Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell (Part Two)

Following on from our interview with Paul Kane, we can now present our review of his novel.

Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell by Paul Kane, Solaris July 2016

384pp £7.99

Reviewed by Adrian Middleton

Servants of Hell is a book of two parts, the first being the intrusion of the Hellraiser mythos into the Victorian world of Sherlock Holmes and the second bringing characters from that world into the dark and bloodlit corridors of that part of Hell that is the Kingdom of the Cenobites. But readers should not expect to meet Pinhead or the creatures of the films – being set 18 years before the Great War, those familiar faces are if a later generation, allowing Kane to establish a very different Order of the Gash.

The first part of the book draws us into the world after Holmes has returned from the dead to a less than certain relationship with Watson. The demons that haunt the Great Detective threaten to consume him. Paul Kane plays the Sherlockian game well here, shaping the post-Reichenbach world into one which spins so many of those shadowy elements of Sherlock Holmes continuity into a sturdy web that launches Doyle’s heroes into a series of connected cases where the impossible cannot be eliminated.

There is, however, little detective work on display. It simply isn’t that kind of story. The trail of clues is so easy to follow that Watson gets to take the lead for a change, but beyond this the novel instead dwells upon the characters – on how Holmes is consumed by his obsessions while Watson, plagued by bereavement and the return of his friend, cannot help but be foolishly heroic, even in the absence of a decent plan.

That is the book’s one failing for me. Not quite so much for Holmes, whose single-mindedness makes his path inevitable, but for Watson there is a little too much steamrollering for my liking – most of his actions are shaped by the actions of those around him, and I was left feeling that he had no volition of his own throughout the story. In the first part it was simply a character flaw, but being separated from Holmes and forced instead to follow the path chosen by his hellish guides felt a little too simplistic for my tastes. Perhaps this is a result of the author juxtaposing the tropes of horror – and of the Hellraiser mythos in particular – against the traditional format of the the Holmesian mystery. Something has to give, and with the defeat of Moriarty behind him Holmes is in desperate need of a new obsession…

For this reason, upon passing into the second part of the book, I felt myself wishing more and more that Servants of Hell were a graphic novel, with so many cameos and characters (some new, some drawn from the Holmes canon, and others drawn from The Hellbound Heart/Hellraiser and from the Hellbound Hearts anthology by Kane and his wife/co-editor, Marie O’Regan) coming and going that the pace quickened to that of a pulp novel, and the visceral images being described were screaming for a storyboard artist to convert them into visuals. It would also make one hell of a nineties horror movie.

As a story based in part upon the works of Clive Barker I was finding myself drawing more comparisons between Cenobite society and Barker’s other army of grotesques, the Midianites of Cabal/Nightbreed. For Barker fans there are Easter-eggs aplenty, mostly unobtrusive and woven well into the fabric of the story. I shan’t spoil them here because, unlike in Holmes fiction where subtle facts are added as part of the ongoing game, they add to the wider tapestry of Barker’s creations. 

For Holmes fans the lack of mystery and the descent into the realms of the supernatural might be discomforting, but it is clear that great care was taken in placing the story so that its consequences reach both backward and forward across the canon, addressing many of those off-the-page mysteries beloved of the avid fan.

With the exception of a possible sequel, it certainly feels as if Servants of Hell is presented as Holmes’ one and only supernatural venture, which is as it should be. In fact, it is Holmes’ ability to accept what he sees as real that enables him to quickly come to terms with what he finds, and who he must overcome; and while Watson is no buffoon, I did find myself struggling to accept his character to quite the same degree.

I thoroughly enjoyed Servants of Hell – it was a fun, quick and unputdownable read, but I can’t help thinking that it draws much more from the cross-over comics phenomenon than from the literary or even cinematic. Epic comics did Pinhead vs. Marshal Law a few years ago, and I can’t help thinking that Servants of Hell should be adapted as the first of a new series of crossovers, with Alien, Batman, Conan, James Bond, Judge Dredd, Predator and a dozen other franchises queuing up to appear in the next volume.


Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell (Part One)

“The world’s greatest detective meets horror’s greatest icons, what more could you want? Paul has been a significant voice on the horror scene for a while now and he’s steeped in Clive Barker’s hell-bound mythos. That we now have the chance to pit Holmes against a world he could never have imagined is very exciting indeed. This promises to be a journey into hell, pitting two great masters against each other. Gruesome, yet compelling, Kane will undoubtedly deliver the horror crossover of 2016.”

Published by Solaris on 12th July 2016, the Servants of Hell brings together the worlds of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and master of horror Clive Barker, in a new book by Paul Kane.

As a change from how we normally do things, we’re going to start proceedings with an interview with the author, Paul Kane.

Is SoH your first foray into Sherlockian fiction? If not, where else have your stories appeared?

 It’s actually my fourth Sherlock story – I wrote two shorts and a novelette before Servants. I don’t think I’d have been brave enough to tackle a novel if I hadn’t had a run up to it and tested the waters. The first was a bit of an experiment and remained unpublished until SST – who brought out Blood RED last year, and are releasing my ‘Best of…’ collection Shadow Casting later this year – showed an interest. So that one, ‘The Crimson Mystery’, is coming out in August; more details will be released soon. The second was ‘The Greatest Mystery’ which appeared in the third Gaslight anthology, Gaslight Arcanum – published by Edge and edited by J.R. Campbell and Charles Prepolec; Charles later, of course, was my co-editor on Beyond Rue Morgue. That one was reprinted in my book, The Butterfly Man from PS Publishing, and will soon appear again in my crime/psychological collection Nailbiters. The novelette was written at the request of Simon Clark – of Night of the Triffids fame – who was putting together an anthology for Constable & Robinson/Running Press called The Mammoth Book of Sherlock Holmes Abroad. In that one, ‘The Case of the Lost Soul’, I took our hero to Haiti to confront voodoo and zombis. That was great fun, and by the time I’d finished it I felt like I was confident enough to write something even longer.

Outside of Clive Barker himself you have become known as something of a gatekeeper of Hellraiser literature. How did this come about?

 I do seem to have become, as Nancy Holder calls me, the Hellraiser guy, which I’m more than okay with. I suppose it comes from my lifelong love affair with the Hellraiser mythos, which began when I read The Hellbound Heart by Clive and saw Hellraiser in my teens. I was just blown away by it all and lapped up the subsequent sequels and comics. Years later, while doing an MA in film, I had the notion of writing about the original movie to be published as one of those BFI type books – like Mark Kermode’s one on The Exorcist. That didn’t really pan out, but when I showed it to McFarland they wanted me to expand it to cover all the films – eight at that time – and comics. It took a while, but then The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy was born, which became a kind of bible for the mythology; they even use its picture for the Hellraiser page on Wiki. That, and the anthology I co-edited with my wife Marie, Hellbound Hearts, kind of put the seal on things. And of course as well as Servants I also have an interview book out soon from Avalard called Hellraisers, so things like that all add to it really.

From SoH it seems clear that you are as much a fan of Doyle’s Holmes as you are of Barker’s Cenobites. Can you tell us how these two passions came about? What led you to cross them over?

 Oh, I am indeed! My love for Holmes goes back as far as my love for Hellraiser. In fact coming across them at roughly the same time almost certainly sowed the seeds for this project. I was reading the original Conan Doyle tales and watching Jeremy Brett – in my opinion the definitive screen Holmes – around the time I was first reading Clive’s work. But it wasn’t until we did Hellbound Hearts and I was reading all these fantastic Hellraiser stories, that it actively surfaced again – because I was looking to write something fiction-wise about the mythos myself. That, coupled with the popularity of Victorian horror material, including Holmesian horror, inspired me to come up with the story. And the more I thought about it, the more the two seemed destined to meet at some point. As one reviewer said, it’s the world’s greatest puzzle-solver trying to figure out the world’s greatest puzzle…and the puzzle box!

Is SoH a one-off, or will there be similar mash-ups from you in future?  

 There aren’t any solid plans at present, but I would definitely be up for more. A lot of it depends on how this one does, I guess, and whether Clive would be willing to give permission for any more in the same vein. That’s not to say other crossovers couldn’t be done, they’re cropping up all over the place; I read with interest about one the other day that has Dracula fighting Hitler and the Nazis, which sounds amazing. There’s always scope for awesome crossovers with anything.

