This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
22.10.19 / Crime-Adventure / Titan Books / Hardback / 384pp / 978-1785658020
Target Audience: Readers looking for another well thought out continuation of Sherlock lore and a festive mystery that is packed with folklore, apparitions and stalking nightmares.
About Sherlock Holmes & The Christmas Demon
It is 1890, and in the days before Christmas Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson are visited at Baker Street by a new client. Eve Allerthorpe – eldest daughter of a grand but somewhat eccentric Yorkshire-based dynasty – is greatly distressed, as she believes she is being haunted by a demonic Christmas spirit.
Her late mother told her terrifying tales of the sinister Black Thurrick, and Eve is sure that she has seen the creature from her bedroom window. What is more, she has begun to receive mysterious parcels of birch twigs, the Black Thurrick’s calling card…
Eve stands to inherit a fortune if she is sound in mind, but it seems that something – or someone – is threatening her sanity. Holmes and Watson travel to the Allerthorpe family seat at Fellscar Keep to investigate, but soon discover that there is more to the case than at first appeared. There is another spirit haunting the family, and when a member of the household is found dead, the companions realise that no one is beyond suspicion.
Sherlock Holmes & The Christmas Demon Review
I just wanted to preface this review by acknowledging James Lovegrove’s admirable passion when it comes to the work of Arthur Conan Doyle. Lovegrove’s appreciation and knowledge of Sherlock Holmes and the history, lore and mysteries surrounding The Great Detective is outstanding. His continuation of and contributions to Sherlock’s legacy in many different formats (including fantasy crossovers) has been beyond superb, even going so far as to improve on the formula in many ways. If you were ever hesitant about approaching anything but the classic Conan Doyle tales then you needn’t worry as James Lovegrove, among many other authors and artists, has the dedication and imagination to maintain a meaningful legacy. This undoubtedly includes the taut yet riveting festive caper that is Sherlock Holmes & The Christmas Demon.
‘I cannot say I was filled with any great joy, for the castle, huge as it was, seemed eminently forbidding. I had had little idea what to expect, but it surely was not this rambling agglomeration of black stone topped by an equally black slate-tiled roof. The edifice, built in the Gothic Revival style, had neither symmetry nor elegance. The windows were small and mean, and the battlements lofty and teeming, topped with toothsome crenellations. Wing abutted against wing, showing, to my mind, no obvious plan – a collison of irregular geometric shapes such as a child might make with wooden building blocks.’ P59 James Lovegrove
Following the successful capture of a jewel thieving Father Christmas, Holmes and Watson are approached by Eve Allerthorpe who is seeking help with an insidious dilemma. The Allenthorpes are a wealthy dynasty that reside in East Riding of Yorkshire. Eve is due to receive a generous inheritance from her aunt on her 21st birthday but only if she is sound of mind. Eve’s mother suffered with mental illness which resulted in her suicide the previous Christmas. Eve has reason to believe that her mind might also be becoming conflicted or unstable.
In the family home of Fellscar Keep, in the East Tower, it is said that the ghost of Eve’s mother walks the halls. There have been ghostly spectres and ethereal noises haunting the corridors. That is not all she fears though, Eve has also seen evil stalking the grounds of Fellscar Keep, a creature from nightmares, that she knows to be The Black Thurrick. The nefarious inverse to Father Christmas, The Black Thurrick (similar to the Krampus from central Europe) swaps out presents of naughty children for birch twigs and steals children (and eats them) from families who fail to feed it. The Black Thurrick, Eve recognises, is a folklore myth designed to scare small children into behaving, but recently she and other family members have received bundles of birch twigs in their rooms and Eve herself has seen The Black Thurrick in the flesh.
Sherlock Holmes remains sceptical but is intrigued by such circumstances. The duo decide to take the case to spare Eve the worry of losing her inheritance and make the trip to Fellscar Keep. Despite their ungracious welcome to the castle, Holmes and Watson waste no time searching for answers in the huge residence. Navigating the vast residence of the Allenthorpes and the family themselves proves challenging with the over bearing father Thaddeus, the submissive uncle Shadrack and Eve’s overprotective brother Erasmus assisting and impeding their process at will.
Over the course of the festivities, the duo find themselves becoming more affiliated with the Allenthorpes and their relationships. The investigation takes a turn when one of the house is found dead in familiar and no less upsetting circumstances. Holmes and Watson must consider every option, both of this world and another, to help Eve and her family. What they reveal is a story of folklore, phantasms, and family fortunes that has the Great Detective scouring every inch of the castle to find out what is responsible for these occurrences. Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon is a lucid and thrilling mystery novel that is a satisfying ode to Holmes and Watson and a fascinating exploration of lore, legend and family ties.
It is hard not to have a great time with this novel. First off, before I get into my thoughts, I wanted to give kudos to James Lovegrove for setting The Christmas Demon early on in the Holmes & Watson timeline. Here we have a duo who are still relatively early in their partnership, whilst Moriarty is still just a name, and their comradery in this story was superb. Their motivations are more united than ever which leaves more room for charm and wit between the two.
The narrative is fundamentally dark for the most part but Lovegrove took ample opportunity to bend towards the amusing during the investigation which made this book for me. Sherlock using his knowledge of physics to stop an escaping cyclist and defuse local thugs with icy threats are some of the best fun I have had in a SH story to date. There are moments that will chill you and moments that will definitely cheer you which sounds contradictory but it actually worked perfectly. Leaving enough room for the impossible whilst offering details for the reader to consider it improbable was intriguing and helped keep an open mind.
It’s the dark foundations that drive the story forward initially but, though they remain for the entire novel, the plot opens up to other possibilities which were definitely worth hanging around for. I can’t remember the last time I read a novel that had me smiling yet on edge at the same time for the duration of an entire novel. SH’s brilliant observations and quips are still going strong here too. Watson’s descriptive nature of events, people and locations, especially when it comes to Fellscar Keep, is as enticing as ever too. Fellscar Keep was a fascinating setting which Lovegrove utilised well to tell this story in many different atmospheres with its unforgiving grounds, huge rooms and endless hallways expanding and contracting as events unfold. Ranging from piercing cold darkness and cracking ice to roaring fires and festive inebriation.
Having finished the book it feels like James Lovegrove wanted to honour Sherlock Holmes and the spirit of Christmas equally with this novel. JL has delivered one of the best (and most creepy) Sherlock mysteries I have encountered in a long time and he has also managed to encompass the main elements of what makes Christmas time special within the narrative, just with more evil and murder in the balance. Additional kudos to JL for ending on a real festive high point too, there may have been tears in my eyes at the books conclusion. I didn’t expect to end up feeling as curious, cautious and Christmassy as I did upon ending Sherlock Holmes and The Christmas Demon. I may have finally found a Christmas novel that I can pick up once a year as a tradition. Unless James Lovegrove ends up writing a festive Holmes and Watson story every year from now on, which I would totally read.
About James Lovegrove
James Lovegrove is the New York Times bestselling author of The Age of Odin. He was short-listed for the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1998 and for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award in 2004, and also reviews fiction for the Financial Times. He is the author of Firefly: Big Damn Hero with Nancy Holder and Firefly: The Magnificent Nine, and several Sherlock Holmes novels for Titan Books. He lives in south-east England.