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Out this week: my latest book, The Improbable Casebook of Sherlock Holmes; seven adventures of the World’s Greatest Detective that will test his powers of observation and deduction like never before.

Following the release of my first collection of short stories, The Feats of Sherlock Holmes, I have been very fortunate to have contributed more stories to several anthologies from MX Publishing and Belanger Books. Since I was a child, I have enjoyed creating new adventures for Holmes and Watson and it is a real joy to share these newly unearthed cases with the world.

So, what can you expect from The Improbable Casebook of Sherlock Holmes? Within these pages, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson will confront an array of monsters and madmen, tackle seemingly impossible mysteries, and come face-to-face with some of the most fearsome aberrations of nature beyond their wildest nightmares.

First up is “The Scholar of Silchester Court” in which a timid academic named Augustus Larkin seeks Holmes’s help after he moves into the titular rooming house. Once the grand mansion of a regal family who met a violent end, the building has fallen into great disrepair. However, the spirits of the building’s former occupants appear restless as Larkin claims to hear them speaking from beyond the grave. While his client fears that he may be losing his mind, Sherlock Holmes begins to unravel a dangerous conspiracy.

Remember, Remember the Fifth of November….So the old rhyme goes and the Guy Fawkes’ Night at the center of “The Adventure of the Deadly Inheritance” is one that neither Sherlock Holmes nor Dr. Watson is ever likely to forget. Edmund Ainsford appeals to Holmes to find his brother who, while enacting a bizarre ritual in order to claim his inheritance, entered a disused building and then disappeared into thin air.

Throughout Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories there are several references to the many other adventures Holmes and Watson shared which, for reasons of discretion, the Good Doctor never saw fit to publish. Perhaps the most famous of these untold adventures is that of “The Giant Rat of Sumatra” a story for which Sherlock Holmes said the world is not yet prepared. Perhaps, at long last, the world is prepared for my version of this tale set in the coastal town of Whitby (Dracula fans be on the lookout for a few references) in which Holmes and Watson are drawn into the investigation of a violent and seemingly motiveless double murder.

Next up is “A Ghost from the Past” originally included in a series chronicling sequels to the original Canon. A threatening message in the mail sets Holmes and Watson on a collision course with one of their most dangerous adversaries who seems to be seeking revenge. However, the detectives’ pursuit to find the foe may prove to be only the beginning of one of the darkest chapters in their careers as they discover that both ghosts and sins of the past cast long shadows.

In “The Adventure of the Weeping Stone,” Dr. Watson travels to Sussex to visit a retired Sherlock Holmes who has kept himself busy tending to his bees. The detective’s quiet retirement is broken by an archaeological dig on the beach below his cottage as a team of researchers study an inexplicable stone Incan artifact which seems to drip blood. When a death interrupts the dig, Holmes and Watson are drawn into the case to protect an innocent man accused of murder and, even as they delve into the troubled past of the victim, the detectives realize that the answer to this baffling mystery may lie with the stone itself.

Sherlock Holmes’s enigmatic older brother, Mycroft, looms large (literally) over the original stories despite his marginal appearances. Yet, in “Death in the House of the Black Madonna” it is Mycroft who persuades his younger brother out of retirement once more to undertake a dangerous mission for King and Country. With Watson at his side, Holmes travels through war-torn Europe to Prague to locate a missing British agent. As Holmes infiltrates the shadowy world of organized crime, he becomes aware of hushed whispers that the legendary monster, The Golem has returned to Prague. Could this creature have some connection with the missing agent?

“In the Footsteps of Madness” rounds out the collection and returns us to the foggy, gas-lit streets of Victorian London. Scotland Yard is baffled by the senseless murder of a construction worker in the London sewers; the dead man’s wounds seemingly inflicted by a wild animal. Holmes and Watson will descend into the sewers in pursuit of the killer who may be more than just human. Both men will emerge with their conceptions of the improbable and the impossible shattered forever. Fans of H.G. Wells will not want to miss this thrilling adventure that combines the Sherlockian mythos with one of the science fiction author's most well-known stories.


