Review by C.J. Bunce
In his fourth novel expanding on the world of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson, The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols, writer and movie director Nicholas Meyer adds another mash-up to his repertoire, weaving Doyle’s dynamic duo together with real-life contemporaries and events in England and Russia in 1905. In keeping with Doyle’s subtext of having his heroes address and attempt to thwart social injustices, Meyer takes a real-life hoax document used for more than a century to discredit Jewish people and weaves it into the fictional narrative to address and mirror racism, governance, and propaganda in current government and politics. Meyer overlays his own lessons of history on a murder plot brought to Holmes by renowned brother Mycroft, the solving of which takes Holmes and Watson outside their familiar England to far-off Russia.
Readers who haven’t read the original Doyle stories would benefit by tackling a few of those first, or any of the several modern sequels, sidebars, and tie-in books we’ve reviewed over the past decade here at borg. The Peculiar Protocols is a narrative for diehard Holmes & Watson readers, stuffed full with early 20th century psychology, Easter Eggs, callbacks, and a host of real historical figures interspersed convincingly in the style of a Kim Newman novel. To absorb all the layers introduced into the story, readers will want to follow Holmes’ lead and pay close attention to the details–something readers will enjoy more after becoming familiar with Doyle’s original style. Meyer’s “meta” conceit as backdrop for the story is the finding of diary pages believed to have been written by the real Dr. Watson, and so the Special Collections library folks at the University of Iowa, Meyer’s alma mater and keeper of his own original papers, deposited the material into Meyer’s hands for deft handling, knowing he’s done this before.
Meyer never forgets his Star Trek chops (having written three Star Trek movies and directed two). Meyer, who I interviewed here at borg back in 2016, then confirmed his intent in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country to have created Sherlock Holmes as a real character in the world of Star Trek by having Spock refer to Holmes as one of his ancestors. That movie doesn’t hide its reliance on Spock as a future master sleuth inspired by Doyle’s detective. Now if you want to see the source of where Spock got his own signature fighting move, you might check out Peculiar Protocols if only to find Spock’s ancestor using a familiar method to debilitate a foe.
Meyer’s writing is precise and literary, and if there’s anything that might pull some readers out of the narrative it’s a risk at times of being too verbose over matters or descriptions not directly tied to the plot. He successfully uses footnotes in a fictional work as a reader “aside,” or to explain, embellish, or otherwise add humor to the text. Most of the historical figures will not be familiar to the average reader, but for those wanting to know who is real and who isn’t, Meyer includes a helpful historical reference in an epilogue.
Fans of this book and Meyer’s writing style may want to go back and check out his novels The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (also made into a movie), West End Horror, and The Canary Trainer, and his memoir, The View from the Bridge.