Friday, February 12, 2016

All-Consuming Fire by: Andy Lane: The Adventure of the Stolen Library Books

I think All-Consuming Fire tops my Top 10 list of Virgin New Adventures that I have read so far.  It is a novel that combines two things that I love, Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes, yes fans this is the Sherlock crossover written nearly twenty years before Sherlock ever went on the air.  It is a novel full of little Easter Eggs and references to things that make me smile.  The first thing you will notice about the novel is apart from a small frame story involving Benny reading the book itself while the First Doctor and Susan look on unknowing of what happens in this story, the novel is written not as a Doctor Who story but as a Sherlock Holmes story.  It is written entirely from the diary entries of John Watson and Professor Bernice Summerfield and it really works.  That allows events to be changed considering how accurate Benny’s diary actually is.  It also makes the novel oddly suspenseful as you feel the emotions the narrator of the section describes.  The chapter titles echo titles of Sherlock Holmes chapters, literally describing what happens in them and there is even confusion as to where Watson was injured in the war.  Moriarty makes a cameo and Andy Lane’s blending of the two universes is top notch.


The plot involves Holmes and Watson being asked by the Pope to find some missing library books from the Library of St. John the Beheaded.  Through their investigations they meet up with a mysterious Doctor and see cases of spontaneous combustion, hence the title All-Consuming Fire.  The investigations eventually lead to an alien asking for help and a journey to India where Professor Bernice Summerfield has been making preparations for the mysterious Doctor where the villain is eventually revealed to be one of the Great Old Ones, horrible creatures from a universe before this one, who has corrupted Sherlock’s older brother Sherringford into following him.


The characterization of Holmes and Watson in this novel is top notch as they both feel like Conan Doyle’s original characters.  Part of this is down to the style of storytelling, but also the fact that Andy Lane is such a good author.  Throughout the novel there are appearances from Mycroft at the Diogenes Club where the Doctor gets his third incarnation kicked out as seven completes his crossword.  Moriarty is there to lend a helping hand with the investigation as he doesn’t want his crimes to stop before they are completed.  The London police are just as incompetent and rely way too much on Holmes’ intervention to figure anything else.


The Doctor is also great here as he doesn’t appear until the investigation is well under way, yet a good reader can tell that he has been looking into these missing books as well.  He gets a lot of the spotlight during the first half of the book and his interactions with Holmes and Watson are great.  Holmes hates that the Doctor has dirt he doesn’t recognize and that he cannot deduce where this man came from.  The Doctor wishes for the day’s where his companions screamed and asked stupid questions.  It gets to be some of the funniest parts of the novel as he is in full chess master mode, yet is having a blast figuring out the mystery as Holmes doesn’t like to believe spontaneous combustion is possible.


About halfway through the novel Benny makes her first appearance in India.  She hates the time as women are still oppressed.  She knocks a guy out and liberates his clothes to cross-dress as a man and try and get things ready for the Doctor.  Her narration is full of wit and sarcasm yet feels genuine.  This is probably one of the best portrayals of Benny since No Future.  Ace also fares just as well as she is sidelined for the majority of the novel.  When she does enter she is just as hardened, but is still a human being.  She just won’t take any of the nonsense that Watson tries to give her.  By the climax everyone in the main cast is working so well with each other the story really gets tense and has an explosive resolution.


The supporting characters are also really well developed from Conan Doyle’s original manuscripts.  Mycroft is pretty much a fat version of the Third Doctor.  The Third Doctor gets a really funny character.  Azathoth is one of the most interesting of the Great Old Ones seen in the Virgin New Adventures and works a lot better than Cthulu did in White Darkness.  Sherringford fits in nicely with the other Holmes brothers and his fate is extremely deserving as he wanted power.  He’s basically an evil version of Sherlock which is a fascinating idea.


To summarize, All-Consuming Fire is one of the best Virgin New Adventures as the story sees a Sherlock/Doctor Who crossover without fanwank that could have easily happened.  The characterization is nearly perfect and as the story gets going it keeps getting better.  Andy Lane you are a genius. 100/100

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