Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon
“Once it was the custom on Christmas Eve to tell ghost stories. With its hints of the supernatural, James Lovegood’s Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon easily fits into that category and is a story of which A. Conan Doyle would approve.”
It’s Christmas time, and Dr. Watson is looking forward to spending it with his wife and family. Nevertheless, when Sherlock Holmes invites him to Bridlington to investigate a case of ghostly doings, how can he refuse?
Eve Allerthorpe believes she’s haunted—by the Black Thurrick, a demon the exact opposite of Father Christmas.
“According to the tales Mama told us, the Black Thurrick punishes children who have behaved during the year by replacing their gifts with birch twigs. He also steals infants from their homes if parents don’t leave out food for him. He stuffs them into a bag and scurries off to eat them at his leisure.”
Holmes, of course, is doubtful of the entire story.
“I could see Holmes doing his best to mask his skepticism. In his view, ghosts did not exist. I myself was less confident when it came to such matters.”
The fact that Eve’s mother took her own life by leaping from her bedchamber window, may also have some influence on Holmes’ skepticism.
Eve has found a batch of switches outside her door and swears she has seen the Black Thurrick walking across the ice of a frozen lake. A maidservant as well as the housekeeper at Fellscar Keep swear to have seen a ghost in the late Mrs. Allerthorpe’s bedroom.
To add to the tension being put upon young Eve, Christmas Eve is her birthday, when she becomes 21 and will come into her inheritance—if she isn’t declared of unsound mind because of her insistence in believing in the Black Thurrick.
Holmes and Watson find themselves unwelcome at Fellscar Keep, Eve’s home. Her father makes no secret he considers them intruders and does nothing to have their stay be a pleasant one.
Since it’s Christmas, the Allerthorpe family descends en masse and the usual family quibbles, petty jealousies, and quarrels of affluent and poor relations ensue, especially between Eve and her cousin whose husband, Fitzhugh Danningbury Boyd, is a notorious philanderer continually fanning his wife’s jealousy by flirting with Eve.
Ghostly occurrences happen. Dr. Watson finds a bunch of switches outside his bedroom window. He also swears he sees a dark figure carrying a bag across the ice.
Then, the housemaid who saw the ghost in the late Mrs. Allerthrope’s room is found dead, fallen from the same window as her mistress.
Did she fall or was she pushed? If so, by whom? Was she trying to get away from the ghost, or perhaps the Black Thurrick?
The local constabulary believe Danningbury Boyd is guilty. They suggest he was having an affair with the maid and when she tried blackmail, he took the easy way out.
Other family members are also suspect: Eve’s younger brother Erasmus—a young man at odds with his father over gambling debts—and their uncle Shadrach, who “lives in his brother’s shadow and in his brother’s house by his brother’s good graces.”
It isn’t a happy gathering for the holidays by any means.
Holmes’ investigations take a dangerous turn as he goes about proving the Christmas demon is no supernatural manifestation, finding the murderer, saving Eve Allerthorpe’s sanity, and getting Dr. Watson home in time for Christmas.
In this day and age, there are more than enough Sherlock Holmes novels, both satires, pastiches, and serious imitations, but those by James Lovegrove are among the best, being very close to Sir Author Conan Doyle’s original image of the “world’s first consulting detective.”
Except for the fact that in this story Holmes does seem a bit short with others when it comes to his detecting skills—and Watson points this out several times—Lovegrove creates a remarkably faithful profile of both Holes and Watson, relying on Doyle’s description.
It’s not stated whether the Black Thurrick is an authentic bit of Christmas folklore, though he is compared to others more well-known, such as the Krampus, probably the most well-known thanks to certain horror films made about that character.
The methods used to ferret out the housemaid’s killer and prove Eve is sane is typical Holmes, replete with disguises as well as imminent danger for both the detective and Watson. There is also a motive slightly reminiscent of that in the Hound of the Baskervilles.
Once it was the custom on Christmas Eve to tell ghost stories. With its hints of the supernatural, James Lovegood’s Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon easily fits into that category and is a story of which A. Conan Doyle would approve.