Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Book Review: The Adventure of the Peerless Peer


When is a Tarzan book not a Tarzan book? When he meets the world's greatest detective!

It's 1916 and Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are drafted-despite their ages-by Holmes' brother Mycroft to track down the elusive Von Bork, a scoundrel from a previous Holmes adventure. Von Bork has stolen a formula to create a fungus that could destroy a country's food supply and is Mycroft is concerned that it could be sold to Britian's enemies. Holmes and Watson take off, surviving a terrible flight with a mad pilot; a collision with a zeppelin carrying Von Bork; a gun toting shadow and a crash landing in the African wilderness where they meet the one and only...Greystoke, a British lord who was raised by apes after his parents died and whose adventures are known thanks to a pulp writer. With mad savages and Von Bork to contend with, Holmes, Watson and Greystoke have to work together to survive and save the world.

The Adventure of the Peerless Peer has an interesting publishing history. Written by author Philip Jose Farmer (who had by now written his two "biographies" Tarzan Alive and Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life), the book was first published in 1976 but removed following legal action from ERB Inc over it. Farmer later rewrote it as The Three Madmen, substituting an adult Mowgli in place of Greystoke. With all of that the book should have been interesting. In some ways it is but it's not perfect.

The area I felt Farmer was uneven with was interesting enough with Holmes and Watson. Portrayed as older gentlemen, Holmes spends most of the book cursing, vomiting from air sickness and lamenting his lost pipe. He does do some detective work, mostly in trying to prove Greystoke's real identity as Farmer attempts to tie in a subplot concerning a previous case involving a Lord Saltire. Watson meanwhile mainly stands around reacting and taking Holmes' insults which are even more pointed than usual. That said the cranky pair do manage to retain the reader's attention until the end where Holmes' bee-keeping skills come in handy (if embarrassingly) to the rescue.

As for Greystoke himself Farmer does a pretty good job capturing the character while trying to maintain some distance from the "real" Tarzan (I guess he figured the Burroughs estate would come after the book at some point). Greystoke doesn't enter the story until half way in and his still reeling from the death of his wife at the hands of the Germans, working in the time period of Tarzan the Untamed and Tarzan the Terrible, adding some depth to the proceedings. There is also a good scene of him bargaining with Holmes while fingering his knife that shows the balance between civilized and savage that the character always had.

The book's pretty short-the copy I read only ran a 127 pages-which is good since not much really happens story wise. Von Bork appears really early and isn't much of a threat to either Holmes or Greystoke. In fact Farmer spends more time indulging in a geek parade of references to everything from The Shadow to Allan Quartermain than really establishing a driving story. In that respect that is the book's major flaw, something that both Burroughs and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was really good at: Keep the story moving with action and suspense.

Even with its flaws though The Adventure of the Peerless Peer is an interesting, quick read for fans of either author and their respective characters. Just don't expect the "real" Tarzan or Sherlock Holmes. Rating: *** out of 4.

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