James Lovegrove, Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon (2019)

Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon

Author: James Lovegrove

Title: Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 384

Series: Sherlock Holmes (Titan Books)

Right on time for the fast-approaching Christmas season, a new Sherlock Holmes novel hit the shelves this October. It is quite an eye-candy: a wonderfully bright and festive cover draws the eye and at the first glance invokes the spirit of Yuletide, and the interior is equally lovingly arranged. A nice gift for any bookworm, and especially for all those Sherlock Holmes fans out there ๐Ÿ™‚

As for the content, wellโ€ฆ ๐Ÿ™‚ I must admit, I am always a bit wary of books utilizing characters created by someone else โ€“ especially characters like Sherlock Holmes, arguably the worldโ€™s most famous detective, whose existence is irrevocably and undeniably bound with that of his creator, sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Books about such renowned characters, written by other authors, always seem to me slightly too close to fan fiction for my liking. In that context, Gaiman’s and Albuquerque’s A Study in Emerald is a notable exception here, offering a very welcome and impeccably executed twist on the Holmesian (or should it rather be Sherlockian?) lore, masterfully intertwined with Lovecraftian Cthulhu mythos. But in case of Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon, I didnโ€™t mind the fanfic associations in the slightest: the author was respectful but not overly fawning over its source material, managing to strike a nice balance between the spirit of original Sherlock Holmes novels and his own voice and delivering a pleasant new storyline to the ever-growing Holmesian. Plus, the book came with recommendation from Aaron at Swords and Spectres, and I learned to trust his tastes (โ€ฆwell, in most cases! :D).

In keeping with tradition of Doyleโ€™s novels, Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon is written from the perspective of the good doctor and even better sidekick, not to mention an aspiring writer, John Watson. The story starts in London, but quickly abandons 221b Baker Street and moves to a remote Yorkshire castle, where the majority of events takes place. Eve Allerthorpe, the young heiress of an old and eccentric Yorkshire dynasty, asks Holmes for help in a seemingly supernatural case: a local Christmas demon, the malignant, child-eating Black Thurrick, seems to haunt her (even though she can no longer claim membership in that broad and somewhat vague category of children), leaving bundles of birch twigs as his calling card. Holmes is intrigued, suspecting rather more material and down-to-earth causes of demonic visitations, as Allerthorpe stands to inherit a sizeable bequest within a week โ€“ provided she is sound of mind. Someone wants to take over Eveโ€™s fortune โ€“ and with Christmas being a traditionally social occasion, on which all members of the Allerthorpe clan converge in the Fellscar Keep for a few days of eating, drinking, posturing and family quarreling, the list of suspects gets substantial very quickly. And the stakes rise as well, when the first murder victim is found.

Krampus

Lovegrove lovingly depicts the cold remoteness of Yorkshire winters at the turn of century. The ever-present piles of snow, the constant scarcity of light and warmth, the slightly sinister atmosphere of long, cold nights โ€“ all create a nicely thrilling stage for a familial drama to unfold. Adding to the impeccable worldbuilding, the author juggles the many threads, red herrings and educational tidbits comprising the body of the novel with enviable skill. We learn a bit or two about Victorian Christmas traditions and various Christmas demons, demoted to this role by Christianity from their previous pagan incarnations. A few paragraphs about the symbolism of birch twigs are nicely incorporated in the overarching plot, as well as several trademark Holmesian repartees about illogicality of superstition. We also get a crash course in the merits of fighting with icicles and chases on frozen lakes and, last but not least, we can try to solve the Christmas demon mystery on our own, for Lovegrove is quite reliable in dropping the clues here and there with efficiency and noticeable relish. I wish Watson were a tiny bit less dense, as he somehow seems more clueless than usual here, but then, if that were the case, maybe I wouldnโ€™t be able to pick up all the clues so easily ๐Ÿ˜‰ It all doesnโ€™t mean the plot is seamless, and the final resolution and rationale behind certain actions of characters leaves something to be desired, at least for me โ€“ but then I am known for being picky ;). But those are small peeves, and bound to be found in a vast majority of mystery novels: one should just avoid picking them apart too much. If there was one thing I truly wasnโ€™t happy with, however, it was the answer to Watsonโ€™s limp, which seemed unnecessary shoehorned into the meat of the plot. Still, despite these small flaws itโ€™s a very pleasant read, highly entertaining and rewarding โ€“ especially for a curious fan of Sherlock Holmes in need of a seasonal fix ;).

