"Sherlock Holmes: The Breath of God" Book Review
Written by Guy Adams
2011, 256 pages, Fiction
Released on September 20th, 2011
I've mentioned before that while I obviously heart the horror genre, it's not my first choice when it comes to books. That belongs to the mystery / thriller genre. With that said, I have to admit that I've never read a Sherlock Holmes novel. Admittedly, that's a damn shame and inexcusable as well. Especially since I really enjoyed the latest UK TV incarnation of Sherlock. Too make matters worse, I have heard from more than a few fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's character claiming that Holmes is an asshole in the books just like he is in the aforementioned Sherlock. Since I love the newest version of the famous detective and I trust the people telling me to stop being stupid and give the books a go, I finally got my introduction to quite possibly one of the most famous detectives in the world...and it wasn't written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Wait...what?
Sherlock Holmes: The Breath of God, penned by Guy Adams, is a hell of an adventure. Under the recommendation of his friend (and biographer) Dr. John Watson, Holmes agrees to meet Dr. John Silence and hear his strange story. Seems like someone is taking out famous occultists in the most brutal of ways and Silence is looking to the detective for assistance in finding the culprit. At first Holmes is reluctant, but soon decides to provide his unique skills to the case. Thus begins a journey that will take Holmes and Watson across the UK and interacting with characters such as Thomas Carnacki, Julian Karswell and the infamous Aleister Crowley.
While this is a Sherlock Holmes novel, the titular character disappears for much of the adventure, which I found interesting. For a good chunk of the book it is Watson doing the investigating with Carnacki and Karswell, trying to separate reality from the unbelievable as they encounter magick, demons and death. To be fair, Holmes was off doing his own investigation from a different angle, but since the novel is written from the point of view of Watson, Holmes' activity is not known until the last third of the novel.
It's a bit unfortunate that Holmes goes off on his own because he is such an asshole in the best sense of the word. Again, having not read any of the Doyle books, my experience lies in the BBC show and Adams writes Holmes and Watson very much as the two depicted in Sherlock. Holmes is a no-nonsense type of guy with an impatience for ignorance where Watson is compassionate and thoughtful to others. The two make a fantastic team (obviously), and the limited time they have together in The Breath of God makes the book suffer some.
However, the lack of synergy between Holmes and Watson is somewhat made up for with the sheer amount of action and destruction that takes place throughout the novel. At one point, an epic battle takes place as Watson, Carnacki, Silence, Karswell and Crowley fend off waves of demons, each using their own specialized magick to defend themselves and each other.
In addition, the characters in this novel are famous characters from other books. Thomas Carnacki is a supernatural detective from the mind of William Hodgson and appeared in six short stories published in a magazine from 1910 - 1912. Julian Karswell is the creation of M.R. James in his 1911 story Casting the Runes. Algernon Blackwood is the creator of John Silence. And, of course, there's Aleister Crowley, arguably one of the most famous occultists of all time. Having these characters from other works incorporated here has motivated me not just to read Doyle's work, but to also track down the novels where these guys made an appearance. This is a testament to Adams' skill.
In the afterword of Sherlock Holmes: The Breath of God, author Guy Adams says, "There is a habit amongst writers of new Holmes fiction to concentrate on emulating Conan Doyle's style. From the word go I decided not to be too slavish about this. Guess what: Conan Doyle didn't write this, I did. That's not to say I didn't want to get the characters right and add a novel to the countless masses that I felt worthy of consideration, but I'm a storyteller not an impressionist. I wanted to write the sort of fullblooded romp that Conan Doyle would approve of (action and effect over logic and style if I'm unbearably honest)." I have to respect that. Granted, as I said above, I have never read Doyle's work. But I'm also a guy who doesn't give a rat's ass about remakes, so I speculate that even if I had read some of the original Holmes' adventures, this wouldn't piss me off. Put it this way: If someone wrote books based on Stephen King's The Stand, carrying on the wacky adventures of Stu Redman and Tom Cullen, I couldn't care less that King wasn't the author, I'd still read them. So if you've never read any of the Holmes' mysteries, I'm going to go out on a limb and say you can safely read The Breath of God. Why? Because I liked it and it's encouraged me to finally get off my ass and read the originals. If you love Doyle's work, I suggest you read this as well so I can get a fan's opinion.