The world of Hellraiser is not just one of visceral horror, but it is also set within an intrinsically supernatural milieu. Neither would be seen as a natural fit for the rationalist Holmes, so how do you overcome the problem of giving Holmes a supernatural challenge, because once the impossible cannot be eliminated, his entire world must surely be changed forever.

 Well, there’s definitely a precedence in other Holmes stories, not least in my own mentioned before. And I think that’s the key really: once you show him something that can’t be explained away with logic and reason, he has to accept it as the truth. Actually, he’d probably accept it a lot easier than you or I, as he relies on what he can see and deduce. There’s a scene in Servants with Watson that touches on this very thing, but I don’t want to give too much away. And if you read the book you’ll see that this knowledge absolutely changes Holmes and his world…how can it not?

 The book is peppered with instances of you playing the Sherlockian ‘game’, embedding some of your own interpretations of what makes Holmes and Watson tick. Perhaps you could share your thoughts on how their characters are interpreted in SoH.

I tried to stay faithful to the original characters and their relationship, but at the same time the story necessitated that they be a version of Holmes and Watson that we hadn’t seen before. Their brush with Hell changes them, and in fact has been changing them for some time – they just didn’t realise it. There’s a distance between them when we first meet the pair, which was always present to some extent after what happened at the Reichenbach Falls – it’s just slightly more exaggerated and you find out why it’s there in the first place during the course of the story. It’s sort of a fractured relationship, although you do see flashes of the original Holmes and Watson – and this is all dealt with gradually, though maybe not in the way you might expect. Again, to say any more would be a spoiler if you haven’t read the novel. 

Everyone has either a fantasy casting of Holmes and Watson or a favourite pairing that inhabits their story. What are yours?

 I think the pairing of Brett and Burke/Hardwicke is pretty tough to beat. But at the same time you’ll probably spot the influence of many different versions of Holmes and Watson in my interpretations. I especially love the new versions starring Robert Downey Jr/Jude Law, Benedict Cumberbatch/Martin Freeman and Johnny Lee Miller/Lucy Liu. They all add to the universe in their own different ways.

 You have some subtle references and cameos – Inspector Abberline from Simon Clarke’s Gods of Rome gets a mention, while a Barker fan favourite also makes a cameo. Whenever this kind of Easter egg appears, it’s always nice to know why the readers should hunt these books and characters out.

I just think it makes it more interesting and – dare I say it, fun – for the reader. Hopefully these little nods to the Hellraiser/Barker/Holmes/horror genre in general aren’t too obtrusive and add something for fans of any or all of these worlds. It felt very organic to just slip those in, which of course reflect my own interests and tastes in fiction and movies/TV. 

With Simon’s Abberline books there’s already an established connection between Holmes and the Ripper case alluded to in many other books, so it’s not too much of a stretch that they might think of asking him for help. For people who might have read and enjoyed Hellbound Hearts or Barbie Wilde’s Voices of the Damned, there are cameos from Cenobites in there too. Just mentions and nods, but another way to bring everything together under one roof and interlink it all. At the same time, it’s important not to alienate anyone who might not have come across those characters or books, so I was at great pains to make it just as accessible for that audience as well, while at the same time maybe hoping they might track the sources down…because they’re really, really good. I should also mention here that Barbie provided the excellent introduction to the novel, for which I can’t thank her enough.

Paul, thanks very much. You can now brace yourself for the review which we will publish tomorrow.

Paul Kane is the award-winning, bestselling author and editor of over sixty books – including the Arrowhead trilogy (gathered together in the sellout Hooded Man omnibus, revolving around a post-apocalyptic version of Robin Hood), Hellbound Hearts and Monsters. His non-fiction books include The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy and Voices in the Dark, and his genre journalism has appeared in the likes of SFX, Rue Morgue and DeathRay. His work has been optioned and adapted for the big and small screen, including for US network television, plus his latest novels are Lunar (set to be turned into a feature film), the Y.A. story The Rainbow Man (as P.B. Kane), the sequel to RED – Blood RED – and Sherlock Holmes and The Servants of Hell from Solaris. He lives in Derbyshire, UK, with his wife Marie O’Regan, his family and a black cat called Mina. Find out more at his site which has featured Guest Writers such as Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Charlaine Harris, Dean Koontz and Guillermo del Toro.