EXCLUSIVE: SHERLOCK HOLMES - THE ARMY OF DR MOREAU 9-Page Preview
Published: August 1, 2012 - 12:27pm
On August 7th, Titan Books releases Sherlock Holmes - The Army of Dr Moreau, an original adventure following the famous detective and his trusty assistant Doctor Watson written by Guy Adams.
Dead bodies are found on the streets of London with wounds that can only be explained as the work of ferocious creatures not native to the city.
Sherlock Holmes is visited by his brother, Mycroft, who is only too aware that the bodies are the calling card of Dr Moreau, a vivisectionist who was working for the British Government, following in the footsteps of Charles Darwin, before his experiments attracted negative attention and the work was halted. Mycroft believes that Moreau’s experiments continue and he charges his brother with tracking the rogue scientist down before matters escalate any further.
I had visited The British Museum before of course. Most recently, I had taken Mary there for a dull afternoon when rain had forced us indoors and away from the lake in Regent’s Park. I say “dull” not because I had no interest in its collections, but everything has its time and place and reading about Egyptian excavations will never be a replacement for lolling on the water with the woman you love.
Holmes and I descended from our cab at five minutes to the appointed hour and made our way along Great Russell Street.
“I sometimes wonder,” Holmes said as we turned the corner into Montague Street, “whether this is not the repository of some of the greatest crimes of our time. Thefts far beyond the paltry affairs I concern myself with – national treasures, chunks of history, all whipped away to be stowed, under lock and key, in the name of education and empire.”
“But surely,” I replied, “archaeology is hardly theft. We have discovered some of the finest historical artefacts in the world, preserved them, learned from them.”
“They are rare lions,” he said, gazing up at the building, “torn from their natural jungle to rot away in the smoke-filled streets of an alien land.”
He was bordering on the poetic, something that always put me on edge with Holmes! It could be a sign of mania – either excessive exuberance or the most terrible depression. Not that I was completely immune to the atmosphere of the place. After hours, the building had a decidedly eerie quality. Gone was the hubbub of school parties and black-frocked nannies poking their unwilling charges through the doors. The light was dim and the shadows in the colonnaded entrance seemed unnaturally dense. Perhaps my nerves were still raw from our most recent case, but I will admit to being chilled by more than just the January air as we made our way towards the main entrance.
Holmes jogged up the steps to the main doors and rapped on the wood with the head of his cane. He turned and smiled, looking not unlike one of the rare lions he had mentioned earlier.
After a few moments there was the sound of a bolt being drawn and a lock being turned. The door opened a crack and the face of an elderly caretaker appeared in the gap.
“Mr Holmes?” the old man asked.
“Indeed,” Holmes replied, tipping his hat, “and my colleague Dr John Watson.”
“Of course, Sir,” the caretaker replied. “I was told to expect both of you.” He opened the door fully and there was a waft of hair-oil and dust. “You will forgive me, Sirs, if I check your credentials. Matters here are of such a delicate nature that it’s more than my job’s worth to let just anyone in.”
“You may have my card, certainly,” I replied, trying to keep the irritation from my voice. I could quite understand the gentleman’s need for security but I have never responded well to such behaviour.
“With all due respect, Sir,” he smiled, “a man’s card is easily attained. I had something more reliable in mind.” He turned to Holmes. “Tell me, Sir: ‘Whoever makes it, tells it not. Whoever takes it, knows it not. Whoever knows it, wants it not.’ What am I describing?”
I sighed and tapped impatiently at the steps with my cane. “We have an appointment,” I said. “We were not warned it was with the damned Sphinx.”
Holmes held up his hand. “I don’t mind.” Nor would he – any chance to show off his reasoning. He repeated the man’s riddle, shrugged as if it were child’s play itself. “I presume you are describing counterfeit currency?”
The old man smiled and stepped back. “Indeed, Sir, please be so good as to enter.”
Holmes did so but, as I prepared to follow, the old man interceded again. “Forgive me, Sir,” he said, “but you will likewise have to answer a question.”
“Dear Lord!” I rolled my eyes. “I can’t stand word games and riddles, this is utterly preposterous.”
“I wouldn’t dream of offering you a riddle, Sir,” he replied, “my questions are naturally intended to confirm a person’s identity and are catered very specifically to their skills.” He looked skyward, scratching his light beard as he thought for a moment. “Ignoring the phalanges and the metacarpus –” he leaned forward and smiled “– such are common terms and far too easy even for the layman – name four bones within the human hand.”
“Scaphoid, carpus, trapezium and ulna.”
