By Scott A. Cupp
This is the 204th in my series of Forgotten Books.
To be upfront, I will need to point out that I have known Steve Mertz for a long time. Not a close friend, but a friend none the less. And the publisher of this volume, Rough Edges Press, is owned by my friends James and Livia Washburn Reasoner, who have published at least one of my stories in the past.
Last year at ArmadilloCon 38, James Reasoner and Steve Mertz, along with Joe Lansdale, were on a panel I moderated on writing men’s adventure fiction. Steve had apprenticed with Don Pendelton for several years and had written and created a variety of men’s adventure series. For his part, James had written a number of Mike Shayne stories for Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine. And Joe had written three MIA Hunter novels for Steve in his early days. Bill Crider had also been scheduled for the panel but he missed due to health issues. Bill had written MIA Hunter, Nick Carter, and a number of western series. Between them, the participants had probably written over 600 novels.
After the panel, I purchased several of Steve’s novels including this week’s Forgotten Book, Sherlock Holmes: Zombies Over London. It’s not exactly so much forgotten as it is unseen or underappreciated. Everything about this book appealed to me. The writer, the cover, the subject matter – everything! Sherlock Holmes, Zombies! Zeppelins! Oh my!
The novel begins with Holmes and Watson aboard the zeppelin Blackhawk about to parachute into Castle Moriarty to rescue Mary Watson who has been taken captive. Upon arriving, they find Moriarty has a group of supremely powerful men that do not react well to any actions directed their way. In fact, they are nearly unstoppable.
Watson and Holmes rescue Mary but Moriarty escapes. They try to track him down but with no success. Back at 221B Baker Street, a new client arrives. He is a tutor and writer, a Mr. Herbert Wells. Watson is familiar with his work, stating that he has loved The Invisible Man. Wells reveals that his next book will be The Time Machine, and he is working on perfecting a model of the device. Holmes is familiar with Wells’ social writings, but ddoes not waste his time on fiction.
Wells is concerned that a young German student he knows appears to be missing. The 16-year-old Albert Einstein is a member of some of Wells’ mathematical circles and has been staying with Wells and his new wife.
A search of Einstein’s room discloses a flyer to a sleazy burlesque house signed by “Danielle” as well as a handkerchief with Mrs. Wells’ monogram. Things may not be all rosy at the Wells’ household.
A trip to the Leicester Square burlesque square finds the mysterious Danielle is a performer with Andre, a knife thrower. During the performance a knife narrowly misses Holmes and mayhem ensues. Danielle and Andre try to flee. A zeppelin shows up with some zombies aboard. Holmes and Watson escape.
Steve Mertz is known for writing good plots with fast action. This volume does not disappoint in those regards. At 135 pages, it is a little short for my taste, but the action never flags. There is conflict with Holmes and Moriarty and zombies and dirigibles. Einstein and Wells are involved in more than is originally thought. Danielle works her wiles. Mrs. Wells has secrets.
During this same period, I read Bill Crider’s Eight Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, an e-book of Crider’s occasional forays into the Holmes canon. I liked Crider’s just as much, even though it was more traditional than the Mertz adventure. I can easily recommend both.
I do have one minor quibble with this book. As mentioned above, Wells is working on The Time Machine and has already published The Invisible Man. The Time Machine was Wells’ first novel. But, in a world of zombies and dirigibles in 1895 London I guess I can allow that transposition.
Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.