It is 1890, and in the days before Christmas Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson are visited at Baker Street by a new client. Eve Allerthorpe – eldest daughter of a grand but somewhat eccentric Yorkshire-based dynasty – is greatly distressed, as she believes she is being haunted by a demonic Christmas spirit.
Her late mother told her terrifying tales of the sinister Black Thurrick, and Eve is sure that she has seen the creature from her bedroom window. What is more, she has begun to receive mysterious parcels of birch twigs, the Black Thurrick’s calling card…
Eve stands to inherit a fortune if she is sound in mind, but it seems that something – or someone – is threatening her sanity. Holmes and Watson travel to the Allerthorpe family seat at Fellscar Keep to investigate, but soon discover that there is more to the case than at first appeared. There is another spirit haunting the family, and when a member of the household is found dead, the companions realise that no one is beyond suspicion.
Firstly, James Lovegrove is my go to for a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, no one brings the character to life quite as wonderfully as he does in my view. It’s a beautiful book too, under the dust cover the publishers have gone into great detail with an embossed cover and a wonderfully embossed spine to really give it a look of a book published much longer ago, thank you so much Titan Books for sending me a copy for review.
Set, as you would expect, at Christmastime, Holmes and Watson find themselves in Yorkshire trying to find proof that a Miss Eve Allerthorpe is being tricked into believing she is not of sound enough mind to receive an inheritance. Whilst of course the “demon” of the piece could be interpreted in many ways, the centrepiece around Eve’s disquiet is the sinister Black Thurrick, a Krampus style character, straight from her childhood. Her nightmares being rekindled by curious sightings and insidious gifts. One of my favourite passages of the book comes when Holmes recounts all the different traditions like The Black Thurrick from around the world, I found this totally fascinating and somewhat macabre, but this completely ensured that the Thurricks activities seemed perfectly at home with their sinister counterparts throughout history.
Fellscar Keep is our home for this story, it immediately felt eerie and too big for its few inhabitants, but also a fantastic backdrop conjuring up a feast of references for creepy castles in my mind. There was, however, also a warmth with crackling fires and a huge library to scour for clues. For me this is why the authors writing really captures my imagination, playing so well that there are two sides to everything, a light and dark which makes misdirection all the harder to spot, especially when you throw in family drama on top. The history of the Keep itself is also a hugely fascinating chapter, dark beginnings which really are pretty intense and feed into they hysteria that is being created, this was a direction that I didn’t see coming at all and it was just fantastic to read. Stories within stories, it’s just perfection. There are extra points on offer to those who know their heraldry…
Lovegrove injects great humour into proceedings though too and keeps on top of a large cast of characters well, proving that latterly in the story, large family gatherings being awkward and tiresome were just as much so in those times as they can be now. He is also masterful at setting a scene and creating atmosphere. The Yorkshire countryside in deepest winter, invoking the sparkle of a fresh snowfall at Christmas that we all long for, whilst also using it as a perfect backdrop to a heart stopping set piece of horror story style blinding mists and dark forests. The family members’ stories intertwine wonderfully, each of them adding a little extra piece to the puzzle, and the history feeding in nicely too. His deductions are as clever as you would expect, when they are not being reduced to parlour tricks, and offer a timely reminder to sweep your attic floor.
I honestly found this to be a delightful read, and any book that mentions my hometown randomly gets an extra tick in the box for its scarcity! Holmes and Watson’s banter is brilliant though and I loved turning every page waiting to discover which cutting comment, sneaky sarcasm, great wit or indeed faux pas, usually by Watson, would come next. This is a fabulous addition to any bookshelf and a great alternative story for the festive season.