Opposites attract. On the face of it, Sherlock Holmes and Allan Quatermain don’t have much in common. Holmes is the cerebral aesthete who solves problems through the application of logical analysis, whereas in Quatermain we have a rugged adventurer who thinks the answer to most questions can be found at the end of a double-eight bore elephant gun.
Holmes places his trust in rationalism. For him, everything may be proven empirically. Quatermain, by contrast, routinely encounters the supernatural and the inexplicable, and takes it in his stride.
They aren’t even exact contemporaries. Holmes’s career––at least as much of it as has been chronicled by Dr Watson––spans four decades, from 1874 (“The Gloria Scott”) to 1914 (“His Last Bow”). Quatermain, although precise dates are hard to come by, began his rambunctious escapades in Africa sometime in the late 1820s and died in the mid-1880s. Quatermain was an old man by the time Holmes was just getting started.
It would seem, then, that only a mad person would attempt to write a crossover story teaming the two characters.
And I am that mad person. My latest Sherlock Holmes novel, The Devil’s Dust, sees Holmes called to the scene of a mysterious death––a young man seemingly poisoned by his landlady––and get drawn into a conspiracy with its roots in South Africa and with a whiff of black magic about it. The investigation brings him into the orbit of Quatermain, and the relationship between them, initially combative, ends up collaborative, the sparks they strike off each other kindling into a warm flame.
For me, the appeal of writing about this mismatched pairing was bringing them together in a plausible way and exploring not just what divides them but what unites them.
For instance, Sherlock Holmes in his younger days isn’t merely a thinker. He is, as depicted by Arthur Conan Doyle, sometimes impetuous, sometimes irascible, and prone to outbursts of physical exertion. Remember how, in “The Speckled Band”, he takes the iron poker which Dr Grimesby Roylott has bent out of shape with his bare hands and demonstrates his own strength by straightening it? And how, in A Study in Scarlet, he calmly kills a terrier with a poison pill, in order to prove a theory? He is also ready to resort to fisticuffs, or baritsu, should the situation demand. Quatermain could surely recognise a kindred spirit there.
Holmes’s fondness for cocaine is well-documented, and Quatermain, in later life, develops a penchant for a drug called Taduki which brings on hallucinatory visions. Each uses a pharmacological substance to induce an altered state.
Holmes, in Watson, has a friend as constant and loyal as anyone could hope for. Quatermain, too, is accompanied on his exploits by various accomplices, drawing on a rotating cast that includes Sir Henry Curtis, Captain John Good, Hans the Hottentot and Umslopogaas the Zulu warrior. Neither man, it seems, can bear to be alone. Both need companionship.
Fusing the styles of Conan Doyle and H. Rider Haggard into a coherent whole was a challenge, believe me, but a refreshing one. I hope that Holmes fans will find in The Devil’s Dust all the deduction and mystery-unravelling that they have come to expect while aficionados of Quatermain will be satisfied with the book’s levels of action and derring-do. I hope, too, that readers will see that I have been faithful as I can to the originals but, in merging them together, come up with something new.
The Devi’s Dust is published by Titan