Friday, June 7, 2013

Tales Of Three Bad Rats!

Ever since it was first mentioned in "The Adventure of the Suxxex Vampire", the unrecorded adventure of Sherlock Holmes confronting the menace of the "Giant Rat of Sumatra" has fired the imaginations of readers and as it turns out writers alike. The mysterious creature has been confronted by The Hardy Boys, Doctor Who, and even Doyle's own Professor Challenger. This untold tale of Sherlock Holmes and his stalwart companion Watson has been revealed several times. The only real detail that remains consistent is just how the Matilda Briggs, a ship and not a woman as we are told  fits into the saga. The rest is for Sherlockian pastiche artists to whim about and reveal. I just finished a trio of these tales.

The first one I read was a sleek 1992 Sherlock adventure by David Stuart Davies title The Shadow of the Rat.  Davies is a Sherlock expert and there's a lot of the detail and mythology we expect in this fast-paced story of how a plague descends on London and the empire is held hostage. The rat of this story is menacing and large. The villains are proper Sherlockian baddies who hold the interest keenly.

In Richard Boyer's 1978 variation on this story The Giant Rat of Sumatra, the Rat is something else again, a seeming mammoth monster. Boyer too is a sophisticated storyteller and remains true to the nature of a true Sherlock Holmes story, offering up a story which whipsaws back and forth across London and other points as Holmes and Watson battle against mysterious and bizarre kidnappers. I can't say the payoff in this tale is as strong as the tale by Davies, but the set up is outstanding, and kept me on my toes the whole way.

The third encounter with the mysterious Sumatran Rat comes in Fred Saberhagen's 1978 novel The Holmes-Dracula File, part of his Dracula series. The rats again are the source of plague here, and the ultimate villain in this one came to me as a complete surprise. The storytelling in this one is offbeat alternating between a typical narrative from Watson's perspective as we expect Holmes stories to be and a narrative told from the point of view of Bram Stoker's infamous Count. It sets up a sometimes confusing back and forth but makes for a stirring ending.

The sundry Sumatran Rats revealed in these stories are at once similar and distinctive, all menacing and all successfully plundering that bit of our psyches which find the ubiquitous creatures repulsive and even frightening.

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