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Watson's Afghan Adventure - Review

The basic idea behind this book is that it covers Watson's life from the point he entered into the army and before he met Sherlock Holmes. It is a refreshing and brave angle to take as Holmes is usually what draws people to pastiche works.

I have always felt that Arthur Conan Doyle based Watson very much on himself and consequently Watson has always struck me as rather agnostic so it was interesting that the author made Watson a Catholic and a victim of a certain amount of anti-Catholic prejudice. I struggled to buy into the idea of Watson as a religious man but as this new aspect of his character is not constantly mentioned it is easy to put it to the back of your mind.

The main plot of the story tells how Watson makes two friends called Arty and Sturt at a race meeting just before all three of them are posted to Afghanistan. Sturt tells both Arty and Watson that while there he wants to search for a treasure which is hidden in the country according to a map that he has in his possession.

The villains of the piece are a Lieutenant Godard and Colonel Enderby who know of the map and intend to take the treasure once it has been discovered. Enderby only features in a few scenes and does not make too much of an impact. Godard is your typical sneaky henchman whose motivation becomes only becomes clear about half-way through the story.

The author is a former US Army officer and his military background and knowledge of the Afghan campaign shine through in the rich detail that he offers us in the story. The only problem I have is that the treasure hunting aspect of the plot is often seemingly mentioned as an afterthought. Roughly once in each chapter Sturt reminds the others (and by extension the reader) that soon they must go hunting for the treasure and then something (usually a skirmish or full battle) gets in the way. Then, in the next chapter, the routine is repeated. It is almost as if the author is trying to ensure that we don't forget about the treasure aspect even though he is not yet ready to tell us about it. Another interpretation would be that he is trying to make us share the frustration of the characters. If that was the aim then for me it was successful.

I suspect that I and most readers want to know about the treasure hunt more than the various battles but it is not until about half-way through the book that the friends finally get sight of the desired riches and then within about two chapters they have re-buried them and gone back to skirmishes and battles. At the risk of giving a little too much away the group of treasure hunters (which expands to include Murray, Watson's orderly) lose interest in the treasure - seeing it as a bit of a poisoned chalice. In this respect there is a great deal of similarity between this story and the Sherlock Holmes adventure The Sign of Four.

Although we are given a fair amount of detail about the three central characters, the others are left largely undefined. Goddard and Enderby are your classic villains of melodrama to the point where you can almost see them twirling their moustaches and laughing in a sinister way. I was left with the feeling that the author was deliberatly not adding too much dimension to the peripheral characters in order to avoid us becoming more interested in them than the central characters.

The author's grasp of detail really comes into its own when describing the scenes of battle and the battles themselves. The only downside for me (and this may be a personal thing) is that the battles are described in a very clinical way which, for me, failed to convey the horror of war and death. However I am prepared to concede that this may be just me.

Finally, I must turn to more cosmetic matters which I have noticed reviewers elsewhere have used as an excuse to damn the whole book.

The font used in the book does not do the story any justice. This font (which I believe is Arial) looks fine in a computer manual but is totally wrong for a historical story. A more 'ye-olde' font like Times New Roman or Baskerville Old Face would have been much better. The book also did not receive the attention of an editor. There are spelling and punctuation mistakes and occasions where a word is capitalised in some places and not others. The general layout could have done with attention also.

Some other reviewers have suggested that all this made reading the story impossible for them and used this as an excuse to mark low but I think that this is more indicative of laziness on their part. The mistakes do not overtly affect the experience of reading the book. They are like potholes in a road, when you go over them they affect your concentration but they don't prevent you getting to your destination.

I do recommend this book. If I were to give it an Amazon style rating it would be 4 stars out of 5. I deduct 1 star for the various spelling and cosmetic oversights and the relative lack of time devoted to the treasure hunt which, in the beginning, is made out to be the story's focus and subsequently takes second place behind the military campaign.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent review! I keep seeing this advertised, but I think you finally sold me!

    ReplyDelete