Sherlock Holmes: The Army of Dr. Moreau–Guy Adams

“Science is a fluid thing, Doctor. Like mercury spilled on the laboratory table, it chases away with itself.  Often, it is quite beyond us to restrain or capture it.”~Sherlock Holmes

Within the first several pages, it becomes obvious that Guy Adams in going to have a little irreverent fun with the legend that is Sherlock Holmes. Whether it’s John Watson describing himself as “The Crime Doctor” (a wink to the 1988 movie, Without a Clue), his blending of H.G. Wells’ tale of Edward Pendrick’s visit to The Island of Doctor Moreau, or a nod to his own World House novels in the form of explorer and big game hunter Roger Carruthers, Adams has mashed together works by two literary greats of the 19th century and come out with a winner.

When citizens of London start turning up mauled by a variety of creatures that simply do not exist on her majesty’s island nation, Mycroft Holmes (he who is the government) turns to his brother Sherlock and offers him a chance  to serve Queen and country and solve a seemingly impossible crime. Mycroft knows the story of Edward Pendrick and Dr. Moreau (once in his employ) and fears that Moreau is either not as dead as was formerly believed, or that someone has resurrected his work as a vivisectionist, hoping to create a race of super beasts for their own nefarious purposes.  Sherlock finds himself intrigued, and before you know it, the game is afoot!

The Army of Dr. Moreau is a rollicking good ride, as Holmes and Watson take to the cities sewers, tracing the path of a local gang leader whose description sounds suspiciously canine.  They also meet with a group of Mycroft’s extraordinary gentlemen, from Professor George Edward Challenger (recently of Doyle’s The Lost World) to Professor Lindenbrook (of Verne’s A Journey to the Centre of the Earth) who have been tasked to assist in ways scientific and medical, and of course, Adams own creation, who will later become pivotal to the events of The World House and The World House: Restoration (two must read books if you decide you like Guy Adams). 

The novel does falter somewhat in the latter third, as Adams strays from the traditional Holmesian mystery to a straight up action novel, yet there is enough of Holmes’ and Watson essential nature to carry it to the finish.  What starts out as a charming change of viewpoint (Holmes takes the reins as narrator when Watson becomes unavailable) becomes somewhat frenetic late in the novel, as every chapter is told from a different point of view.  It does feel a bit rushed, and I wonder if his story could have benefitted from another fifty or so pages, perhaps expanding the role of Mycroft and his extraordinary gentlemen in the hunt for whomever has recreated Moreau’s madness in the slums of Victorian London.  However, it doesn’t distract significantly from what is a thoroughly fun, although pulpy, pastiche.

The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu–Sax Rohmer.

A few months ago I was trolling the web in search of reading material when I came across a listing for the re-release of Sax Rohmer’s The Mystery of  Dr. Fu Manchu by Titan Books.  After a look at the very pulpy cover art, I said to myself, “okay, I think I might check this out.”  However, already having a free copy (see project Gutenberg’s website for a free download) of The Insidious Dr Fu Manchu, I decided to go the cheap (free) route and see what was there. 

Note to readers–The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu is the same book, with an odd title change for American audiences–why they did that is beyond me.  However, I was not around in 1913 to question the publisher, so whatever, I can live with that.

The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu is the story of Denis Nayland Smith, formerly of Scotland Yard and now an agent of the crown, tasked with bringing to justice and/or thwarting the sinister plans of Fu Manchu, a Chinese agent who has left a trail of crime and death from the shores of Burma to the waters of the Thames.  A master assassin, thief and alchemist, Fu Manchu leads a criminal regime tasked with undermining the Western Powers (specifically the British Empire) to the benefit of his Chinese homeland.

Smith enlists the help of his old friend Dr. Petrie, and the two embark on a series of adventures with the help of Scotland Yard and the irrepressible Inspector Weymouth that invariably lead to their being outwitted by Fu Manchu, the man  Smith continually refers to as one of the greatest criminal minds the world has ever seen.

And that, in a nutshell, is what is wrong with this novel.  I went in looking to Nayland Smith and Watson…err, Petrie, as worthy hunters of the good(bad) doctor, instead finding a couple of heroes that continually bumble around throughout the entire novel, only getting close to the villain with the (inexplicable) help of one of Fu Manchu’s own henchmen (in this case, Karamaneh, a beautiful and alluring Arabic girl held in thrall to Fu Manchu by way of threats to her immediate family).

There are decent moments, ones where Nayland-Smith actually uses deductive reasoning to solve the riddle of how a man can break into a seemingly impenitrable room and safe leaving nary a clue, but too much of the novel relies on him remembering “facts” from earlier cases rather than examination of the evidence around him.  There is also much too much reliance on lovely Karamaneh, whose sole purpose seems to be to lead the two sleuths around by the nose.  Every time Rohmer writes himself into a corner, Karamaneh mysteriously shows up and points the way forward.  She is deus ex machina personified, and (to me) a lazy way of progressing the novel.

The book is not without its merits–Fu Manchu (the original caricature of the “Yellow Peril“) is a delightful addition to the pantheon of super villains.  Using his considerable intellect and preferred method of assasination (various exotic poisons) Fu Manchu is a master manipulator and a delightfully cunning villain.  Too bad he does not have a worthy adversary.

I think the biggest disappointment of the novel is that Fu Manchu does not figure more prominently in the novel.  He and his methods are alluded to time and again, but the reader only meets him personally a number of times, and even then, only briefly.  I will say that his escape from authorities closing in on his lair is brilliant, and gives a greater understanding of the character’s essential evil than anything up to that point.  It’s also what saved the novel for me.

Of course, be forewarned of some obviously racist mindsets while reading this novel.  1913 was a very different time, and, Rohmer’s characters are not in any way politically correct.

The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu  (C+)

Year of the Vampire! Anno Dracula reissued.

Several years ago a friend introduced me to Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula, a marvellous little tale of alternate Britain, one where Van Helsing and company failed their attempt to kill one Vlad Tepes (a.k.a. “Dracula”) , with unfortunate results both for the vampire hunters and the British realm.  Several years later Vampire and Human live exist side by side in Victorian London and Scotland Yard is dealing with the mystery of the “Ripper”, a serial killer whose victims all come from the underclass working girls of Whitechapel.  The undead ones, that is.

I had to borrow his dog-eared copy and was disappointed to find out that not only was Anno Dracula out of print, but that copies were disturbingly hard to come by.  So, it is with great pleasure that I discovered Titan Books  intention to reissue a print of Newman’s remarkable work.  Scheduled for a May 3rd, 2011 release, Anno Dracula will be a welcome addition to the bookshelves of any horror reader.

For a first look at the new cover, either look up…or check out the Titan Books blog posting!