Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. This time, Lyzard has a cool review/interview focusing on a cool mash-up novel called SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE ARMY OF DR. MOREAU. Writer Guy Davis was nice enough to answer some of her questions and we’ll get to that further down, but first, here’s Lyz’s review of the book from Titan Books.
SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE ARMY OF DR. MOREAU NovelWriter: Guy Adams
Publisher: Titan Books
If you are a fan of Kim Newman’s ANNO DRACULA series, then I’ve found a book to tide you over until the third novel in the series is released.
At first you may not regard SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE ARMY OF DR. MOREAU as a horror novel. Guy Adams’ previous novel, SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE BREATH OF GOD, has a more obvious horror-esque plot with the involvement of a demonologist and psychics. However, as THE ARMY OF DR. MOREAU progresses, the novel transforms from that of the detective genre into a dark thriller with grisly murders and monsters.
Typical of a Sherlock Holmes tale, this story begins with Dr. Watson preparing the readers for a yarn that is “bizarre and horrific,” hardly a case that can easily be fathomed. Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, of the Department, brings news of grave danger to the Empire. Four recent murders that even Sherlock overlooked are suspected to be connected to the presumed dead Dr. Moreau.
However, Mycroft wouldn’t trust just his brother to solve such an important case. So he has gathered a league of experts. We have George Edward Challenger (an intimidating man from the canonical Holmes’ universe), Professor Lindenbrook (from Jules Verne’s A JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH), Abner Perry (created by Edgar Rice Burroughs), and Mr. Cavor (of H.G. Wells’ THE FIRST MEN ON THE MOON).
It isn’t important to know the back-story of the non-Doyle created characters, but Adams does provide a significant amount of summary on Dr. Moreau from H.G. Wells THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU. Having never read the novel, and attempted to block out the Marlon Brando film adaptation, I can’t tell you whether or not Adams is faithful to the source material. What I can tell you is that it doesn’t matter. Adams tells a great story, period.
Like many of Doyle’s original stories, this book is a fast paced read. It can be finished in just a couple of days. There are two main reasons for this. One, the dialogue. Its quick, short, and clear. No laborious speeches, extensive descriptions, or focus on menial details. Two, the plot. This is a thriller, both of crime and horror. Trying to limit yourself to “just one more chapter” is as much a challenge as Holmes trying to survive his trial with this mad scientist.
Though the concept of twisting up classic literature is hardly novel anymore, Adams’ story is one of the more inventive of the pack. I’d judge this book by the cover, for it features a soldier with a warthog head riding a horse. I mean really, who wouldn’t be interested in reading that? Just the combination of characters and the way they complement each other is an example of how this genre is about more than mish-mashing famous literary or historical characters. Writing books like this takes a writer than can not only incorporate other authors’ creations, but also provide their own spin and voice to them. There are numerous knock-offs of these types of stories, but the books that work are apparent after only a few pages.
I’m not sure if the Baker Street Irregulars would approve of this, but I would quickly put SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE ARMY OF DR. MOREAU amongst the top non-canonical continuations of Arthur Conan Doyle’s work.
And if I haven’t convinced, you can read more about what Guy Adams himself has to say below.
LYZARD (LYZ): This isn’t your only work involving Sherlock Holmes. What was your initial attraction to the detective and why has he continued to inspire you?
GUY ADAMS (GA): I've been a fan of the Holmes stories since I was a kid having found them and devoured them at my school library. I think the appeal lies in the pairing of Holmes and Watson rather than either of them individually. The brain and the heart, the cold and the hot. Add to that Doyle's wonderful imagination and you have a winner. These weren't just exercises in deduction, they were rich and bizarre: a man employed to copy out the encyclopedia because he had a lustrous head of red hair; a severed ear posted to an old lady; a governess followed every day by a man on a bicycle... they're creepy and funny and unlike anything else.
LYZ: Sherlock Holmes has always been a hot property. In fact, he recently was awarded the most adapted (human) literary character of all time by Guiness World Records and right now the intuitive detective is popular as ever, most notably with the BBC series and the upcoming ELEMENTARY on CBS. Why do you think, at this particular time, the character has had a resurgence in popular culture?
GA: These things are cyclic, great characters never go away they just have their seasons. Right now Holmes and Watson are in season again. I don't think there's any real external reason. You can't keep good men down.
LYZ: Not only does your novel feature Sherlock, but along with the titular character Moreau, there are numerous other literary characters involved? Why did you choose to go outside the Sherlock universe?
