Friday, October 30, 2015

Book Review - Arthur Conan Doyle's The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes

The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
Published by: Book-of-the-Month Club
Publication Date: 1927
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Holmes is happily ensconced in his retirement and his study of bees, but that doesn't mean he has foregone the occasional mystery, sometimes they literally show up on his doorstep; or that all his past adventures have been told, there are metal boxes full of them. Watson is back to share a few of these adventures with us, more diverse in motives, but never beyond the grasp of Sherlock Holmes. Holmes himself even picks up the pen twice to give us insight into crimes that Watson wasn't around for, and in a rare moment admits that perhaps Watson's writing was more clever than Holmes had given it credit. It's harder then he thought putting one's exploits on the page in a way that captures the reader's attention and holds it, without spoiling the solution in advance. Yet what is most fascinating about these case files that Watson has culled is that they are almost beyond the ken of man. Vampires and apes! Fiery South American Brides. Lepers and creatures from the sea and lions killing their circus handlers! A client who might not be as innocent as they paint themselves to be. If this is to be the last we hear of Sherlock Holmes, one thing is certain, these stories are unlike any that have been told before. But the most surprising of all is Holmes being willing to change his mind... not just about Watson's writing, but about Turkish Baths. They're now all the rage.

While I have grown a little weary of the world's number one consulting detective, I question if I am not just channeling Conan Doyle himself. When reading a good portion of the works of one author you get keyed into them and their emotions. You can tell when they are enjoying themselves, when they are struggling, and most importantly when they are fed up and hate what they are writing. I quite sincerely believe that here, at the close of the Sherlock Holmes canon, that Conan Doyle quite fervently hated his creation. You can just feel it oozing out of the stories and permeating your subconscious as you read. If you were in any doubt, just take a gander at this book's introduction, I can clearly read between the lines Conan Doyle's message, which basically runs "fuck off, leave me alone!" Yet there's a weird benefit of Conan Doyle no longer caring, and that is his experimentation in narration styles. Before, during his first atrocious attempt at third person narration, which he still has yet to get the hang of here, I commented that perhaps Holmes as a narrator would be an interesting yet logical transition. My wish was granted. Twice! And what was the outcome of this? I really wanted Watson to return. It is odd, me and Watson, we've never fully gotten along. I called him a sycophant, he called me overcritical of his classic status, I went on to say his mentioning of cases he's not supposed to mention was an annoying tease, he went on about Holmes's reputation, you get the point. I forgive him everything after reading the alternatives! Please Watson, come back! Forget about your random new wife and live with Holmes again pretty please!

With his changing of narration styles, Conan Doyle also threw caution to the wind with the crimes. Instead of always being about money, we have far more complex motives than ever before. Seriously, one more about money and I don't know what I would have done. While you can tell this was all a result of Conan Doyle trying to revitalize his waning interest in his subject, I can't help but think if he had started these innovations earlier that the canon could have been more varied, more unique. Yes, yes, it's probably some sort of heresy that I'm saying this, but it's true! I'm looking at these stories not through rose-tinted glasses! As for the innovations, we FINALLY get to read a story wherein the client is the guilty party. I have oddly been longing for this day. Of course Holmes always suspected his client, so therefore it's not as interesting as if Holmes had been found fallible, but still, liking the change. The cases overall had a dash more romance. Jealousy, love, these are the cornerstones to these new set of tales. As well as real tails! Dogs play significant parts in two of the adventures! While these are a refreshing change, one of the two more sensational tales caught my imagination the most . These are really interesting in that they almost verge on pulp fiction, with death by sea creature, and notably, the heavily Poe influenced, with just a dash of H.G. Wells, "The Adventure of the Creeping Man." It's this second tale that I found most fascinating, while also very out of place. Seriously, this guy is injecting himself with a drug extracted from monkeys just to become young again for the woman he loves? Sadly it has some amusing though unintended side effects. This is so odd a tale that it instantly is the most memorable.

Yet with this love and jealousy there's a consequence that I don't know if it's intentional or not. In "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire" and "The Problem of Thor Bridge" both stories concern men who married South American brides whom they fell out of love with and the wives went a little bit crazy. Was it Conan Doyle's intention to have two stories be basically Jane Eyre? Well, technically Wide Sargasso Sea, but that came after and just fleshed out the back story of Rochester and his crazy wife in the attic, Bertha Mason. Because there is no other way these stories can be looked at. They are literally Jane Eyre meets Sherlock Holmes, but not in some weird story written by Jasper Fforde. Each of the stories even captures little personality traits from Bertha. In "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire" the supposed vampirism and the biting can obviously be seen in Bertha's attack on her brother when he comes to visit Thornfield Hall. Then in "The Problem of Thor Bridge" the psychotic jealousy and eventual suicide just scream crazy wife in the attic! Why this bothers me so much is I don't know what Conan Doyle's intention was with these two tales. Firstly I don't like him perpetuating this myth about fiery and unstable South American wives, but more than that, was it an homage or was he taking the piss? Was he obsessed with and adored Charlotte Bronte, or was it something else? Was he just using the framework which was familiar to all readers to get a backstory without having to do the work himself? It's no wonder "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire" was so radically changed when it was adapted for TV, because otherwise everyone would be in the same conundrum as me!

