Reviewed by David Brzeski
I had originally planned to review ‘Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula’ by Loren D. Estleman. On reading it, however, I decided it would be interesting to expand my review to cover a couple of the other Holmes/Dracula crossovers that are currently available. The main books featured in this review are…
SEANCE FOR A VAMPIRE by Fred Saberhagen, Titan Books, p/b, Â£7.99/Kindle Â£5.73
SHERLOCK HOLMES VS. DRACULA by Loren D. Estleman, Titan Books, p/b, Â£7.99/Kindle, Â£6.07
THE TANGLED SKEIN by David Stuart Davies, Wordsworth Editions, p/b (Omnibus with ‘The Shadow of the Rat’), Â£2.99/Piccadilly Publishing, Kindle, Â£1.95
The first of the three books under consideration was first published in 1994, but I’m covering it first because it’s actually the eighth book in Fred Saberhagen’s ten book Dracula series, which began with ‘The Dracula Tape’ in 1975. I want to cover this and one other of the series, before I actually get to ‘Seance For a Vampire’.
While not a Sherlock Holmes crossover as such, ‘The Dracula Tape’ does mention Holmes, Watson and even Inspector Lestrade in a way which doesn’t make it plain whether Dracula is talking about the most popular fictional characters of the day, or real people in his world.
Basically, the book is Dracula’s attempt to tell his side of the story, in which he was quite a nice chap really who, while indulging in the occasional consensual nibble at a special young lady’s neck, didn’t generally drink human blood and certainly didn’t slaughter them with wild abandon. Instead, he was the victim of circumstance, superstition and an arrogant Van Helsing, who was nowhere near as knowledgeable as he liked people to think. Saberhagen makes very clever use of the many inconsistencies and lapses of logic in the original novel. It ends with the vampire hunters believing they have succeeded, as per Dracula’s plan. A Kindle edition of this book is currently available from Tor Books.
Book two of the series is ‘The Holmes-Dracula File’, in which we learn that Sherlock Holmes and Dracula are actually related. This is also one of several attempts to furnish readers with a story to go with the unrecorded case of ‘The Giant Rat of Sumatra’, which Conan Doyle refers to in ‘The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire’ with the following quote from Holmes: “Matilda Briggs was not the name of a young woman, Watson, … It was a ship which is associated with the giant rat of Sumatra, a story for which the world is not yet prepared.” ‘The Holmes-Dracula file is currently in print in both paperback and Kindle editions.
Holmes makes no further appearances in this series until book eight, ‘Seance For a Vampire’, which is the one published fairly recently by Titan Books in their ‘Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ series. That they skipped over ‘The Holmes-Dracula File’ I put down to the fact that it’s still in print from Tor Books. In this one, Holmes encounters a genuinely nasty vampire and is captured, leaving Watson no choice but to turn to cousin Dracula for help. All three books are very readable and I found each to be better than the last.
Loren D. Estlemans’ ‘Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula’ is another of Titan Books’ ‘Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ series, which collects and reprints some of the best of the many Holmes pastiches that have appeared over the decades.
It’s not the only Sherlock Holmes/Dracula crossover novel available. It’s not even the only one collected in this series, but it’s definitely one of the better ones. It actually has much in common with that recent trend of mashing up classic novels with a fantastic element (usually, but not always zombies) in that this book does follow (to some extent) Stoker’s original ‘Dracula’, while telling the untold story of Holmes and Watson’s involvement. One of the obvious differences being that the supernatural element in this case, was present in the source novel, rather than being retrofitted by Estleman. The book more or less parallels the original novel up to the point where Dracula flees back to his homeland, hotly pursued by Van Helsing and company. That Holmes was willing to leave the final destruction of the Count to others does seem a little unlikely, but it would have been very difficult to write Holmes and Watson into the rest of the original story without changing too much.
The most recent of these meetings between two iconic characters is ‘The Tangled Skein’, by David Stuart Davies. It’s currently available in an omnibus paperback edition, from Wordsworth Editions, alongside Davies’ take on ‘The Giant Rat of Sumatra’. While I enjoyed all three versions, this was my personal favourite.
Davies chooses to dispense with the bulk of Stoker’s work, leaving us to assume that ‘Dracula’ was a fictionalised account, which left out the involvement of Holmes and Watson and instead added various â€œfictionalâ€ characters, such as Jonathan and Mina Harker, Lucy Westenra, Renfield, etc.etc. In fact the only character from the Stoker novel (apart from Dracula himself) that Davies keeps is Van Helsing. Many readers may find this disregard for Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ novel unforgivable, but for me it works better than trying to shoe-horn Holmes and Watson into the original narrative, as Estleman did. One of the strengths is the way Davies avoids having Dracula himself appear in the book until well past the halfway mark, thus building the tension skillfully. He makes a more convincing job than most of showing Holmes’ gradual conversion from sceptic to believer. He also ties the story directly into ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’, which was a nice touch. On the other hand, there are elements which didn’t quite ring true for me. Early on in the book, an attempt is made on Holmes’ life by means of a booby trapped first edition of ‘Great Expectations’, which was stated to be the only one of Dickens’ novels thick enough to hide the mechanism. My problem being that the first book edition of ‘Great Expectations’ was actually a three volume set. I was also unsure of the reference to it having been purchased from an antiquarian bookseller. That is certainly where you’d most likely find a copy now, but would it have been the case a mere twenty-seven years after its publication? Obviously, it was the first single volume edition. There’s another intriguing comparison with the Estleman book. SaberhagenÂ makes good use of the blood transfusion scene in Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ which, since it predated the indentification of differing blood-types, made for telling evidence of Van Helsing’s incompetence. Davies, on the other hand, appears to take the attitude that, if it was OK in the Stoker book, it’s OK in this one and refers to blood transfusions as if they were common treatment in 1888.
I can’t not mention the amusing scene, at the end, in which Davies ties in the canon with the popular image of Holmes in the movies by having Watson give him a meerschaum pipe for Christmas, it being a type he’d never actually tried.
These are just three of the many Sherlock Holmes/Dracula crossovers currently available, although the total number doesn’t come close to the vast number of Holmes/Jack the Ripper crossovers. I’m by no means suggesting that the others are without merit. In truth, I haven’t read many of them. A notable exception is an excellent comic book version by Martin Powell and Seppo Makinen– ‘Scarlet in Gaslight’– the collected edition of which is currently available in a 25th anniversary edition.