ANDREW GARVEY goes slightly nuts for Hellraiser-themed ‘Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell’ by Paul Kane
In 2006, I first saw a trailer for upcoming CGI splatter-and-muscles-festival 300. Wildly excited about the concept, the visual style and the promised historically slapdash ultra-violence, the actual film was something of a letdown that just couldn’t live up to my expectations.
Reading the news that Hellraiser expert and well-respected horror novelist Paul Kane had written a book about Holmes and Watson battling Cenobites in Hell, I once again got a little too over-excited and ultimately, felt a little let down.
The concept itself seems like a brilliant one. Kane’s grasp of the Hellraiser mythos is unmatched. He’s published Sherlock fiction before. And IT’S SHERLOCK HOLMES FIGHTING CENOBITES!!!
Unfortunately, by telling most of the story in a traditionally Holmesian way – via the recollections of Watson – the book paints itself into narrative corners that aren’t easy to escape from in horror fiction. Firstly, Watson’s telling of the story at a later date precludes him from ever being in any genuine danger during its telling. We already know he survives.
Secondly, Dr Watson’s stories about Holmes are, by their very nature, about the unravelling of a mystery. And for anyone even vaguely familiar with the Hellraiser novels, films or comic books much of what Holmes and Watson ‘reveal’ is hardly mysterious. The Cenobites are the Servants of Hell, they wear lots of leather, look a right old mess and can be summoned by the puzzle box so brilliantly used on this, my favourite book cover of the year.
By following the Sherlock Holmes formula so closely, the first half of Kane’s story feels laboured, sometimes even dull. Things change greatly once the true nature of the Order of the Gash becomes clear to the great detective and Kane can really unleash his own (and as he makes clear in his acknowledgments, other writers’) version of the Cenobites. And a gruesomely realised crew they are, too.
Without giving away too much of the story, things aren’t going well in Hell. Not for Holmes or Watson. Or anyone, really. Kane’s action-packed and blood-soaked portrayal of Clive Barker’s vision of Hell is excellent, easily as convincing as Barker’s own in last year’s the Scarlet Gospels, which I reviewed here, or in any of the Hellraiser comic books.
Barker himself had some involvement in this book, suggesting that the clients who kick off Holmes’ investigation be named Laurence and Juliet Cotton, an unhappily married couple concerned about wayward, recently disappeared brother Francis. Kane explains this in his acknowledgments “to foreshadow later events; something we did elsewhere in the book”.
It may just be me, but using similar names and identical character traits from those in the Hellbound Heart and its film adaptation Hellraiser (Larry, Julia and Frank) felt less of a foreshadowing and more like a strange re-hashing or an unnecessary re-booting of the original. Similarly, cameo appearances from other significant Hellraiser mythos characters don’t always fit and come across like an attempt to beat the reader over the head with a distracting game of spot-the-reference.
These problems (or possibly just highly personal annoyances that most readers will more easily ignore or appreciate) aside, Kane’s portrayals of Holmes and Watson feel spot on, as do other appearances by important Conan Doyle characters. Kane also populates Hell with more than just Cenobites and generally, the last half of the book is a great, fast-paced, horrific read.
Overall, even with that sluggish first half and some unhelpful elements this is a more than worthy, original and unusual, addition to the still-growing world of high quality Hellraiser literature.
It really isn’t Paul Kane’s fault if I’d built up my own expectations too much beforehand.
I promise not to do that next time…
Finally, and on a completely unrelated note, Barker’s own production company Seraphim announced in October that a new Hellraiser graphic novel anthology would be published, in-house and uncensored and available from Barker’s website, in Spring 2017.
THIS IS GOING TO BE THE BEST THING EVER! EVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!