Sherlock Holmes and the Giant Rat of Sumatra

Written by Paul D. Gilbert
Review by Mary F. Burns

This is Gilbert’s third Sherlock Holmes mystery, though the first I’ve read. The premise of this story is a throwaway line from Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire,” where Holmes mentions to Watson the name of a ship, the Matilda Briggs, “which is associated with the giant rat of Sumatra, a story for which the world is not yet prepared.”

The beginning was promising; Gilbert perfectly strikes the acidic, sarcastic yet humorous tone of the famous detective. Ditto for Dr. Watson’s homey, at times querulous but always loyal responses and queries. In unfolding the mystery, Gilbert makes use of extensive excerpts from a man’s letters, which after a bit tend to drag the story to a crawl and make the reader want to skip over all the descriptions of the man’s trials being lost in Sumatra to get to some real action. The story is narrated by Dr. Watson, and it is a treat to get a close look at his intimate friendship with his genius friend.

Gilbert excellently portrays both the affection and the impatience that each man has for the other, a friendship that would lead either of them to the ends of the earth to help the other one. Nonetheless, with such a lead-in as being the story “for which the world is not yet prepared,” I felt a little let down by the end, exciting and dangerous as the final scene was. It’s a good, satisfying mystery, however, and fans of Holmes will be quite content.