Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

There was a time Holmes battling Lovecraftian horrors would have been unusual

Which is how I came to write my first published story back in 1983.

Not that I’m claiming The Adventure of the Red Leech was the first such crossover — I’ve no clue — but back then the idea was novel enough to help sell the story to the magazine Eldritch Tales. Since then Lovecraftian/Holmesian stories have become a small but persistent subgenre, which is how I came to write a second story with the same title, now out in the latest issue of Dimension 919 (it’s a local Durham NC specfic magazine and the name comes from our area code).Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes Atomic Junk ShopThe title came from one of the many untold tales Watson refers to in the course of narrating Holmes’ adventures, “the horrible affair of the red leech and the death of Crosby the banker.” Like every other untold adventure, it’s spawned lots of speculation about what the red leech might have been and whether this is one adventure or two (i.e., Crosby’s death is an unrelated untold tale). As a Holmesian/Lovecraft fan/writer, I decided to make the red leech some eldritch horror from beyond time and space. And so my story came to be.

I imagine the novelty of the concept helped sell it because I pulled the issue out a couple of years ago and Adventures of the Red Leech wasn’t that good. I’d read a disappointing anthology of supernatural Holmes adventures, thought “I think I did better than this lot,” and reread my story to confirm it. I don’t think I was wrong to rank mine higher but even so, my work wasn’t as good as I remembered.

I had the tone of Watson’s writing down pat and lots of Holmesian detail, such as Watson talking to Arthur Conan Doyle as his literary agent (it’s common fan canon). The story, however, is way too talky; instead of having Watson witness Holmes’ investigation, it’s entirely Holmes coming back to 221B Baker Street and telling Watson about it. True, a number of Doyle’s stories do that, but it didn’t work here.

Worse, the ending was a complete handwave: the murderer summons his Lovecraftian instrument of death, Holmes goes “A-ha! Fortunately I spoke to an occult expert and came with a counter-charm!” This comes out of nowhere and felt very deus ex machina. A final flaw was that Holmes only cracked the case because the villain makes a reference to a red leech for no reason at all. Well, other than giving Holmes a clue, which is not best practices for murderers.

I decided to sit down and brush up the story, but I ended up turning it into a completely new adventure. First off, in making the mystery make sense I wound up changing the killer’s identity and adding a new scene to explain the murderer even mentioning the red leech. I added in scenes where Watson watches Holmes work. I came up with entirely different clues and worked out a logical method for Holmes to defeat the murderer. I also threw in a reference to another untold tale, the mystery of James Phillimore, who walked into his house to get his umbrella and was never seen again; it’s one of three cases Watson says Holmes failed to solve.

I changed so much I felt completely comfortable sending the new story out to markets that didn’t want reprints. And sold on second submission, which is way better than my usual batting average.I haven’t written anything Holmesian since. My steampunk novel Questionable Minds talks about Holmes a lot but he’s in the middle of another case and never shows. Perhaps next time? We’ll see.



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