The Canary Trainer: From the Memoirs of John H. Watson by Nicholas Meyer

There are a number of different takes on Sherlock Holmes these days, and few of them try to capture the character and spirit of storytelling as set down by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Nicholas Meyer (Star Trek II, Star Trek VI, Time After Time) not only gives us a story that demonstrates a superior understanding and respect of the Great Detective, but he also gives us a slightly alternate retelling of Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera. The result is a loyal and respectful pastiche that, quite frankly, made me laugh, perhaps inappropriately at how effortless this novel seemed to work, and applaud at all the little character moments that were so very close to spot-on.

The concept is that in the late 20th century (when the story is written), the untyped and nearly illegible manuscript of Dr. Watson is found, relating the story as told to him by Holmes during his beekeeping retirement days. The story itself occurs in the wake of the Great Detective’s “death” at the Reichenbach Falls, where he decides that after such an ordeal, he needed a holiday. From here, he joins the orchestra at the Paris Opera as a violinist, encounters “The Woman” Irene Adler (who is written equally as perfectly as Holmes), and finds himself going toe-to-toe with the Opera Ghost. The Phantom is written not quite as perfectly, but he’s suitable, as is Christine, and Raoul comes across as a quite the weenie. I don’t think that part will matter so much to most readers. It’s the weaknesses on the Phantom side of the story that prevents me from giving this 5 stars, but that’s only because I know the original story inside and out. This version still works well. The “flaws” and liberalities taken with the story here and there are minor and serve to drive the narrative, but even then, the tale unfolds closer to Leroux’s original than many other versions you might be able to name. I doubt most would notice, but those who are familiar with the stories and characters will find it easily dismissed because it is so minor. For example, Gaston Leroux himself is the orchestra conductor.

To be certain, this tale is pure fan wank, the kind of thing you can find plastered all over the internet in the form of bad fan fiction. The big difference, however, is that Meyer’s hands are the hands of a talented and professional writer who demonstrates a mastery of his craft. More than that, he’s one who respects the characters, stories, and prose forms of his inspirations. The result is an assured delight for those like myself who absolutely love both Holmes and the Phantom.

Narrator David Case pretty much nails the idea of what this story would sound like in the collective imagination. His Holmes, who narrates most of the story, is properly self-superior and intemperate. Likewise, Watson is… well, he’s Watson, offering up the counterpoint to Holmes in the limited capacity he’s able to, given that he’s not in on the adventure itself. He even does a suitable job with the various accents and female roles, offering quite the performance all around. Even though I started with the 3rd one, I’m looking forward to going back and hearing the other 2 books in the series.

4 stars

One thought on “The Canary Trainer: From the Memoirs of John H. Watson by Nicholas Meyer

  1. Pingback: “The Adventure of the Empty House” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle | Knight of Angels

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