Review: Shadows Over Baker Street

By Danielle DeLisle

Reaves, Michael and Pelan, John, eds. Shadows Over Baker Street. Del Rey, 2003. 464pp. ISBN-13: 978-0345455284.

Ever wondered what it might be like if Sherlock Holmes contended with the Great Old Ones? If you have, then you need to check out this book. Shadows Over Baker Street is a collection of 20 short stories by authors like Neil Gaiman, Barbara Hambly, Caitlin Kiernan, and Poppy Z. Brite. Each tale has a link with the world of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and H.P. Lovecraft.

The first and most well-known tale is “A Study in Emerald” by Neil Gaiman, which won a Hugo Award in 2004. The tale involves a world where the ancient ones have taken over and the ending…well, I won’t spoil it. This tale is very well-crafted and is the best tale in the book. The mood and clever plot are typical of Gaiman’s other works.

Most of the stories follow the same formula, although not all of the stories involve Holmes. Two of the stories involve Dr. Watson exclusively and one involves Irene Adler. I was disappointed that several of the stories – like “Tiger! Tiger!” by Elizabeth Bear, featuring Irene Adler – don’t really work within both worlds. The only real connection to the Doyle stories in this tale is that the female’s name is Irene Adler. This seems to be the most tenuous of connections to Holmes’ world.

If you are going to do crossover tales like this, then both elements need to be intimately woven into the story. Simply using the names of the characters is not enough. The writer should demonstrate in-depth knowledge of both settings. “The Drowned Geologist” is another such story that begins with a salutation to Dr. Watson in a letter and then proceeds to tell a completely separate story that could have come from anywhere.

Most of the stories are based loosely around Lovecraft tales. Elements of “The Horror at Innsmouth” and “In the Mountains of Madness” appear. If the reader is interested in a tale about Dr. Watson during his service in the Middle East, try “The Weeping Masks”. “The Adventure of the Exham Priory” and “A Case of Insomnia” are particularly good and have a really good blending of both Doyle and Lovecraft. The Detective also deals with the royal family of a foreign country in “A Case of Royal Blood” by Steven Elliot Altman.

I thought it was an interesting, though risky, move by the editors to get such a wide variety of writers for this project. Some of these authors, like Barbara Hambly, usually write historical fiction, while others write mostly fantasy, like Caitlin Kiernan. Though the authors probably dabble in other genres, they have genres they are well-known for and this creates some very different results than what you might expect. Each genre has its own demands and protocols. Unfortunately, some of the authors delving into an unfamiliar genre found themselves in over their heads. That being said, the vast majority of stories are still very enjoyable.

In the end, the anthology is a good, quick read. There are some tales that vastly outshine others, but all of them have good elements. Even if some of the writers were out of their element, they still knew their craft. So, pick up this book and see what lies in the Shadows over Baker Street.

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