Tuesday, March 19, 2013

SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE ARMY OF DR. MOREAU


Let's get something straight here right off the bat shall we? In the new novel, SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE ARMY OF DR. MOREAU by British writer Guy Adams, there's not really an army of "manimals" (more like a large gang) and, perhaps even more disappointing, there's also no Dr. Moreau. Instead, there's a mad scientist using Moreau's surgical techniques and bio-chemical formulas to create his titular "army".

I finished reading this book the other day and I must admit to mixed feelings. It's not a bad book, it's just not quite what I was expecting. There's a fairly long (if somewhat recent) literary tradition of books in which Arthur Conan Doyles' immortal consulting detective meets either other literary characters of the same era or real-live historical figures from the period. No one expects great literature from these pastiches. The fun is in the combination of such disparate fellows as Holmes and Dr. Moreau (from the novel THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU by H.G. Wells). It's like a giant-sized issue of a never published comic-book series entitled SHERLOCK HOLMES TEAM-UP. (I'd buy that!)

There are several things that disappoint in Adams' novel. For one thing, two-thirds of the narrative are provided by Dr. John Watson, as is the tradition of all good Holmes stories. But in the last third of the book, we are treated to chapters told from fully half a dozen different characters (including Holmes himself). This abrupt switch in narrative voices came as a surprise, especially after Adams did such a good job rendering Watson's authorial "voice."

Second, Holmes doesn't do much in the way of deduction in this adventure (a plot point he himself readily admits). In fact, it's Watson who does much of the investigative work here. Not only is there no baffling mystery to solve, Holmes works with other agents in addition to Watson in bringing the whole affair to its' conclusion.

These agents include Professor Challenger (from Doyle's THE LOST WORLD), Cavor (from H.G. Wells's FIRST MEN IN THE MOON), Professor Linnenbrook (from Jules Verne's JOURNEY TO THE  CENTER OF THE EARTH) and Abner Perry (from Edgar Rice Burroughs' AT THE EARTH'S CORE). This is a fairly neat idea, I must admit, but Adams does next to nothing with the concept. The foursome is introduced in one chapter early on and then not mentioned again until later in the book when it is only Challenger and some other lesser known characters, who aid Holmes. 

SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE ARMY OF DR. MOREAU could have been so much more. If you use the word "army" in the title of a book, there had damn well better be such a force in the story. This could have been a steam punk flavored epic adventure. Instead, we get a fast-paced, almost tongue-in-cheek lark of a book that while fun to read didn't really blow me away (as I had hoped).

Still, the book is worth reading for fans of both Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Moreau. 
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