Speaking of TV adaptations... what I have always found odd is how the CSI episode "Who Shot Sherlock?" has stuck with me year after year. The episode concerns a man found dead who was obsessed with Sherlock Holmes. He had even converted his basement into a recreation of 221B Baker Street with windows that utilized rear projection to show a Victorian street outside despite the fact that the room was underground. During the episode the victim is found dead of an apparent gunshot wound to the head. But there is no murder weapon to be found and the room was locked from the inside. Grissom and his team get to work to figure out whodunit. The obvious suspects are the victim's fellow Sherlock fanatics. They even have a club! Of course in the end it turns out it was suicide, the gun was attached to a band that pulled it up the chimney... which is basically the exact murder, down to a little nick, in "The Problem of Thor Bridge." So, as I've said, I don't know why this episode has stuck with me this long, but finally reading the original story that inspired this episode made me realize one major plot hole that I must now gripe about. IF these were Sherlock Holmes fans HOW did they not figure out how the crime was committed? It's in the freakin' stories! Seriously! Are they that freakin' dumb? Did it really need the all powerful mind of Gil Grissom to go, hey look at this it's right out of the books! Now I'm forever going to be stuck with remembering this episode not for it's Sherlock angle but for the stupidity angle.

But nothing in that CSI episode is as stupid as Sherlock Holmes retiring. Why? Because it's against character! The only reason Sherlock Holmes retired after only twenty-three years of active duty is because Conan Doyle tried to kill him and it didn't work, so banishing him to a life of bees seemed the next best option. Think of this logically, think of Holmes's personality, it just doesn't make sense! Watson time and again mentions how Holmes is fine in the country, but that he is a creature of the city. He needed to be enthroned at 221B Baker Street like it was the center of a giant spider's web where he could sit and listen and wait for a little criminal disturbance that would capture his attention and off he would go. Yet he's perfectly content to sit in a house looking at the channel, bathing and swimming there occasionally, and concentrating on bees? I could see him doing it for like a week or a month, learning all there was and moving on, of course writing that monograph on bees, but living there? Choosing that as his life? NO! I think this is the biggest crime in all the canon. The fact that Conan Doyle had grown to hate his character so much that he would give him an ignominious end. Of course, in fairness, he tried to give Holmes the ending he deserved but had to retract it... but still... to pour your spite out by giving an ending that was a whimper, not a bang. It's an injustice to the greatest consulting detective who ever lived and has resulted in way too much fan fiction concerning bees. Seriously. Why bees?

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Book Review - Arthur Conan Doyle's His Last Bow

His Last Bow by Arthur Conan Doyle
Published by: Book-of-the-Month Club
Publication Date: 1917
Format: Hardcover, 308 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

While England may be the home of Sherlock Holmes, that doesn't in any way limit where the criminals come from. They seep out of the woodwork from Italy to South America. Homegrown or exotic, Holmes is on the case. From the insight that "The Upright Englishman" makes the perfect alibi to what exactly a missing train ticket means on a dead man, Holmes can recreate the largest of crimes from the smallest of evidence. Money, revenge, and love, they are always at the heart of the criminal. But Holmes himself isn't adverse to a little revenge, staging a touching deathbed scene with himself as star all in order to catch just one more criminal who would have gotten away. Sure it might be callous to trick Mrs. Hudson and Watson into thinking he's dying, but he'll be alive to apologize after he gets his man. Yet it is the illusive killing agents that are the most fascinating. The poison that is so rare that it incriminates versus exonerates the criminal. With all this fascinating criminality one wonders why Holmes would ever retire... but even in retirement he is ready to help his homeland when they need him the most as a wind from the east rises and the eve of the great war approaches. Sherlock Holmes will always be there, wherever he is needed most. Even if that means he's with his bees.

With His Last Bow you can see that Conan Doyle is trying to find a new way to invigorate his waning interest in Sherlock Holmes. Despite my dislike of The Valley of Fear there was no doubt that Conan Doyle enjoyed writing in a longer format with a very different subject matter. While sadly Conan Doyle couldn't omit Sherlock Holmes from the Sherlock Holmes stories, he could at least switch it up. Each collection of Sherlock Holmes stories contains about twelve plus adventures. While His Last Bow is the same length page wise as all other collections it contains a reduced number of tales. The reason for this is that he has lengthened his stories. Therefore the tales told here are not a quick short story, nor a full out book, yes, we're in novella territory, and I think perhaps this is where Conan Doyle should have always been. He sometimes struggles to maintain his stories for an entire book, hence the long jaunts to America, while his short stories are sometimes so brief that there isn't time to do the mystery justice. This is a happy combination of the two with Conan Doyle being able to bring in tropes he likes from his books, like breaking up the stories into acts, so that we get different scenes and the story isn't confined as much as previously. Holmes is able to delve deeper into the mysteries without having to have the story padded out or made spare. So while there is the occasional story that fails due to subject matter, the ones that work are all the better for this deeper investigation from the world's greatest consulting detective.

Yet there is one incidence in this book where Conan Doyle takes his desire to switch up his writing style in such a wrong direction that the story itself is almost painful to read. The titular "His Last Bow" eschews the narrative style of Watson we have grown accustomed to and instead opts for a third person narration style. While this in itself could have conceivably worked, given a good story, instead we are stuck listening to German braggarts with Holmes being nothing more than a deus ex machina once again. Seriously, what was the point of this story? It just doesn't work in the context of the greater canon. There is some speculation that it was written for patriotic propaganda for WWI, but even if that's true could it at least have been well written? Plus Holmes is working against himself. He's fed the Germans all this false information and then tells them it's false. Why? Why not let them believe it's true, it would be far better spycraft! Also, the two years with Holmes working undercover for this one moment, it seems like too much work for too little gain. I keep trying to think if the story would have worked written in the conventional first person narration, but yet again I hit too many stumbling blocks that are all tied up with the flaws of the plot. If Conan Doyle wanted to tell this story in a unique manner, and seeing as Watson is out of the picture for so long, why not for the first time in what is canonically the last story have Holmes have his say? That might have worked... it at least would have been different but similar enough to not stick out like the sore thumb that it is.

