Wednesday, September 30, 2015

1976 Book: The Giant Rat of Sumatra - Richard L Boyer

Original PBO (Warner Books, 1976)
Part of the fun of Rich Westwood's Crime of the Century meme at the Past Offences blog is looking back on the topical elements that may crop up in any given book of a particular publication year. But for two consecutive months now I've chosen a book that is not set in the year of its publication. This month we were to read a book published in 1976. Since another Rich --Richard Robinson of Tip the Wink-- had invited me to help him celebrate his month long Sherlock Holmes reading binge I decided to knock off two birds with one big rock.  I chose Richard L. Boyer's wonderfully authentic, good old fashioned detective-horror-thriller The Giant Rat Of Sumatra.

All you Holmes fans know the title is "the story for which the world is not yet prepared" alluded to at the start of "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire". Boyer, himself an avowed Sherlockian, does an admirable job at capturing the character of the detective and his doctor friend. Though at times Watson is embarrassingly denser than he usually appears in the original tales and he actually faints at one point late in the book!) and Holmes resorts to some equally embarrassing melodramatic statements that seem over-the-top for even a pastiche I thoroughly enjoyed this book. And this was the second time I read it! I remember coming across the book when it first came out back in my high school days, devouring it in a quick reading immersion. I've remembered it ever since. Reading it again I was happy to discover that it lost none of its entertainment value. It works exceptionally well as a fine tribute and celebration of the great detective, as a somewhat gruesome and horrifying thriller, and as a superb traditional detective novel.

1991 hardcover reprint
A scarce collectible!
The story is rife with allusions to the Canon with one work in particular being the primary reference point. When Watson is examining the wounds of a grisly murdered corpse he remarks, "They were, I fear, incisors-- or, if we can give even the slightest credence to Sampson's tale, the teeth marks of a giant rat!" You get the idea, right?  Each time the reader spots an allusion to the Canon he would do well to do more than smile.  Make a note of it, write it down, they are as important as the well placed clues. This is a sort of a Sherlockian wet dream of a pastiche. And the ending, I think, is gasp inducing.

There is a kidnapping of young girl, several truly horrible murders, some sinister gypsies, Holmes in disguise at couple of points, and of course that mysterious beast of the title.  What exactly is it?  Do giant rats actually breed in Sumatra?  Read and become enlightened, my friends.  I truly love this book and will say no more about it for fear of giving away some of its wonderful surprises.


 
Lucky for all of you The Giant Rat of Sumatra has been reprinted as part of Titan Book's impressive "Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" series which includes all sorts of fun pastiches with Holmes and Watson meeting up with everyone from Theodore Roosevelt to Dracula. The book is available in paperback or digital format.  And there are even cheaper copies of the 1976 Warner Books paperback original for sale in the used book market.  So grab a copy now!

13 comments:

  1. There really is a giant rat of Sumatra, about 2 feet long.
    http://karlshuker.blogspot.in/2013/10/the-giant-rat-of-sumatra-zoological.html

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    1. We have bigger ones running through our alleys in Chicago if you can believe it. I was frightened out of my wits when I saw about ten rats the size of cats jumping out of a dumpster one night many years ago. The one Holmes encounters in this book is the size of a calf and is... well, I better stop there.

      I neglected to mention (but I'm sure many people know already) that there are at least five other books that purport to tell the story of Holmes and the giant rat of Sumatra. This, however, is the very first one written out of all those out there now and the only one I've read. I doubt any can outdo Boyer.

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    2. Yes, I can believe ! I myself have seen rats almost as big as cats in the drains of alleys of the city where I live.

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  2. Say no more chum - it will be mine! And I am really in the mood having just finished re-reading Symons' A THREE PIPE PROBLEM, which I still like a lot (and much better than the sequel from what you were saying not so long ago). I love a good Holmes pastiche - thanks John.

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  3. Fine review, John, and much of it echoes my own review of the book. I have read a short story which, in a sideways manner, deals with the Giant Rat, but no other novel version than this, which I too really enjoyed in my two readings. This one is Fun.

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    1. It really is FUN! What most surprised me in this second reading was how Gothic it all is. I will always remember the stunner of an ending and it was fun noticing all the blatant clues Boyer plants that lead up to the startling finale. But I didn't remember how grisly and horror movie-like it all is. The setting of Henry's Hollow and it's legend, the exploration of the hold in the Matilda Briggs, the bloody depiction of the murders -- creepy and spinetingling all of it. Very suitable reading for the upcoming Halloween season!

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    2. "....how grisly and horror movie-like it all is."
      I am surprised that no movie has been made on it.

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  4. I'm always reminded of the Firesign Theater first...did you mean this to be your Friday book, as well?

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    1. No FFB for me this week. I intended to join in on the Ed McBain/Evan Hunter tribute today, but I hadn't even started my chosen book. So I just bagged it all.

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  5. I love this book, John. How clever of you to remind me that I've been meaning to read it again. Alongside REVENGE OF THE HOUND by Michael Hardwick - have you read that one? These are two pastiches which pass muster with me.

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    1. I'm not big on re-reading like a lot of folks on these blogs, Yvette. But I was delighted that this re-read lived up to my memory of the first time read it all those DECADES ago. There are few books that truly stick in my mind -- especially mystery novels -- but this one really stayed with me and was just as fun and surprising as when i first read it back in my ignorant youth. :^)

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  6. The rat is going to stay with me awhile, I'm afraid. In fact it seems to be urging me to read about it.

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  7. A fine, enthusiastic review, John. I'm sorry to say that I don't share your enthusiasm...but we discussed that when I put up my review a couple of years ago. ;-)

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