BY SEAN CLARK
Filed Under: Sci-Fi, Mystery, Historical
Of course, anyone entering into a book titled Sherlock Holmes: The Army of Doctor Moreau expecting anything deeper than “The Jetsons Meet The Flintstones” is guaranteed disappointment. So I’m going to go on the assumption you’ve looked at the cover, seen the title, the magnifying glass, and the hechtgrau dragoon with a boar’s head, and are on board with all that.
Okay, for those of you that remain, yes this is a mash-up of Sherlock Holmes and H.G. Well’s The Island of Dr. Moreau. Adams is faithful to his source material to the point of reverence, which is great. But unfortunately the book exemplifies the reason most fan fiction isn’t published: the “what if” premise is more interesting than the story. This is not the sort of case readers usually see Holmes tackle; tell me the idea of Holmes and Watson pursuing manbeast mutants who’ve kidnapped the Prime Minister through the London sewers doesn’t sound more akin to a DuckTales episode than an hour of Masterpiece Theater.
The underlying mystery isn’t really a mystery at all. The book opens with Mycroft showing up and telling them all about Dr. Moreau’s vivisections, and Edward Prendick’s horrible recollections of what went on, and how they were based in truth. Some bodies show up with signs of animal attacks, a group animal-headed thugs raid Parliament, Holmes dresses as a sailor and does some spying, then forms a posse and chases the hybrids though the sewers.
The biggest issue with that is there’s not all that much mystery going on; I mean, the title basically sums up what’s going on. Holmes himself continually laments that this is a case that’s not really challenging his brain. There are a few surprises and false trails, sure, and Adams does a good enough job of moving the characters around to different locations to keep things moving, but it’s all fairly elementary (sorry, can’t help myself). Still, so far it’s an entertaining enough way to mindlessly spend a rainy afternoon.
Then you get to the end, and it all unravels rapidly. There’s a few reasons for this, such as said lack of mystery leaving few possible outcomes for the reader to wonder at. But there’s a big one: for the final 40 or so pages of this 278 page book, Adams abandons the format, eshewing Watson’s recollections and cycling though multiple narrators in short chapters.
Watson, you see, is taken prisoner, and thus removed from narration. It’s a cheap way to pad out the book, and it deflates what little mystery Adams had built up, instead offering a hodge-podge, slightly slapstick action story from a few different angles. (Speaking of cartoons, Watson dispatches one dog-headed villain–a creature mostly man, completely capable of speech and higher thought–by throwing a ball in front of a train, causing him to shift his pursuit from Watson to the ball and get creamed.)
But worst of all, as part of this shifting narration, we dip inside Holmes quite a bit. For the most part of the book up to this point, at the very least, Adams does a credible job of imitating Doyle’s style. But the shift to Sherlock’s perspective derails everything.
Sherlock Holmes is a fantastic character in large part for his peculiarity in addition to his arrogant genius. He deduces instantaneously things it takes Watson and the reader paragraphs, pages, or even chapters to fully catch up to. As a reader you want to know what’s going on in his head, that’s part of the fun. But it’s also part of the fun knowing you can’t actually get inside him anymore than Watson can.
Adams’s Holmes chapters hardly read any differently from the Watson chapters or those of the others given chapters. And his inner workings just ring false. Is this what you imagine Holmes’s thought process to sound like?
Challenger was supposed to be a genius and yet, as far as I could see, his temper had replaced his brain to the point of rendering him a liability. How I wished for Watson and no other, at least with him by my side I knew I had someone on whom I could depend.
That’s full of the hesitant trepidation we’d expect from Watson. Indeed more than once Holmes hedges his assertions by dropping in phrases like: “If the night went as I hoped, I would be able to hand it to him in person.”
Not only did the voice shifting ruin the book for me, the non-Watson sections don’t belong in the book at all. Nearly all of what happens in the shifting chapters before the book’s final moments could have easily been recounted by Watson, and it probably would have been more entertaining for it. This is particularly annoying since Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes books feature Watson retelling the adventures as a sort of biographer, so that needed distance between action and narration is built right in to the style Adams was imitating before he decided to diverge. These redundant and distracting sections really feel like little more than an attempt by Adams to pad a too-short book. The only other explanation is that Adams was trying to drum up false tension by tricking the reader into thinking Watson is in real danger. Either way it’s a bit insulting to the reader’s intelligence.
The whole thing reads like a mid-season bottle episode for a TV show that’s been extended one season too many. I’m sure there will be people that will enjoy Adams’s treatment of Sherlock Holmes, but I can’t imagine who they are. Welcome to the public domain, Sherlock.
Similar Reads: The Sign of the Four (Doyle), The Island of Dr. Moreau (Wells), The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein (Ackroyd)
[A review was requested and a review copy provided.]