With fifty-six short stories in all one can start to wonder how it is that Conan Doyle was able to maintain a freshness to each individual adventure. The truth is that he sometimes didn't and in fact repeated himself, like how "The Red-Headed League" and "The Adventure of the Stockbroker's Clerk" are basically one and the same with different coverings. But I never thought that he'd repeat himself so completely. "The Adventure of the Cardboard Box" is a tale that was viewed as rather too gruesome for his reader's sensibilities, being omitted from the British edition of Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, and quickly being removed from the American edition because of our delicate feelings, rather ironic when you think how Conan Doyle depicted us Americans. In later British editions of Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes it was put in and for us Americans it was included in this book. But one thing is very clear when you start to read this story, and that's Conan Doyle never expected it to make a comeback once his publishers had pulled it. Why do I know this? Because of "The Adventure of the Resident Patient." When I started reading "The Adventure of the Cardboard Box" I had a weird sense of déjà vu. At first I was all, hmm, this seems rather familiar. Soon I realized it was word for word the same as another Sherlock story I read. Then I started to wonder if perhaps it was the same story just re-published. But no... it had a different title and a far different crime. So to the Internet I went. When the "gruesome" story was pulled Conan Doyle hacked it up and took the entire beginning about Poe and Henry Ward Beecher and made it the beginning of a new story he was writing, "The Adventure of the Resident Patient." So yes, he was basically plagiarizing himself and confusing his fans. Shame on you Conan Doyle for your laziness...

I find it ironic that "The Adventure of the Cardboard Box" was removed for it's controversial and grotesque subject matter when His Last Bow has Holmes again and again referring to his specialized work as being crimes of the grotesque. I think this is one of the incidents in which something is lost in translation over time as the English language evolves. Because grotesque to me obviously doesn't mean the same thing as it does to Holmes and therefore Conan Doyle. I have visions of Gothic horrors, abominations, nightmarish visions, whereas he probably means odd, unnatural, and bizarre. But even more ironically, I would still call the crime in "The Adventure of the Cardboard Box" grotesque, because that is what getting ears in the mail is... an abomination that only those of a truly perverse mindset would set out to do. So how do we take this definition shift in stride? Because if we are to take it more as it is seen today, it adds another, darker level to Holmes. Perhaps this is why there is so much fan fiction wherein Holmes is involved in the solving of the Jack the Ripper murders. Because these murders would fit both definitions of the word, past and present. A combination of old sensibilities with new. Either way you look at it this throw away line from Holmes in two or three stories really makes you think on what he does and how this effects his standing in society. He is a man apart. But not so apart that he is at the Phantom of the Opera stage that grotesque would imply... but still, it makes you think.

But what I have been thinking most of in reading all these tales is why is Lestrade the only policeman most people associate with Sherlock Holmes? Fifty-six short stories and four books and he only appears thirteen times! So he's only in about 20% of the stories! I mean, yes, he appears more then any other law enforcement officer, but he doesn't make the biggest impression. Inspector Hopkins is far more memorable due to his missteps as well as the random praise and hopes Holmes sometimes heaps on him in his four appearances. Throughout the complete canon there are 35 detectives, 16 agents, and 14 constables, 8 of which appear in multiple stories, and yet it's always Lestrade. Have we just decided to forget all the rest along the way? In fact this problem has become so ubiquitous that when Paul Chequer played DI Dimmock on the Sherlock season one episode "The Blind Banker" everyone was wondering where Rupert Graves as Lestrade was. I was even guilty of this! And I'm a huge fan of Paul Chequer! So imagine my surprise that there are all these other law enforcement officers wandering about!?! The truth is the world of Sherlock Holmes is a lot bigger than we have come to view it as. There aren't just more cops, there are more continents, more characters, more everything. We just have this confined little Victorian view that this is how it is. If reading all these stories has taught me anything it is that our mindset, when it comes to Sherlock Holmes, needs to expand. It needs to encompass so much more without these assumptions. But then again, everything would be better with a more open mind.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Tuesday Tomorrow

After Alice by Gregory Maguire
Published by: William Morrow
Publication Date: October 27th, 2015
Format: Paperback, 288 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the multi-million-copy bestselling author of Wicked comes a magical new twist on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, published to coincide with the 150th anniversary of Lewis’s Carroll’s beloved classic.

When Alice toppled down the rabbit-hole 150 years ago, she found a Wonderland as rife with inconsistent rules and abrasive egos as the world she left behind. But what of that world? How did 1860s Oxford react to Alice’s disappearance?

In this brilliant work of fiction, Gregory Maguire turns his dazzling imagination to the question of underworlds, undergrounds, underpinnings—and understandings old and new, offering an inventive spin on Carroll’s enduring tale. Ada, a friend of Alice’s mentioned briefly in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is off to visit her friend, but arrives a moment too late—and tumbles down the rabbit-hole herself.

Ada brings to Wonderland her own imperfect apprehension of cause and effect as she embarks on an odyssey to find Alice and see her safely home from this surreal world below the world. If Eurydice can ever be returned to the arms of Orpheus, or Lazarus can be raised from the tomb, perhaps Alice can be returned to life. Either way, everything that happens next is “After Alice.”"

While I liked Wicked, that was dealing with a source I didn't much care for... whereas Alice in Wonderland has a special place in my heart...

These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly
Published by: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: October 27th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 496 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From Jennifer Donnelly, the critically acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of A Northern Light and Revolution, comes a mystery about dark secrets, dirty truths, and the lengths to which people will go for love and revenge. For fans of Elizabeth George and Libba Bray, These Shallow Graves is the story of how much a young woman is willing to risk and lose in order to find the truth.