The Improbable Casebook of Sherlock Holmes is available now from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, the Book Depository, and directly from MX Publishing.

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“Throughout history, he has filled the hearts of men with terror and the hearts of woman with desire…” – Dracula, 1979

There are few corners of this world that have not heard of Count Dracula. His name looms large and monolithic; today a byword for evil and all fictional vampires. His legacy is titanic and ever-evolving and one is put in mind of the Count himself from the original novel as he remains as powerful a force today as he was centuries before legions of his acolytes were born. Over 120 years after Bram Stoker’s novel was published, Dracula continues to fascinate and thrill and terrorize. No amount of stakes and sunlight and vials of consecrated water shall destroy him. Count Dracula is forever.

Like so many creations whose cultural footprint is now omnipresent, it is easy to forget the man behind the legend. Bedridden in his youth, stories were the ultimate panacea for young Bram Stoker’s troubles. It comes as little surprise, therefore, that Stoker should foster literary interests as he aged, ultimately finding employment as the theatre critic for the Dublin Evening Mail; a position that introduced him to the likes of Sheridan le Fanu, writer of Gothic tales, and Sir Henry Irving, surely the most famous actor to tread the boards of the Victorian stage.

Sir Henry Irving

Much ink has been spilled endeavoring to parse out the origins and real-life inspiration for Count Dracula, and though the Count shares his name with the Voivode of Wallachia commonly referred to as Vlad the Impaler, Irving is the far more likely candidate. Stoker was devoted to Irving, whose portrayals of classical villains became stuff of legend, and Dracula, as impersonated by the thespian, would have stood alongside his Mephistopheles and Macbeth. Though Stoker found much to admire in his boss, his vampire novel (which he spent years researching and writing) served as an outlet for his own sublimated frustrations. Historian Louis S. Warren says of Irving: “[He]…was a self-absorbed and profoundly manipulative man. He enjoyed cultivating rivalries between his followers, and to remain in his circle required constant, careful courting of his notoriously fickle affections.” In Count Dracula, Bram Stoker isolated the dark mirror image of both Irving and himself.

To put it mildly, it is not a flattering portrait. Today, one is liable to forget just how ferocious the literary Dracula is. He is an animalistic, heartless representation of pure evil; a loquacious and braggadocios predator with a penchant for feeding kidnapped babies to his vampire brides. He is the mustache-twirling villain of a melodrama bought (back) to life. Though he has the ability to transform himself into a bat, wolf, or swirling wall of vapor, Dracula may have more in common with a lizard as he crawls head first down the sheer stone walls of his castle, his pale skin icy cold to the touch. Count Dracula is the manifestation of the Victorian Era’s greatest fears: an amalgamation of xenophobia, race, sexual liberation, and disease.

Yet, in combining these ingredients into a heady brew, Stoker forges a fascinating touchstone of the times and, in reading Dracula, we may better understand the age in which it was written; when religious expression was met with raised eyebrows and incredulousness, and the age of mechanization and technology would subsume Victorian culture. Though Stoker’s style and the epistolary nature of the narrative featuring letters, diary entries, and newspaper clippings to forward the action renders the novel’s field-of-view staggeringly myopic, the book remains a fascinating study and a cornerstone of the Gothic horror genre. One simply cannot discuss such literary figures as diverse as Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde, Sherlock Holmes, or even Dr. Fu Manchu without mentioning Count Dracula.

So, how was it that this creature of the night embodying a host of Victorian prejudices and anxieties should take over the entire world? Count Dracula was about to go to the theatre.

One of the great ironies in the history of Dracula is that for how anxious Bram Stoker was to

see his novel put on the stage, he did not live long enough to see it done. Stoker died in 1912 and 12 years later, theatrical impresario Hamilton Deane launched the most successful stage version of the novel. Deane’s play – complete with thunder and lightning effects, bats swinging onto stage on the end of a fishing line, a nurse standing in the lobby to administer smelling salts to audience members with weak hearts – was more a sideshow attraction to 1920s audiences, but it was still financially successful. In adapting the novel to fit the confines of the proscenium arch, Deane jettisoned most of the plot points and characters from the Stoker original. Dracula was now redone as a drawing room melodrama, its action confined to a handful of locations and, by extension, retrofitting the role of the vampire count into a figure of regality and manners complete with evening wear and opera cape. As historian David J. Skal points out: “To work in the conventions of a drawing room mystery melodrama…[Dracula] needed to be a character one would plausibly ask into one’s drawing room in the first place – not a man-beast whose idea of a social call was smashing through a bedroom window, unannounced in the form of a slavering wolf.” Despite the childish theatrics, Dracula was still a success on the West End which meant that an American run was inevitable. The play, rewritten and adapted by writer and journalist John L. Balderston, opened in 1927 and Count Dracula took a bite out of Broadway. The actor to play the pivotal role – one which would define the rest of his career – was Bela Lugosi.

Another great irony in the history of Dracula is that before he played the demonic Count, Bela Lugosi was renowned in his native Hungary as a romantic leading man; one of his best-known performances being that of Jesus in a 1916 passion play. Yet, this leading man charisma was what made Lugosi so successful when cast as Dracula. His melodious voice, thickly accented, famously gave new pronunciation to the simplest of words (the truth of the matter was that Lugosi did not speak English at the time of his casting and learned the part phonetically), and, coupled with his intense eyes, cast a hypnotic spell over his audience. Only one year after international star and “Latin Lover” Rudolph Valentino died at the age of 31, Lugosi’s sexy Dracula quite literally brought him back from the dead, perhaps perversely answering the whispered desires of Valentino's fans who responded with reported mass hysteria at news of his death which resulted in suicides of his despondent admirers and 100,000 people descending upon the streets of Manhattan in hopes of attending his funeral.

The success of Dracula on Broadway made a Hollywood version a certainty. It was Universal Studios who secured the rights to both the novel and the stage play and set about filming the first sound supernatural horror film in America. Viewing the Dracula film today can be an underwhelming experience; director Tod Browning’s hesitancy to embrace sound technology results in a slow, staid, and unusually silent film with little action and an overall staginess in presentation. The highpoint of the film is its atmospheric opening chronicling solicitor Renfield’s journey to Castle Dracula and, though his theatrics may appear dated and hokey to the modern eye, one cannot deny the magnetism Lugosi displays on screen. Even when not in a scene, Lugosi is felt in the periphery; a trait which would become a necessity for all good Draculas on screen. When released on Valentine’s Day 1931, Dracula would become a major box office success. Universal, at first hesitant to dip their toes into the world of Gothic horror, would go on to adapt Frankenstein and then a host of other horror titles; their spinning globe logo becoming synonymous with horror. Without Dracula, horror – and more specifically unambiguously supernatural horror – might not become a viable commercial avenue for the major Hollywood studios for the next three decades. To some degree or another, the stone-cold horror classics like Psycho, Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist and so many others might never have come to be.

The third great irony in the history of Dracula is that for all that Tod Browning’s film gave the world, it also proved to be the albatross around Bela Lugosi’s neck for the rest of his life. Though he endeavored to shed the shadow of Count Dracula – and by extension horror films – Lugosi was simply incapable of doing it. His refusal to play the role of the Monster in Universal’s Frankenstein did not endear him to studio bosses and, within a year the actor was filing for bankruptcy. Lugosi vowed never to turn down work again which lead Lugosi straight to the Poverty Row studios where executives took advantage of him for his name value and cast him in a series of increasingly demeaning roles. Count Dracula made and broke Bela Lugosi. He died in 1956, buried in his Dracula cape. In his lifetime, he had already seen the role of Dracula pass to Lon Chaney Jr. and John Carradine though each subsequent performer owed something to his transcendent persona. Two years after Lugosi’s passing, Count Dracula would be resurrected again, this time as portrayed by Christopher Lee whose turn in Hammer Films’ franchise would redefine the character and change horror cinema as we know it. But that is the story for another time…

