Review by C.J. Bunce
While you are waiting for the return of the BBC TV series Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as modernized sleuths, or even the third big screen entry in the Sherlock Holmes films starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law in their more classic form, you could pull off the shelf the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories to hold your attention. Or there is another option: Writer Guy Adams has seamlessly intersected the world of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes with H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau in his new novel Sherlock Holmes: The Army of Doctor Moreau. And he does this in a way that may be more accessible to modern readers than the original Doyle stories yet evokes the same voice, time and place. Sherlock Holmes: The Army of Doctor Moreauis being released in bookstores this week.
Told primarily through the mind of Holmes’ classic partner in solving crime, Dr. John Watson, this story blends two classic worlds that actually find a good home together. Because I am more of a fan of the modern TV and movie series over the other classic visual productions such as the Basil Rathbone performances, or even the original stories, I found myself inside the mind of Martin Freeman’s Dr. Watson throughout this novel, although transferred back in time from the 21st century to Watson’s earlier 19th century incarnation. My vision of Holmes bounced around between Cumberbatch and Downey, and I saw as Dr. Moreau, Marlon Brando from the underwhelming Val Kilmer film.
The story itself begins with Holmes’ more intriguing brother Mycroft (played in my head here by Stephen Fry’s version of Mycroft). A bit of a character you could see as an early version of M from the James Bond universe, Adams’ Mycroft is someone you are itching to leanr more of in future novels. The original mad scientist, Dr. Moreau, is believed alive and operating an underground frankensteinian laboratory melding what he believes to be the inevitable evolution of man–hybrids of men and animals. Political motivations bring Dr. Moreau from his original story to again attempt to alter perception and here, take down civilized society via an army of loyal, but horrible, creations.
Although horrific in concept, Adams’ story is pleasingly contemporary to the original stories and so this does not read as a modern horror tale, but more of a dark, lost story of science fiction’s past. It also does not overtly address the original moral and ethical lessons involving the dangers of science as the original but stays lighter in tone, focusing on the detective story.
Adams’ Dr. Watson will be familiar to anyone who is a fan of any version of Sherlock Holmes. Constantly trying to keep up with Holmes, Watson uses his medical knowledge and desire to measure up to Holmes to propel the story forward. Early on in the novel we briefly encounter a nice tribe of characters from the Industrial Revolution fiction’s past: Edward Prendick, the horrified narrator of Wells’ original Dr. Moreau story, has since gone mad and left notes that help Holmes and Watson track Dr. Moreau. Professor Challenger from Doyle’s The Lost World has his own prequel here, arm-in-arm with the heroes of this tale to the bitter end, as does Professor Lindenbrook from Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, and a few other more obscure cameos.
But this is definitely a Sherlock Holmes tale, and Dr. Moreau primarily serves as a bit of a MacGuffin for the detectives to pursue for the bulk of the book since we only really deal with the evil doctor toward the end. The spirit of Holmes and Watson is true and pure fun, worthy of the original. A (literally) dog-headed character named Kane further helps to suck the reader into this fantastical, unthinkable world of the past. The result is a sweeping and satisfying romp. My only complaint would be the changing of narrators in the last two sections of the book from Watson to Holmes and then to all the team players by chapter. It probably works here but I have never read such an abrupt point-of-view shift in a book that I would call completely successful, and so I think a smoother and more exciting end would have been possible without all the head hopping. Still, the entries for Johnson and Mycroft at the end stood out as fun additions and the change in voice did not take away from this being a good read. Adams has done a nice job of channeling familiar and convincing voices and recreating the world in and around 21B Baker Street.
Sherlock Holmes: The Army of Doctor Moreau will be released August 7, 2012, at bookstores and online retailers, and is available for pre-order discount now at Amazon.com. Adams’ first Sherlock Holmes novel, The Breath of God, is available in trade paperback and e-book editions.