Saturday, May 17, 2014

SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE STUFF OF NIGHTMARES

I finished reading SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE STUFF OF NIGHTMARES by James Lovegrove the other day. This 2013 trade paperback from Titan Books is the third in their new series of Sherlock Holmes novels. I read the first two, SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE BREATH OF GOD and SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE ARMY OF DR. MOREAU (both by Guy Adams) last year and reviewed them both here on my blog. NIGHTMARES author Lovegrove also wrote AGE OF AZTEC, a book I gave a rave review of earlier this year on this blog.

I enjoyed STUFF OF NIGHTMARES immensely. The story is narrated by Dr. Watson (as every Sherlock Holmes story should be) and features drop ins by three of the major supporting players in the canon: Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard, Sherlock's older, corpulent brother Mycroft and the nefarious Professor Moriarty who shows up at one point in a night black coach which is loaded with diabolical death traps.

A series of terrorist bombings are rocking the city of London but no one has come forward to claim responsibility for the acts. At the same time, a mysterious vigilante figure has been seen in the East End attacking criminals on a regular basis. Baron Cauchemar (French for "nightmare"), in his weaponized and steam driven suit of armor is a Victorian era Iron Man mixed with equal parts Batman. His underground headquarters bristles with weapons and vehicles that are far ahead of their time and Cauchemar uses these technological wonders in his one man war against crime.

But Cauchemar's exploits are merely a test run for his battle with the real villain of the piece, a French madman who wants to restore France to it's rightful place as an imperial power. Holmes, Watson and Cauchemar team-up in a race against time to thwart the fiend.

The climax finds the Queen's royal train thundering towards Balmoral with a giant, super-sized locomotive in hot pursuit. Our gallant trio pursues the train from above using a dirigible of Cauchemar's design. There's a giant gun mounted on the train which shoots the airship down but all three survive (of course), which sets up the climax in which the locomotive engine, well, "transforms" into a gigantic human figure. Baron Cauchemar, Holmes and Watson do battle against the mechanical leviathan but the appearance of a steam punk "Transformer" is almost too much to take.

I know that a willing suspension of disbelief must be employed when reading one of these yarns. After all, the writers have to keep coming up with foes that will well and truly test the mettle of Holmes and Watson. I bought the idea of a steam punk armored avenger in this story but a transforming locomotive engine? That's pretty wild stuff.

 In the original Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle the only truly superhuman and fantastic element was Holmes himself and his powers of observation and deduction. He never fought anything truly supernatural, paranormal or superhuman. Those stories are all terrific and they're all still around for us to enjoy and savor over and over again. I guess a new century requires new challenges for Holmes and Watson and even though STUFF OF NIGHTMARES almost-but-not-quite goes "off the rails", it's still a helluva read. Lovegrove is a terrific writer and he keeps things moving at a breathless pace with a story that contains ingenious deathtraps, shootouts, chases and fight scenes all told with a marvelously cinematic scope and vigor.

Bottom line: SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE STUFF OF NIGHTMARES is a winner in my book. Willingly suspend your disbelief and give it a read. You won't regret it.

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