by Brody Rossiter
Once again accompanied by his cousin, Dr. Henry Vernier – as opposed to the long-suffering Dr. Watson – Sherlock Holmes travels to the seaside town of Whitby to console a wealthy, love-struck suitor and hopefully quell a series of deeply troubling concerns he holds regarding his flame-haired paramour. The beautiful young woman in question is said to be afflicted by a centuries-old druid curse that condemns the female descendants of a courageous knight to eventually transform into fearsome snake-like creatures.
Within the opening preface Siciliano strongly condemns Bram Stoker’s The Lair of the White Worm – the novel which loosely inspired this Sherlock tale – a fact made all the more jarring when he also decides to inject the maligned source material into his own contemporary mystery. He dismisses the lesser-known example of Stoker’s work as a preposterous, sexually repressed and racist low-point in the career of the Dracula wordsmith. Despite the criticism, the initial threat of cursed serpentine beings remains the same, and feels distinctly out-of-sorts when transposed onto this Victorian venture to the countryside.
Siciliano also cites Stoker’s characterisation as “simple-minded“, a criticism which cannot be levelled at the personalities contained within The White Worm. Descriptions are bold and easily visualised, simplistic but ultimately effective and evocative – a summation which can apply to much of the book. There is a workmanlike feel to the narrative as it purposefully chugs along, which perhaps cannot be avoided when so many Sherlock stories are being produced by Siciliano. Nevertheless, enough descriptive exposition is present to elevate the writing to an interesting and engaging level.
The addition of Vernier in the place of the beloved Watson will still prove irksome to many fans, yet the change-up does present positives. While initially unfamiliar, the dynamic between the cousins feels distinct and fresh. Sherlock’s prickly, intellectually superior nature is softened and Vernier is allowed to narrate events with a more emotive tongue. He is Sherlock’s equal despite his tendency to be swayed by his heart rather than his head, a habit which the author clearly wanted to also introduce to Sherlock’s typically staunch nature.
As the latest Sherlock television special painfully highlighted, a convoluted and overwritten plot often leads to confusion and disappointment. This narrative is easy-to-follow, allowing for the supernatural and man-made mysteries to take precedence. The rainy northern world-building is evocative, as are the immersive descriptions of superstitious locals, tours of affluent interiors and the fleshing out of the mystical lore. Whether the makeup of the mystery is strong enough to hold readers’ attention from beginning to end is another matter, but ultimately The White Worm is an enjoyable addition to the canon of The Great Detective.
The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is available February 12th courtesy of Titan Books. Order your copy here.