Thursday, 12 August 2010

‘The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Séance for a Vampire’ – Fred Saberhagen (Titan Books)


After the relative shambles that was ‘Wizard’s First Rule’ I was very much looking forward to getting back into some of the more intriguing books balanced precariously on the ‘Reading Pile’. I say ‘Pile’ but there’s now more than just the one, I should either learn how to put up shelves or somehow read a lot quicker than I am right now! That’s beside the point though. I’ve been getting back into fantasy just recently but ‘Wizard’s First Rule’ left me wanting to try something a little different. A Sherlock Holmes story with vampires in it seemed like it could fit the bill nicely and in that respect it did. You can’t get further away from the generic fantasy quest story than something with Sherlock Holmes and vampires! I was also looking forward to reading a book with proper vampires in it, not those ‘girly’ vampires that I seem to keep finding in various Urban Fantasy tales.
I got everything I was after, it was just a shame that the story itself wasn’t up to scratch...

Aristocrat Ambrose Altamont believes that two ‘psychics’ are trying to fool his wife into believing that they can contact his deceased daughter. Sherlock Holmes is hired to expose them but the truth is far more incredible than anyone previously imagined. At the next séance, it becomes clear to both Holmes and Watson that Altamont’s daughter is now a vampire... Who is behind this vampiric resurrection and what is the talk of stolen treasure that must be returned? Before the investigation can proceed any further, Holmes suddenly vanishes and Watson is left with only one option open to him. The best person to trap a vampire is another vampire and Holmes’ cousin is the most powerful vampire of them all...

I’ve only read a couple of the original ‘Sherlock Holmes’ stories (and those were read a very long time ago now) but the formula employed in them remains clear. Basically, there’s an unsolvable mystery that Holmes (over the course of the tale) proceeds to render transparent through the discovery of clues and deductions that only his superior intellect can grasp. That initial mystery is the hook and the gradual piecing together of the clues is what keeps you reading.

Saberhagen decides to handle things a little differently in his ‘Sherlock Holmes’ tale and it proves to be to the detriment of the book as a whole in my opinion. By the time the prologue is over we not only know who the antagonist is but also his motives for the events that play out as the book progresses. There is no mystery to be solved at all here; it’s all laid out for the reader before they really have to get started. While this is obviously a deliberate move on Saberhagen’s part, I felt that it robbed the tale of much of the charm of Conan Doyle’s originals...

What we have then, as a result, isn’t a mystery at all but more of a pulp tale where famous characters are teamed together to fight a powerful foe. In this respect, the promise of Dracula and Sherlock Holmes working together (in the same book) was enough of a hook to keep me reading. The premise was intriguing but the execution just left me cold...

The narration (via Dracula and Watson) is particularly dry and can sometimes focus on the background scenery at the expense of the plot itself. This wouldn’t be too bad if there were clues to be found to solve a tantalising mystery, I’d quite happily spend time searching for those in the background. When you’re supposed to be reading a high stakes tale (where a beautiful woman’s life is at risk) then what you really want is a tale with pace that matches those elements of the plot. You don’t get that in ‘Séance for a Vampire’. There are times when the plot positively drags and what I found here was that this distracted me from moments where things would have made a lot more sense if things had been written more tightly. What was going on with the Russian revolutionaries and how were they connected to our chief antagonist? I’m sure the book was trying to give me these answers although it might not have been; I couldn’t tell amidst interminable descriptions of various journeys made by characters and I’ve got no desire to go back and find out.

Just when you think things are building up to a nice climax... they don’t. The chief antagonist is revealed to be as aimless as I’d begun to suspect and the introduction of a historical character was in keeping with the period but didn’t seem to connect with the story itself. A conclusion is reached but I’ve got to say that I wondered if it had been worth the effort in getting there. Things fizzle out, when they need to be powering forward, and everything else is wrapped up a little too conveniently for my liking...

If you’re a fan of the great detective or the vampire prince (or both) then there may well be something here for you to get your teeth into. As far as I was concerned though, an intriguing premise proved to be all that this novel had for me. A shame really...

Four and a Half out of Ten

(After a brief flirtation with not giving a score I decided that I preferred it the way it was originally, the scores are back! I will go back and fill the others in at some point...)

3 comments:

Erik said...

Welcome back scores! :)

Stephen said...

Hmmm, that's a shame. I wanted to try these Holmes books by Titan. I know you mentioned you've read some of the originals but have you read any of the other ones? I think there are three or four.

Graeme Flory said...

I haven't read any of the others so it may well be that they do the job a lot more effectively than this one...