Sherlock Holmes has been the subject of countless variations on a theme as enthusiastic writers take the iconic hero and manipulate him in all sorts of entertaining ways. It's the magnificent strength of Arthur Conan Doyle's character that he can withstand so many contortions. Sam Siciliano has written several of these pastiches, beginning in 1992 with The Angel of the Opera which combines the narrative of Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera into the Sherlock Holmes canon. But there's an additional twist.
The narrator of this Sherlock Holmes adventure is not Dr. John Watson, but rather Sherlock's cousin Dr. Henry Vernier. The conceit here is that the stories of Watson are generally held in disdain by Holmes and as Vernier would have it, Watson is not nearly so close to the Great Detective as he would have us believe. We get in this adventure what purports to be a more complete and more humane presentation of Holmes as he is confronted with a case in the heart of Paris.
The story pretty effectively follows the general pattern of the Leroux novel but told from the perspective of a Holmes adventure with additional material added to put Sherlock's deductions into place. That being the case the story really drags a bit as we wait for elements of the Leroux original to unfold while Holmes and his new Boswell Vernier wander around the streets of Paris and the dim recesses of the Paris Opera House.
Dr. Vernier is a young man who is about to be married and much of his internal story deals with how he misses his fiance Michelle, an apparently strong-willed woman who is also a medical doctor. Vernier comes across as a bit of whiner to me, making bold statements about how Holmes and Watson don't get along and frankly casting Watson in a very negative light. The Holmes presented by Vernier is less quixotic, though no less mysterious, and the deductions seem less piquant.
The theme of the story appears to be about love and romance and how exactly that might ideally unfold for we mere humans stranded often in a society which forces fixed roles. There is also some rejection of the class structure on which much of European society thrived on at this time. When we finally meet Erik the Phantom, he is less awesome than in the Leroux novel, with much more sympathy applied to his situation.
The novel is too long really, plodding a bit here and there, but I assumed much of this had to do with Siciliano's attempts to put his story into the frame of the Leroux original. This would prove to be wrong as subsequent of these Vernier-narrated adventures demonstrated.
More to come.