Book Review: Sherlock Holmes and the Beast of the Stapletons by James Lovegrove
Sherlock Holmes and the Beast of the Stapletons by James Lovegrove is a continuation of the story of Sherlock Holmes and The Hound of the Baskervilles, as five years later, another monstrous creature stalks across Dartmoor, leading the detective to believe that Stapleton may not have perished in the Great Grimpen Mire after all and is hell-bent on revenge.
James Lovegrove helped me enjoy reading Sherlock Holmes stories with his prior novel in this series, Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon. I’d read the originals as a child and thought them entertaining if dry, so I never gave any of the non-fantastic pastiche work that revolved around our original duo a second glance until Mr. Lovegrove came along. He takes everything that’s fun and intriguing about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original works and updates them for the modern reader while managing not to change anything integral to the setting or main cast, only giving us engrossing new cases to investigate with our intrepid duo.
As in this new novel, a continuation set five years after the events of The Hound of the Baskervilles (mild spoilers for that tale ahead). Free of the malign designs of Jack Stapleton, Lord Henry Baskerville has settled into life in Dartmoor and has married and produced an heir. But his wife, Audrey, is struck down in a most unnatural manner while walking on the moors, sending him into a tailspin of paranoia. When he shoots at an old friend come from America to visit, said friend decides that it’s time to get Sherlock Holmes involved once more.
Corporal Benjamin Grier arrives at 221B Baker Street bearing a tale all too similar to the previous story of Baskerville’s run-in with a fiendish beast, leading Holmes and his partner and scribe, Dr. John Watson, to wonder whether Stapleton actually perished in the Grimpen Mire as they’d believed. Back then, Stapleton had trained a large dog to terrorize the Baskervilles before seemingly meeting his end; could he have survived and trained some other creature to murder poor Audrey, as Grier suspects? And not only murder her with a vicious attack but drain her blood? Holmes has his doubts.
“Pooh!” he said. “Vampiric animal indeed.”
“You do not know of any beast that drinks the blood of others to sustain itself?” said Grier. “Why, I could list you a dozen, from the humble mosquito to the freshwater leech and onwards.”
“And I could list you a dozen more. However, I would be hard pressed to name one which is so large it could consume practically the entire blood supply of a human at a single sitting in order to sate its appetite, as this creature reputedly has done with Lady Audrey. How many pints is that, Watson?”
“In an adult, somewhere between nine and twelve.”
“You see? Impossible! The thing would have to be as big as an elephant, if not bigger, with a stomach capacity to match.[“]
Five years earlier, Holmes had pled other engagements and dispatched Watson north in his stead, but this time it’s Watson who demurs travel, having still not overcome the phobia of dogs he acquired their last time in Dartmoor. Nonplussed, Holmes enlists Grier as his capable assistant, at least for the initial trip. Watson waits in London, doubting himself, before Holmes returns to tell a wild and harrowing tale of their adventures rescuing the Baskervilles once more from a vengeful killer.
But then, Grier shows up at Baker Street again needing even more urgent help. Disaster simply will not leave the Baskervilles alone, and soon Holmes and Watson will be racing across greater distances than they ever imagined in order to save lives and hopefully break the Baskerville curse for good.
Part of the delight of this multi-layered mystery was in seeing how our detective duo responded, wholly in character, to concerns of greater import to 21st-century readers. Grier is African-American and no stranger to racism, and watching Watson wrestle with how to respond to various racists in defense of his new friend is a wonderfully gratifying exercise. It was also fascinating to see the subject of Holmes’s livelihood brought so baldly (and humorously!) to the forefront, as when he and Watson are trapped with people who think they can pick Holmes’s brain with impunity:
A few people had mysteries they wished Holmes to clear up. They would regale him with a lengthy account of some baffling crime which they or someone they knew had been the victim of, and expect him to supply a solution magically like a conjuror producing a rabbit from a hat. They did this in a purely social manner, without mention of recompense, and the irritation it caused Holmes was palpable. In every instance, even if he was perfectly able to unravel the problem based on the information given, he professed himself at a loss. “It could be,” he said with a show of pained apology. “That my reputation is overrated.” Privately to me he said, “The nerve of these folk![“]
Sherlock Holmes and the Beast of the Stapletons is a wonderful addition to the Sherlock Holmes canon, extrapolating cleverly from the original oeuvre to present something fresh and absorbing for the modern reader. The hardcover binding of this edition is especially beautiful and will make a fine addition to the library of any mystery fan, Sherlockian or otherwise.