I met Count Dracula when I was six years old. At that time, the Lugosi film was already over 70-

years old, but its cultural relevance was not diminished in any way. There had been many other Draculas during the intervening years: Jack Palance, Louis Jourdan, Frank Langella, and Gary Oldman remain unparalleled for some of the best portrayals of the vampire as they consciously rejected the Lugosi template, but none of them have surpassed him for cultural supremacy. Ask anyone what a vampire looks like and they’ll describe Lugosi; ask them to tell you what a vampire sounds like and they’ll do a Lugosi impression without even knowing it. I attended a screening of the Lugosi film at the local library with little knowledge of what an impact the film would have on me. Even after all that time, Dracula still had the power to hypnotize me. I would reenact bits of the movie on the playground with my friends at recess; for Halloween I dressed as a vampire at least twice; and in high school I played vampire hunter Van Helsing in the Fall Play wielding a cardboard crucifix. It’s fitting, therefore, that in my senior year of college majoring in Theatre Performance, I got to play the Count himself in a wonderful adaptation by Liz Lochhead. It was an honor and a privilege to play the character, joining the ranks of the countless actors to take on the role, and swoosh my cape around the stage night after night.

For better or for worse, Count Dracula has become a part of who I am.

The Count has come a long way since he was created by Bram Stoker as the representation of Victorian evil and it is unlikely that he shall ever go away. As long as the public’s thirst for Dracula is as unquenchable as his own, then he shall never disappear from the ruins of Castle Dracula listening to the children of the night and the sweet, sad music they make.

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  • Nick Cardillo

Tis the season to be scary.

Getting into horror movies as a kid meant that there were a lot of movies that I wasn’t allowed to watch at such a young age. While I would have to wait years to finally see those stone-cold classics such as Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, and Halloween, there were another bunch of films that alluded me for the longest time: the movies of Hammer Films. Renowned in the ‘60s and ‘70s as the major house of British horror, these films have attained cult status today, and though they may no longer have the power to scare (though their trailblazing use of violence and gore certainly would have spooked me as a kid), they remain some of my favorite movies in the genre. In the spirit of Halloween, here are three Hammer horrors worthy of appreciation.

The Gorgon (1964) – Starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee

It’s no secret that Hammer relied on a formula; one which involved the reusing and repurposing of sets and costumes and – crucially – talent. The studio created an informal repertory company of performers to take part in each new horrific outing, and each player had their own designated parts. More often than not, it was Christopher Lee who was menacing the film’s beautiful lead and Peter Cushing as the derring-do hero, leaping across tables and waving crucifixes to vanquish the evil. One of the masterstrokes of The Gorgon, however, is that the two actors find their positions reversed. The film is set in the small town of Vandorf under siege from the terrifying titular creature whose very gaze can turn you to stone.

For a studio whose entire output was arguably outré, The Gorgon is certainly one of the most extreme, but it is also what makes it such an interesting film. The central creature – born not from the pages of Gothic text like Hammer’s ever profitable Frankenstein or Dracula but instead from Greek legend – plays a relatively small role in the film; its midsection given over to the doomed romance between Paul Heitz (played by Shakespearean thespian Richard Pasco) who has arrived in Vendorf to investigate the deaths of his brother and his father, and the tragic Carla Hoffman (Hammer's staple powerhouse Barbra Shelley). Carla’s secret and the control which her employer, Cushing’s cold and callous Dr. Namaroff, holds over her will put the young lovers on a collision course with disaster. As Professor Meister, the film’s de facto Van Helsing stand-in, Christopher Lee may be a bit too young to labor under his bushy grey wig and mustache, but his tense standoff with Cushing is a true highlight.

