Monday, November 26, 2012

Review - "Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula"

There have been many different variations on the concept of the world's most famed detective squaring off against the king of vampires - Count Dracula. There is David Stuart Davies' fantastic sequel to "The Hound of the Baskervilles," entitled "The Tangled Skein." There are two novels with the same idea by Fred Saberhagen, "The Holmes, Dracula File" and "Seance for a Vampire." Stephen Seitz's "Sherlock Holmes and the Plague of Dracula" and now Loren D. Estleman's "Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula."

Actually, Estleman's rather melodramatically titled novel was the first book which featured the pairing of the world's greatest detective against the vampire. Titan Books had already re-released Estleman's second Sherlock Holmes effort, "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes," which paired Holmes with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Estleman's work was quite fantastic, so I expected a lot from this book - being re-released from Titan Books as well.

"Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula," (also known as "The Adventure of the Sanguinary Count") nimbly fits Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson into the plot of Bram Stoker's famous novel. When a ship runs aground on the cost of Whitby, Sherlock Holmes is called in to investigate. No one was aboard the ship except for the captain - quite dead, tied to the wheel and grasping a crucifix in his hands. Witnesses reported seeing a great dog leap off the ship and rush into the night. Shortly thereafter, a number of mysterious attacks on London's Hampstead Heath attract the detective's attention, and soon he makes the acquaintance of Professor Abraham Van Helsing, who informs Holmes that these recent events are the work of the vampire, Count Dracula. What ensues is a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with the king of vampires and the world's greatest detective.

As I mentioned earlier, I found "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes" to be a thoroughly enjoyable pastiche and so I expected quite a bit from Mr. Estleman. What I liked so much about his novel was that he inserted the characters of Holmes and Watson into  Robert Louis Stevenson's novella, and it still managed to feel like a genuine Sherlock Holmes story. "Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula" did follow the same routine, but perhaps not to the same caliber. While the plot of this novel did follow Bram Stoker's original, I was rather disappointed that Holmes and Watson were not rubbing elbows with the characters from the original novel as much.

Furthermore, the beginning of the book was done very nicely - creating an atmosphere of genuine mystery with the wrecked ship. After Holmes learned of his adversary, there was very little of that same mystery left and the brilliant deductions much beloved by fans of Sherlock Holmes took a back-seat to action and adventure as Holmes and Watson pursued the vampire across land and sea.

Onto the good things about "Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula: The Adventure of the Sanguinary Count" though. Speaking of sea, one of the most exciting scenes in the novel was a prolonged chase on steam launch after a ship commandeered by Count Dracula. A number of these chases were thoroughly exciting and did leave the reader anxious to find out what happens next.

The characterizations of Holmes and Watson were brilliantly done. Sherlock Holmes and Watson felt very much like their canonical counterparts. My only nitpick would be that Holmes seemed a bit too excepting of the supernatural in this story. It felt unusual that Holmes did not pursue a logical explanation after Van Helsing told him about their vampiric foe. But nevertheless, this is a small gripe to make against a book which has a number of excellent redeeming qualities.

To sum up, while Loren D. Estleman's first foray into Sherlock Holmes territory may not be as good as his second, "Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula" was a very enjoyable novel. Combining a great deal of action and suspense, the book told a very entertaining story. "Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula" deserves a well-rewarded 4 out of 5 stars.

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