A well-intentioned tribute to The Hound of Baskervilles, mixed nicely with a dash of Victorian Christmas traditions, and a little play on stereotypes concerning Yorkshire inhabitants, traditionally considered not the sharpest knives in the British drawer, Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon is indeed a highly enjoyable read. One of the few books I managed to read within a day this (increasingly busy) year, Lovegroveโ€™s take on the famous detective duet delivers on most fronts. For me the biggest draw was the balance it maintained between respecting the spirit of Doyleโ€™s novels and offering something fresh โ€“ mainly, a new, intriguing case in the ever-growing portfolio of mysteries solved by the worldโ€™s greatest ย detective and his faithful companion.

A recommended read for all Sherlock Holmes fans this Christmas season ๐Ÿ™‚

Score: 8/10

29 thoughts on “James Lovegrove, Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon (2019)

  1. but then I am known for being picky

    No! Say it ain’t so!!!!!!! What vile calumny is this?

    I own a “Complete Sherlock Holmes” and tried to go through it a couple of years ago. Not sure why but I just didn’t enjoy it much that time around. I was more bored than anything, it was weird. I remember loving Holmes in highschool though.

    Was it you who read the graphic novel Holmes thingy by Gaiman about Cthulhu’esque beings running England?
    Scratch that, I just saw the link. That and this book definitely seem like they fit a theme…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh, thank you, esteemed Bookstooge, I knew I could count on you to defend my good name! ๐Ÿ˜„

      Yup, there is a pattern, but believe it or not, it’s mostly accidental… I’ve been a fan of Sherlock Holmes for a long time, but most of the books I read ages ago, in my early teenage years. I plan to revisit Doyle’s novels soon and see for myself how they hold up to my more mature tastes, but I think Sherlock Holmes’ appeal is something more nebulous and less easily ascribed to said novels altogether – it’s rather rooted more deeply in his personality and legend and his continuing existence in culture.

      Plus, there is the bias of my reviews to consider – I tend to read much more than I end up reviewing, and this was mostly chosen for the Christmas theme ๐Ÿ˜€

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m glad you enjoyed it ๐Ÿ˜Š in most cases??? I thought I was on a 100% strike rate. I seem to remember you enjoying Lancelot and loving Nevernight so much you were thinking of changing your name to Mia ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Excellent review. The icicle fighting lie was quite clever by Holmes ๐Ÿ˜‚ that pair certainly weren’t the sharpest knives in Yorkshire’s draw.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, the delusions of grandeur… ๐Ÿ˜œ

      Thanks! ๐Ÿ˜Š Yes, the icicle fight was really cool – I thought Lovegrove was going to go all in and try to convince the readers that it was actually possible, but kudos to him for not doing it! ๐Ÿ˜€

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Get behind me, Satan, tempting me with another intriguing title with crimes! clues! Victorian Britain! folklore! mystery! Christmas! and all bound up with my namesake (well, the surname at least) whom I have yet to read… ๐Ÿ˜

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Now THAT is what I call a compliment! ๐Ÿ˜„

      I’ve been wanting to ask if you share more than the last name with the author – in any case this is definitely as good reason as any of them to read this book! ๐Ÿ˜€

      Read it! Read it! Read it! ๐Ÿ˜

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I haven’t read anything by this author before, so I approached this book without any preconceptions – and enjoyed it quite a lot, though not without a few minor quibbles. Still, a solid Sherlock Holmes novel and a nice seasonal book in one – I count it as a win ๐Ÿ˜„

      Liked by 1 person

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  5. I too have been very careful with any story that tries something new and/or different with Sherlock Holmes. I always pray that they somehow manage to keep the source material’s characterization (or at least the pop culture one) without overdoing it. I’m glad that this one sounds pretty decent. I’ll definitely look into it whenever I run into it in the future. Fantastic review, Ola! Glad you squeezed in an extra book into your schedule! By the way, you don’t use Goodreads to track your stuff? I believe I had added Piotrek a very long time ago just to follow his stuff but I don’t remember doing it for you to. Do you dislike Goodreads like Bookstooge does? Hahahahah

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Lashaan! ๐Ÿ˜€ It’s a really entertaining, seasonally themed little book. And Holmes is quite the Holmes he should be ๐Ÿ˜€
      I’m actually much better at reading than reviewing ๐Ÿ˜‰ I’d estimate I only review one in eight, maybe seven books I read.
      I don’t use Goodreads at all, not due to any strong feelings, but rather laziness ๐Ÿ˜‰ I never opened an account there, and now putting in all the information about the books I read seems like a Sisyphean work ๐Ÿ˜‚ I’ve been considering it now and then, but I never seem to find time to do it…

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Sounds like a fun Christmas themed book! I agree Iโ€™m always hesitant to pick up a well known world/universe/characters written by new/different authors. Glad this one turned out well. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Ah, if only I’d heard of this a couple of days earlier, it could have solved one of my present-buying dilemmas. Maybe I’ll get it anyway and hold onto it until next year. You’ve certainly made it seem tempting.

    Liked by 1 person

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