Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Review of The Peerless Peer

Book 40: The Peerless Peer (The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes #13) by Philip Jose Farmer, isbn 9780859681201, 139 pages, Titan Books, $9.99

(Original 1974 paperback publication: The Adventure of the Peerless Peer by Philip Jose Farmer, 128 pages, Dell, $1.25)

The Premise: (from the back cover): "Sherlock Holmes and Watson take to the skies in quest of the nefarious Von Bork and his weapon of dread... A night sky aerial engagement with the deadly Fokker nearly claims three brilliant lives... And an historic alliance is formed, whereby Baker Street's enigmatic mystery-solver and Greystoke, the noble savage, peer of the realm and jungle lord, team up to bring down the hellish hun!" The Titan Books edition also included an afterword on the "Wold-Newton" concept by Win Scott Eckert, and a preview of Kim Newman's Moriarty: The Hound of the D'Ubervilles.

My Rating: 4stars

My Thoughts:  From the beginning of Titan Books' series of reissues of classic Holmes pastiches and crossovers, I'd been wondering if they would manage to secure the rights to finally reprint Farmer's 1974 classic teaming Holmes and Tarzan.  Granted, the original story penned by Farmer is relatively slim at 128 pages. As compared to most of Titans' reissues it's more novella than novel. Still, it's good to see the story back in print in a widely-available format that doesn't require fans to scour used bookstores or pick up pricier limited edition anthologies from specialty presses.

For fans of Farmer and his "Wold Newton" concept, this book is pure gold. Any Wold-Newton-connected story, whether by Farmer or Win Eckert or anyone else, is a treasure-hunt: how many casual references to other fictional characters can you find? As expected from the man who built the original Wold-Newton Family Tree, Farmer drops plenty of names in these pages. He also carefully closes the connection between Holmes and Greystoke that he first outlined in his Tarzan Alive: that Holmes' "Adventure of the Priory School" involves the Greystokes, with Watson changing the family's name to Holdernesse in the published version to protect the family name and prevent public scandal.

For fans of fast-moving pulp fiction, the book is pure gold as well. Even when the main characters are completely at rest (for instance, during long hours of air travel), the book still zips along. There are no long drawn-out descriptive passages (except, curiously, when Watson is describing the aircraft they are riding in). Holmes' mission is to stop Von Bork; the encounter with Tarzan only helps move that mission along. There aren't any secondary stories or side-trips; the longest lull in the action is the short breather towards the end where the Holmes-Tarzan connection is spelled out by the Great Detective.

As far as the "extras" in this edition go: Win Scott Eckert is perhaps THE torch-bearer for the Wold-Newton concept now that Farmer has passed away; along with folks like Christopher Paul Carey, Eckert has been completing unfinished Farmer novels and writing stories that fill in "missing pieces" of the Wold-Newton family tree. Eckert's essay "puts the pieces together" for those who are not as well-versed in the published careers of Tarzan and Holmes, explaining most of Farmer's off-hand references to other characters and clarifying things like "the succession of ducal titles" that is so important to the Greystoke/"Holdernesse" line of succession. Eckert also explains the connection between PEER and "The Adventure of the Three Madmen," and nods to Dennis E. Powers' great essay reconciling the two stories. For anyone interested in knowing more about Wold-Newton scholarship, Eckert's Afterword to PEER is a great place to start.

My only regret is that Titan didn't include "Three Madmen" in this volume. Rounding out the book with Farmer's alternate take on the story, and Powers' essay, would really have made it a complete package.

So there you have it: a rollickin' good adventure that doesn't take very long to read, and a great essay to follow it up? What's not to love?

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