I made to push past him but he held up his hand. “I think you’ll agree, Sir, that the ulna is located in the arm rather than hand.”
I was growing to hate this man. Though he was quite right. I never had liked exams, they flustered me. “Triquetral!” I shouted.
“Just so, Sir,” he concurred, allowing me past. “You could also have had capitate or lunate of course.”
If this irritating man didn’t get on with it, I would be sorely tempted to show him the bones in my own hand, with some force. Perhaps this showed for, once inside the building, the elderly fellow took pains not to delay us further.
“The other gentlemen,” he explained, “are waiting for you in the Reading Room. I try not to leave them alone together for too long – they are wont to begin fighting.”
“Fighting?” What manner of meeting was this?
“I am of the opinion, Sir, that there is nothing more violent than the scientific community. They are always so set in their ideas, ideas their colleagues rarely share.” Heading towards the main door of the Reading Room he gave a chuckle, releasing it suddenly and percussively, as if it were the product of pent-up wind. “And there are few in the community whose ideas are more divergent than this lot,” he said, opening the door just as a large volume of Homer’s verse came sailing through it.
“How dare you, Sir!” came a voice from inside, deep and loud, the sort of voice a boulder might possess if given speech. “Nobody dismisses the work of George Edward Challenger and leaves the room with his teeth still in his mouth!” The man was a giant. Never had I seen a man with a head so damnably large! If he kept it full he must be a clever man indeed. The rest of his body was built to carry such an intimidating skull, huge and muscular, with a paunch that showed his appetite was as big as the rest of him.
“Don’t be a barbarian!” cried a high-pitched voice from the shadows beneath a desk. The giant’s opponent was his opposite in almost every way. Though not particularly short he was wiry and spare, with gangly limbs that looked worryingly snappable when seen within a few feet of Challenger’s massive hands. The man’s small, pink face peered out, myopic eyes squinting through thick spectacles, a moustache twitching in fright like the whiskers of a dormouse. “I was merely theorising!”
“Theorising?” Challenger climbed atop another desk, holding his arms up in the air like a gorilla championing its right to be dominant male. “What a lily-livered little flea you are, Cavor! Stand up for yourself like a man.”
“I’d rather not,” the man cried, “for if I do you’ll most certainly bash my head in!”
“Gentlemen!” cried a third man, coming out from behind the cover of one of the bookshelves. This man was not dissimilar to Cavor, though considerably older and more dishevelled. He wore fingerless gloves and his pince-nez were as crooked as his colourful bow tie. “We really don’t have time for these sorts of childish shenanigans. I have left my work at a critical stage in order to attend this meeting and I think the least the rest of you could do would be to keep matters brief and to the point.”
“Work?” scoffed a fourth voice. This next man was more urbane in appearance, though his red cheeks and clenched fists suggested he had a temper as quick to flare as Challenger’s. Given his advanced years, one couldn’t in all conscience encourage anger in him. He was eighty if he was a day, and as frail as one would expect of someone that age. “You’re an idiot, Perry, and little more than an engineer. Why we indulge your presence at these meetings I’ll never know!”
“Engineer?” Perry raised his wool-wrapped fists and adopted a pugilistic stance. “How dare you! At least my work has a practical application! The Perry Thumping Jenny! The Perry Force Wand! The Perry Hound Vaccination Pipe! What have you got to show for yourself, eh Lindenbrook?”
“I have travelled to the very centre of the Earth!” Lindenbrook countered.
“So you say,” Perry replied. “But where’s the evidence, eh? You impressed those fools in Hamburg, but you don’t impress me!”
“Please, Sirs.” The caretaker stepped into the middle of the room and raised his hands in a placatory fashion. “Your first guests have arrived and the Reading Room is hardly the place for fisticuffs. With all respect to your combined intelligence, you stand to damage countless centuries of learning with every blow.”
“Aye,” said Challenger, looking over to Holmes and I, “well, perhaps we can continue our discussion later, Cavor. It would hardly be seemly to brawl in front of our illustrious guests.”
The small man stayed under the table. He was muttering to himself and running his finger through the dust on the floor. Challenger shook his head in despair and made his way over to us. “Ignore Mr Cavor. He is often stricken by a sudden need to indulge in formulae. He’ll always have his head in the clouds.”
“Surely that would make it lighter than air?” the aforementioned Cavor asked, seemingly of nobody in particular.
“My name is George Edward Challenger,” Challenger announced, grasping each of us firmly by the hand. “Leading anthropologist and one of the finest scientific minds of our age.”
