Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula. It sounds like fan fiction, the kind of clumsy mash-up written in overly purple prose and shared on someone’s blog; or, perhaps, like the literary equivalent of comic book fanboy arguments, the ones that start with questions like, “Who is stronger: Superman or the Hulk?”
This re-release from Titan Books (originally published by Doubleday in 1978) is a far cry from fan fiction. Yes, it’s pure pulp, but pulp guided by the steady hand of accomplished mystery author Loren D. Estleman, who makes sure that “The World’s Greatest Detective” (along with his stalwart companion, Watson) meshes seamlessly into the famous vampire tale. The result is a rousing adventure story that does both Bram Stoker and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle proud.
Estleman’s book chronicles Count Dracula’s time in London, beginning at the point where a mysterious schooner arrives in Whitby Harbour in the midst of some decidedly unnerving weather. According to a journalist who alerts Holmes of the incident, the schooner arrived with a corpse lashed to the helm and all other crewmembers missing and presumed dead. A large beast, either a dog or a wolf, escaped from the ship into the night. Naturally, it’s the kind of thing that piques the interest of the detective, and he and Watson immediately begin looking into the matter.
As events unfold, Estleman manages to weave in a number of characters from the original Holmes stories as well as Stoker’s novel. Most notably the vampire hunter Van Helsing makes a couple of quick appearances, although the book (ostensibly written by Watson and discovered and “edited” by Estleman) concentrates for the most part on Doyle’s characters.
Estleman keeps things moving at a brisk pace, finding plenty of opportunities along the way to season things with great pulpy phrasing like “the all-pervading stench of evil.” It’s more thriller than horror, although Estleman holds his own in the creepy department, particularly when describing some of the face-to-face encounters with Dracula. But above all, it’s just plain fun. Estleman stays true enough to the creations of Doyle and Stoker to keep from thoroughly enraging the purists, but is free of the sometimes dense language and slow pacing that characterizes those original works and which might turn new readers away. As such, it’s something I’d be comfortable recommending to diehard fans of the characters and newbies alike.
Kudos to Titan Books, which continues to grow its reputation as one of the foremost pop culture curators of our time. There are ads in the back of the book for several more in the “Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” series, and based on this one I’ll be seeking out more in the future.
Order Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula by Loren D. Estleman (Titan Books)
Blu Gilliand is a freelance writer of fiction and nonfiction. He covers horror fiction at his blog, October Country, and contributes interviews to the Horror World website. Follow him on Twitter at @BluGilliand.