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Book Review

Book Cover

The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Séance for a Vampire


Author: Fred Saberhagen
Titan Books
RRP: £7.99, US $9.95, Cdn $11.95
ISBN: 978 1 84856 677 4
Available 25 June 2010

When two suspect psychics offer Ambrose Altamont and his wife the opportunity to contact their recently deceased daughter Louisa, the wealthy British aristocrat hires Sherlock Holmes to expose the hoax. He arranges for the celebrated detective and Dr Watson to attend the family’s next séance, confident in Holmes’s rationalist outlook on the situation. However, Louisa reappears as a vampire - and Holmes vanishes. With time running out, Watson feels he has no choice but to summon the only one who might be able to help - Holmes’s vampire cousin, Prince Dracula...

In common with June’s other Sherlock Holmes reprint from Titan Books, The Seventh Bullet, this novel mentions vampires - but then, you’d probably guessed that from the title! However, whereas the vampire referred to in The Seventh Bullet is an intellectual, literary concept, here Holmes and Watson come face to face with the actual bloodsucking kind - and not for the first time, either, according to author Fred Saberhagen.

What is not immediately obvious is that this novel (originally published by Tor Books in 1994) started out as part of another series, Saberhagen’s Dracula sequence, the premise of which is that vampires are morally equal to regular breathing humans, being capable of both good and evil. Saberhagen’s series reinvents Bram Stoker’s villain as a noble and witty protagonist, and writes off Stoker’s novel as a pack of lies. A previous volume, The Holmes-Dracula File, established the connection between Holmes and his vampire cousin, and Séance for a Vampire is a follow-up to that. As a result, there are numerous references here to events in 1897, which are perplexing if you’ve never heard of The Holmes-Dracula File. It might have made more sense for Titan to publish The Holmes-Dracula File first, but I guess Tor Books wouldn’t relinquish the publication rights, since they’ve just reprinted it (four days after the release date of this book). Once the reader is familiar with the premise of the Dracula series (thanks to the internet rather than Titan) and provided you can accept the notion of the co-existence of Holmes and a Dracula who is very different from Stoker’s version, Séance for a Vampire is an enjoyable read.

Saberhagen writes reasonably convincingly from Dr Watson’s point of view, albeit using US spellings throughout (as with many authors in the Further Adventures series, Saberhagen is American). He supplements Watson’s primary narrative with observations from the perspective of Dracula, who fills in certain details that Holmes’s sidekick is not privy to, and dryly expresses a few differences of opinion between himself and the good doctor. Watson is uneasy about the vampire’s nature but respects his formidable abilities as an ally, while Dracula is privately dismissive of the doctor’s perceived lack of imagination. Holmes goes missing from several chapters, but that isn’t unusual, so overall this feels like a Sherlock Holmes novel at least as much as it does a Dracula novel. Holmes’s brother Mycroft also puts in an appearance, which is another bonus for fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creations.

Some potential mystery is squandered owing to a prologue that establishes Kulakov, the deranged Russian vampire villain of the piece, and his search for a missing treasure. This chapter could have taken place as an explanatory flashback near the book’s conclusion, which is when Dracula and Holmes learn of Kulakov’s origins. Instead, the ending, which takes Holmes, Watson and Dracula to Russia for a rapid rescue mission and a speedy guest appearance by a figure from history, feels rather rushed. However, there remains the mystery of the treasure’s exact location, which Holmes deduces in characteristic style in the final chapter.

The author is prone to repeat himself, especially towards the end of the novel, which perhaps indicates some haste to complete the work. We are told, for example, twice in the space of one page, that our heroes do not know what combination of physical and mental coercion Kulakov has employed to abduct a kidnap victim, and twice on the same page that Watson considers the layout of St Petersburg to be more European in style than Eastern or Asiatic.

For the most part, this is a sedate supernatural mystery, rich in period detail, so if you’re expecting full-on horror you might be disappointed. However, if you’re looking for an unusual case for Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, then here’s something to sink your teeth into - though you might want to investigate The Holmes-Dracula File first.


Richard McGinlay

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