The Breath of God by Guy Adams
Review by Daniel Cann
‘The Breath of God’ finds Sherlock Holmes up against it again when a body is found crushed to death in the London snow with no footprints anywhere near it. It is almost as if the man was killed by the air itself.
Holmes and his loyal companion Dr Watson travel to Scotland to meet with the one person they have been told can help: Aleister Crowley.
With dark powers encircling them they gather the most accomplished occult minds in the country: Dr John Silence, the so-called ‘Psychic Doctor’; supernatural investigator Thomas Carnacki; runic expert and demonologist, Julian Karswell… But will they be enough?
As the nineteenth century draws to a close it seems London is ready to fall and the infernal abyss is growing wide enough to swallow everyone.
As with most of the ‘Further Adventures’ series Holmes and Watson find themselves up against the supernatural. Adams displays a vivid imagination and is skilful in his descriptions and crucially of maintaining reader interest.
Like ‘The Hound of The Baskervilles’ Conan Doyle’s most famous supernatural Holmes tale, the consulting detective takes a back seat for much of this outing leaving his reliable friend Dr Watson to investigate and chronicle events.
Silence and Carnacki are interesting and uniquely individual companions for Watson. Karswell is aloof, arrogant and has something in common with many ‘celebrities’ of today, he is tireless in his shameless self-promotion! The action moves from the cold, harsh fog of London to the dismal conditions of the windswept, wild Scottish highlands.
What I enjoyed most of all was Adams portrayal of Watson. He depicts him as a strong, resourceful and most importantly an emotional man who is still grieving the loss of his beloved wife Mary (from ‘The Sign of Four’) something that Conan Doyle and so many other authors have previously failed to address.
This line from Watson himself in this adventure encapsulates his character: ‘I am particularly good at two things in life: being a soldier and being a doctor, taking lives and saving them. The irony doesn’t amuse me one bit.’
I preferred this more harder-edged, world-weary and introspective Watson who appears as a much more believable individual and not the portly, avuncular foil which some writers and filmmakers have managed to misinterpret over the years.
Remember Watson is ex-military, something of a ladies’ man and is as tough as nails, he may not have Holmes’ deductive qualities and unique intellect but he is nobody’s fool. It was great to see Adams celebrate the good doctor as he does here; otherwise one is left wondering why would Holmes have him around if he did not respect and need him?
The scene stealer is of course someone from history, in this novel he is seen as a young ambitious man on the cusp of his later notoriety: the (in)famous occultist and Satanist Aleister Crowley, eventually dubbed by the press as ‘the wickedest man in the world.’
Fans of conventional Holmes fare may baulk at this latest novel and it is clearly aimed at those who enjoyed ‘The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes’ which contained his more fantastical and far-fetched stories. Whilst reading I was reminded of Dennis Wheatley’s occult thriller ‘The Devil Rides Out’ and Adams notes this as an influence at the back of the book. The secret society known as ‘The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn’ is a nice touch as Conan Doyle’s adventures were renowned for this kind of plot device.
Adams novel is fast-paced, original and exciting. He has nailed the characters of Holmes and Watson and managed to make them interesting in his own way, quite a feat as many writers would have found this project intimidating. For example I enjoyed it when Watson drew attention to Holmes’ apparent dislike of the countryside yet years later retired to rural Sussex. It is touches like this that elevate this above the average outing.
I would have liked to have seen more of Holmes and for all its thrills it does tend to be superficial and lightweight at times. It is nonetheless enjoyable and easy to devour, the perfect companion for a holiday or to liven up a long dull journey.
This is the perfect vehicle to see the logic and reason of Holmes pitted against the supernatural and unknown. Adams is another author in the non-Conan Doyle canon who has managed to perfectly blend fact with fiction to create an exciting and engaging new adventure. An excellently researched debut novel and above all a fun romp which is all a Sherlock Holmes fan can ask for.
Published 2011 by Titan Books
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