Michael Reaves and John Pelan, editors, Shadows Over Baker Street (Del Rey, 2003)

In what I like to call "The Geek Genres" of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, a common method for genre participants to wallow in "geekiness" is the venerable crossover. (And before I go any farther, I should indicate that I hold geekiness, in all but the most extreme forms, to be a virtue.)

Crossovers have their genesis in the kinds of conversations anyone who has any sympathy toward geekiness will remember (fondly, perhaps, but conceivably not). Crossovers were invented to give answers to questions like that posed in Stand By Me — "could Mighty Mouse take Superman?" Or all those late night science fiction conversations that attempted to decide whether the USS Enterprise could defeat an Imperial Star Destroyer. Crossovers are a staple of comics, so much so that for many years Marvel actually had a monthly title devoted exclusively to crossovers, called, if memory serves, Marvel Team-Up. A movie that is currently in the works will feature a crossover that sci-fi fans have long wanted, Alien vs. Predator. Even The Simpsons has lampooned the genre, in a scene in which Comic Book Guy dumps a batch of unsold comics featuring She-Hulk and Leon Spinks in what he derisively calls the "worst crossover ever!"

And yet, for all that, sometimes a crossover comes along that's so obvious that I can't believe no one ever thought of it before. Such is the case with Shadows Over Baker Street. This book is a collection of stories in which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and his erstwhile companion Dr. John Watson confront the mysteries of H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. As soon as I saw the cover to this book, I thought, "Of course! How did no one ever think of doing this!"

Consider: both Doyle and Lovecraft left behind a fairly thoroughly documented mythos that still allowed tremendous room for expansion by later authors, and both the Great Detective of 221B Baker Street and the Elder Ones of Lovecraft have given rise to many, many pages of further exploration. In fact, the post-Doyle and post-Lovecraft writings probably outweigh the work of the original writers by a significant margin. And so, here we have the two coming together.

The authors represented in Shadows Over Baker Street (twenty in all, providing eighteen stories) are pretty much the exact set of authors one might expect to contribute to this sort of project: "the usual suspects," one could say. Neil Gaiman opens things with "A Study In Emerald," a tip-of-the-hat to "A Study in Scarlet," Conan Doyle's first Holmes tale. Gaiman's story is atmospheric and intriguing, with a subtle twist at the end that had me re-reading the early parts. Steve Perry's "The Case of the Wavy Black Dagger" is an elegant and brief tale of deduction and fear that never leaves Holmes' study. Caitlin R. Kiernan spins a fascinating tale in which Holmes never appears, but in which he plays a part, as a geologist's travels lead into darkness; this story is told in the form of a letter written by the geologist to John Watson, and the way in which Holmes "appears" in this tale is particularly well-handled.

I enjoyed every story here, with three standing out: Barbara Hambly's "The Adventure of the Antiquarian's Niece" seems to best capture the "English" tone of Conan Doyle's writings; Michael Reaves's "The Adventure of the Arab's Manuscript" yields some welcome exploration of the character of John Watson; and Paul Finch's "The Mystery of the Hanged Man's Puzzle" felt almost cinematic in the way it unfolds: I could almost envision Basil Rathbone here.

The only quibble I would cite with Shadows Over Baker Street is one that tends to afflict many such themed collections: in reading these stories one after the other, I found myself awaiting the revelation-moment in each tale when we go from Doyle to Lovecraft. I'm referring to people saying things like "Tell me, Mr. Holmes: have you ever heard of The Old Ones?" and other such moments of portent. This "problem," though, really only crops up if one actually does read the stories en masse. Collections like these tend to be more intended for "dipping" than for prolonged draughts, so this quibble doesn't really amount to much.

All in all, this is a fun collection — an enjoyable bit of literary "What if?," which is what makes the whole "crossover" idea so compelling if done well, as is mostly the case here.

[Kelly Sedinger]