|A clockwork game is afoot!|
Ray Booth’s and Nicholas Johnson’s Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Man-Made Vacuum at once captures the engaging qualities of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s master detective while adding a layer of steampunk and classic literary characters. Readers might be concerned that they must have a knowledge of the Sherlock Holmes canon in order to read this novella, but the work easily stands on its own.
This Sherlock Holmes opens unlike others, with a backstory featuring Samuel Brown, the historical father of the internal combustion engine. However, in this alternative timeline, Brown is dissuaded from completing his invention after the visit from a mysterious, and dangerous, stranger. When Sherlock and Dr. Watson appear to investigate the death of Brown’s grandson, the events are set after those of Reichenbach Falls. The detective has suffered a far more debilitating (and believable) fall than Doyle had original established. With the aid of none other than Dr. Henry Jekyll, Holmes now boasts a clockwork apparatus that has made his body, if not his soul, whole again.
Booth and Johnson paint a vivid picture of the same Victorian England where Holmes and Watson once solved all manner of mysterious and called evil-doers of all stripes into account. They use a fine brush to paint in literary characters that readers will enjoy, even if they don’t recognize them immediately. This “Sherlock Holmes” story also allows us into the mind of the detective himself, musing over his current status, and questioning his own humanity. While I would have preferred a more traditional approach to a new Sherlock Holmes, in keeping with Doyle’s traditions, there have been so many different takes on the great detective that this one easily slides into the larger universe.
Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Man-Made Vacuum pairs the classic Victorian detective with some choice steampunk utilities, and matches him against one of the all-time great villains. Booth and Johnson have created a wonderful new adventure, in keeping with the classic Doyle, but adding an expressive “modern” layer that readers will enjoy.