Book Review: ‘Sherlock Holmes – The Army of Dr Moreau’
I was at a critical disadvantage when I started Sherlock Holmes – The Army of Dr Moreau by Guy Adams. That’s because I never read any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories or the H.G. Wells tale The Island of Doctor Moreau. So I knew that I couldn’t critique Adams’ versions of the characters in relation to the originals.
Despite my inexperience with Doyle and Wells, popular culture had already given me enough background on Sherlock Holmes, and the crappy 1996 movie The Island of Dr. Moreau acquainted me with Dr. Moreau. While a general understanding of Holmes as a character was necessary for me to get into this novel, prior knowledge about Moreau was not since Adams provides adequate back story. Seeing Moreau’s hideous creations in the Marlon Brando/Val Kilmer flick did help me better visualize their physical appearance as I was reading though.
The mystery at the heart of this Guy Adams novel leans more toward the horror genre than typical Sherlock Holmes cases. Mutilated bodies are turning up in London with wounds clearly caused by ferocious exotic animals. Sherlock Holmes is visited by his brother Mycroft, who is certain that the murders are the calling card of the deranged Dr Moreau, a biologist who was employed by the British Government. Moreau expanded on the work of Charles Darwin, before his grotesque experiments were halted for attracting negative publicity. Mycroft thinks that Moreau’s research has resumed and charges his brother with tracking down the rogue scientist before the situation grows out of control.
Just like Doyle’s Holmes adventures, Adams sets up The Army of Dr Moreau as story within a story. Holmes’ trusty partner Watson acts as the narrator, talking to the reader while he uses his notes to recount the events of the case. In this way, Adams gives his book a humorous Meta quality. One of the novel’s funniest scenes involves Watson’s visit to his editor at The Strand, the real magazine which published Doyle’s Holmes stories. It’s easy to chuckle at this self-aware tale, when the editor cleverly remarks “Some people just can’t help but blur the lines between fiction and reality.”
Similar to its portrayal in the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes films, the relationship between Holmes and Watson in The Army of Dr Moreau is fraught by Holmes’ predilection for leaving his partner in the dark. Adams provides entertaining depth to their delicate relationship as Watson openly vents about his frustrations. Sometimes he’s playful like when says to Holmes “You are quite the most irritating man I know,” but in other moments Watson is deadly serious “In all honesty I felt like leaving Baker Street just as I had those few years ago, not to take up a new life as had been the case then, but simply to eradicate the irritations of the current one.”
One great trick Adams uses to keep the narrative interesting is to allow other characters like Sherlock and Mycroft to take over narration after Watson is kidnapped by the villain. As a result, the final conflict is much more exciting because you get to experience it from all of the angles and players involved in the master plan.
Although The Army of Dr Moreau is a riveting mystery, surprisingly it’s not all action and fluff. Given Moreau’s heinous experiments on animals as a vivisectionist, the characters raise important ethical and moral questions about the doctor’s work like when Holmes asks “Is man wrong to interfere in the passage of so-called natural law or is he simply exhibiting the intelligent dominance the proves the validity of the law?” Statements like that will leave you thinking long after you finish this book.
Sherlock Holmes – The Army of Dr Moreau is available now in stores and online at www.titanbooks.com.