The Irregular Casebook of Sherlock Holmes
By Ron Weighell
First published 2000 by Calabash Press
Price: $40 CAD
Reviewed by Charles Prepolec

In recent weeks I have found myself reading some of the gothic-style work of Basil Copper and renewing my interest in macabre fiction. So when I came across The Irregular Casebook of Sherlock Holmes at the Calabash Press site, I was in the right frame of mind to tackle another Holmes versus the supernatural type book. Expecting to regret my spur of the moment decision, I went ahead and ordered it anyway. The result, well, lets just say that I’ve made worse decisions.
The book consists of five short stories of rather varied levels of success. Each is tied to some element of the supernatural. Not what I would generally consider to be a clever blending of genres, but happily the author manages to maintain the Holmes of old with only a minimum of strain.

The first story,
The Case of the Fiery Messengers is likely the strongest in the book. The case is brought to Holmes attention by no less of a literary figure than M. R. James, himself a master of the macabre tale. A missing manuscript page stolen from an occult tome in the hand of John Dee, leads our erstwhile heroes to Cambridge where a clever little riddle is the key to nabbing the culprit. Was there a vengeful spectre that delivered retribution? You can decide for yourself.

The second story takes us to the cold and foreboding Yorkshire moors to investigate
The Shadow of the Wolf. As the title implies, this is a fairly traditional werewolf story, but somehow manages to drag in yet another episode of Holmes travels in Tibet (told in flashback) at Mycroft’s bequest. As with much of this type of fiction the main point for the reader is playing a quick game of guess which cursed family member is actually the hairy horror. A far superior story to the similarly themed Sherlock Holmes & The Silver Vengence by W. Lane, put out by Magico a few years back.

The next two stories are the weakest in this collection.
The Curse of Nectanebo is a silly sort of mummy story that starts, of course, at the British Museum and swiftly takes our heroes to Egypt. I have a feeling that the author overly enjoyed the recent Universal Studios Mummy film or possibly The Wind and the Lion, as this one treats us to the spectacle of Holmes at the head of a troop of Arab horseman. The penultimate case relies a little too much on a dubious fictional episode from Holmes past to be of any interest (remember the fencing bits in Young Sherlock Holmes?), but does take us to the canals of Venice in The Sect of the Salamander.

The final story
The Black Heaven, does present the odd bit of interest as author, Arthur Machen, keeps encountering passers by on the street who casually refer to his literary works as real events and people. Troubled by this, and having read enough Machen, who wouldn’t be? He turns to Holmes for help, but is soon caught up in a web of intrigue involving Welsh Satanists, standing stones and the unlikely spectacle of Mycroft Holmes on horseback. Look you, there’ll be the Devil to pay for this one!

As silly as much of this book was, I found myself enjoying it. Oddly enough, the dialogue is quite good and Holmes manages to stay mostly in character. In answer to those that will throw out the "no ghosts need apply” bit, the author just sort of forgets about it and carries on as though werewolves and Satanists are a perfectly normal part of the Holmesian world. Surprisingly, that seems to be the best way to proceed in pastiches of this sort. Once again, I still affirm that the best blending of Holmes mythos and the supernatural are the two books by Mark Frost,
The List of Seven and The Six Messiahs featuring Conan Doyle battling the forces of evil.

The one real drawback of this book, as with much of what is published by the Calabash Press, is unfortunately the price. When I include shipping and tax, this rather slim volume (143 pages) cost me nearly $50 in Canadian funds. With that in mind, I can’t recommend this book unless the reader has a very strong desire to read about Holmes battling the supernatural. Definitely not something for the more serious Holmes aficionado, but still better value for money than either of David Stuart Davies two supernatural Holmes books also published by Calabash Press.

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The Irregular Casebook of Sherlock Holmes