Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Giant Rat of Sumatra: Review

Synopsis: Among all the tantalizing mysteris of Sherlock Holmes, none is more famous than the great untold story of The Giant Rat of Sumatra. A tale that according to Richard L. Boyer involes a mysterious ship lying at the London docks with a terrifying beast caged in the hold; a night of fire and terror & a dead sailor who was on his way to consult with Holmes; a beautiful young woman abducted and held for ransom; and Watson captured by a madman with Holmes powerless to help. No wonder the great detective called this "a story for which the world is not yet prepared."

The story of the giant rat, which Holmes alludes to in "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire," is one which has fascinated Holmes fans for decades. Several authors have attempted to the tell the tale in both short story and novel-length versions. This is the third such that I have read. Boyer very nearly had me completely in this pastiche published in 1976. It's an interesting tale and Boyer most definitely knows his Holmes. The action is brisk and he has done a fairly good job in an attempt to mimic Doyle's style. The characters of Holmes, Watson and Lestrade are pretty solid and I was swept along, believing it all until Dr. Watson, as narrator, started throwing way too many "my dear readers" at me. Watson seemed to have suddenly turned into a female protagonist in a Victorian melodramatic novel, rather than the bluff, stalwart companion I had known and loved. And then there's the grand finale....the identity of the mastermind behind the scheme was a bit much to swallow. Putting aside his identity (which was a bit much for me in and of itself), the action seemed to put him on a par with Moriarty, not in scope--there is no large organization involved--but in range. How this character amassed the wealth that must have been necessary is beyond me.

In the end I find myself giving Boyer's effort three stars. This is a good, solid rendering of Holmes. I was interested in the mystery and enjoyed seeing how he pulled off the "giant rat." Had it not been for the "dear readers" and the final scenes, I would have unreservedly raised the rating to four stars.


J F Norris said...

IMO this is the best Sherlockian pastiche of the 20th century. I don't recall any "dear readers" but I read it decades ago when it first came out. And unlike you I loved that the villian turned out to be someone from the Holmes canon. Just brilliant. Maybe my middle aged self will find more fault with it should I ever re-read it. My memory though is one of a ripping yarn and a fun book.

I think it was nominated for an Edgar. Boyer went on to create the "Doc" Adams series about a dentist turned sleuth. There's lots of fishing in those books.

Bev Hankins said...

Hmmm. I felt like I was constantly tripping over "dear readers" in the last half of the book. There weren't any that I noticed in the whole firt half.

I guess I get a little tired of characters coming back from the dead. It was obvious that Doyle meant the villain to be dead when he wrote the original story. I think each storyline should be limited to one character being "reborn" as it were. Already had the limit with Holmes, so I was done with that.

I do agree that it's a fairly well-done pastiche. And the best of those (that I've read) that try to tell the story of the Giant Rat.