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All-Consuming Fire

By Andy Lane

Book review by Felicity Scoones

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. In a universe where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson are all real the Doctor meets up with the latter pair. The book primarily centers on Holmes and Watson but the Doctor is skillfully integrated into their environment and it is fascinating to see their gradual recognition of him as an essential player in the game.

The book is almost entirely narrated in the first person through Watson and Bernice's diaries with a few military log entries from Ace. Lane has captured the pseudo-Victorian style beautifully when writing Watson's entries. They have the trademark attention to detail coupled with nineteenth century decorum and yet are still very readable, revealing a lot about the personalities and relationship of Holmes and Watson. Lane's version of Holmes is similar to Jeremy Brett's portrayal in the Granada Sherlock Holmes television series. Watson emerges as a sensitive observer.

Bernice's entries have a distinctly modern style and contrast well with Watson's. Lane even includes references to the bits of yellow paper Bernice sticks over passages she wishes to rewrite. Bernice and Watson's differing attitudes to Holmes provide one of the most interesting distinctions between the two narratives; Watson has great respect and affection for him while Bernice is quite disdainful, seeing Holmes as someone who is far too full of himself. These aspects make it easy to keep track of who is narrating any given section.

As a character Bernice seems a little artificial and her sense of humour is too wholesome. Ace however, right from her first brief unidentified log entry through to an extended period when she features in Watson's narrative, is extremely well portrayed. Lane has a real feel for the character and the passages in which she appears are some of the most enjoyable of the whole book.

The Doctor has a quiet presence; his involvement in the plot is slight but entirely necessary, reminiscent of his portrayal in The Curse of Fenric, the deftest of the seventh Doctor's television stories. There are some brilliant ideas about his background and some fun continuity references.

There are some brutal scenes in All-Consuming Fire as the darker side of Victorian London is explored. The middle section of the book is set in India. Here Bernice and Watson provide another contrast as they compare the environment to what they are used to; Watson is aware of the change of climate but Bernice is more concerned with the shockingly low social standing of women. Lane's concept for the environment of the alien planet, the third setting, is simple but effective and well developed.

All-Consuming Fire is by no means just for fans of Sherlock Holmes. It contains all the quintessential elements of Doctor Who and matches the high standard set by recent New Adventures. It is a unique book which I thoroughly recommend.

This item appeared in TSV 40 (July 1994).

Index nodes: All-Consuming Fire