“Paul Kane’s vision of hell, and his brilliant depiction of the members of The Order of the Gash leaves nothing to be desired and Holmes and Hellraiser fans both will find something to love here.”
Over the years there have been many short stories and novels that take on the subjects and themes of famous writers’ works. Lovecraft is one, for sure, as is Edgar Allen Poe to some degree. And certainly the most famous stories, characters, and places from the writings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Clive Barker have been revisited countless times. So it’s difficult to imagine that there’s anything really new or original that could be brought to the universes created by either author. But what happens if someone writes a book that pays tribute to both in the process of creating a mashup wherein Sherlock Holmes finds himself in Hellraiser territory? The answer is, well, elementary. Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell is what happens.
Paul Kane has shown himself to be an extremely knowledgeable scholar of the Hellraiser universe. Editor of the brilliant Hellbound Hearts anthology and author of The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy his expertise has received accolades from many, including Clive Barker himself and also the iconic Cenobite actress from ‘Hellraiser II’, Barbie Wilde, who has laid down some high praise of Kane’s handling of both the Cenobites and Sherlock Holmes in her introduction to Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell. The book pits Sherlock Holmes and his trusty companion Dr. Watson against what starts out as their most formidable locked room mystery ever and ends up with them facing enemies that make Moriarty seem about as dangerous as a shoplifter in a candy store.
Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell finds Holmes and Dr. Watson solving mysteries once again and, while their personalities are largely intact they are much darker, having been irrevocably changed by the incident at Reichenbach Falls in which Holmes had his final, brutal confrontation with the villainous Moriarty. You’ll be surprised and, if you’re a fan, delighted to discover that Paul Kane is just as comfortable in Conan Doyle’s fictional realm as he is in Barker’s, but it’s really his handling of the Hellraiser elements that make this story work.
As the story commences Holmes and Watson investigate a series of missing persons cases with varying but similar circumstances that eventually lead them to rumors of a mysterious cult known as The Order of the Gash, a group that fans of The Hellbound Heart will be familiar with. This is one of the areas of the book that really shines. Where Barker’s own The Scarlet Gospels was a disappointment in its lack of new creations, Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell is chock full of fresh imaginings of the Cenobites and, while there is no Pinhead here, there are enough hellish and terrifying creatures to satisfy even the most demanding fans. As mentioned before, Kane’s body of knowledge of all things Hellraiser and he puts that to good use in building a universe that takes what seems like a preposterous concept and makes it a pretty convincing tale for the most part.
There are a few flaws that it would be remiss not to mention. The book is full of Easter eggs from Conan Doyle’s and Barker’s separate inventions and, while this is endearing at first, it starts to wear thin after a while and feels like it could have benefited from being toned down a notch or two. It’s useful for the purpose of making readers comfortable in the familiar situations and settings but probably better kept to small doses. Another very minor issue is that the characters from the Sherlock Holmes stories were very true to the original works and their investigations early on were somewhat predictable because of that extreme familiarity, but they didn’t stay that way for very long and these small problems don’t take too much away from the overall entertainment factor of the book.
The fact is the last one-hundred or so pages are a mind-numbing blast of bloody action and spine-chilling terror that more than makes up for any downfalls that might otherwise detract from this nightmarish vision of Victorian England in the days of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic armchair mysteries. Packed with skinless people, creepy asylums, and plenty of brand new and terrifying Cenobites, Paul Kane’s vision of hell, and his brilliant depiction of the members of The Order of the Gash leaves nothing to be desired and Holmes and Hellraiser fans both will find something to love here as will horror audiences in general. Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell is a delightful foray into the dark fantastic and it’s hopeful that Kane will revisit this sort of theme again. If you haven’t read Paul Kane’s work in the past, you’ll find no better place to start than with this groundbreaking and unusual work of fiction.
SHANE DOUGLAS KEENE
Release Date: 12 July, 2016
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