Jo Montfort is beautiful and rich, and soon—like all the girls in her class—she’ll graduate from finishing school and be married off to a wealthy bachelor. Which is the last thing she wants. Jo dreams of becoming a writer—a newspaper reporter like the trailblazing Nellie Bly.

Wild aspirations aside, Jo’s life seems perfect until tragedy strikes: her father is found dead. Charles Montfort shot himself while cleaning his pistol. One of New York City’s wealthiest men, he owned a newspaper and was a partner in a massive shipping firm, and Jo knows he was far too smart to clean a loaded gun.

The more Jo hears about her father’s death, the more something feels wrong. Suicide is the only logical explanation, and of course people have started talking, but Jo’s father would never have resorted to that. And then she meets Eddie—a young, smart, infuriatingly handsome reporter at her father’s newspaper—and it becomes all too clear how much she stands to lose if she keeps searching for the truth. But now it might be too late to stop.

The past never stays buried forever. Life is dirtier than Jo Montfort could ever have imagined, and this time the truth is the dirtiest part of all."

Come on, this sounds just fascinating! 

A Song of Ice and Fire by George R R Martin
Published by: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: October 27th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The ultimate collector’s item for fans of the epic fantasy series that inspired HBO’s Game of Thrones—a gorgeous boxed set featuring conveniently sized, hand-holdable leather-cloth-bound editions of the first five novels!

An immersive entertainment experience unlike any other, A Song of Ice and Fire has earned George R. R. Martin—dubbed “the American Tolkien” by Time magazine—international acclaim and millions of loyal readers. Now the monumental saga gets the royal treatment it deserves, with each book wrapped in bound leather-cloth covers and packaged together in an elegant display case."

Personally, I'd wait till ALL the books are out, because they're just going to rebrand them again and again.

A Banquet of Consequences by Elizabeth George
Published by: Viking
Publication Date: October 27th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 592 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The unspoken secrets and buried lies of one family rise to the surface in Elizabeth George’s newest novel of crime, passion, and tragic history. As Inspector Thomas Lynley investigates the London angle of an ever more darkly disturbing case, his partner, Barbara Havers, is looking behind the peaceful façade of country life to discover a twisted world of desire and deceit.

The suicide of William Goldacre is devastating to those left behind who will have to deal with its unintended consequences—could there be a link between the young man’s leap from a Dorset cliff and a horrific poisoning in Cambridge?

After various issues with her department, Barbara Havers is desperate to redeem herself. So when a past encounter gives her a connection to the unsolved Cambridge murder, Barbara begs Thomas Lynley to let her pursue the crime, knowing one mistake could mean the end of her career.

Full of shocks, intensity, and suspense from the first page to the last, A Banquet of Consequences reveals both Lynley and Havers under mounting pressure to solve a case both complicated and deeply disturbing."

Yeah new Lynley!

Mrs. Roosevelt's Confidante by Susan Elia Macneal
Published by: Bantam
Publication Date: October 27th, 2015
Format: Paperback, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In this latest riveting mystery from New York Times bestselling author Susan Elia MacNeal, England’s most daring spy, Maggie Hope, travels across the pond to America, where a looming scandal poses a grave threat to the White House and the Allied cause.

December 1941. Soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Winston Churchill arrives in Washington, D.C., along with special agent Maggie Hope. Posing as his typist, she is accompanying the prime minister as he meets with President Roosevelt to negotiate the United States’ entry into World War II. When one of the First Lady’s aides is mysteriously murdered, Maggie is quickly drawn into Mrs. Roosevelt’s inner circle—as ER herself is implicated in the crime. Maggie knows she must keep the investigation quiet, so she employs her unparalleled skills at code breaking and espionage to figure out who would target Mrs. Roosevelt, and why. What Maggie uncovers is a shocking conspiracy that could jeopardize American support for the war and leave the fate of the world hanging dangerously in the balance."

I still have to start this series... I do have the first one around here somewhere...

The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine by Alexander McCall Smith
Published by: Pantheon
Publication Date: October 27th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 224 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In this latest installment of the beloved and best-selling series, Mma Ramotswe must contend with her greatest challenge yet—a vacation!

Business is slow at the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, so slow in fact that for the first time in her estimable career Precious Ramotswe has reluctantly agreed to take a holiday. The promise of a week of uninterrupted peace is short-lived, however, when she meets a young boy named Samuel, a troublemaker who is himself in some trouble. Once she learns more about Samuel’s sad story, Mma Ramotswe feels compelled to step in and help him find his way out of a bad situation.

Despite this unexpected diversion, Mma Ramotswe still finds herself concerned about how the agency is faring in her absence. Her worries grow when she hears that Mma Makutsi is handling a new and rather complicated case. A well-respected Botswanan politician is up for a major public honor, and his reputation is now being called into question by his rivals. The man’s daughter has contacted the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency to investigate these troubling claims, but, as in so many cases, all is not as it seems. In the end, the investigation will affect everyone at the agency and will also serve as a reminder that ordinary human failings should be treated with a large helping of charity and compassion."

Because everyone needs an Alexander McCall Smith pick me up!

Shopaholic to the Rescue by Sophie Kinsella
Published by: The Dial Press
Publication Date: October 27th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"#1 New York Times bestselling author Sophie Kinsella returns with another laugh-out-loud Becky Brandon (née Bloomwood) adventure: a hilarious road trip through the American West to Las Vegas.

Becky is on a major rescue mission! Her father has vanished from Los Angeles on a mysterious quest with her best friend’s husband. Becky’s mum is hysterical; her best friend, Suze, is desperate. Worse, Becky must tolerate an enemy along for the ride, who she’s convinced is up to no good.

