BOOK REVIEW – ELIZABETH BEAR – TIGER TIGER 2003 Ballantine Press. Short horror story in Michael Reaves & John Pelan’s collection Shadows Over Baker Street.
The story does not take part in Baker Street or feature (or even mention) Holmes or Watson, unlike other stories in this Holmes-Lovecraft crossover book. It does however deal with an adventure for Irene Adler, the woman who outsmarted Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Scandal In Bohemia.
Having fled Britain and vanished without trace in that story, one of the few characters to outwit Holmes, Adler now takes part in a tiger hunt in India. Joining a party who hunt by elephant for a rogue tiger that has killed men and devoured cattle, the party find only an old crippled tiger with arthritic claws and rotten teeth.
Searching again, and feeling safe, as tigers don’t attack elephants, they find themselves attacked by a tiger composed of living fire. This is a very literal working of the tiger described in William Blake’s poem, (which is not mentioned though one by Rudyard Kipling is cited) and not particularly Lovecraftian. A soldier who is hunting an escaped convict now having joined their party saves the party. Adler eventually kills the prisoner as the tiger attacks but gets its flames extinguished in monsoon rain. Adler claims to be working for the secret service and leaves the wounded narrator waiting for help as she flees again, knowing more than she let on.
The Holmsian referencing is obscure and the Lovecraftian elements are non-existent in a very disappointing story. The atmosphere of the tiger hunt and the mannerisms of the hunting party, as well as the sense of mystery around Adler are well evoked, but the story seems out of place in the overall book – an interesting experiment that doesn’t quite work.
© Copyright. Arthur Chappell
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