Will Kinghan and John Matthews have produced this wonderful themed deck centred around the world of Sherlock Holmes and his trusty sidekick Dr Watson. Their illustrious adventures are brought to life in action-packed snapshots, which faithfully accompany narrative of the stories. I am very just on team Brett when it comes to the many adaptations of the Holmes canon and that somewhat dark, brooding and luscious Victorian feel is consistent across the cards in this deck. Candlelight, smog-blanketed alleyways of London and tops hats give this deck a wonderful feel. The artwork is something I feel even those who aren’t ardent fans of Holmes could easily fall for.
When you first receive the deck, you realise straight away that the quality you have come to expect from a Kinghan and Matthews deck is definitely there. A sturdy box contains the generous guide book and the cards. As mentioned, the guide book promises a lot of detail from its size. The cover design of the book reflects the presentation box and has the feel of a Victorian journal, reminiscent of what we imagine Watson would be jotting down his notes and rough drafts of their adventures. The cards are of a lovely quality, with nice card stock and vivid colourful print, though there are white borders which initially I felt would have been a little more sympathetic if they had been a darker colour or even black, I did however quickly forget about that once I started to use them. They are a good standard size and make shuffling easy.
The deck is made up of 79 cards, a wild card has been included which is an interesting idea and one I’ve generally only come across personally in Lenormand decks. The imagery is digitally created, models have posed as the various characters from the stories and placed in the various scenes from the stories. I believe even Caitlin Matthews posed as a character on this project! The type of artwork is unmistakably modern but deeply sympathetic to the mood of the deck, there aren’t many cards I felt dragged me back to the present century in terms of being obviously contemporary in a way that overrode the intended vintage feel.
Picking up the guidebook, it’s evident that the creators of the deck want to give everyone the best chance of forming a working relationship with these cards. The introduction is interesting and nicely sets the scene, but doesn’t go too far down the rabbit hole before jumping into the nuts and bolts of using this deck, as there is a lot to figure out. Firstly we’re taken through the Major Arcana. These are all either characters from the Holmes world or iconic scenes from the literature. The layout is clear and is purely a quick reference table to assist you in your initial contact and flip-through before going into more depth later in the book. Next we are given the alternative suit names and their correspondences to the standard names along with their symbols. As with many decks from these guys, they have been switched for something more fitting to the theme. We are given:
With the court cards also being customised with the Baker Street Irregulars, Peelers, Ladies and Inspectors, I definitely spent some time reading through this section and familiarising myself with the changes. Out of the box, the cards really weren’t something I could run with after a quick look through as with some RWS based decks, as everything felt very much unique.
Moving on to the sections focussing on individual card analysis we have black and white images of the cards, with the background of the character or scene, along with keywords words for upright and reversals. There is also a nice little “Holmesian Wisdom” quote, embodying the overall essence of the card. The Major Arcana are granted a double page spread each with the larger card image and a more in-depth description, whilst the minors are restricted to a single page each. I would say you would need to study the minors alongside the physical deck, as the smaller card images coupled with the darker images of the deck in general makes it a little difficult to see the details in the cards with the black and white print. I often sit and read guidebooks independently of the deck but it was difficult in this case.
Upon first glance, these cards really do immerse you in the world of Holmes. It isn’t quite as traditional in style as you might expect, probably due to its medium of creation, as there’s something almost comic book and surreal in some of the compositions, but that serves to give a definite dynamic and movement to the cards. It’s a challenge to attain a balance of vintage feel whilst making the scene come alive and this was achieved here. There are some truly amazing images on these cards and there was a definite love for them as soon as I started to look through. The back of the cards are fully reversible, a wonderfully simple gold background with 221B in the centre.
The guide book is a definite requirement when first getting to know the deck and I wondered if it would be a little too overwhelming to use as a working deck. After using the cards for a few short spreads however I instantly warmed to them and felt able to use them, though I felt as if I had an advantage by knowing the majority of the Holmes stories. If there are readers who had no knowledge of the Conan Doyle books but just wanted to pick up these cards and read from the images with the explanations from the book, I feel that could work too. This is because there is a layer of RWS in each of the cards which does make the traditional meanings recognisable, it just may require more work.
The tone of the cards is very much projected from the mind of Holmes, investigative and logical. For instance, the first card we see is The Fool played by Inspector Lestrade. Gun poised and holding a lamp to light the scene, he is known for his sincere naivety in most cases, a habit of being out of his depth and a lot to learn in terms of deduction in the view of Holmes.
I have done a couple of client reads with them so far and I did feel they gave a nice flow, however they were both very practical questions. I am unsure how these would perform with the more emotional questions and relationship spreads, as Holmes himself is known to not give much regard to affairs of the heart. There are characters who make an appearance who do act out of protection for loved ones, as well as of course the close bond of friendship between Holmes and Watson, but this is always viewed through the mind of Holmes himself. Apart from The Lovers, being Mr and Mrs Watson, there aren’t particularly romantic themes to be found. It could be that this deck is excellent at what it does and needs to reserved for less sensitive reads, but as I haven’t tried this yet I could be very much surprised!
I think it would instantly appeal to Holmes fans first and foremost, but anyone who loves the imagery would be equally rewarded for putting time and effort into understanding the imagery and the backstories. Although it is a themed deck, there are definite considerations for the RWS system, with examples of the essences of the card meanings very cleverly selected from the stories. Overall I really do like this creation and intend to continue using it as a working deck, it’s been a really fun experience for me remembering the stories and laying these adventures over the tarot meanings in a new and fresh way.