Possibly the only thing shared between Spike Milligan and Peter Ackroyd is that they have both published their own take on the Frankenstein story. I’ve not read the Milligan version, but I think I’m safe in assuming that the only similarities with Ackroyd’s The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein are the bare bones of the story, something familiar to as all via Mary Shelley’s novel or Universal and Hammer film adaptations. I’m confident in this assumption – in no way do I imagine Peter Ackroyd as the missing fifth Goon.
Ackroyd remains faithful to Shelley’s framework in his re imagining, embellishing the story with an exploration of the young Victor Frankenstein’s thirst to study anatomy. There are vivid descriptions of 19th century scientific experimentation; the attempts at reviving cadavers with electricity, the dark London inns where Frankenstein seeks out the services of the Resurrection men, the dangerous underworld types who will bring him fresh corpses to work on. His knowledge and love for London unquestionable, Ackroyd writes about the city with relish. It’s a convincing and very fascinating world to dip into.
The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein also makes Mary Shelley one of its cast, along with Bysshe Shelley, although this is a conceit that sometimes sits at odds with the thrust of the narrative. But all in all the novel is a fine addition to the Frankenstein canon. And it already has its successors; Danny Boyle’s stage version is currently playing. Interestingly, the duality between Victor Frankenstein and his monster is explored in Boyle’s version, where the two lead actors alternate the roles, and Ackroyd does something similar, exploiting the link between creator and creation and offering an unusual, and quite shocking, conclusion.