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Review: Seance for a Vampire by Fred Saberhagen

 Review: Seance for a Vampire by Fred Saberhagen Review: Seance for a Vampire by Fred Saberhagen

Sherlock Holmes, the smugly omniscient protagonist of the eponymous detective series, saw such popularity in his time that his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, saw fit to do away with him. No doubt this authorial frustration was compounded when outraged fans howled (or given the likely manners of Doyle's contemporaries, politely requested) that Holmes be resurrected, but Doyle did eventually comply, miraculously bringing Holmes back to life.

One can't help but wonder what exactly the author's response might be to the many efforts to extend Holmes's life in subsequent years. It's with even more curiosity that one ponders his reaction to the growing tendency towards Frankensteinian mashups whose blurbs go something along the lines of: Sherlock Holmes meets supernatural thingamajig, and they fight crime!

The late Fred Saberhagen's The Further Adventure of Sherlock Holmes: Seance for a Vampire is, as its title might suggest, one of several such efforts to blend the logical with the fantastic. The novel in question is Saberhagen's second outing with Holmes, and takes place in a slightly twisted milieu in which the reader is asked to leave suspend their disbelief at the door (alongside their no doubt grotty shoes), and happily look on as Saberhagen gives Holmes's family tree a good ol' shake. A good ol' shake that has resulted in Holmes being related to none other than Count Dracula (who goes by the slightly more royal but slightly less numerate name of Prince Dracula in this book). There's an allusion, too, to a few other members of Holmes's family being of the blood-sucking sort, something that is perhaps pointed out explicitly in Saberhagen's earlier volume, but that is only implied in this one.

In Seance for a Vampire, Holmes and Watson are called upon by Lord Ambrose Altamont to debunk what he believes to be the charlatanism of two clairvoyants, who claim to have seen the ghost of his recently deceased daughter. However, in a recreation of the seance, the daughter in question does indeed appear, although in a form rather more vampiric than ghostly. Holmes suddenly vanishes, and our generally logical Watson abandons his usual Scully-like scepticism to get in touch with Prince Dracula and determine what on earth is going on.

While it's an entertaining premise, albeit perhaps not one for Holmes purists, Seance for a Vampire is not quite the rollicking work of mystery and suspense one might expect. As you've no doubt realised by now, rather a lot of the initial mystery is given away in the title of the book, and this lack of subtlety is unfortunately evident throughout the rest of the novel. The solution to the mystery is fore-fronted in the opening pages, resulting in the book rather less than suspenseful, and meaning that there is none of the gloriously requisite ah-ha! moment that one so looks forward to when reading a mystery novel. As such, the reader is merely along for the ride rather than solving a puzzle. In addition, the almost immediate disappearance of Holmes, and his subsequently negligible influence on the plot does make the reader wonder why he was there in the first place'given the tiny role Holmes plays, just about any sleuth could have been substituted for the role (Nancy Drew could work just as admirably, one suspects).

Saberhagen does, for the most part, manage to replicate that famous dry Watsonian tone, and it's generally quite enjoyable to flip through the pages nodding knowingly here and there and appreciating the author's admittedly odd take on the Holmes universe. That said, there are occasions where the prose does veer from the acceptably dry to something more along the lines of parched, requiring a bit of effort from the reader, and there are also instances where the tone doesn't quite ring true. Moreover, the novel is written in dual perspectives, and alternates between that of Watson and that of Prince Dracula, and while this is generally entertaining, the voice of Dracula rarely adds much to the narrative, leading to the book at times feeling bloated.

While those looking for a substantial mystery on par with the canonical Holmes oeuvre may find themselves a little disappointed, Seance for a Vampire is generally a light, enjoyable read that will have readers fondly reminiscing about the ins and outs of the much-loved and well-trodden Holmes universe.

200px 2.5 stars.svg  Review: Seance for a Vampire by Fred Saberhagen

With thanks to Titan Books for the review copy.

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