Gaslight Grotesque: Nightmare Tales of Sherlock Holmes edited by J. R. Campbell and Charles Prepolec

Review by Chris Redmond

There are not a whole lot of actual nightmares to be taken away from this 2009 anthology, edited by J. R. Campbell and Charles Prepolec, but some of its 13 stories are pleasantly creepy. Others try too hard and — an easy thing to do with horror writing — stray over the edge and become merely laughable.

Thickly scattered throughout the stories are allusions to Professor Moriarty (who is the narrator of one of the better tales, "The Hand-Delivered Letter" by Simon Kurt Unsworth) as well as the Baskerville hound, the Sussex vampire, the remarkable (and ubiquitous) worm unknown to science, and Arthur Conan Doyle. One of the stories, "Celeste" by Neil Jackson, picks up where ACD's non-Sherlockian story “J. Habakuk Jephson's Statement” leaves off. Minor characters from the Sherlockian canon, including Inspectors Gregson and Bradstreet, not surprisingly also make appearances.

Some stories attempt the Watsonian style, while others take other points of view. One or two are overwritten almost as if the authors are trying to channel H. P. Lovecraft. One is more science fiction than horror (a subjective judgement, admittedly). Two make use of “the wickedest man in the world,” Aleister Crowley, neither very effectively. One introduces an army friend of Watson who might well be a welcome character in other stories yet to appear. One, happily, is set in rural Canada. And so it goes — a healthy mixture of styles, and a mixture of successes and worthy attempts.

The best story of the lot is Barbara Roden's “Of the Origin of the Hound of the Baskervilles,” which is written clearly in an authentic Watsonian style, and which adds the absolute minimum to the familiar Hound narrative to make the story horrible once again. The reader will not find it difficult to accept Roden's version as the true one, adopting the headcanon (as we call it these days) that the Hound was not a hound but — well, that would be a spoiler. No spoilers here.

Nearly all the stories contain grammatical, stylistic and spelling errors which the editors (regrettably) seem not to have noticed, or not to have had time to bother about. Unlike many pastiches and collections these days, however, the book is well designed and typeset, making it comfortably readable and a credit to the publisher, Calgary's Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy. After one reading, it is likely to be consigned to the bookshelf, but it should not be shoved into too obscure a corner; Leslie S. Klinger's Foreword is a fact-filled, if ponderous, survey of the parallel histories of horror and mystery fiction, and could well be a valuable reference.