“We’re lucky to make your acquaintance,” I replied, with a hint of humour.
“Indeed you are,” he replied, with none of that humour returned. “Allow me to introduce my colleagues.” He gestured towards Lindenbrook. “This is Professor Lindenbrook, specialises in antiquarian study, cryptology and geology. You may be familiar with his name from a story published thirty odd years ago. He claimed to have visited the centre of the Earth with his nephew.”
Holmes raised his eyebrow.
“No? Says he saw prehistoric creatures there,” Challenger continued. “I feel sure I would recall such a tale,” Holmes replied, in a manner that was surprisingly polite.
“You would, wouldn’t you?” Challenger replied with a smile. “But then, despite an initial flurry of interest in Hamburg – the most naive city in the world it would seem – the scientific journals have not seen fit to trouble the professor for more information.”
“Arrogant ape,” Lindenbrook spluttered. “I know what I saw! I will not be mocked in this manner!”
Challenger simply smiled and grabbed the man in his thick arms. “Oh hush, Professor! We don’t think you’re mad really.” He winked at us over the old man’s shoulder. “It’s a shame you don’t have the forcefulness of George Edward Challenger. I can assure you, if I’d seen the things you claim to have done then the world would be my oyster!”
“Insufferable man,” Lindenbrook replied, trying to release himself from what was not so much an embrace as a wrestling manoeuvre.
“Abner Perry,” announced the scruffy man, extending his woollen-clad hands to Holmes and I in turn, “inventor, logician and dreamer.” He gave a little laugh and grasped his lapels, which promptly ejected twin plumes of dust.
“Jumped-up blacksmith!” Lindenbrook insisted, finally breaking free of Challenger’s grip.
Perry chose not to rise to the bait this time, but simply removed a small metal canister from his pocket. “You are familiar no doubt with the Perry Canine Remonstration Pod?” He raised it to his lips and blew into it. “Somewhere a dog is very sorry for being so boisterous. If only it worked on professors.”
He took out a long piece of pipe and extended it, a telescopic mid- section stretching to several feet. “Or the Perry Dust Vaporisation Baton? It requires an acid jar by way of a power source, but fries dust in hard-to-reach places. It smells like the final circle of Hell, but I find it stops the housekeeper from offering her notice quite so often.”
A small glass bottle followed. He uncorked it, took a sip and replaced it in his jacket pocket.
“And that?” I asked. “The Perry Effervescent Tonic?”
“In a way,” he replied. “My doctor insists I take it to keep me regular. I suffer from a nervous bowel.”
“And finally,” Challenger interrupted, “we have Mr Cavor, the thin wastrel you saw me remonstrating with when you came in. He’s a physicist and shortly to be owner of a broken neck unless he watches his tongue around me.”
“The issue of gravity should be a small one,” muttered Cavor, still under the desk, “if only the correct ratio could be maintained.”
“Come out, Cavor!” bellowed Challenger, kicking at the leg of the table and knocking the physicist out of his daydream. “We have company.”
“Oh yes!” said Cavor. “Company – yes.” He stepped out and walked up to us. I was somewhat startled to realise he was considerably younger than I had assumed. Perhaps no more than thirty. His thick moustache, light hair and manner had led me to assume him much older. “Company,” he said again, looking at us both. “I’m sorry, do I know you?”
“Dr John Watson,” I said, extending my hand, “and this is my colleague Sherlock Holmes.”
He shook my hand. “I don’t think I do,” he said. “I’d remember a name like Sherlock, certainly. Is it about the rent?” I assured him not.
“Oh good,” he said. “I’ve spent this month’s allowance on mercury you see, and was worried we were about to have something of an argument. I don’t really like arguments.” He smiled and wandered off, making a high-pitched whine that I would later discover seemed to form an undercurrent to most of his idle thoughts.
“Yes,” said Challenger, only too aware of the impression they had all made. “Well, genius often ousts the social niceties. It is so hard to fit everything into a brain after all.”
On this point he found himself in unspoken agreement with Holmes, who nodded and smiled. “One must concentrate on the tools one needs,” he said. “What use are social niceties when it comes to creating a new element, exploring a hitherto undiscovered jungle, inventing a new device?”
“Or identifying a pernicious criminal?” Challenger added with a wide grin. I found myself nervous to see so many of his teeth – I couldn’t help but imagine them clamping down on my leg like those of a voracious tiger.
“Indeed!” Holmes agreed.
There was the distant sound of a knock on the door and the elderly caretaker sighed and left the room. “Oh for the peaceful nights when it’s just me and the Egyptian dead,” he muttered.