Determined to get to the bottom of why her dad has disappeared, help Suze, contain Alicia, and reunite her fractured family, Becky knows she must marshal all her trademark ingenuity. The result: her most outrageous and daring plan yet!

But just when her family needs her more than ever, can Becky pull it off?"

Seriously!?! There's another one?

Friday, October 23, 2015

Book Review - Arthur Conan Doyle's The Valley of Fear

The Valley of Fear by Arthur Conan Doyle
Published by: Book-of-the-Month Club
Publication Date: 1915
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Holmes has a snitch in Moriarty's organization. This snitch warns him of the impending murder of one John Douglas. Just as Holmes finishes perusing the note the police arrive to ask for his help in the murder of one John Douglas of Birlstone Manor in Sussex. Holmes's snitch lost his nerve and sent the note too late. Of course this only whets Holmes's appetite for the crime, because it obviously has some connection to Moriarty. The case is a perplexing one. Birlstone Manor is a moated property, with the drawbridge raised every night. John Douglas was shot at point blank range with a double barrelled shotgun blast to the face, yet only his house guest, Cecil Barker, heard the shot and was at the scene of the crime in minutes. Yet he didn't see the shooter. The only way the killer could have escaped is out the window and across the moat, which could be waded. Yet there are too many inconsistencies with the story and two things bother Holmes. One is that the victim's wedding ring was removed, though it was always beneath a second ring, which was still present. But more importantly, there is an exercise weight in the room. Only a single one. Where is it's mate? As Holmes pieces together what happened at Birlstone Manor he realizes that it is only the dead man or his killer who can tell the whole story, going back years ago to America, long before Cecil Barker met John Douglas, to the time before John's first marriage, to the deadly Scowrers.

The Valley of Fear is an odd edition to the canon of Sherlock Holmes. Once again Arthur Conan Doyle bowed to the pressure of his reading public and brought back his famous consulting detective, but in the most halfhearted way possible. The entire book feels as if it's balanced on a knife's edge between the extremes of not caring and finding some way to make it about anything other than Holmes. The most obvious aspect of Conan Doyle's laziness is that the structure of the book harks directly back to A Study in Scarlet. First half Holmes, second half America, back to Watson for the epilogue. This structure didn't really work the first time yet here we are in the same situation again. Yet this recurrence could have been forgiven had the initial mystery held, oh, I don't know, some mystery. What is in essence a locked room mystery, the cornerstone of compelling whodunits, is anything but captivating. In fact I was far more interested in the architectural design of the house where the murder occurred which was reminiscent of Madresfield Court, which is the ancestral seat of the Lygon family, than the crime which I solved ludicrously fast. You might say, oh, she's over-exaggerating her own crime solving prowess and the murder really was worthy of Holmes. No, I'm not, and no, it was not, hence my being able to solve it with such rapidity. The second the corpse was revealed with his face blown off and a missing wedding ring, I knew that the corpse laying on the floor wasn't the intended victim. It was all stage dressing, and clumsily done at that.

Which brings me back to the fact that this wasn't a crime worthy of Holmes. And the truth is, I think Conan Doyle did this on purpose. He no longer wanted to write about Holmes, so he couldn't be bothered. In fact with the second half of the book being set in America and not concerning Holmes he is quite obviously taking a step back from his famous detective. Holmes isn't really necessary for this story to work, he's more a deus ex machina, coming in and explaining what happened to wrap everything up. The Valley of Fear is written in such a way that it's a Sherlock Holmes book without really being a Sherlock Holmes book. All the writing prowess of Conan Doyle was exerted in the second part of the book with the Scowrers. Here he cared about writing a compelling narrative about evil men and secret societies. This is where Conan Doyle wanted to focus his energies, and so he did. He created a rather compelling second act, and I'm sure, if it was up to him, that would have been all he wrote. But he halfheartedly put together this framing device with Holmes so that the book is "technically" a Sherlock Holmes book. It makes me wonder what his reading public thought of it when it was published in 1915. Did they feel cheated? Was it a bait and switch? Or were they OK with the book because it had been ten long years since they'd had any new stories and therefore they took what they could get?

Or was the public appeased because of the Moriarty factor? Because incongruously, there is a strong Moriarty factor. I say incongruously because when this Napoleon of crime was introduced in "The Final Problem" he had never been heard of before. In fact Watson makes a big to-do about not knowing anything about Holmes's so-called arch-nemesis. Yet here Conan Doyle is going against his own set canon having Moriarty wandering about prior to "The Final Problem" with Watson and the police all in the "know." It feels like there's too much back-peddling and re-writing in The Valley of Fear for my taste. Conan Doyle didn't know that Moriarty would seize the imagination of his readers so strongly, therefore he was underused at the time, just a device to rid himself of Holmes. Yet seize their imaginations he did and Conan Doyle brought him back in the only way he could. So whereas his love of writing Holmes might have waned, he still was intrigued by this master criminal and was therefore willing to bring him back as a way to enliven Holmes's narrative. It was also probably a way to remind his readers that at any time Holmes might stop exhibiting his deity-like powers and be resurrected no more. So, perhaps it was more a threat than anything else? But the problem of Moriarty, coupled with the book's structure, is the whole story feels like it's in some way-back machine where it was picking and choosing what had previously worked and creating some semblance of a Holmes story while really wanting to be anything but.

