Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell by Paul Kane
Sherlock Holmes faces his greatest challenge yet when he meets the Cenobites, the infamous servants of hell.
Late 1895, and Sherlock Holmes and his faithful companion Dr John Watson are called upon to investigate a missing persons case. On the face of it, this seems like a mystery that Holmes might relish – as the person in question vanished from a locked room – and something to occupy him other than testing the limits of his mind and body.
But this is just the start of an investigation that will draw the pair into contact with a shadowy organisation talked about in whispers and known only as ‘The Order of the Gash’. As more and more people go missing in a similar fashion, the clues point to a sinister asylum in France and to the underworld of London. However, it is an altogether different underworld that Holmes will soon discover – as he finds himself face to face not only with those followers who do the Order’s bidding on Earth, but those who serve it in Hell: the Cenobites…
I’m a big fan of Hellraiser franchise. I’ve seen the films, read the original novella and purchased the comic books. In fact, I’ll begin this review with photographic evidence of my nerd credentials when it comes to my love for the Cenobites. This is the on the wall in my bathroom…
Now that we’ve conclusively established my appreciation of said movie monsters, let’s talk a little about their latest incarnation. The idea of bringing together arguably the most iconic detective of all time and some of horror’s most feared denizens feels like a match made in heaven, or should that be Hell? Paul Kane’s latest novel does precisely that. It features the forces of darkness squaring off against the forces of good. Prepare yourself, we have such sights to show you.
Things start off traditionally enough. We find Holmes at a low ebb. After finally defeating his arch-nemesis Moriarty, he is somewhat bereft. He needs a distraction, something that will occupy his vast intellect. A series of missing persons suggests something slightly more sinister than your typical locked door mystery. Who exactly are the mysterious Order of The Gash, and what is their involvement in these disappearances? What follows is a journey that transcends a normal crime and takes Holmes and Watson to the very doors of Hell.
Personally, I’ve always considered Sherlock Holmes to be quite an aloof character. I mean no disrespect; I just think he exists on a different mental plane than us mere mortals. There is certainly evidence to suggest that this is still the case in this instance, he appears dismissive of many at first glance. That said, Paul Kane has added additional layers to this iteration of the character. The various incarnation of Sherlock Holmes I’ve come across in the past, whether in literature or on the screen, all have one thing in common – a cast iron certainty in their abilities as an investigator. There is a vulnerability to Holmes that I don’t think that I’ve ever seen before. Pushed to his limits he reveals himself to be as flawed as the rest of us. I like seeing a new side to a character, especially one that I thought I knew inside out.
John Watson remains the moral compass of the duo. Holmes is entirely focused on knowledge, on understanding the how and why of a situation. Watson meanwhile, ponders the ramifications of events. I suppose in his own way he keeps Holmes grounded. That is why the partnership works so well. Kane has done a great job of capturing the dynamic between the two. Some chapters are written from Watson’s perspective while others from Holmes, and this gives you a real insight into their innermost thoughts.
There are a whole host of Cenobites who pop up. I’d be hard pushed to tell you which one was my absolute favourite. The eagle-eyed readers amongst you will certainly spot some nice nods to the expanded Clive Barker-verse. I’ve been a fan of both Paul Kane and Clive Barker for such a long time. This novel feels like all my Christmases have come at once.
The story ends in a suitably epic confrontation. I’ll avoid spoilers, suffice to say that the payoff is exactly what I was hoping for. The battle for Hell is brutal, bloody and more than a little bit messy. I can almost guarantee that it won’t play out the way you are expecting. Paul Kane has successfully created an original story based on the Hellraiser pantheon that not only pays homage to the source material, but is also something uniquely its own. When a crossover is done well, as in this case, it really can be the best thing in the world. I love when an author takes key elements from seemingly disparate mythologies and fashions them into something new and exciting. That is exactly what Paul Kane has done here. I’m sure Clive Barker will love it and I’d like to think Arthur Conan Doyle would give his seal of approval too.
Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell is published by Solaris and is available now. Highly recommended. It is unquestionably the best genre mashup I’ve read in ages.