Under A Raven's Wing
By Stephen Volk
Ann Laabs reviews Under A Raven’s Wing, Stephen Volk’s collection of Sherlock Holmes prequel stories featuring Edgar Allan Poe’s detective Dupin…
In Under A Raven’s Wing, two new stories (‘Language of Terror’ and ‘Mercy of the Night’) join seven previously published stories. Fortunately, this collection is 100% ‘new to me’. While I’ve read plenty of Sherlockian pastiches (from Sherlock Holmes vs Dracula by Loren D Estleman to ‘Sherlock Holmes IS Jack the Ripper!’) since discovering Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce on Saturday Mystery Matinee, few collections have proven to be such a treasure trove of quality and originality as this one.
Here is my review.
Buy it. Read it. Luxuriate in it.
Need a bit more encouragement? A bit more persuasion as to why this collection is a must for any fan of mysteries, The World’s Greatest Detective, and/or 19th Century ratiocination? To answer those questions, I will be going on for a bit about… Christmas desserts.
What, I hear you ask, do the exploits of a pre-canon Sherlock Holmes, learning the art and science of detection from the supposedly fictitious French detective C. August Dupin, have to do with holiday bakery?
Allow me a few moments, my friend.
Whether a Christmas cake, Christmas pudding, or a slice of stollen, these calorie-laden treats all feature disparate elements that – once put together – seem made for each other. Just as the pairing of Conan Doyle’s analytic sleuth Holmes with Poe’s florid genius Dupin may seem like a highly unsuitable mix of crime-solving chalk and cheese… until you read these stories, and realise that, in the right hands, chalk and cheese are made for each other.
Like a loaf of perfectly baked marzipan-frosted stollen (my personal favourite), each story in Under A Raven’s Wing is a delectable treat. And like a slice of festive cake, it’s impossible to stop at just one.
Approaching a new book by an author or creator you greatly admire is admittedly difficult: you feel both the anticipation of reading something wonderful, and a dash of apprehension at possible disappointment. For anything written by the co-writer of one of my favourite cinematic ghost stories (The Awakening, Murphy, UK, 2011) and writer of the flat-out classic found-footage broadcast Ghostwatch (BBC, 1992), that level of anticipation and apprehension notches up a bit higher.
Fortunately, Stephen Volk‘s Under A Raven’s Wing joins the small category of prequel stories (like Bates Motel, A&E, 2013-2017) that take an original and audacious path to a predetermined destination. You embark on a journey with a character you think you know everything about, but by the end, you (and your beloved character) arrive at an endpoint that shines in a new light.
From the first story, the reader is immersed in a gloriously atmospheric introduction of Holmes in the streets of 19th Century Paris, meeting the supposedly fictional Dupin: you find yourself luxuriating in the literary mash-up as you would a fine piece of baking. As I read, I imagined myself into the past, casting myself as a Victorian reader enjoying a new Sherlock Holmes story in the latest Beeton’s Christmas Annual. It gave me a sense of stepping back in time to a fantastically real and beloved world. While the culprit in one story, in my reading, lacked the character and motivation of the other rogues featured in these chronicles (as well as a description of the Statue of Liberty that will seem off to any history buff or viewer of the TV show Fringe (Fox, 2008-2013)), I shall – as Volk suggests in his Afterword – lay that charge against the narrator.
Both in the UK and worldwide, I hope PS Publishing gets Under a Raven’s Wing into bookstores and makes it widely available to order online: the beautiful design by Pedro Marques creates an immersive reading environment surrounding Volk’s prose. This newest of Sherlockian pastiches makes a wonderful gift for fans of Sherlock Holmes, Victorian-era genre fiction, or any lovers of 19th-century weirdness.
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