Daniel Cann's Reviews > Seance for a Vampire

Seance for a Vampire by Fred Saberhagen
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Sep 12, 11

Read in July, 2011

In the ‘Further Adventures’ series ‘Berserker’ author Fred Saberhagen tries his hand at writing a story worthy of the world’s most famous fictional detective: Sherlock Holmes.

It is 1903 and wealthy British Aristocrat Ambrose Altamont hires Holmes to expose two suspect psychics. During the ensuing séance Altamont’s deceased daughter Louisa reappears as a vampire and Holmes vanishes. With time running out Holmes’ loyal friend and colleague Doctor John Watson feels he has no choice but to summon the only person who may be able to help, Holmes’ vampire cousin, Prince Dracula.

Purists may baulk at the subject matter and the idea behind this adventure but the creator of Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was fascinated by the occult and particularly spiritualism later in life, so I am sure this would have appealed to him. Let us not forget that Doyle himself penned the Holmes short story ‘The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire’ in 1924 and the collection of short stories from which that was taken ‘The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes’ is packed with darker material, science fiction and the paranormal.

Saberhagen has managed to blend detective thriller, horror, the occult and spiritualism into a bold, fast - paced and highly entertaining yarn, the atmospheric novel is narrated by usual Holmes chronicler, Watson and this time by Dracula as well. This gives events added dimension and perspective. Dracula is a compelling and at times a darkly humorous commentator and observer. Saberhagen captures both personalities extremely well and of course he absolutely nails the quirky and unconventional Holmes too.

It’s nice to see that series regulars Mycroft Holmes, Mrs Hudson and Billy the pageboy are all present for this outing as well. Saberhagen captures what makes a decent Holmes story and has expertly and assuredly woven it with a vampire novel.

Setting it in 1903 is also interesting. Many Holmes stories do take place in this timeline but Saberhagen thoughtfully has Watson making references to feeling his age and Dracula mentions also that it is the first time he has ridden in a new invention called the motorcar. These Victorian characters soon realize that they are now living in a changing world with cars, telephones and electricity as well as changes in fashion and etiquette. Details like this enrich the story and make it more poignant.

Saberhagen should also get credit for being so bold in pairing two giants of literature in Holmes and Dracula, many would be too intimidated to attempt to do so, yet here he pulls it off with stylistic aplomb. Making the two of them cousins is a plot masterstroke and elicited a pleasantly surprised smile from this reviewer.

Along with all the action and suspense there are characters from history involved in the story concerning pirate treasure, vampires and séances. I shall keep the historical figures identity secret as I do not wish to ruin it for anyone. Suffice to say it is another neat and unexpected trick up the authors sleeve and again works well.

The novel remains faithful to both the count and the detective and is the sort of story that would have been adapted into a film by Universal Studios in the 1940s starring Bela Lugosi and Basil Rathbone, or in the 1950s by Hammer Studios starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. It works as entertainment and as a character study of the charismatic, charming yet deadly count and the bohemian, eccentric but brilliant detective Holmes.

Mention must also go to the tough-as-nails and ever reliable Watson as well as a host of interesting supporting characters, making this a pure joy to read. Yes its schlocky at times but it succeeds thanks to chutzpah and is another interesting and original take on a popular character. Sadly author Saberhagen is no longer with us, but he has left this wonderful edition in the popular series for posterity.
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