Friday, 18 May 2012

'The Angel of the Opera' by Sam Siciliano (1994)

Synopsis: the year is 1890 and the opera house in Paris is being terrorised and held for ransom by a Phantom. In despair and exasperation, and suspecting that the Phantom might actually be a man, the managers of the opera house hire the famous detective Sherlock Holmes to deal with their problem.

I love Sherlock Holmes and I love the Phantom of the Opera! So you can imagine my interest when I found that someone had written a Sherlock Holmes/Phantom of the Opera crossover book in which Sherlock and Erik go head-to-head. Instantly I knew I had to check this book out. Even though a friend warned me that this book was actually really bad and that I shouldn't read it unless I wanted a really good laugh I carried on and read the thing anyway. My friend was right. The Angel of the Opera IS a bad book. Wait, no, it isn't. It's an dreadful book! It didn't even make me laugh and I hated it! I hated it even more than I hated Susan Kay's Phantom! This particular book made me really angry and my reasons for hating it so much are many! And now I'll try to explain why in a way that hopefully won't be incoherent and rambling!

The major issue that most Sherlock Holmes fans tend to have with this book is that John Watson, the loyal sidekick/best friend/faithful chronicler of the Sherlock Holmes stories, isn't even in it. Instead the book is narrated by Dr Henry Vernier, Sherlock Holmes's half-French cousin. Now before I carry on with this review, I will give this book's author, Sam Siciliano, some credit. He obviously did some research before he wrote this book because Vernier is actually a legitimate Sherlock Holmes character. In one of the Arthur Conan Doyle stories there's a reference to Watson selling his medical practice to a man called Verner who later turns out to be a cousin of Sherlock Holmes. I suppose Siciliano changed the name from "Verner" to "Vernier" in order to make the name sound more French. Sherlock Holmes is part-French after all and changing "Verner" to "Vernier" isn't too much of a stretch. Siciliano also seems to have read Gaston Leroux's Phantom of the Oopera as well because the Persian and Raoul's brother Philippe are both in this story. These characters don't often feature in Phantom of the Opera adaptations. However, despite the fact that Siciliano has obviously done research he messes so much stuff up! He misspells Erik's name as "Eric" a couple of times and gets the Grasshopper and the Scorpion mixed up in the torture chamber scenes! And the introduction to his book is infuriating! Most sensible authors would realise that it's not a good idea to anger your target audience right from the first page but that's exactly what Siciliano does! He disses Watson in the very first paragraph! Why would you do that?! Why?! Who would be most likely to read this book? Sherlock Holmes fans of course! Didn't Siciliano think that slagging off Watson, the much-loved narrator of the Sherlock Holmes stories, might not be such a good move?! Didn't he think that he might annoy quite a few people by doing that?! But that's exactly what he does! Siciliano's narrator Henry Vernier claims that Watson's writings are "foolish" and inaccurate and Watson himself is depicted as being petty and stupid. Here's a direct quote!

"Watson had little imagination and was extremely conventional in the stuffiest British sense... I cannot forgive him for parading so distorted, so petty a rendering of my cousin before the public for all these years. Since I, too, was trained in medicine, I can state that his failings as a physician were even greater than those as a writer. I encountered several examples of his incompetence firsthand!"

I swiftly realised just why exactly Siciliano had chosen to portray Watson in this way though. It was so he could go completely against the Sherlock Holmes that is depicted in the ACD stories, so he could create his own Sherlock Holmes by changing aspects of the character's personality. I did NOT care for these changes at all.

The first change that Siciliano makes is that now Holmes is capable of romantically loving women and isn't asexual. This was really annoying. The second change that Siciliano makes is when he has Vernier state that all of the quotes and incidences from the ACD stories which suggest that Sherlock Holmes believes in God were just an invention of Watson's and that Holmes is actually a firm agnostic. This was another really annoying change that I hated. Sherlock Holmes being an agnostic has no relevance whatsoever to Angel of the Opera! I suspect that Siciliano only put this in because it happens to be his own personal belief. The third change that Siciliano makes is that Holmes now has material greed. He demands an enormous amount of money from the managers for his services. Yet again this was a another really annoying change that I hated because it makes Holmes seem greedy and selfish. Sherlock Holmes doesn't solve crimes for money in the ACD stories! He solves crimes simply because he loves solving crimes! Siciliano then attempts to justify his decision to have Holmes demand such an outrageous sum of money by claiming that the only reason why Holmes is asking for such a huge amount of cash is because he's never had a client as wealthy and illustrious as the Opera Garnier before. What?! I've never heard of such rubbish! Anyone who's read A Scandal in Bohemia will know that's not true! You don't get much more wealthy and illustrious than royalty do you?!

Yet another issue that I had with this book was with Siciliano's narrator. You'd hope that if an author is going to assassinate a character as well-beloved as Dr John Watson that the author would then provide a likeable narrator in his place. But Henry Vernier isn't a likeable narrator at all. He's extremely irritating. He badmouths Watson. He's extremely biased and declares his opinions on practically every single character in the story, which really has you longing for Watson's more subtle narration. Vernier also keeps banging on and on about some woman called Michelle that he's in love with. And every single this happened I'd be thinking "I don't care! I don't care about you or Michelle! Just get back to the story!" Vernier also comes across as a complete Marty-Stu which didn't exactly improve my opinion of him.

Up until now I've only mentioned how Siciliano ruins Watson and Holmes' characters but if you think the characters from Leroux's book fare any better then think again. Philippe is sleazy, arrogant and callous. Raoul is turned into a whiny, snivelling, cowardly villain. In fact Siciliano even invents a completely new character just so he can have Raoul kill him and make him look like even more of a villain! Siciliano also depicts Christine as being a dumb, shallow blonde who rejects Erik solely because of his looks. That's not true! In Leroux's book Christine was afraid of the Phantom from the moment she actually met him face-to-face. She went through the mirror of her dressing room expecting to find her Angel of Music only to find a creepy mask-wearing man! Not to mention that Christine has a childhood sweetheart in Raoul and that Erik has mental health issues and has killed people! Another character that this book ruins is the Persian. In Leroux's book - and even in the Susan Kay book - the Persian is depicted as being noble and decent. He's horrified by Erik's murders and his kidnapping of Christine and is determined to stop him. But at the same time he has genuine pity for Erik and doesn't want to kill him unless he has too. The final scene between them in the book is really moving. But in this book he's depicted as being evil and lecherous! He leers at the ballerina girls and wants Erik dead!

Now it's my understanding that some Sherlock Holmes/Phantom of the Opera fans have been able to forgive Siciliano's book for its maaany faults simply because they found the conversations between Holmes and Erik entertaining. Well, I couldn't. Erik and Holmes's conversations and interactions were too contrived to be entertaining. Basically Holmes takes an immediate liking to Erik simply because he's so impressed with how he plays the violin. He then completely ignores the fact that Erik is mentally ill, the fact that Erik is a murderer, the fact that he's terrorising and extorting an opera house, even the fact that he's deformed. This brings me to another point! When Holmes and Vernier see Erik's face they don't even seem very affected by Erik's deformity. Vernier even thinks to himself that Erik's face isn't too bad and that he's seen worse. No, no, no! Erik's face isn't tolerable or even slightly ugly. Erik's face is repulsive! He even smells like death! And if Erik's face isn't too bad then why has be been forced to hide himself away from the world? If his face isn't too bad then what's the entire point of his character? And the ending of this book... urgh. I won't give it away but it's completely stupid and gives Erik a happy ending. Oh my word, I hated this book so much!

Rating: 0.5/5

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