Zombies take on the Victorian supersleuth in this debut homage to the Arthur Conan Doyle detective series.
It’s 1888, and Sherlock Holmes, assisted by newlywed John H. Watson and a posse of street urchins, comes to the aid of Anne Prescott, a nurse whose sister and fiance have disappeared. In improbably short order, he figures out the basics of the mystery: Mad scientist Emil LaLaurie is using a brain-destroying infection, assisted by the voodoo rituals of his confederate Alcee Sauvage, to turn slum dwellers into zombies. The ensuing struggle to stop the villains is a well-rendered tribute to the Conan Doyle classics that retains the original style while updating the sensibility with combat feminism, queasy sex, and torrents of gore. Roaming a foggy, atmospheric London, Holmes is his old self, bursting with know-it-all pedantry (“It is perhaps a compound word from several terms in West African Kikongo…‘nzambi’ and ‘zumbi’ ”), unlikely deductions (“The particular callous patterns on the man’s right hand, the many injuries to his left, and the discoloration of his trouser legs all speak of a man accustomed to repairing shoes”), and curlicued trash talk (“I wish to assure you…that I am the least worthy of the agents of justice who will fall upon you soon and take you down to ruin”). But he’s also modern enough to declare that “it is high time, Watson, that we treat women as our equals,” and to insist that Anne get samurai training. The latter comes in handy as the heroes confront hordes of rotting, snarling, brain-eating, galumphing undead and mete out old-school dismemberments and beheadings. The grisly violence—“The meaty ‘snick-snack’ sound of a razor-sharp blade slicing through flesh and bone came from my right….The head spun for a second in the air above the creature’s torso, and a weird giggle escaped my lips”—darkens Downing’s vigorous series opener. So does Watson’s agitation as he conceives an ungentlemanly desire for the gorgeous Anne that only grows more intense as she gradually zombifies after getting bitten. Holmes fans may find the video game carnage and Watson’s somber obsessions to be a tonal clash with the Conan Doyle aesthetic of cerebral cool, but the brisk action and pitch-perfect Sherlock-ian aplomb make for a page-turner.
A gothic, ghoulish, but enjoyable version of Holmes.