Sherlock Holmes and the Vampires of London is a graphic novel written by Sylvain Cordurie and illustrated by Laci about The Great Detective's post-Reichenbach return to London to face a plague of vampires (available February 18, 2014).
With the recent federal ruling determining that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes oeuvre (barring details only available in the last 10 stories) is in the public domain in the United States, diehard fans here can expect an explosion in the number of homages and pastiches in honor of the great detective. One such is this graphic novel by Sylvain Cordurie and Laci, translated from the original French. Mr Cordurie has taken two Victorian favorites, Sherlock Holmes and vampires, and not unsuccessfully synthesized them into a coherent, entertaining whole. In large part, his ability to pull this off is due to the fact that he keeps everything strictly Victorian, and strictly in line with both what Doyle as well as what his contemporaries in horror might have written on the subject.
Set very shortly after Holmes’ reported demise at the Reichenbach Falls, the main form the narrative takes is of a letter to his long-time companion, Dr John Watson. Apologizing first for the deception of the faked death, he explains that it was undertaken in order to protect Watson from Moriarty’s vengeful underlings (though he does confide in his brother that Watson is a terrible actor who would never be able to pretend that Holmes was still dead if he were to learn otherwise). Holmes plans to take time to travel, but finds himself waylaid in Paris by a pack of vampires who, ironically, insist on returning him to London. They manage this by use of a lovely decoy, Joyce, who quickly becomes his monstrous guardian and confidante:
Holmes: Since we are confiding in each other, there is a point that I should like to bring up with you, if you will allow me. You are intelligent. You cannot ignore the fact that it was only to trap me that they made you a vampire. Don't you feel hate towards those who have stolen your life?
Joyce: My life… if you only knew how bleak it was. By losing it, I gained eternity, a wider perception of the world, more intense sensations…
Holmes: And an unquenchable thirst that forces you to commit barbaric crimes. Doesn't that affect you?
Joyce: I don't feel remorse any longer. And, unlike you, the emptiness of my existence has given way to accomplishment… to a feeling of fullness. Am I, of us two, to be pitied more?
Back in England, Holmes discovers he was summoned by a vampire overlord, Selymes, to help take care of a tricky problem. One of their own, Owen Chanes, has gone rogue, upsetting the delicate balance of power between the vampire caste and the mortal monarchy that rules Brittania. Selymes threatens Watson and his wife in order to ensure Holmes’ cooperation, even though Holmes is already inclined, however reluctantly, to help. For on the ride to Selymes’ lair, he had examined his visceral reactions to the vampire’s pull:
I felt uneasy even before seeing the castle. As if nearing a magnetic evil, its darkness attracted me and weighed upon me at the same time. The feeling increased as we neared it. Part of me cried out that I had to flee this place. But another part of me felt an indescribable excitement… The phenomenon couldn't be natural. Someone or something was flattering my most basic instincts. And I liked that, even if, in appearance, I denied it.
Holmes has to walk a fine line between aiding the vampires and protecting humanity from them, resulting in a surprisingly exhilarating reading experience. Laci’s art helps in this: it is old-fashioned in its preference for many small, exquisitely detailed panels which contrast nicely with the occasional splashier box. There is plenty of gore and upper-body nudity sprinkled throughout, but none of it seems gratuitous: vampires were sexy and bloody even in their initial Victorian incarnations, after all. Sherlock Holmes purists might protest the very idea of a book like this existing, but I think Messieurs Cordurie and Laci have done a fine job of introducing the overtly supernatural into Doyle’s universe. After all, The Hound Of The Baskervilles and “The Speckled Band” had supernatural overtones: experimenting by going a step further seems a natural, and as it turns out in this case, entertaining progression.
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Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.
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