Tuesday, September 20, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: “Sherlock Holmes and the Affair in Transylvania”

Gerry O’Hara; Publisher: MX Publishing (Publication Date: November 2, 2011)
[This review is based on a pre-publication copy of the novel.]
“You know, Watson,” he mused, “sometimes though we may reason well, we are too prejudiced.  We do not let our eyes see nor our ears hear that which is outside our daily life…Do you not think that there are things which one cannot understand, and yet are; or that some people see things that others cannot?  But there are things old and new which must not be contemplated by men’s eyes because they know—or think they know—some things which other men have told them” (73).
If pastiche authors are to be believed, then Sherlock Holmes and Count Dracula are fairly well-acquainted.  A glance at the “Sherlock Holmes Pastiche Database” finds dozens of references to “Dracula” and “vampire,” amongst the many works that are listed there.  Indeed, they seem well-matched foes—a man with one of the keenest and sharpest analytical minds of all time, the other with hundreds of years of knowledge and experience to back his thoughts and actions.  Oftentimes, the crux of pitting Sherlock Holmes against literature’s most famous vampire is just exactly how Sherlock Holmes receives this supernatural opponent.  Does he entertain the idea with guarded skepticism, or with blatant disbelief?  Is he converted to the notion whole-heartedly and without reservation, or is there a period of tentative research?  In Sherlock Holmes and the Affair in Transylvania, Gerry O’Hara composes a Sherlock Holmes who is careful and analytical and cautiously open-minded, and who fits seamlessly, even profitably, into a classic, beloved narrative.
In Sherlock Holmes and the Affair in Transylvania,” Gerry O’Hara has slightly retooled the familiar Dracula story.  The character Mina appears in the novel as Dr. Watson’s niece, married to a young solicitor named Janos Svbado.  The nature of Watson and Mina’s relation is never fully explained and as a result, I found myself spending a disproportionate amount of time wondering if they were blood relations, or if “uncle” was merely more of an honorific.  Lucy Westenra, a character familiar to Bram Stoker’s devotees, also features largely in the story, but it is her father, “Dr. Westenra,” who controls the nearby asylum.  Likewise, Lucy only has one suitor, a young soldier named Sandor, rather than a trio of paramours.  The lunatic Renfield appears largely as himself, while Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson seem to fill in for some of the absent characters, most notably Professor Abraham van Helsing.
In terms of plot, the novel largely mirrors that of Bram Stoker’s story, with some notable changes in terms of characters or setting.  For example, Dracula never makes his way to London, and instead the story’s action is confined largely to Budapest and Transylvania.  Additionally, the absence of certain characters results in various plot points playing out in slightly different ways from the manner in which most readers might be familiar, but with no strikingly dramatic modifications.  And of course, the addition and influence of Holmes and Watson to the story allows the novel to play out in a largely more cerebral, less theatrical, fashion than is found in the source material.  After Watson is assailed in the dead of night by Dracula’s three vampire brides, he tries to pass off the instance as a nightmare or some other delusion, but Holmes’s thoughtful response to what might seem like a flight of fantasy, makes the reader stop and take note.
As for Sherlock Holmes, he fills the role of Abraham van Helsing neatly and adeptly.  The Great Detective is a believer, but he is an educated believer, a learned believer.  Dr. Watson may seem a more difficult convert to the concept of vampirism than his supposedly rational friend, but Holmes seems to spend most of the story in constant study.  He is in libraries and buried in books, and learning all he can from the experts at a nearby monastery.  As the Detective famously once said, "Data! Data! Data! ...I can't make bricks without clay" (COPP).  Holmes does not believe blindly, without merit.  He does not believe without basis, or move without footing.  Watson believes in Sherlock Holmes, and will accept wholesale much of what he is told based on that belief.  Holmes, on the other hand, believes in nothing but data, and must have a how and a why in place before anything else.
O’Hara’s version of Count Dracula, for his part, is a bit more bestial than some readers will remember.  The Detective, for example, describes the Count at one point: “Extraordinary and mad, quite, quite evilly mad” (51).  And then later: “He may be clever, and cunning and resourceful but his brain does not have the full stature of manhood, it is in some ways childlike.  The Count is a criminal and of criminal type” (217).  The Count Dracula of this novel is a bit less elegant, a bit less refined, than some readers may remember or may like to see, but this is not arbitrary behavior.  It is all documented and accounted for in Holmes’s methodical way, but it is ultimately up to the audience to make sure that all the pieces fit.
Gerry O’Hara’s novel, Sherlock Holmes and the Affair in Transylvania, does not deviate much from the Bram Stoker plot with which most readers are probably familiar, and so consequently, there will not be a lot in the way of surprises.  But the influence of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson changes the tenor of the story dramatically, and O’Hara skillfully uses the Detective and Doctor to both fill in for missing characters, and also contribute to the story in ways that the original characters could not do.  O’Hara’s novel is a beautiful revival, charmingly illustrated, and an elegant contribution to the ranks of Sherlock Holmes versus Count Dracula pastiches.
Sherlock Holmes and the Affair in Transylvania by Gerry O’Hara is available for order from MX Publishing and Amazon.  You can also follow the author on Facebook.
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  1. nice idea, thanks for sharing...

  2. I need to check this pastiche.

    I liked "The House of Silk" by Anthony Horowitz. In my humble opinion, it captured the spirit of the canon.


  3. I have "The House of Silk" in my (ever growing) "to-read" pile. I'm waiting a little bit until there is less discussion about it and I can approach it with a somewhat fresh perspective. Glad to hear you enjoyed it!