What surprised me about The Valley of Fear was that unlike A Study in Scarlet, the American half of the book actually felt fresh and compelling. Unlike the bizarre fever dream of Mormonism in A Study in Scarlet, Conan Doyle creates a gritty world reminiscent of Deadwood and Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest. This actually feels like a probable America, most likely because it was loosely based on real events. Reading it I was surprised by how relevant and modern it felt. When you think about Sherlock Holmes it is always as that outre detective working within a staid Victorian society. There is that nostalgia factor. Yet as Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss so rightly did when they revitalized the stories for Sherlock they focused on the fact that the stories weren't meant to be caught in these Victorian trappings. The stories were contemporary, of their time, and fresh. Why else were they so popular? Reading them a hundred years later it is almost impossible not to be caught up in the Victoriana, in the minutiae. But then you read The Valley of Fear and it smacks you in the face. It's so alive, so dark, so gritty, so full of corruption and bleakness that you get it. All of a sudden you get that Conan Doyle, while somehow caught in the amber of the past, really isn't of the past, he's creating studies of human nature that are just as relevant today as they were a hundred years ago!

Yet for all that is right, he still has some American issues. Much like we, as readers, have stereotyped him as the writer of the preeminent Victorian consulting detective, he has stereotyped us Americans. And once again the misconceptions and errors run rampant. Firstly, seeing as every American woman is trapped in a doomed love triangle where one of the suitors kills the other, usually after years, where is my doomed love triangle? I have spent my entire life to date without a doomed love triangle and according to Conan Doyle that means I'm not a real American woman. Also, where the hell does this story take place? For a quarter of the book I was sure it was somewhere out west, but slowly I had inklings that it might be Pennsylvania, and since when is Detroit considered the far north? Because Madison is more north than Detroit... so what does that make where I live? Probably Canada according of Conan Doyle... And while I really liked the inclusion of the Pinkertons, and oh, the irony of them being founded by a Masonic Order only to bring one down, I do laugh, I have Pinkerton issues. Mainly my Pinkerton issues are that by this time Pinkertons weren't all good guys. In fact, not to put to fine a point on it, they were kind of evil with their tactics and strikebreaking. So while they do employ underhanded techniques, their ambiguous moral code isn't even touched upon, making them kind of look like heroes, when they are anything but. But then again, Conan Doyle isn't really one for the whole "accuracy" angle, especially as regards anything American.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Book Review - Arthur Conan Doyle's The Return of Sherlock Holmes

The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
Published by: Book-of-the-Month Club
Publication Date: 1905
Format: Hardcover, 381 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Many surprises are in store for Watson, the erstwhile chronicler of Sherlock Holmes. Since Holmes's death Watson has had quite a different life. He no longer writes about that great detective, he has put down his pen because the subject is just too painful. He has also lost his wife, their wedded bliss lasted only six years before she died. Watson is just plodding along, doing his duties to his patients, till everything changes. Holmes faked his own death and the time has come to reveal his resurrection. Moriarty's second-in-command Moran is about to be apprehended and it is now safe for Holmes to come out of hiding and reveal his continued existence to his dearest friend and companion, Watson. After Sebastian Moran is finally behind bars Holmes hopes that Watson will return with him to 221B and that their old bachelor crime solving days will recommence. The cases are even more illustrious than before, as the world rejoices at Holmes returning to put the criminal element in it's place. There is ironically a case about a man who fakes his own death, another about an infernally annoying code using dancing men, some waving little flags. As always money is a great motivator for crime, from inheritances to stolen jewels. While some of the cases are barely worthy of Sherlock, there are others that spur him to drastic, even criminal measures. One thing is certain, the world is a better place with Holmes waiting to solve your problems.

I can see why Conan Doyle tried to kill off his most famous creation. You reach a point when you feel there's nothing left to say, no more variations on a theme available. All the stories have been told. If I'm having trouble searching for new insights for yet another Sherlock Holmes review, can you imagine trying to find some new way in which to inveigle Holmes in yet another ingenious mystery? Let alone devise that mystery? Death might easily have been the only answer. Luckily for his readers it didn't stick. Conan Doyle finally caved to his eager public and their demands and The Return of Sherlock Holmes collects the next thirteen short stories of Holmes and Watson after a ten year absence. Yet I think it was very much a reluctant return. It's not that the stories aren't of the same caliber, or that Holmes is less brilliant, it's the undertone of the stories that struck me as poignant. I think it's not a coincidence that blackmail features so heavily among these tales. Conan Doyle was coerced into returning to writing Holmes; and while he went on to write another stand-alone book and two more collections of short stories, he always thought his energies would have been better spent elsewhere. His fans would disagree with this assertion I am sure, but I feel his pain... I still have something to say, but will I still have something to say come the final volume? I can't be sure and I can't condone the pigeonholing of anyone with artistic sensibilities. Change is good for the soul, and Holmes isn't one to embrace change.

After reading this book, especially combined with A Study in Scarlet, I seriously would like to know what Conan Doyle has against Americans. Yes, I've mentioned this before, but seriously, it's too weird not to bring it up again. As an American myself, it's just weird reading these stories, such as this volume's "The Adventure of the Dancing Men," wherein Conan Doyle's ignorance of America is only outdone by his obvious dislike of it. America is portrayed as a backward society full of violent people who for some reason strongly believe in the binding oath of arranged marriages. Seriously? Arranged marriages? Is this something that they just skipped over in history class wherein 19th century America was all about matchmaking? In fact, if you go to Wikipedia, you will notice that like England and Europe, ALL of North America is exempt from the tradition of these arranged marital alliances. Suck it Conan Doyle! Plus the violent American spurned bridegroom is another erroneous trope that Conan Doyle seems to take glee in writing. I can only thank the powers that be that we were spared Conan Doyle going into any detail about the child crime ring in Chicago. As someone whose ancestors lived in Chicago at the time period that Abe Slaney and Elsie Patrick of the aforementioned story did, I dread to contemplate what Conan Doyle's view of Chicago was...

