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WesternSFA
The Adventures of The Peerless Peer
by John H. Watson, M.D, edited by Philip Jose Farmer
Copyright 1974, 111 pages hardcover, Aspen Press
Philip Jose Farmer had a lifelong love affair with Edgar Rice Burroughs’ characters, particularly Tarzan.  He was to write several books either directly referring to Tarzan or to a character that bore a striking resemblance to Tarzan.  Farmer also enjoyed bringing other famous characters into his stories and this little book is written from the point of view of Dr. John Watson.  This peculiar adventure takes place in 1916 when Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are summoned to London to meet with Mycroft Holmes who sends them to Egypt to pursue an old nemesis – Von Bork.  Von Bork poses a grave threat to the Empire and, indeed, the whole world, with the theft of a diabolical invention of a certain type of bacillus from Egypt intended to destroy a significant food source and demoralize the German nation.  England ’s fear is that the bacillus could be engineered to affect other food sources.

Holmes and Watson are given into the care of a certain strange flier and a prototype aeroplane to be taken to Africa to apprehend Von Bork and capture the bacillus.  After a disastrous and almost fatal flight, Holmes and Watson are transferred to another aircraft to complete their journey.  This one also ends badly with their plane crash-landing atop a German zeppelin which was carrying Von Bork.  Their luck continues in the same vein when they are forced to abandon the zeppelin over British East Africa .  In fleeing from a murderous Von Bork, the two old men find themselves lost in the jungle, threatened by native wildlife, when they are rescued by none other than Lord Greystoke.

One of the more mysterious questions surrounding Lord Greystoke is whether he is who everyone assumes him to be – the heir to Greystoke – or his cousin.  The resemblance of their savior to a young boy they once rescued in a previous adventure, the heir to Greystoke, is undeniable.  Holmes and Watson engage in a complicated dialogue while they try to determine if they are really in the care of the legitimate heir to Greystoke or a madman related to the family. Watson postulates a scenario in which the young ape-reared Greystoke fell in love with a young woman who had planned to marry Greystoke’s cousin, who thought he was the heir since the real Greystoke baby had been lost on the shores of Africa and thought dead.  Greystoke, wanting only to do what was best for the young lady, decided to allow his cousin to continue the charade in order to provide an entitled life for the young lady. (I told you it was complicated! Ed.)

The two old men are captured by some strange men resembling ancient Persians and made to march farther into the jungle.  Later they are joined by more prisoners, Von Bork and the captain of the zeppelin.  They discover that the high priestess of the village in which they are incarcerated lives sequestered in a temple. Holmes, of course, determines he must then rescue her, as all damsels in distress demand such action.  Never mind that he doesn’t actually ask her if she needs rescuing.  At one point, Greystoke makes an appearance and the Holmes engages him in a complicated (again) dialogue challenging his right to his title of Lord Greystoke. Greystoke’s explanation is sufficient to convince Holmes and Watson, but also cause them to fear for their lives.  They believe it possible that Greystoke will kill them to keep his story secret.  So they convince him to become their client, thereby ensuring their silence.

The Queen Priestess of the village turns out to be of British stock and Holmes will have his way rescuing her and returning her to a society of which she knows nothing.  In attempting to escape the village, the little party must cross through an area inhabited by a ferocious species of bee.  Holmes manages to save them all in an absolutely hilarious way.  Greystoke is injured and loses his memory, including the client fee he owes Holmes and Watson.

Holmes eventually deduces where the bacillus formula is hidden and takes it from Von Bork.  The priestess does eventually arrive in England and is, by then, betrothed to one of her rescuers.  And Greystoke eventually recovers his memory.

Altogether, this little book is an absolutely wild ride full of satirical comments and wry explanations.  You just cannot read this tale as a straightforward story; not only will you be bored and outraged by it, you won’t get the deserved enjoyment from its insanity.  ~~ Catherine Book

And now:  test your knowledge of Farmer’s Tarzan stories in our new Trivia Contest.  Click here.

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