It is worth mentioning that several other Hammer classics also benefit from Cushing and Lee playing against type. As the mercurial Baron Frankenstein, Cushing always delights, but he is at his savage best in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969), just as Lee was seldom better than when (literally) fighting for the side of the angels in The Devil Rides Out (1969) based on the occult thriller by Dennis Wheatley. Both films are undoubtedly some of Hammer’s crowning achievements.

The Plague of the Zombies (1966) – Starring André Morell and John Carson

Like The Gorgon, The Plague of the Zombies was not based on any pre-existing story, but this tale of voodoo on the Cornish coast has its roots in such pillars of the Gothic genre as Bram Stoker and Arthur Conan Doyle. Dr. Peter Tompson (Brook Williams), suspicious after a number of villagers succumb to illness in his village, engages the services of his former mentor, Sir James Forbes (André Morell), to investigate. In doing so, the two men discover skullduggery afoot in the village’s disused tin mine and a link to the powerful squire (John Carson) who owns the land. Equal parts baroque horror and subtle mystery, The Plague of the Zombies is made all the more special when one considers that it predates the revolutionary work of filmmaker George Romero whose Night of the Living Dead (1968) would forever change the public perception of zombies…not to mention the horror genre as we know it.

The titular menace of the film are interestingly poised somewhere between the creatures of voodoo myth and the cannibalistic abominations of Romero’s films, but the sensationalist elements are grounded in reality when a pro like André Morell is delivering the exposition. Morell was one of Hammer’s best performers (perhaps best remembered as an ideal Watson opposite Cushing’s Holmes in their 1959 Hound of the Baskervilles) and it is fun to see him take the lead here as investigator. But every intrepid hero is only as good as his adversary, and John Carson is excellent as the smug Squire Hamilton, dabbling in black magic and exploiting his voodoo powers in the old tine mine. Throughout all of Hammer’s films there is a strong vein of class consciousness, but nowhere is that subtext plainer than in Plague of the Zombies as the wealthy landowner literally enslaves the lower-class and exploits them for his own financial gain. It is a powerfully resonant theme elevating the film well beyond its B-movie status. The Plague of the Zombies was always designed to fit the bottom half of a double-bill with Dracula: Prince of Darkness, but there is no doubt that this film is the superior of the two.

Twins of Evil (1971) – Starring Mary & Madeline Collinson and Peter Cushing

By the early 1970s, Hammer Films were struggling to keep pace with the rapidly-evolving horror genre. In comparison to the powerful and brutal films produced in America and Europe, the Gothic horrors of Hammer were beginning to appear quaint. Relaxing censorship standards allowed the British studio to exploit hitherto unbroken ground and, in 1970, Hammer released The Vampire Lovers, a loose adaptation of Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla, a tale of lesbian vampire Carmilla Karnstein. Within a year, Hammer had appended two sequels to the film running the proposed franchise into the ground. Nevertheless, Twins of Evil, the third and final film in the series (though barely connected to the previous two and set at least a century earlier) is actually one of Hammer’s most accomplished later-day efforts. Starring as twins Maria and Frieda are real life twins Mary and Madeline Collinson who are sent to live with their puritanical uncle, Gustav Weil (Peter Cushing). In an act of rebellion, Frieda will fall under the spell of Count Karnstein (Damien Thomas) whose thirst for blood will spell disaster for all.

Try as it might to conform to the sleazy standard of its predecessors, Twins of Evil cannot help but feel more prestigious and certainly more epic than many late Hammer films. Director John Hough, veteran of television’s The Avengers brings a breezy adventure attitude to the movie, complemented immeasurably by a pounding score by Henry Robertson; the theme of which would not have sounded out of place in a ‘70s Western. All this gloss highlights an incredible central performance from Cushing whose Gustav Weil is surely one of the most repugnant characters the actor was ever asked to play. Yet in Cushing’s capable hands, the character is never reduced to caricature level which lends real gravitas to the nightly witch hunts in which Weil and his comrades participate. Twins of Evil may not be supreme Hammer material, but at a time when the studio was desperate to evolve, it is a film that confirms no one did Gothic horror better than Hammer Films.

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