A Study in Emerald
|"A Study in Emerald"|
|Genre(s)||Mystery, Horror, Crossover short story|
|Published in||Shadows Over Baker Street (2003)
Fragile Things (2006)
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
"A Study in Emerald" is a short story written by British fantasy and graphic novel author Neil Gaiman. The story is a Sherlock Holmes pastiche transferred to the Cthulhu Mythos universe of horror writer H. P. Lovecraft. It won the 2004 Hugo Award for Best Short Story. The title is a reference to the Sherlock Holmes novel A Study in Scarlet. "A Study in Emerald" first appeared in the anthology Shadows Over Baker Street, a collection of stories combining the worlds of Arthur Conan Doyle and H. P. Lovecraft; it has subsequently been available as part of Gaiman's short story collection Fragile Things, in the collection New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird, and is available online. The online version takes the form of a Victorian periodical or newspaper, which includes various advertisements that reference characters such as Vlad Tepes, Victor Frankenstein, Spring Heeled Jack, and Dr. Jekyll.
In the introduction to Fragile Things, Gaiman cites Philip José Farmer's Wold Newton Universe, Kim Newman's Anno Dracula series (which Gaiman helped create), and Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as being the major influences of "A Study in Emerald".
The story begins with its (as yet) unnamed narrator, a veteran of a bloody war against the 'gods and men of Afghanistan', where he has been brutally tortured and his arm injured, setting the scene for things to come. Seeking lodgings upon his return to England (or 'Albion', as it is referred to throughout the story), he meets and strikes up a friendship with a man who possesses extraordinary insight and deductive skill, and who puts this ability to use in the service of the police as a 'consulting detective'. Early on in their acquaintance, Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard arrives at their lodgings in Baker Street with a matter of extreme and delicate urgency regarding a brutal murder in a Whitechapel slum, and the detective is to be hired to solve the case. After investigating the murder scene (where the detective correctly deduces that the victim is a German noble, owing to his inhuman appearance and number of limbs), and puzzling over the word Rache scrawled onto the wall in the victim's blood (in a similar manner to "A Study in Scarlet"), they are henceforth taken to the Palace, where the Queen – one of the creatures who defeated humanity 700 years ago and, along with the other Great Old Ones, has ruled over humanity ever since – consults with them about the affair. As payment for his service, the Queen heals the veteran's withered shoulder with a touch.
The investigation takes the detective and the veteran to a music-hall show, starring a noted actor called Sherry Vernet, a 'tall, languid' man who stars in the three productions, including a historical narrative depicting the war, 700 years ago, between humanity and the Great Old Ones, who now rule the Earth. Posing as a theatrical agent offering to take the show to the New World, the detective meets Vernet and quickly determines that he – along with another man, with a limp and skill with surgical equipment – was present in the room that the German noble died in, and is one of the murderers. Agreeing to meet the detective in his rooms, Vernet seemingly does not suspect a thing; and the detective promptly summons Lestrade, intending to have Vernet arrested. He reveals what he has deduced; that Vernet is a seditionary 'restorationist', an anarchist who believes that the Old Ones are not the benevolent rulers they are portrayed as, but vicious, soul-destroying monsters feeding on madness and death, and that humanity should be master of its own affairs. Having lured the German noble to the Whitechapel rooms, he then turned the noble over to his accomplice – a limping doctor – who actually murdered the prince.
Unfortunately for the detective and Lestrade, Vernet himself possesses considerable deductive skill; having deduced that the detective was not who he claimed to be, he has instead sent a letter to the detective, offering some helpful suggestions for future undercover work and complimenting him on several papers the detective has written, including a paper on The Dynamics of an Asteroid that Vernet (as 'Sigerson') briefly corresponded with the detective over. Aware of the detective's suspicions, Vernet – or 'Rache', as he signs himself off as – confirms them, justifying his actions by the many horrors he has personally seen committed by the Old Ones, and that it is too high a price to pay for the peace humanity lives in under the Old Ones. As Lestrade rushes off to order a search for Rache and his limping doctor accomplice, tentatively identified as a former military surgeon named John Watson, the detective admits that it is unlikely that Rache has even left the city, having probably elected (as the detective would) to hide in the almost lawless depths of the rookery of St Giles until the heat died down, and requests that the veteran burn Rache's letter, dismissing it as seditionary nonsense. But the veteran does not do so, instead containing a copy of the letter and an account of all that occurred within his bank deposit box, not to be opened until everyone involved in the case is dead – a prospect that, with current (unexplained) events occurring in Russia, seems not too far away.
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