“Ah!” said Challenger. “That will be our trigger finger.”
“I’m sorry?” I asked, confused as to his meaning.
“We are the brains,” he explained, “the scientific backbone of the operation. But the brain needs a strong arm, a fist, to enact its commands.”
He led us to the central table where several large maps of the city had been unfurled. “Mr Holmes –” he glanced at my friend “– that is, the other Mr Holmes, has charged us with the scientific part of the investigation. Despite our apparent irritations...”
“Nothing ‘apparent’ about it,” Lindenbrook muttered. “I think you’re horrible!”
“Despite that,” Challenger continued, “we have had some success in the past working together on Departmental problems. This is somewhat outside our field it must be said, but Lindenbrook and I do at least have a sound knowledge of zoology and practical experience of nature at its most bizarre and dangerous. Combining that with Perry and Cavor’s more abstract approach we hope to be able to theorise productively, narrowing down the zoological evidence. We are trying to identify the species involved and how such creatures might best be preserved in the metropolis.”
“That would certainly seem to be the obvious starting point for investigation,” Holmes agreed. “One doesn’t hide a menagerie in a city without leaving evidence.”
“That’s our hope,” Challenger agreed. “But then we’re approaching this from the point of view of the creature, or creatures. I assume you are planning on pursuing the man?”
“That would seem to be the obvious route for my skills to take, yes,” agreed Holmes.
The caretaker returned. “Gentlemen,” he announced, “Mr Roger Carruthers.”
The new arrival removed his hat and extended his hand to each of us in turn. “Pleased to meet you, I’m sure,” he said. “You may be familiar with my recently published journal of life in the Andes?”
“Can’t say I am,” Challenger replied. “But you come highly recommended so I shouldn’t let it worry you.”
“Oh,” Carruthers replied, clearly disheartened. “It was rather well received. Perhaps my account of a journey along the Tigris, A Meander in Mesopotamia?”
“We don’t have time for popular reading,” Lindenbrook snapped. “We’re proper scientists, not the sort of bored housewives who get a thrill from the mention of intimate piercings in savages.”
“Well,” Carruthers replied, “I can assure you it was highly regarded in all walks of life. In fact the Royal Society said...”
“Oh, the Royal Society will say anything,” laughed Challenger. “But please don’t concern yourself. You are in the company of busy men, men whose researches often keep them away from the latest reading.”
“The problem will be one of stability!” Cavor announced, before emitting a strange whining noise. Carruthers stared at him, clearly convinced he had found himself trapped within a room full of lunatics, or worse – lunatics who had never read his work. I decided to take pity on him.
“John Watson,” I said, shaking his hand, “a fellow writer and doctor of medicine.”
“Of course!” he exclaimed. “Naturally I’ve read a great deal of your work!”
“Then you will be familiar with my colleague, Mr Sherlock Holmes,” I replied, gesturing to Holmes before Carruthers could inquire as to whether I was as familiar with his writing as he seemed to be with mine.
“Naturally!” Carruthers replied, shaking Holmes’ hand with such vigour I was concerned he may break it. Either that or my friend, not always at his best when faced with cheerful enthusiasm, might beat him off with his cane. Before this might happen, I introduced Carruthers to the rest of the gathered gentlemen, keeping him moving quickly enough that we avoided creating further arguments, even when – taking note of Challenger’s girth – Carruthers enquired as to whether he would be interested in membership of the West Highbury Gourmands, an eating club of which he was a founder member.
“Well,” he announced, having met everyone, “I believe you want me to shoot something?”
Expressed in such innocent simplicity, the statement had the effect of quieting the whole room, something I might have thought impossible. Noting this, Carruthers was quick to address any inadvertent embarrassment he may have caused.
“Forgive me,” he said, “I appreciate I may be oversimplifying matters. But I understood that time was of the essence, and thought it best we get to the point.”
“How refreshing that someone has that attitude,” said Holmes. “I began to think I might spend all night here.”
Ignoring a positively poisonous look from Challenger, Holmes crossed the room towards the door. “Watson and I will leave you to point Mr Carruthers in the correct direction. Should he shoot anything of scientific worth don’t hesitate to inform us.”
Guy Adams trained and worked as an actor for twelve years before becoming a full-time writer. He is the co-author of The Case Notes of Sherlock Holmes, and has written several tie-ins to the TV series Life on Mars. Restoration, the follow-up to the much-praised horror novel, The World House, was published in 2011, as well as his first Sherlock Homes novel - The Breath of God.