, however, is when it comes to the Cthulhu side of the story. The chapters that follow the mysterious Cult of Dagon are some of the best, and the insight that we get to their ways are thoroughly fascinating. This isn’t surprising as Gresh has a lot of experience in writing Cthulhu stories, with her work appearing in a number of Cthulhu anthologies.
Sherlock Holmes vs Cthulhu: The Adventure of the Deadly Dimensions is a good foundation for the trilogy of books, and sets up a world that feels like it belongs in the Holmes mythology, whilst slowly introducing him to the horrors of Cthulhu. However, as a book on its own it isn’t completely satisfying. It can feel slow in places, and the fact that we know there’s no rational explanation whilst we watch Holmes and Watson try to find scientific evidence time and time again can be a little frustrating; but read as the first part of a series it works well. The first part of a mystery that pits the worlds greatest detective against forces of cosmic horror, this series could go on to be one of the best Sherlock Homes crossovers yet.