Years ago, in college, I was midway through the book Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula by Loren D. Estleman, when I enthusiastically told my roommate I was reading a novel about the pair butting heads.
“So am I,” he marveled, holding up his dog-eared paperback copy of The Holmes-Dracula Files by Fred Saberhagen. Two books on the same theme, by authors who took the premise in entirely different directions. It turns out the great detective has had multiple literary run-ins with the Lord of Darkness over the years. A clash of the contemporaries was inevitable. They are the two most enduring characters in fiction – one the epitome of Victorian rationality, the other the embodiment of its dark, sensual counterpart.
Purists object to any Holmes tale involving the supernatural, but the possibility of the hero venturing off his usual turf appeals to me. And the more, the merrier. I’d love to see a three-way mashup, where Sherlock and Tarzan team up to battle Dracula in Africa!
Dracula does not make an appearance in the entertaining graphic novel Sherlock Holmes and the Vampires of London, but the sleuth does face some equally implacable foes, principally the aristocratic vampire Lord Selymes.
The story is set in 1891, during Sherlock’s hiatus after his supposed death fighting Professor Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls. A rogue vampire has been viciously murdering prominent Englishman, for reasons unknown. Selymes, with the help of his legion of bloodsucking minions, coerces a reluctant Holmes into tracking the fiend down. The “stakes” are high. If the killing spree doesn’t stop, Queen Victoria – who tolerates vampires in her realm – will have no choice but to order their extermination.
The writer Sylvain Cordurie is faithful to Conan Doyle, when it comes to Holmes’ personality and methods. The detective relies on his powerful intellect to defeat his undead foes. In one clever move, he imbibes holy water to dispatch a vampire who makes the mistake of biting him. The detective’s expertise in chemistry also plays a critical role in the story.
Watson, as yet unaware that Holmes is alive, is not aboard for this adventure. The story is told as a memoir Holmes writes to his friend. The doctor’s absence is sorely felt; now I understand why Conan Doyle gave his cerebral hero a companion to begin with. Holmes, true to form, is emotionally detached throughout, whereas Watson’s reactions – terror, revulsion, disbelief – would have added another dimension to the tale. As it is, the book has a somewhat dispassionate tone. In fact, the writer doesn’t even include a moment in which the logical Holmes is shocked to learn of the existence of vampires. He’s pretty “sanguine” about the blood-drinkers, pardon the pun.
Irene Adler, the woman Sherlock became smitten with in A Scandal in Bohemia, does appear in vampire form – or rather her lookalike appears. You see, the real Irene apparently died two years earlier. Oh, I know what you’re thinking. SPOILER ALERT: The vampire is not Irene. The writer missed a golden opportunity here to offer Holmes an irresistible temptation.
The artist Laci does a crackerjack job depicting fog-enshrouded 19th century London, with attention to details of architecture and costume. Colorist Alex Gonzalbo’s use of a limited palette contributes to the grim atmosphere. I wasn’t crazy about how Holmes was drawn, however. His facial expression rarely changes, and while we know he is coldly logical, we want human reactions at critical points. I was also disappointed that Irene’s double is not more alluring. Irene had sex appeal to spare – shouldn’t a vampire version be more vampy?
I also have a beef with the dimensions. The book was originally published in France at 12.5 x 9 inches, but the U.S. version put out by Dark Horse is reduced to a stingy 10 ½ x 7 inches. The panels look cramped, and some of the drama and beauty of the art is lost. I would have enjoyed the reading experience more in a larger format.
If you like stories that blend Conan Doyle and the paranormal, you might enjoy Sir Arthur Conan Doyle & Harry Houdini in The Adventure of the Spook House, by C. Michael Forsyth.