6 years after their failed first invasion in 1894, Martians once again arrived on Earth, but this time in a more peaceful manner. Since then, they have established a permanent presence on Earth, sharing technology and living alongside humans for the last 10 years. When the Martian ambassador asks Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to travel to Mars in order to investigate the murder of a prominent philosopher, signs of a far-reaching conspiracy begin to emerge.
It is an ambitious undertaking to take The War of the Worlds, mash it up with the Sherlock Holmes canon, and use the result as a basis for a new story. I had doubts about the feasibility, but I have to say that it worked much better than I imagined. Brown captures the essence of Holmes and Watson reasonably well although Watson, for my tastes, veers too often towards behaving like a bumbling fool whose head is all too easily turned by young and beautiful women. Incidentally, one of the agents of the human resistance is such a young and beautiful woman, and while I appreciate her being an otherwise competent and kick-ass character I wonder why her extraordinary beauty had to be mentioned at least five times.
Although it is pretty clear from the beginning that the endgame is a big and final confrontation between Earth and Mars, the story manages to always keep its focus on the two protagonists and their small but vital contributions to the cause which helps to make it still feel like a Sherlock Holmes story despite all the unusual aspects. Since some parts take place on Mars, and London has changed considerably due to the influx of advanced technology, the overall atmosphere of course differs greatly from a typical Holmes adventure. Furthermore, there is not much of a mystery and some developments are predictable, but the ending includes a twist that I did not see coming at all, and that is ingenious and deliciously ironic, especially in light of some of Holmes’s past adventures.
In general, this is an engaging and fun romp despite the dark theme it is covering, and the pacing is at a breakneck speed which makes for a real pageturner. Cameos by H.G. Wells, who works as a scientific advisor at the Martian embassy, George Bernard Shaw and G.K. Chesterton, who make an unlikely pair as prominent faces of the resistance, or Conan Doyle’s own creation Professor Challenger only add to the amusement. Fundamentally, The Martian Menace is a lighthearted homage to the works of the founding fathers of science fiction that was crafted with care and attention to detail. There is, however, not much depth to, or analysis of, the proceedings or the characters, and as a reader, you don’t even have time to think extensively about anything that happens in this book. You are simply taken on a wild ride, and when it is over, you at least can be sure of having been thoroughly entertained.