Getting away from Conan Doyle's ignorance and prejudices and back to Holmes there is an aspect of Holmes that is getting on my nerves more and more. Whenever Holmes meets someone for the first time he does his signature trick of reading them and then telling them the details of their lives that make it look like he is a magician. He then explains how he reached these conclusions. The dirt on their shoes, the indent on their finger, the tailoring of their clothes, everything tells a story to Holmes. This isn't what I dislike. In fact, this is always the fun part of any story, Holmes proving his superior deductive abilities to the world at large. Also, his explanation isn't annoying either. What's annoying is that Holmes gets angry that after he explains how he did it everyone sees it as an "easy" trick. If you get mad at people when you willingly give them insight into how something is done then don't give them insight! It's like Houdini showing everyone how his magic is done and then being pissy that they no longer view it as magic. If it's explained it's no longer magic, it's as simple as that. In fairness to Holmes, he does want his techniques known so his explanation is logical. But he wants his techniques known in a scientific and rational way, not in the sensational way Watson writes it up. So therefore he needs to start embracing willingly sharing his techniques to his clients and his friends and this includes letting go of his huffy attitude when the simplicity of the observation is understood. And if he worries that sharing his gift will make him unnecessary, to that I say I don't think there are many people who can tell the different types of mud or tobacco.

The story that stood out most to me of the thirteen was "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton." Yes, it did partly stand out because they used it as the arc of the most recent season of Sherlock; but more importantly, it stood out because Holmes and Watson set themselves clearly on the wrong side of the law and have fun doing it. Holmes even muses that if he had set his mind to it that he could have been quite the criminal genius. I personally have no doubt that he could be such a criminal, in fact, I often wonder why he solves crimes at all. He has no actual interest in his clients. In fact in "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons" he once again shows his callousness by assuming that everyone, especially his clients, have the same indifference to money as he does, and therefore greatly harms his client's pocketbook. He is only interested in things that will challenge his mind. In fact, he often has a hard time finding anything to divert him and be the least bit challenging. I would assume, with the glee he takes in playing the criminal, that actually taking to a life of crime would provide more range for his abilities. He wouldn't have to wait for someone to commit a mind-boggling and devious act, he could create them. And in fact in my second favorite story here, "The Adventure of the Abbey Grange," he lets a murderer go because he views this as true justice. Holmes is so close to stepping over the line I say he should just do it, become the new, and far cleverer Moriarty. There is a gap left in the world of crime from his departure...

Which in a roundabout way brings me to guilt. The more stories I read about Sherlock Holmes the more I realize he doesn't have any guilty clients. Now only a fool who committed a crime would hire Sherlock Holmes to look into the case, but still, people are amazing for the capability of deluding themselves. Holmes does mention one murderer who tried to hire him and was shown the door... but has Holmes ever mistakenly taken on a guilty party as his client? Has he ever committed such a faux pas? Occasionally his clients die, sometimes due to his negligence, but do they ever do the evil deed and cause someone else's death? Because as his clients are currently represented this would mean that Holmes is infallible, and I don't think this is the case at all. I think that Holmes is, very occasionally, human. So the question becomes, is Watson skewing the narrative to make Holmes look more God like? Is he expurgating the cases? It is something to wonder on... I almost hope that in one of the upcoming stories that this happens, just because it would shake things up a bit. The more I read, the more the similarities are apparent from case to case and just once I would like something radically different. Yes, Holmes playing criminal was nice... but let's switch things up even more. How about a criminal who doesn't confess everything? How about Holmes finding the evil doer and them being exonerated in a court of law because Holmes's evidence is so esoteric that the judge and jury find it unbelievable? Because, seriously, would most of Holmes's evidence stand up in a court of law? It's more than a little inconceivable.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Lake House by Kate Morton
Published by: Atria Books
Publication Date: October 20th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 512 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of The Secret Keeper and The Distant Hours, an intricately plotted, spellbinding new novel of heartstopping suspense and uncovered secrets.

Living on her family’s idyllic lakeside estate in Cornwall, England, Alice Edevane is a bright, inquisitive, innocent, and precociously talented sixteen-year-old who loves to write stories. But the mysteries she pens are no match for the one her family is about to endure…

One midsummer’s eve, after a beautiful party drawing hundreds of guests to the estate has ended, the Edevanes discover that their youngest child, eleven-month-old Theo, has vanished without a trace. What follows is a tragedy that tears the family apart in ways they never imagined.

Decades later, Alice is living in London, having enjoyed a long successful career as an author. Theo’s case has never been solved, though Alice still harbors a suspicion as to the culprit. Miles away, Sadie Sparrow, a young detective in the London police force, is staying at her grandfather’s house in Cornwall. While out walking one day, she stumbles upon the old estate—now crumbling and covered with vines, clearly abandoned long ago. Her curiosity is sparked, setting off a series of events that will bring her and Alice together and reveal shocking truths about a past long gone...yet more present than ever.

A lush, atmospheric tale of intertwined destinies, this latest novel from a masterful storyteller is an enthralling, thoroughly satisfying read."

Love or hate her books, they stay with you for sure. Also, Kate's been getting better and better, so I'm excited. Though, the name is tragic, because I don't think anyone wants to think of that horrid movie that reunited the stars of Speed... just saying. 

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
Published by: Tor Books
Publication Date: October 20th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 432 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Radiance is a decopunk pulp SF alt-history space opera mystery set in a Hollywood-and solar system-very different from our own, from Catherynne M. Valente, the phenomenal talent behind the New York Times bestselling The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.

