When Dr. John Watson is invalided home with a shot shoulder and recovering from typhoid, he doesn’t have high hopes for his future. When Warlock Holmes agrees to take John in as a flatmate for the cost of a sovereign – one sovereign total for indefinite lodging, to be delivered at some point in the future – John is simply relieved to have a roof over his head. But he soon realises that Warlock Holmes is not your average Victorian gentleman.
With the spirit of his nemesis living in his head, his best friends a vampire and an ogre (both police detectives), and his habit of ingesting poisons in order to silence the voice of Moriarty and then enlist the might of demons to aid his recovery… John soon adapts to his new life of covering for Warlock’s social indescretions with explanations relying on remarkably faked deductions. This is his narration of the cases that he and Warlock investigate, and the story of how, exactly, the world ended.
The first book in the hilarious saga of Warlock Holmes and Dr John Watson is made up of retellings of six of the original Holmes short stories, brilliantly woven together into the beginning of one grand narrative. All our favourite characters make an appearance, of sorts – Moriarty issues doom-laden prophecies from Holmes’ mouth when his concentration lapses, Lestrade is a fine enough detective when he’s not licking the blood evidence off the walls and wishing the world into non-existence, and Grogsson is a houseproud ogre with a great love of ballet. It’s Watson who has the real encounter with the metaphorical tiger with a pistol, the Woman (Warlock being somewhat occupied with disentangling himself from the literal threads of fate at the time).
I laughed out loud on trains at this book. At its simplest level, it’s a parody of Britain’s best loved detective. But it’s so much more than that. This is a lovingly delivered send up of the tropes we see repeated in detective stories everywhere (red mud on someone’s shoe from a rare plot of land which pins the killer to the crime, anyone?), with an intimate knowledge of the original tales and a wonderful comedic voice, which nevertheless succeeds in setting up a story which continues in the eagerly-awaited (by me) sequel, The Hell-Hound of the Baskervilles, which is due to be published in May 2017. This reads as if Denning, like me, read the original Hounds of the Baskervilles and thought the final reveal irritatingly mundane. Unlike me, he decided to write a glorious reimagining to fix the error, populating Victorian England with an underbelly of sorcerers, demons and that ultimate devouring enemy, Time. Warlock Holmes may not be a genius, but G. S. Denning is.