A Study in Brimstone by GS Denning


Book of the Year 2016 (see all)

Sherlock Holmes is an unparalleled genius who uses the gift of deduction and reason to solve the most vexing of crimes.

Warlock Holmes, however, is an idiot. A good man, perhaps; a font of arcane power, certainly. But he’s brilliantly dim. Frankly, he couldn’t deduce his way out of a paper bag. The only thing he has really got going for him are the might of a thousand demons and his stalwart flatmate. Thankfully, Dr. Watson is always there to aid him through the treacherous shoals of Victorian propriety... and save him from a gruesome death every now and again...
There have been many Sherlock Holmes continuation novels over the years, with Titan being the most prolific. I have read all of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novels and short stories, and, over the last six or seven years, several Titan entries written by guest authors. I am a big fan of both.
What I like about Holmes, is that nothing is sacrosanct or off limits, and that is why the character is still so recognisable worldwide and continues to be fresh and relevant. He will always exist whether in novel, short story, cinema, television, radio play, theatre or graphic novel. He has become part of our consciousness and I can see no time where we will ever experience a hiatus or an end to his adventures. Not bad after nearly one hundred and thirty years!
I digress. Now on to the latest take, which is sure to make a big impression, raising many eyebrows. Supernatural Sherlock Holmes. Before the naysayers wade in, Holmes and his companion Doctor John Watson had clashes with the supernatural and the occult in the canon series. What might appear to be a move too far away in another direction, is in fact nothing new.
What is new is the creation of Warlock Holmes. This Holmes is different! He is not the super sleuth of canon and readers collective imaginations. This Holmes as mentioned above, is the opposite to what we expect. This may jar and rankle many fans. A Holmes novel without Sherlock Holmes? But, if you accept this on its own terms, this is a wonderfully irreverent and fun take on perhaps fiction's greatest creation.
Told from the narrative point of Doctor Watson, as in the canon stories, there is a role reversal: Watson is the practitioner of deductive reasoning and poor Holmes, despite having tremendous untapped supernatural power, is along for the ride, often completely unaware of what is going on.
The Watson of the original stories was always intelligent and a master of his own field, but the first to admit he was in thrall to Holmes intellect and problem solving capabilities. This story turns all that on its head.
Joining the crime fighting duo are Inspector Vladislav Lestrade, a vampire and Inspector Torg Grogsson an ogre. These are welcome additions, in line with the supernatural theme. They could have been bland human counterparts, but Denning has cleverly made both of these supporting characters a fun and welcome twist.
A Study in Brimstone is not one novel, but a collection of six novellas that have a single thread joining them. The stories are all familiar if you are a Holmes aficionado. It does not matter if you have not read the original ones, but if you have, this just enriches the reading experience.
I have to admit to laughing a lot reading this, and I haven’t laughed like this for a long time. Maybe that says something about the books I tend to read, or it says more about the skill of Denning as a writer. To go along with the action and suspense, there is great character interaction, observations and incident, all to great comic effect. If Conan Doyle wrote literary masterpieces, this was a true guilty pleasure and enormous fun. I understand Denning is already working on the next Warlock Holmes adventure, and I predict this will be a very popular series.
Daniel Cann, 8.5/10

You might have read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes a Study in Scarlet, so you will know what you're getting yourself into with this classy spoof where Dr Watson has been shot in action in Afghanistan only to return to London a broken man, hopeless, injured and destitute. His only hope is in boarding with another man if he doesn't want to starve to death. However, a good solution appears to Dr Watson, he doesn't take into account that this Holmes is a warlock, not a man, with Torg Groggson, a house-proud ogre who can be seen on the front cover sporting a tie and wearing his underpants!

And while Sherlock Holmes as the genius who put Lestrade in his place on many occasions as far as solving crimes was concerned, and scuppered the evil Professor Moriarty's cruel plans and prevented Colonel Sebastian Moran from causing any more havoc than he could, Warlock Holmes has yet to prove himself useful. Whereas Holmes is the genius and Watson the buffoon, here, Watson is the one who can deduct even the most unusual clues and bring them to a conclusion. This is where it is obvious that Dr Watson can prove useful to this Holmes who doesn't have much going for him other than having the power of a thousand demons and Moriarty's spirit trapped in his mind, as Watson ends up being his stabilising factor.

Dr Watson might think he now lives in a luxurious place, but the strange company he keeps and the madness he possesses all point out he is not a normal man: prone to outbreaks of happiness and sadness, he sounds like he has a crazed type of manic depression, making Watson doubt whether it was a good idea moving in with him. Leaping around in a mania, Holmes plays the accordion (badly) at all hours and Watson copes with his habits all the time, no matter it it's day or night 221B Baker Street might be the perfect place for Watson to live if it weren't for the weird note writing ogre, toast rack loving Holmes, vampire Romanian Lestrade and Mrs Hudson, who Watson thinks is more dangerous than Holmes.

Warlock Holmes: A Study in Brimstone is part fantasy, part occult and all humorous from the pen of GS Denning who if readers like this one will be having another published in the same series next year: The Battle of Baskerville Hall.
Sandra Scholes, 8.5/10

Reviews by and Sandra Scholes


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