Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Sherlock Holmes: The Army of Dr. Moreau

“Fear the law.”  That terrifying refrain from H.G. Wells The Island of Dr. Moreau comes back to life in Guy Adams’ Sherlock Holmes: The Army of Dr. Moreau.  On his South Pacific island, Dr. Moreau tells his creations not to behave like animals who instinctively kill prey.  Follow the law or go to the “House of Pain.”  Moreau's creations fear the law, but ultimately break it.  Roughly thirteen years after Dr. Moreau left for his island, the British Prime Minister is kidnapped from Parliament; only the phrase “fear the law” said by the kidnapper keeps his army of freakish animal-like creations in line.

Before this kidnapping, Mycroft Holmes, the great detective’s brother, attributes horrific deaths in London to Dr. Moreau.  The bodies are mutilated as if torn apart by exotic animals.  Mycroft knows Dr. Moreau has succeeded in creating hybrids of human and beast through his experiments with vivisection - he once funded the mad scientist’s research.  Could Dr. Moreau have returned from his self-imposed exile on the island?  The only eyewitness to the deaths of Dr. Moreau and his assistant Montgomery is Edward Prendick.  But Prendick has committed suicide.  Holmes and Watson are recruited to solve the mystery. 

The reader does not need to be immersed in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series to enjoy this book.  The plot is clear, the characters are easy to follow, and the mystery is solved by intelligent deduction.  Unlike Adams’s prior Sherlock Holmes book The Breath of God, which deals with the supernatural, this adventure focuses on the science of the nineteenth century, with references to Charles Darwin and the focus on vivisection.  The villain’s goal is to develop a serum to accelerate evolution.  What if a human falling from a building could suddenly sprout wings?  This ambitious research goes way beyond what Dr. Moreau achieved on his island.

A fun addition to the plot is The Department.  Mycroft is the self-described “headmaster” of the  agents who are hired “in order to handle specific threats or research projects.”  The Department’s “science club” consists of distinguished researchers such as Professor Lindenbrook from Jules Verne’s A Journey to the Centre of the Earth and Abner Perry from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ At the Earth’s Core.  Their help is needed to battle the Army of Dr. Moreau.  Guy Adams even borrows from his own novel The World House with the character Mr. Roger Carruthers, whose tracking skills play a crucial role.

In sum, this mash-up is an obvious departure from Doyle’s original storyline, but that is what makes it original.  Would Doyle appreciate this modern day rendition of his beloved character?  Who knows.  But not even Doyle wrote Holmes’ most rememberable line:  “Elementary, my dear Watson.”  Perhaps Dr. Watson could sum up this book best by saying, “Evolution, my dear Holmes.”

By Mark Schelske