Next Monday, September 1st, the 7% Solution Book Club will discuss the short story collection Shadows Over Baker Street. This anthology of terrifying and intriguing tales links characters from the world of Sherlock Holmes to the universe of H.P. Lovecraft. This means no less than a basic confrontation between reason and horror, logic and illogic, the taciturn and the unspeakable, forensic science and occult practice, and last of all, guns and tentacles.
How does Sherlock Holmes apply his unique talents of detection towards saving the world from the call of Cthulu? Each author takes their own approach. In some stories, Holmes finds himself out of his depth (and into the depths!). In most, however, he is unflappable as always, calmly preventing such calamities as an unsuitable marriage between a guardian of the underworld and her less hearty suitor (“The Adventure of the Antiquarian’s Neice,” by Barbara Hambly), or the poisoning of London’s water supply by the monstrous citizens of Insmouth (in which Sherlock Holmes fights a crocodile).
This book is not just the Sherlock show. Watson experiences moments of the supernatural and horrifying, too, both with his companion and on his own. “The Weeping Masks,” by James Lowder, recounts an incident from Watson’s time in Afghanistan, pre-Sherlock. Elizabeth Bear‘s “Tiger! Tiger!” follows Irene Adler on a tiger hunt ready to restore order to the universe and defeat a weird fire-creature, sans Sherlock’s aid. Neil Gaiman‘s 2004 Hugo Award-winning story “A Study in Emerald” incorporates the strangeness of Lovecraft’s world into a fully developed Victorian Britain, with monsters pervading both politics and the arts. Gaiman’s story is the first in the volume, but Thomas, co-host of the 7% Solution Book Club, has suggested that to enjoy the collection best, read “A Study in Emerald” last rather than first.
Shadows Over Baker Street contains a full-on smorgasbord of Lovecraftian monsters, ranging from bee-creatures that mimic the appearance of those we most trust, to weeping zombies, to devouring hell monsters, all the way to the great Cthulu himself and the nightmares he brings. Tim Lebbon‘s story “The Horror of Many Faces” playfully reinterprets Holmes’ love of bees into a new horror, while Paul Finch‘s “The Mystery of the Hanged Man’s Puzzle” and John Pelan‘s “The Mystery of the Worm” explore the blurry line between science and alchemy when the supernatural invades the logical world. Each author in the anthology clearly glories in intermingling the language of Sherlock Holmes and H.P. Lovecraft, and the word “unspeakable” appears just as frequently as “deduction.”
Shadows Over Baker Street is just one installment of a running series of short story collections with all original material set in the world of H.P. Lovecraft. Unlike most of 7% Solutions reading picks, you won’t find this one in the mystery section – it’s shelved in horror anthology.
The concept of Holmes meeting Cthulu may seem rather incongruous at first, when one considers the king of reason solving mysteries involving none other than the epitome of unknowable horror. On the other hand, Arthur Conan Doyle and H.P. Lovecraft wrote at roughly the same time and in similar nations. Given the steady accumulation of fans willing and happy to write in the styles of either, the two worlds merge together well and bring to mind the early inspiration for both detective stories and tales of horror, the great Edgar Allan Poe.
The 7% Solution Book Club meets the first Monday of each month at 7PM on BookPeople’s third floor. Book Club members get a 10% discount on the month’s selection. Shadows Over Baker Street is available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.