Green Is Not Your Color: “A Study In Emerald” by Neil Gaiman

As I’ve mentioned before, I love Sherlock Holmes stories.  I also happen to like some of the writings by British SF&F author Neil Gaiman, known for such stories as The Sandman, Good Omens, Stardust, and American Gods (some of which I’ll probably review later this year).

So, naturally, put the two together and what we get is a crazy little story called A Study in Emerald.  How crazy is it?  It’s Sherlock Holmes meets The Call of Cthulhu.

The Story: Bring One Man Justice And Glory To The Old Ones!

The narrator is a veteran soldier from the Anglo-Afghan War who returns to London.  He takes up an apartment with an eccentric but brilliant detective, who gets called upon to consult for the case of a strange murder involving a German prince.  The narrator and his new companion are soon taken to see an audience with “Queen Victoria”–a terrible, inhuman thing who has ruled over England for seven hundred years.  They are charged with solving this murder and soon piece together the identity of the culprits–a tall man and a sadistic doctor, both belonging to the Restorationists, a group opposed to the “natural” rule of the Old Ones over the human race.

The Cast: Heroes As Seen By The Terrors From Beyond

The narrator and his “companion” are never explicitly named in this story, although several hints are dropped as to their true identities (and considering how villainous the world has become under the Old Ones, it should come as no surprise as to who they truly are).  Inspector Lestrade also shows up, although he seems to be the same as in the original Conan Doyle stories.

The mood of the story shifts dramatically when the narrator and the detective receive an audience with Queen Victoria, who is not shown directly and speaks in an unnatural buzzing tone.  She is more mysterious than magnificent and even the narrator–loyal subject of Albion that he is–can’t help but feel strange when she causes his shoulder wound from the war to begin healing itself.  She does not appear in the story again, but she doesn’t have to.

The Style: Just Like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (By Way Of H.P. Lovecraft)

Almost word for word, this story matches the writing style of A Study in Scarlet, with all the appropriate idioms and vocabulary of the Victorian era and the right voices for both main characters.

There’s also some clever inserts throughout the stories: a series of fake Victorian-style advertisements for different products and services.  I love that all these ads are for products just as fictional as Sherlock Holmes, with “exsanguinations” by Vlad Tepes and a miracle potion by Jekyll that’ll let out “your true self.”  It both adds some depth to the world and reveals how much darker it’s become after centuries of inhuman oppression.

Final Verdict: Clever And Cruel

The story is a brilliant pastiche of Sherlock Holmes and a clever way to weave something as grandiose and horrific as the Cthulhu mythos into an everyday setting.  The twist ending is nicely set up and the ad inserts breaking up each section of the story were fun.  All in all, another nice and irreverent little tale by Mr. Neil Gaiman.

A Study in Emerald can be read for free on Neil Gaiman’s website.

Bibliography: Gaiman, Neil.  “A Study in Emerald.”  Shadows Over Baker Street.  New York: Del Rey Books, 2003.


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