GA: I can't take all the credit as it was actually part of the deal. Titan wanted my Holmes novels to feature other famous historical or literary characters as well as Holmes and Watson, I just went away and decided who. Of course, as I found with the first book, once you start it's hard to stop.
LYZ: Do you think it is important for readers to have knowledge, even if only a basic overview, of the characters featured in MOREAU in order to follow and enjoy the book?
GA: Not really, I think I cover everything you need to know. Yes, if you're familiar with the characters then there are a few in-jokes that you'll get but I tried not to let them get in the way of decent storytelling. Actually, a lot of reviewers have admitted to never having read any Holmes and Watson before so I think the book has been a blank slate for a lot of people.
LYZ: Titan Books, your publisher, also releases Kim Newman’s ANNO DRACULA, another series that borrows famous fictional (and historical) persons. This, along with the parody trend of books such as PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES, has taken up quite a chunk of the literary market. What do you think is the attraction to these books for not only readers, but for writers as well?
GA: There's a playful element to it, certainly. It's a game. As a writer there's a pleasure in building a structure that can hold everyone, these characters should be in the novel because they fit not because they're a novelty. Planning that out, taking a few chances... that's great fun.
Also, there's an opportunity to do something different with a character. I intentionally put William Hope Hodgson's Carnacki in the first book because, as much as I loved the original stories and ideas, the character himself was massively undeveloped. He was a cipher really, a hook to hang a great story on. Nothing wrong with that but it did mean that I could make him my own a bit, take him somewhere that was interesting to me.
None of which is to suggest that I'm a better writer than Hodgson (or any of the other creators) but I think a desire to tinker is part of our makeup. Like a decorator looking at a patch of wall and wanting to get his brush out.
LYZ: Would you consider your work a form of elevated “fan fiction?”
GA: I can see why you would suggest so! Honestly it never occurred to me. I suppose it's fair though, yes.
LYZ: Do you feel that you have a duty to try and match Arthur Conan Doyle’s writing style, whether it is his language, dialogue, or sentence structure?
GA: No. An element of it will certainly creep in and, given that Watson narrates most of the story I would be failing to nail his character unless there were some similarities. Still, a literary impression can suck all the joy out of the room.
I said above that there was an element to this that was like a game and that's true but it has to be a novel first and foremost. If it's just an exercise in mimicking tone and folding in literary characters then it will be a hollow confection. This is me writing those characters not Doyle, I'm not sure I could do it any other way.
LYZ: Going back to the idea of remaining faithful to Doyle or not, MOREAU is much more gruesome and darker than I remember his stories to be. For such a fan of the original works, why did you decide to go down this route?
GA: The story naturally led me there. And Doyle wouldn't have minded as he was a superb horror writer. He relished darkness and terror.
LYZ: The novel is incredibly meta, even beyond the addition of characters from other literary universes. In the beginning, Watson responds to the criticisms readers have of his work, some that even modern day audiences may share. In fact, there is several other times through out MOREAU that characters discuss how they feel to be a part of these stories. Is this your analysis of what the characters in the Sherlock’s stories would actually respond with? Or is it even an examination of the response readers of Doyle’s time, possibly our own, would have?
GA: The opening of the book directly responds to criticisms of Doyle. He wrote these stories in a fast and loose manner and often contradicted himself. He forgot where Watson was wounded, he even forgot his first name. It also addresses the point I made above about the book being in my style rather than Doyle's, I suppose I was offering a confession right upfront.
My intention wasn't so much to be 'meta' it was just taking in the responses to these characters and stories that have emerged over time, allowing that to play into things a little.
LYZ: Obviously you would like readers to pick up your other works, but is their any writers out there that are writing books or comics that excite you?
GA: So many, thankfully! I haven't been reading much fiction this year because a lot of my projects have required research but I'll try and go for one of each (with apologies to the many other great authors that therefore don't get a look in): Christopher Fowler's Bryant and May mysteries are amongst the very best a shelf could hope for, clever and witty and simply wonderful to read. Comics? Peter Milligan's run on HELLBLAZER has given the book a real lift, it's hard coming in on a long running series and making it your own, Milligan's always great and he's nailed it.
SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE ARMY OF DR. MOREAU is currently available. The Titan Books website features a preview chapter.
Lyzard is actually Lyz Reblin, a senior screenwriting major with an English minor at Chapman University. Along with writing for AICN, she has been published twice on the subject of vampire films.
Interested in illustrated films, fringe cinema, and other oddities?
Check out Halo-8 and challenge everything!
Find more AICN HORROR including an archive of previous columns
on AICN HORROR’s Facebook page!