Paul D. Gilbert; Publisher: Robert Hale (April 1, 2011)
“That is as maybe, but as Watson will certainly attest, I have long insisted that most men have only the ability to see, without making a worthwhile observation. It is the equivalent of reading a great book whilst lacking the power of comprehension. It is a futile waste of time and energy!” (38)
And so, Gilbert’s story immediately sets itself apart from the very first paragraph. There are no plague ships here, no genetic mutations or diabolical scientific experiments gone awry that seem so prevalent in other renditions of the tale of the “Giant Rat.” There is no hideous “Dr. Moreau”-style compound, filled with grotesque transmutations of the animal kingdom. And there are also no dangerous, desperate treks to Sumatra. Holmes and Watson stay firmly ensconced in London. The reader makes the trip to the wild, Indonesian jungle through the story that the client—Daniel Collier—shares, but it is a story told from the safety of an armchair, one neatly secure in front of a fireplace, in the familiar setting of the Baker Street sitting room.
But, perhaps most importantly, Gilbert’s Sherlock Holmes speaks with an authentic voice. He is expertly and faithfully rendered. From the moment Sherlock Holmes sets foot aboard the ghostly Matilda Briggs, there is no mistaking the Master Detective and what he has come to do. Nearly every one of his famous “methods” is present—from his knowledge of obscure powders and rare cyphers, to his intuitive understanding of the subtleties of handwriting and body language:
“This time he took out his lens and began slithering around on the boards like a viper in pursuit of its prey. Every so often he would pause for a moment or two and examine something or other with minute diligence. Occasionally he would emit a loud grunt of disappointment. Then again he might laugh to himself as he made a more positive discovery although, of course, the nature of each find would remain a mystery to the rest of us for some time” (35).
The famous Baker Street Irregulars are also present, with Wiggins at the helm, and the reader is treated to a brief glimpse of the affection Holmes feels for his collection of “Street Arabs.” The Detective provides Wiggins with instructions and wages for the group, including extra pay for some additional information. But Holmes is absolutely adamant that the extra money be spent “…on new mittens, Wiggins, not a noggin of gin” (174). In the canon, Holmes is quite open about his faith in the abilities of these ragged children, but Gilbert provides some insight into the Irregulars equivalent faith in Holmes.
Gilbert’s Sherlock Holmes is also unique in that the author has no secrets and makes no apologies about who inspires his vision of the Great Detective. With a single glance at the cover of the “Giant Rat” (or any of Gilbert’s books), even the most feeble deductive mind sees Jeremy Brett in the starring role of these stories. In an October 15, 2010, interview with the Harrow Observer, Gilbert says:
The challenge to writing any version of the “Giant Rat of Sumatra” tale is that it has a pretty heavy reputation that precedes it. To an author, it can be challenging, or even quite daunting, to attempt to write a “story for which the world is not yet prepared.” It’s a tall order, and one that not every writer is able to fill with success. Paul Gilbert’s rendering of Sherlock Holmes and the Giant Rat of Sumatra has no such problem. The plot is original, and inventive, and more than capable of revealing why this was once a story that would have shaken a man to his core. Gilbert’s Sherlock Holmes is authentic and familiar, like that comfortable chair in front of 221B Baker Street’s fireplace. That’s where some of the best stories are told, after all.
Congratulations to Chelsea Kiser! She is the winner of the Sherlock Holmes trivia contest and the copies of Sherlock Holmes Handbook, by Christopher Redmond, and Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters, by Jon Lellenberg, Daniel Stashower, and Charles Foley. For those interested, the answers to the trivia questions are as follows:
1. In later years, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used a Parker Duofold fountain pen—specifically, the “Big Red” model, which was introduced in 1921. References to this bit of trivia can be found in Graham Moore’s The Sherlockian, and in the 2010 series, Sherlock, in the episode: “The Great Game.”
2. In The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, Dr. Watson states that “The Lion’s Mane,” “The Mazarin Stone,” “The Creeping Man,” and “The Three Gables,” are “forgeries by other hands than mine.” Watson also claims to have himself made up “The Final Problem,” and “The Empty House,” to disguise the timeframe in which Sherlock Holmes was seeking treatment for his cocaine addiction.
3. The answer I was steering readers towards was “Kilravock House,” as stated in Alistair Duncan’s Close to Holmes. I also accepted "Beaulieu Lodge," or “Hazelwood,” from Leslie Klinger’s annotations.
There will be a new contest, complete with prizes, on June 27, so please check back for a new chance to win! Thank you to everyone who participated. I hope you enjoyed the thrill of the hunt!