THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
NOVEL "THEATRE OF
WAR" AND THE BIG
FINISH AUDIO DRAMA
"THE SHADOW OF THE
OFFICIAL VIRGIN 'NEW
RELEASED IN JUNE 1994.
England, 1887. The
library of St John
the Beheaded has
been robbed. The thief
has taken forbidden
books which tell of
mythical beasts and
gateways to other
worlds. Only one
team can be trusted
to solve the crime:
Sherlock Holmes and
As thE investigation
leads to the dark
underside of London,
Holmes and Watson
soon realise that
someone else is ON
the same trail AS
THEM - Someone who
has the power to kill
with a glance. And
they sense a strange,
shape observing them
from the shadows.
Then they meet the
known only as the
Doctor – the last
person alive to read
the stolen books.
While Bernice waits
in 19TH century India,
Ace is trapped on aN
alien world. And the
Doctor finds himself
with THE COUNTRY’s
I know what you’re thinking. Sherlock Holmes in Doctor Who? Surely that could never work? Well it can and it does.
Rather than just write Doctor Who and the All-Consuming Fire, Andy Lane instead presents us with Sherlock Holmes and the case of the All-Consuming Fire. The novel is presented as if it were a bona fide Sherlock Holmes story, edited by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle from the “real life” reminiscences of Doctor John Watson.
And this is how All Consuming-
Fire works: the reader assumes
that Holmes and Watson were real
people in the Whoniverse, albeit
with different names, who actually
had these adventures which were
subsequently written up by Doctor
Watson’s friend Conan Doyle. As such, for the most part All-Consuming Fire reads exactly like a Sherlock Holmes story; uncannily so, in fact. Lane masters Conan Doyle’s distinct style and really captures the essence of all his characters, particularly Holmes and Watson. All-Consuming Fire thus lives or dies by that. If you love Sherlock Holmes then you’re in for one hell of a treat. Even
if you’re new to the world of Holmes or don’t know too much about the eccentric sleuth then again, you’re probably going to like this book. However, if you have an aversion for Holmes, I wouldn’t even bother picking this one up.
Personally though, I absolutely love this novel. The first two thirds of the book especially are absolutely breathtaking – I just couldn’t put it down. 19th century London is animated before the reader’s eyes in every bit as much detail as Conan Doyle ever described it, from the secretive and flash Diogenes Club to the city’s squalid underbelly. Even our heroes aren’t whiter than white good guys - Holmes is a notoriously brilliant individual, but arrogant and unpleasant with it; he’s like the last couple of incarnations of the Doctor, really, just with a cocaine habit! Even our storyteller, Watson, has a penchant for the ladies. Lane’s handle
on these legendary characters is beyond reproach.
I also like how Lane uses the Doctor, especially in the early chapters. Much in the same way that Andrew Cartmel depicted him in Cat’s Cradle: Warhead, here the Doctor is an unknown force lurking in the background; an enigma. Even though the reader (one would assume!) is familiar with the Doctor, being exposed to events as we are through the eyes of Watson, we can really appreciate how disturbing and sinister the Doctor could seem to the uninformed.
What’s more, the first person narrative is both refreshing and engaging, particularly so as
the story is predominantly told by Watson; an enormously endearing character. Later, when Bernice arrives, extracts from her diary are inter-cut with Watson’s scribblings to give us a much more rounded picture of events (including hints of a light romance between the two narrators), but I could’ve happily read the whole story from Watson’s captivating perspective.
In terms of plot, we have Holmes, Watson and eventually the Doctor investigating the theft of several ancient occult books from the ominous library of St John the Beheaded. A couple of people spontaneously combust, a rather pleasant alien shows up asking for help, and our heroes end up setting sail for India so that they can follow a chap called Maupertuis though an apparently magical gateway to this alien’s world which he is planning to conquer so that our heroes might thwart his villainy. As the novel progresses it pushes more into Indiana Jones territory than Sherlock Holmes, nevertheless even when Lane is telling of aliens
and portals, his story still feels strangely apposite.
On the downside, though the author sensibly keeps Ace out of the way for most of his story, when she does turn up she’s horrible; really horrible. She’s far nastier than even the ‘New’, post-Love and War Ace should be - the way she treats Watson is absolutely deplorable.
In fact, following Ace’s introduction in the final third, the book does go downhill somewhat. The inevitable introduction of Professor Moriarty is fun, and the reveal of the human villain’s identity comes as a lovely twist (which I’m sure Holmes fans in particular will appreciate),
but Azathoth, one of these ‘Great Old Ones’ is a one-note antagonist, misty and ill-defined. Why on Earth these hazy Lovecraftian monsters have been wheeled out again I have no idea. Lane even pigeonholes the likes of Fenric, the Great Intelligence, and the Gods of Ragnorok as being part of their number, diminishing them as intriguing villains in their own right.
However, though I found the novel’s climax a little disenchanting, it written with such panache and the characters are so compelling that All-Consuming Fire is still a cut above Virgin’s usual standard. At the end of the day, I can forgive this one its few shortcomings because it is such an exceptionally good read, and that’s all that matters when you think about it.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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