Review: 'Sherlock Holmes: The Army of Dr. Moreau', by Guy Adams
Following the trail of several corpses seemingly killed by wild animals, Holmes and Watson stumble upon the experiments of Doctor Moreau.
Moreau, through vivisection and crude genetic engineering is creating animal hybrids, determined to prove the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin. In his laboratory, hidden among the opium dens of Rotherhithe, Moreau is building an army of 'beast men'. Tired of having his work ignored -- or reviled -- by the British scientific community, Moreau is willing to make the world pay attention using his creatures as a force to gain control of the government.
A brand-new adventure for Conan Doyle's intrepid sleuth! (blurb)
Judging by the advertising in this paperback, Titan Books is engaging in publishing a series of sequels featuring the further exploits of famous public-domain literary figures. In Anno Dracula: the Bloody Red Baron, by Kim Newman, “It is 1918 and Dracula is commander-in-chief of the armies of Germany and Austria-Hungary.” Newman is also the author of a novel featuring Dr. James Moriarty, Col. Sebastian Moran, and another of Holmes’ notable adversaries; and Guy Adams has written a previous S.H. adventure, Sherlock Holmes: The Breath of God (Titan Books, September 2011), in which the Great Detective meets Aleister Crowley and practically every psychic detective ever created: Algernon Blackwood’s John Silence, William Hope Hodgson’s Thomas Carnacki, and so forth.
Holmes’ cases are, as usual, recorded and reported by his roommate and confidante Dr. John Watson. This adventure is brought to them by Holmes’ older brother Mycroft. It seems that bodies are being found in or near the Thames in the Rotherhithe district of southeast London that bear the teeth marks of ferocious non-English beasts:
‘Indeed, the pathology reports make it clear that the wounds are not the result of any one animal they can pin their reputations on.’
‘And we discount the logical answer,’ Holmes said. ‘That they were killed by multiple creatures. Why?’
‘Because one wound tend to think that if there really were a shark in the Thames we would have heard reports of it by now.’
‘One of the creatures was a shark?’
‘The latest cadaver had had its left leg bitten off by a blacktip shark, a species most commonly found off the coast of Australia.’
‘Absurd!’ I exclaimed. (p. 30)
The reason that Mycroft Holmes suspects that Dr. Moreau is involved is that, unknown to the public, the government Department to which he is attached had funded Dr. Moreau’s earliest experiments.
The hope was that he might develop some serum or another that could improve our resilience; improve our immunity against disease; make us more impervious to extremes of temperature or able to function for longer periods without food or water.” (p. 24)
The government certainly did not approve of the experiments of wanton vivisection for which Moreau was hounded out of England, and had no knowledge at the time of Moreau’s further experiments on an isolated south Pacific isle. The only observer of those was Edward Prendick [in H. G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau, set in 1888] who said that Moreau had been killed; but Prendick was considered a hysterical and unreliable witness. Now, eleven years later (1899?), the gruesome deaths around Rotherhithe imply that Dr. Moreau is back; and Prendick has just committed suicide – supposedly beyond doubt, but the timing is suspicious.
‘I make no firm conclusions,’ Mycroft said. ‘I simply present everything I know to be relevant, and trust in your skills –‘ he looked at me ‘—both of your skills – to help get to the bottom of things. I want you to investigate the deaths, eradicate – or confirm – alternative explanations, and act on them.’
‘Act on them?’ asked Holmes.
‘If Dr. Moreau is alive and well and working in the capital, I want him found.’ (p. 31)
[In H. G. Wells’ novel, Dr. Moreau did not have a first name. In the 1977 movie in which he was played by Burt Lancaster, he was Paul Moreau. In this novel he is Charles Moreau.]
As the blurb gives away, Dr. Moreau is indeed conducting new experiments in London; but before Holmes and Watson finally track him down (after much slinking in disguise through Rotherhithe’s worst dens of scum and villany), they encounter Doyle’s George Edward Challenger, Wells’ Mr. Cavor, Verne’s Professor Otto Lidenbrock, and Burroughs’ Abner Perry. Their first glimpse of someone or –thing unusual comes when they spy on a gang of ruffians in the sewers led by Kane:
‘Who wants work?’ asked a deep voice. Another gondola appeared from an opposite tunnel. The man inside it had to stoop so as not to lose his hat on the low ceiling. Once out in the open he gained his full height. There was a great deal of it – the man was a veritable giant. His face was covered with a long black net hanging from the brim of his hat that made him look like a beekeeper. He wore a large black overcoat and his large hands were hidden inside shining leather mittens. As he approached the central platform, the effect was that of an overwhelming shadow looming across the water. (p. 88)
As the scene progresses, Kane (who speaks normally) seems less and less human. Finally Holmes and Watson are discovered and, despite Watson’s shooting out the lanterns, Kane pursues them:
I turned and fired blindly into the darkness. In the muzzle flash I caught a terrifying glimpse of Kane who was indeed almost within reach. His hat and veil had come loose and the face that leered at me in that sudden moment of illumination was a dark, terrible thing of teeth and pink maw. (p. 93)
Furry fans may be impatient up to Part Three, The Terrible Father, page 137. After that the vivisected animal-men come profusely. As the blurb says, Dr. Moreau is creating an army of beast-men to seize control of London. Holmes and Watson form a semi-alliance with one of Moreau’s mongrels who feels no loyalty to him, a hound-gorilla composite. Part Four, The Pig-Headed Villain, in which the Prime Minister is kidnapped, introduces Moreau’s army:
‘Speaking personally, it was the horse-headed feller that first convinced me we were dealing with more than just a bunch of mutters in masks,’ Fellowes continued. ‘He spoke up you see, told Sir Bartleby of the Exchequer to shut his face (the honorable gentleman was doing more than his fair share of screaming you see, Sirs.) The way he opened his mouth was more than a theatrical costumier could manage and that was a fact. I saw his teeth, tongue and throat and knew that what I was looking at was a horse’s head on a bloke’s body.’ (p. 181)
And then Dr. Watson is kidnapped to be turned into a beast-man …
Sherlock Holmes: The Army of Dr. Moreau seems a satisfying-enough read, although in places it seems to be overly formulaic, as if to say that a Sherlock Holmes story HAS to have THIS in it. Then suddenly it develops originality! After Watson is kidnapped, Holmes takes over the narrative.
I must confess, the conclusion of the Moreau affair was somewhat tedious. From that point on it was little more than battles with inhumane monsters beneath the streets of London, none of the really interesting cerebral problems that feature in my better cases. (p. 203)
There are successful Big Surprises. The beast-men – the leopard-man, the goat-man, the black panther-man, and all manner of THINGS – are more successful than the experiments upon the island, but they are all supporting characters without speaking roles. Fortunately the hound-gorilla remains a talking ally/adversary to the end. So after a slow start, Sherlock Holmes: The Army of Dr. Moreau will satisfy the Furry reader.
The astute reader can have fun looking for anachronisms, which Adams throws in a few places. To give away one, Watson disguises his interest in Moreau’s earlier vivisections by claiming to be doing research for a science-fiction story. The term “science-fiction” was not coined until thirty years after the late Victorian period.