Sometimes in the entertainment world an idea is hatched that nobody sees coming but when it arrives, makes such perfect sense that you wonder why nobody has thought of it before. Celebrated author Paul Kane’s idea to combine the worlds of Sherlock Holmes and Clive Barker’s timeless classic Hellraiser in his book Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell is one such idea.
Holmes is no stranger to horror. Since other writers expanded his universe after Conan Doyle penned his last tale, Holmes has been pitted against Dracula and even adventured in H.P. Lovercraft’s Cthulhu mythos. Fun as those stories may be, combining Holmes with adversaries from other fiction more or less of his own time period is pretty much expected these days, which is one of the things that Makes Paul Kane’s book Servants of Hell so refreshing. Who else from horror’s modern era could go toe to toe with the world’s greatest detective? Holmes vs Jason Voorhees just doesn’t have the same ring to it or indeed, make any sense! It can only really be Hellraiser, and SCREAM spoke with Paul Kane about how this match made in Hell came about…
SCREAM: Your idea to put Hellraiser and Holmes together is unusual, but at the same time it completely fits! I read about it and thought that it made perfect sense. Could you tell us about when inspiration for this idea first hit?
PAUL KANE: To me they’ve always gone together really, but I know what you mean. A lot of people’s first reaction to this was ‘what?’ then the more they thought about it the more they said, ‘oh, right, yeah!’ I actually came across the original Conan Doyle stories around the same time I was discovering Clive’s fiction, in Books of Blood, The Damnation Game and then The Hellbound Heart. But as well as that, I was glued to the Granada adaptations of the Sherlock Holmes stories – starring my definitive screen Holmes, Jeremy Brett – when I first watched Hellraiser… So I guess somewhere along the line the two became mixed in my head at an early age. Years later, once I’d written about the franchise in The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy, and co-edited Hellbound Hearts with my wife Marie O’Regan, I began to think about writing some Hellraiser fiction myself. This just happened to coincide with my doing some Holmesian Horror for an anthology called Gaslight Arcanum edited by J.R. Campbell and Charles Prepolec, so the idea began to resurface. Once it was there, and I’d started to think about how I could drop Holmes into that universe, I started making more and more connections. How the usual modus operandi of the Cenobites could be seen as a locked room mystery – their victims basically just disappear! – and how the Order of the Gash could be seen as some shadowy organisation Holmes might take an interest in. Essentially, though, it’s the world’s greatest puzzle solver against the world’s greatest puzzle, not least in the form of the Lament Configuration.
SCREAM: When you pitched the idea to your publisher, did they see the potential or did they take some convincing?
PK: I put the idea to Clive first, to get his blessing on the Hellraiser front – and thankfully he loved the idea. Not only that, when he’d read the very detailed outline and sample chapter, he offered suggestions and really got behind the whole project. It was only after this that the publisher came into it, but again they were very receptive. The guys at Rebellion and Jon Oliver at Solaris are all big fans of horror – you only have to look at some of the books they publish to see that – so I think the prospect of releasing a new Hellraiser story definitely appealed. The fact it was a Sherlock story as well just made it all the more intriguing, I think.
SCREAM: Holmes has lived on far beyond Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories and there have been many interpretations – which version of Holmes is this story most aligned with?
PK: I’m a big fan of all the Holmes stories and TV/film adaptations, I’ve been reading and watching them all my life pretty much. And even just in the last couple of years or so, for research, I’ve been going back and revisiting them. I think Servants fits quite nicely into the sub-genre of Holmesian Horror that books like Shadows Over Baker Street – featuring one of my all time favourite tales of this kind, Neil Gaiman’s ‘A Study in Emerald’ – the Gaslight series, and Titan series of novels by people like Guy Adams, James Lovegrove and George Mann all belong to. My version of the Holmes character contains lots of nods to others, from Rathbone and Cushing, to Robert Downey Jr, Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller. But my all-time favourite is Jeremy Brett, as I mentioned; for me he’s the ultimate. So there’s a real blend of the original Conan Doyle Holmes and different interpretations over the years, but he’s also very much my Holmes. The things that happen to him in this novel make him that way, and I believe it’s fair to say I don’t think we’ve ever seen a take on the world’s greatest detective like this one before.
SCREAM: If we’re going by the movie timeline, then a certain lead Cenobite wouldn’t have been created during Holmes’ time. Are you adhering to any existing version of Hellraiser or are we in an Elseworlds type scenario for the story?
PK: I think to answer that question might give a little too much away, so I’ll just say it’s for people to read and see for themselves. I do like the description Steve Dillon gave, though, in his five star review of Servants for Dread Central – that this was almost like a parallel universe in which Holmes and the Hellraiser mythos meet. I will say that I’ve tried my best to not only balance out those two universes, but also be respectful of the different renderings of these by people in the past; trying not to tread on any toes. At the same time, I wanted it to be accessible for readers who’ve never come across either Holmes or Hellraiser… if such people exist! It’s designed so that anyone can jump into this completely cold and hopefully still have a good time with it.
SCREAM: After you’d had the idea, how easy was it to mesh these two mythologies?
PK: Once I’d started to think about it, everything began to slot into place fairly easily to be honest. It was amazing how many parallels there were between them. The Hellraiser comics from the ‘80s and ’90s taught me that you could set a story from that mythos at any point in time, from the Medieval era to the American West. There was also a precedent in that the original historical section from Hellraiser: Bloodline was going to be Victorian, set against Jack the Ripper’s fog-filled London streets – so basically in Sherlock Holmes’ times. It was a time of creepy asylums, like the one in Hellbound, a time of shadowy underworld criminals – that the Servants of Hell could utilise… So the outline for the story came together very easily really, and quite organically.
SCREAM: What excites me is that putting these two together isn’t just a slug-fest, it’s a more cerebral match-up. What was it like writing dialogue between Holmes and the Cenobites?
Oh, there’s definitely a cerebral side to the story. I think there has to be with any Hellraiser or Holmes tale; it’s part of what’s made them both as popular as they are. Take The Hellbound Heart and Hellraiser for instance – it’s not about supernatural creatures just ripping people apart for the fun of it, like you get in so many slashers; there’s a code to what they do. There’s a methodology to it all. That’s not to say there isn’t any action in my novel – there is, especially towards the end. It’s just that there are logical reasons for that happening, things you can trace back. As regards writing the dialogue, I had an absolute blast! I have to admit, there was a moment when I was getting the initial exchange between Holmes and the Cenobites down that I thought to myself ‘Wow, hold on a minute – look at what you’re doing!’ but I had to dismiss it and not think about it; just do it and not get too hung up on the importance of what I was writing. I’m also a massive fan of both, so that helped when it came to writing a scene like that – because I’d also be asking myself what I’d want to see in there. If I was okay with it, then chances are other fans would be as well. That was my ultimate yardstick for it.
SCREAM: Who is publishing the book and where can people buy it?
PK: Solaris launched the book last week, so you can order it online here.
Intervewer: Tom Elliot