I’m a sucker for short story collections featuring Sherlock Holmes. I’m a big fan of most things having to do with one of the world’s most famous fictional detectives (having enjoyed the new BBC series, Sherlock, alongside the Robert Downey Jr. films). So, it delighted me to discover Gaslight Arcanum, where the stories take Holmes, Watson, and their many companions into supernatural or otherwise extraordinary events.
The writing throughout the collection is excellent in itself, so you shouldn’t fear having to force your eyes across pages of mangled words. However, that’s not the main element to take into consideration. The biggest issue is what these stories do with their titular character. Does the legacy of Sherlock Holmes grow here? Is it padded out with fluff? Does it cringe from the source material?
As with most short story collections, the reaction is mixed depending on which entry decide to sample. Some of the stories are incredible and add depth or new facets to Sherlock’s character. Others fall a bit short, where Holmes’ character comes across as a poor attempt to replicate Doyle’s original writing, or where Holmes isn’t even recognizable as himself, except in name.
The stories run the gamut of the supernatural or strange, touching on Lovecraft in “The Color That Came to Chiswick,” visiting Dracula in “From the Tree of Time,” and adding a fragment of Biblical lore in “The Executioner.”
A few higlights include “Sherlock Holmes and the Great Game,” in which Watson observes a wholly different, yet no less interesting, Holmes–one who is driven by a cursed blade to mysterious ends. Watson’s place is to take their mystical adventures together and transform them into the intellectual tales we are familiar with, thus covering up the monstrous truth Holmes fights to keep the world safe from.
Another favorite is “The Adventure of the Six Maledictions.” The narrator of this story has an amazing voice, and the story flows with color and life, alongside the mystery it pursues. It’s incredibly entertaining, and it’s ironic that I counted it among the best pieces in the collection, considering it doesn’t actually involve Holmes at all. Rather, it brings us into the nefarious schemes of his arch-nemesis, Moriarty.
Sherlock Holmes fans are sure to love this collection…except for, perhaps, the purists who don’t enjoy the original character being tampered with in any fashion. Even if you aren’t die-hard about Doyle’s works, Gaslight Arcanum is worth diving into. You never know what you might uncover.