This is the second novel in Doyle’s Professor Challenger series, the first of which being The Lost World, which I really enjoyed. I loved the Professor character, so I figured I’d carry on with the lesser-known sequels. I heard that the quality of this series took a steep drop after the first, and while I do think the plot was a lot weaker than The Lost World, the characters were just as great.
The story begins with Professor Challenger having summoned everyone from the previous adventure to his home. When they arrive, Challenger explains his recent discovery that the earth is about to pass through a “poison belt” of aether that is going to kill every living being on earth. They have no time to contact family, to make any plans, because this is all going to happen that same night. He has rigged an enclosed room with oxygen, so they plan to spend the night in there and see how long they can stay alive or even if they can outlast the catastrophe.
The plot is definitely a bit silly, but I did find how it played out to be quite interesting. As they sit in the room, they discuss all of the natural questions that might arise in such a situation. Why even try to postpone death? What was the purpose of their lives? If they survive and no one else does, how will they continue exploring their passions? Professor Challenger is almost excited at that prospect, as it’s an unusual chance to observe life rebuilding itself, but our narrator Edward Malone is a journalist. What would be left for him?
The Sherlock stories contained grounded investigation techniques that would go on to actually inspire real-life detective practices, whereas these Challenger stories are a little more fantastical. The magical poison aether is treated as if scientific, but it’s really just nonsense. I imagine it was at the time as well. I’m in these stories for the characters, though, and even if the science is silly it does still raise some interesting discussion points, which was a lot of fun.
Some of this was actually quite funny as well, something I don’t think comes out as much in his Sherlock stories. Before we, the reader or the characters, knew about the poisonous aether, it had already begun affecting people in quite odd ways. This resulted in some absurdly funny moments that had me wondering if Doyle had gone off the deep end when writing this. We had one character crying, another showing off his animal calls, and another biting a maid, and I really didn’t know what was happening for a bit there. I thought he paced it really well. It was subtle enough that I didn’t completely catch on to what was happening, and it ended just as I was beginning to wonder why this novel was so ridiculous compared to his others.
This was narrated by the same man who narrated The Lost World, Glen McCready, and he is fantastic. He really brings Professor Challenger to life in his full grumbling and arrogant glory. I think these are worth reading, and I’ll be picking up the next in the series, The Land of Mist, when I next come across it.