Sherlock Holmes has seen numerous iterations across the spectrum of media, some good some bad. James Lovegrove, the author of Age of Odin, is the latest author to put his pen to the test in Sherlock Holmes – The Stuff of Nightmares, and he excels. Lovegrove returns Holmes to his roots of 19th century London with a few steampunk dressings for flair.
The Stuff of Nightmares is situated smartly within the original time period set out by Arthur Conan Doyle. Lovegrove has even gone to the extent to have the entire story narrated by Watson, just as in the original books, while taking the time to have Watson recognize and comment on the mistakes that Doyle made. Lovegrove has given Watson the opportunity to introduce errata and thus appease even the most diehard Holmes fan.
Even as tightly placed as The Stuff of Nightmares is, Lovegrove has been able to put his own spin on the mythos. He does so with such apparent elan that it’s easy to dismiss the fact that for all intents and purposes Lovegrove has managed to include the steampunk equivalent of the Transformers and Batman. Roll that one over for a minute – Steampunk Batman and Steampunk Transformers – that sounds down right insane. Yet Lovegrove introduces those elements with such panache that there is no reason not to accept them as part of the world of Sherlock Holmes.
Sherlock Holmes, as Lovegrove spins him, falls entreatingly between Robert Downy Jr.’s and Benjamin Cumberbatch’s portrayals. He’s got the manic intellect of Cumberbatch with the wit and physicality of Downy Jr. Combine that with the pacing of the Guy Ritchie movies and you’ve got a rip-roaring read that’s hard to put down.
Moriarty even makes an appearance, which is necessitated by the fact that the events of The Stuff of Nightmares take place before The Final Problem. His presence is negligible at best, though. It feels as if Lovegrove included Moriarty in an effort to ground his story in the world of the original stories, yet was unable to give him the same undercurrent of menace that Doyle did. After Moriarty’s initial foray into the story, he never reappears beyond being mentioned by name, lessening the potential threat he poses to that of Mrs. Hudson, Holmes’ housekeeper.
The mystery in The Stuff of Nightmares is, like most stories these days, one that threatens the very existence of the world. Unfortunately, upping the ante so high doesn’t do Sherlock Holmes justice. Instead he’s stuck fighting to avoid a purely theoretical outcome from occurring. A spate of bombings isn’t likely to lead the British into an all-out civil war, but at least there’s no Macguffin that Holmes and Watson must find to save the world. Most importantly, Lovegrove has kept his book true to the original stories in that Holmes must foil the plot of the villain through sheer intellect and ingenuity.
Having never read a Sherlock Holmes story, but only encountered the character through other media, The Stuff of Nightmares makes for a great introduction to the character. It’s light on the mystery and fast-paced and action-packed to the extent that putting it down won’t be an option. Lovegrove has honed his craft well and brings the best to the fore in this book, making it an enticing and worthwhile read for fans of Holmes, steampunk or those simply wanting to be entertained.