Sherlock Holmes, one of the most famous fictional characters in history, has been adapted to stage and screen, found his way into comic books, and been the subject of numerous post-Doyle pastiches. Nicholas Meyer penned the most celebrated of these works, The Seven Percent Solution (in which Holmes teams up with Sigmund Freud, solves a mystery, and is cured of his cocaine habit), The Canary Trainer, and The West End Horror, in which Holmes and Dr. Watson meet nearly every significant theatrical figure of their day, including Bram Stoker.
Stoker's Dracula, too, has had an extensive life separate of his creator's writings, and by some reckoning has appeared on film more than any other fictional character.
In 1978, Loren D. Estleman paired Holmes with Stoker's most famous creation in Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula or The Adventure of the Sanguinary Count.
This book differs significantly from the still-unmade screenplay, Sherlock Holmes and the Vengeance of Dracula. While that story has Dracula returning from his supposed death and battling Van Helsing and Holmes, this novel assumes that Holmes assisted in the original story, but his contributions were excluded from Stoker's account. It's a clever premise, but the book, despite excellent research and a lively pace, never lives up to it.
The book begins with an introduction in which Estleman presents himself as an editor (he does or did, in fact, edit a small newspaper in Michigan) who found the manuscript among some old papers belonging to a relative of Holmes who died in London, Ontario. After some speculation as to why Watson never published this particular adventure, the story unfolds, beginning with the 1890 arrival of the Demeter, the death-ship which brought Dracula to England. A reporter, Thomas Parker engages Holmes and Watson to help investigate the mystery of the ship, which arrived with the dead captain lashed to the wheel and no other soul aboard. From that point on, Holmes and Watson become entangled in the events of Dracula, though, save for the Sanguinary Count himself, Stoker's characters make only brief appearances.
Estleman clearly knows his source material, and he writes in a plausible imitation of Doyle's style. The characters often play as parodies of the original, however, and Estleman feels the need to reference as many Sherlock Holmes stories as he can, whether doing so adds to the plot or not. And while I'm impressed that he could write a story which keeps intact the events of Dracula while inserting Holmes and Watson Gump-like into the mix, his respect for his sources actually becomes a problem. One really needs to know Stoker's novel to appreciate the events, but consequently one also knows the outcome. None of the characters are ever in any real danger, because Estleman will not contradict his sources. His fidelity to canon also excludes Holmes and Watson from the killing of Dracula, so that the crucial moment of his story plays like an anticlimax.
The supremely rational Holmes also proves remarkably quick to accept the reality of vampires on the basis of very little evidence. The conflict of a man devoted absolutely to the scientific world-view accepting the supernatural might have proved interesting. We see no such conflict in Holmes, and Watson merely pronounces Van Helsing's story "ineffable twaddle!" and then settles into accepting the undead on Holmes's say-so.
The book reads very quickly, and despite a minimum of real suspense, managed to keep me moderately interested. I suppose it was inevitable that the late-Victorian pop-culture's great rational hero and notorious supernatural villain should meet; I only wish the results had proved more satisfying.
Andrew Aguecheek reminds me that Holmes' creator was very quick to believe in the supernatural on the basis of poor evidence. The canonical Holmes however, remained grounded in the face of the apparent supernatural, as in The Hound of the Baskervilles and "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire."