Sherlock Holmes and the Terror Out of Time
By Ralph E. Vaughan
First Published: 2001 - Gryphon Books
Price: $15 USD
Reviewed by Charles Prepolec
I confess to having a fondness for Sherlock Holmes cross-universe pastiches when handled with a bit of flair, so when I’d discovered that Gary Lovisi’s Gryphon Books was releasing a third Holmes/H.P. Lovecraft pastiche by Ralph E. Vaughan, I lost no time in ordering it. On arrival it went directly to the top of my ever-increasing pile of pastiches, such is my regard for Vaughan’s previous work Sherlock Holmes in the Adventure of the Ancient Gods (first published in Holmesian Federation #4) and to a lesser extent Sherlock Holmes in the Dreaming Detective (sorry, but I’ve never been terribly fond of HPL’s Dreamland based stories). After devouring the book in one sitting, I’m happy to say that my regard is still intact and my fondness for Vaughan’s approach to Holmes and HPL has increased once again.
Sherlock Holmes and the Terror Out of Time is far less of a blatant HPL inspired story than the overly dramatic title would lead one to believe. Although the plot is still pure undiluted Weird Tales-style pulp fiction, Vaughan has developed considerably from a stylistic viewpoint, not even once invoking the well worn name of Cthulu! His use of locations and descriptive phrasing is solid throughout. The dialogue is strong and faithful to the spirit of Conan Doyle and by putting Watson out of the way, Vaughan has managed to side step the usual pastiche pitfall of providing Watsonian-style narration and has opted instead to use a third person omniscient narrative. Holmes well-known disregard of the supernatural is effectively explained away, not damaging his credibility or rationality in the least. My only serious annoyance is in the handling of Professor Challenger, who is strangely relegated to the role of Watson substitute and never quite lives up to the brash and impetuous character of The Lost World.
Beginning with an establishing prologue set in British pre-history, we jump quickly to Baker Street where the dying seaman, India Jack Neville, has dropped a package of unspeakable horror literally at the feet of Sherlock Holmes, Professor Challenger and Inspector Wilkins, interrupting their fascinating discourse on Darwinism. With the Macguffin safely in their hands and Watson away, Holmes and Challenger set out to unravel its secrets. What does this ugly idol have to do with the Ki’M’tollo sect of the Maldives? Could it be tied into attacks in the docklands by three giant serpent-like beasts? Holmes and Challenger, the detective and the scientist, are determined to find out! Their quest for knowledge takes them to the British Museum and puts them at odds with a mysterious dark magician named Laslo Bronislav, who is deemed so evil that even Aleister Crowley refers to him as “That Devil!” Aided by the late Professor Moriarty’s chief information man McBane, Bronislav is determined to retrieve the idol from Holmes at all costs. How do the dark magician’s plans tie-in to the Elder Gods? Can Holmes and Challenger defeat Bronislav and the voracious elder gods terrorizing London? What do you think? Of course they can, but the fun of the tale is in the telling!
Highly recommended for those who enjoy a fun pulp-fiction style adventure story! Not recommended for the Canonical purist, but if you’ve been considering trying something a little more on the outré side of Holmesian storytelling, this is a good choice!
Not sure if the original publication version is still available from Gryphon, or anywhere else for less than premium prices, but it is currently part of a new collection of stories by Ralph E. Vaughan available via Amazon.