Paul Kane is no stranger to the Hellraiser universe. He’s the author of the truly outstanding “The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy” as well as the editor for the short story anthology, Hellbound Hearts, which expanded Clive Barker’s mythos still further. This is a man who clearly respects Clive Barker’s most brilliant creation. So there could be no safer hands for a tale that brings together two legends, Sherlock Holmes and the Cenobites. As a huge Hellraiser fan myself, I have to admit I’ve been giddy about the prospect of reading this since I first heard about it. Barbie Wilde (Hellraiser II) is another favourite author of mine (The Venus Complex, Voices of the Damned) and she provides an insightful introduction to the book.
When we meet Sherlock he’s a lost soul. His nemesis, Moriarty, is dead and there are no challenges left for him. So instead he has been experimenting with drugs and is close to destroying himself. Then a very special case comes along. Francis Cotton has been reported missing, having disappeared from inside a locked room, and that piques Holmes’ interest. Then the game’s afoot!
If the last name Cotton sounds familiar, it should. We have Francis, who disappeared (Frank), his brother Laurence (Larry), Kirsten, his daughter (Kirsty), and second wife and stepmother to Kirsten, Juliet (Julia). Further parallels with names from the film series continue as further disappearances cross Holmes’ path. We have the disappearance of Howard Spencer, father of one Elliot Spencer, and club owner J. P. Monroe, a collector of the fantastical. The in-references to the initial Hellraiser trilogy of films come thick and fast. As the names kept cropping up it was nice to place them. There was one surprise appearance outside of the film characters that really put a smile on my face. But it was also a little distracting and and a bit too neat setting up foreshadowing and bloodlines. However, this was done following a suggestion from Clive Barker, according to the epilogue.
The dynamic between Holmes and Watson, our narrator for the majority of the book, is wonderful. Holmes’ curiosity and excitable nature is evocatively brought to life. As ever, Watson is accused of being his nanny by an irritable and insufferable Holmes, for worrying about his reckless behaviour. Paul Kane, through Watson’s narration, slots the story nicely into the established Sherlock Holmes canon with many references to other established cases that took place before and in between the disappearances in the story.
The setting and time period are perfect, a dark and dingy London, industrialisation, thick fog, and men seeking understanding and enlightenment in both science and magic. While it feels primarily like a Sherlock Holmes story, a mystery in the typical vein, full of twists, paths do eventually cross. The arrival of the Order of the Gash introduces us to a plethora of new, inventive, and vile cenobites. This includes a rather Victorian steampunk selection. This was one of my favourite parts of the book.
If I have any real criticisms it’s that some of the beats of the story are a little too familiar. This is especially the case if you’ve been reading the BOOM! Studios graphic novels. It’s worth a mention that the prologue to the story is absolutely incredible. After reading that you’ll cheer and be hooked. To call this a mashup doesn’t do it justice as that suggests a parody, which this is not. It’s the greatest puzzle solver against the puzzle box. I was completely riveted throughout and couldn’t put it down.
Reviewed by Andrew Tadman. @thebooksofblood