Sherlock Holmes: The Stuff of Nightmares
James Lovegrove’s greatest strength in writing Sherlock Holmes: The Stuff of Nightmares is his grasp of Holmes and Watson’s voices as originally written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Despite the futuristically-armored, steampunk-esque character on the book’s cover, the story reads more or less like the original canon. The Stuff of Nightmares is Watson’s private telling of a case not meant for his usual readership, mainly for the protection of the elusive Baron Cauchemar, an iron-clad vigilante with engineering abilities ahead of his time. Holmes quickly ties Baron Cauchemar to a series of London bombings, the worst of which Watson is a witness to at Waterloo Station. But the Baron is not the perpetrator, as his predilection for foiling criminal acts proves, and his connection to the true villains is a desire for revenge.
Occasionally, Lovegrove’s inner fanboy is a little too present. The specific references to canon aren’t subtle, which on the one hand is understandable if one wishes to cater to both fans of the canon and newbies to all things Holmesian. But often, because Watson is chronicling for his own eyes only, he goes off on tangents, going so far as to provide explanations for Conan Doyle’s infamous continuity errors. This makes for sections of clunky reading. Thankfully, the action sequences reel it all back in. Stakeouts gone bad, duels, high speed rides through the sewers, explosions, and… the Victorian age Transformers? Something like that. Technological genius is a dangerous thing when it’s fueled by political zeal.
Exciting as the best sequences of this book were, this review wouldn’t be complete without addressing the victimization of nearly all of the women who appear throughout the case. The most horrifying is easily – and be warned, this is the largest spoiler I’ll give, but I think some readers will appreciate the warning – the brutal rape and subsequent death of Baron Cauchemar’s would-be wife. This event is the Baron’s driving force, a classic example of sacrificing a woman to generate the manpain that creates a hero. How much more interesting would it have been if the woman saw her betrothed beaten down and shamed and, picking up on his engineering expertise, she became the Baron to avenge him? Just saying.
And what about the female source that is murdered because Holmes commits one of his own sins – assumption. Holmes assumes the dangerous man whom he taunts with information he got from this source won’t put two and two together and go after her. Holmes earlier tells Watson to never assume anything. Whether this is meant to be foreshadowing, or is just a sloppy disregard for female side-characters is unclear, but it’s an unfortunate decision, regardless. As is the decision to have a young, mentally disabled girl be treated as a pawn by the villain. All of these narrative decisions add up to a good amount of annoyance and discomfort as a female reader.
Final Thoughts: If you’re craving more classic Holmes with just a twist of modernity, The Stuff of Nightmares will be quite the treat. The technologically upgraded fights and chases would actually probably look great as an action film, with an interesting look at the politics of the time. Just keep in mind that while the suits of armor and vehicles are impressive, views of sex and gender still don’t quite get an update in this novel.