Severin Unck's father is a famous director of Gothic romances in an alternate 1986 in which talking movies are still a daring innovation due to the patent-hoarding Edison family. Rebelling against her father's films of passion, intrigue, and spirits from beyond, Severin starts making documentaries, traveling through space and investigating the levitator cults of Neptune and the lawless saloons of Mars. For this is not our solar system, but one drawn from classic science fiction in which all the planets are inhabited and we travel through space on beautiful rockets. Severin is a realist in a fantastic universe.

But her latest film, which investigates the disappearance of a diving colony on a watery Venus populated by island-sized alien creatures, will be her last. Though her crew limps home to earth and her story is preserved by the colony's last survivor, Severin will never return.

Told using techniques from reality TV, classic film, gossip magazines, and meta-fictional narrative, Radiance is a solar system-spanning story of love, exploration, family, loss, quantum physics, and silent film."

Seriously, how does Cat not only publish so much, but always maintain quality?

Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
Published by: Harper Perennial
Publication Date: October 20th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 416 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the creators of the wildly popular Welcome to Night Vale podcast comes an imaginative mystery of appearances and disappearances that is also a poignant look at the ways in which we all struggle to find matter where we live.

"Hypnotic and darkly funny. . . . Belongs to a particular strain of American gothic that encompasses The Twilight Zone, Stephen King and Twin Peaks, with a bit of Tremors thrown in."--The Guardian

Located in a nameless desert somewhere in the great American Southwest, Night Vale is a small town where ghosts, angels, aliens, and government conspiracies are all commonplace parts of everyday life. It is here that the lives of two women, with two mysteries, will converge.

Nineteen-year-old Night Vale pawn shop owner Jackie Fierro is given a paper marked "KING CITY" by a mysterious man in a tan jacket holding a deer skin suitcase. Everything about him and his paper unsettles her, especially the fact that she can't seem to get the paper to leave her hand, and that no one who meets this man can remember anything about him. Jackie is determined to uncover the mystery of King City and the man in the tan jacket before she herself unravels.

Night Vale PTA treasurer Diane Crayton's son, Josh, is moody and also a shape shifter. And lately Diane's started to see her son's father everywhere she goes, looking the same as the day he left years earlier, when they were both teenagers. Josh, looking different every time Diane sees him, shows a stronger and stronger interest in his estranged father, leading to a disaster Diane can see coming, even as she is helpless to prevent it.

Diane's search to reconnect with her son and Jackie's search for her former routine life collide as they find themselves coming back to two words: "KING CITY". It is King City that holds the key to both of their mysteries, and their futures...if they can ever find it."

I haven't listed to Welcome to Night Vale... but this all does intrigue me, perhaps I shall check out the book first...

Friday, October 16, 2015

Book Review - Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
Published by: Book-of-the-Month Club
Publication Date: 1902
Format: Hardcover, 249 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

221B Baker Street has had a visitor. Only Holmes and Watson were out. Though the person left behind a walking stick and the two men seek to analyze it in the hopes of a clue. They don't have long to wait to figure out whose deductions were right (Holmes) and whose were wrong (Watson). The potential client is one Dr. James Mortimer who brings a bizarre story about a family curse. The Baskervilles of Devonshire are supposedly cursed by a hound that wanders Dartmoor due to the nefarious deeds of Sir Hugo Baskerville hundreds of years earlier, thinning their ranks whenever possible. Dr. Mortimer would agree with Holmes and Watson that this is all a fairy tale if it wasn't for the recent death of his dear friend, Sir Charles Baskerville; whose body was found near massive animal footprints that could only have been left by a hound.

The reality versus the mythical is what interests Holmes, but if Sir Charles is dead, why does Dr. Mortimer care? Because his heir, Sir Henry Baskerville has arrived from Canada and is to take up residence on the moor and Dr. Mortimer doesn't know if the story will scare him or prove as a warning. Though it is quickly apparent that Sir Henry is in danger, from a real, not a mythical foe. He is followed, one of his new boots is stolen, and he receives a letter that is either a threat or a warning. Holmes decides that Watson will accompany the two men to Devonshire while he finishes up some pressing cases in London. Watson had scoffed at the story of the hound, but down in Devonshire, there's something primal about the moors that make myths seem real and not to be scoffed at. Can the two men save Sir Henry, or is he going to be yet another victim of the bloody Baskerville legacy?

There are only four stand alone Sherlock Holmes books, and I can guarantee that the only one that everyone knows is The Hound of the Baskervilles. They might not know what it's about, but it has proliferated across people's bookshelves all over the world. I actually don't know how many copies I have around my house, it being part of an old children's library set I have as well as a classics set, not to mention the Book-of-the-Month Club edition I am reviewing here. But it's the classic one I remember so well. It was cloth bound and had a glowing hound on the cover, even though the edition of Frankenstein in that set was far more memorable with the turquoise binding and the monster having long flowing hair. I remember this edition so well because I was supposed to read it in seventh grade. Note the "supposed to" in that sentence. My grade school had crazy amounts of homework. I kid you not. On average I had eight hours of work a night. This paid off when I went to high school because I was so good at multitasking that I could finish all my work during class time during the two days a week I actually bothered to show up.

In fact I didn't really have any outside homework until my junior year in high school, and that's only because I finally got a teacher who inspired me to work. But back in seventh grade, besides those eight hours of work a night we were expected to read two other novels a month and write lengthy book reports on them. Seeing as I actually needed to sleep occasionally I sometimes wouldn't have the time to finish these extra books. So while I was supposed to read The Hound of the Baskervilles, in fact my mom read it and wrote the book report. In fact at one time or another every one of my family read and wrote a book report for me in an effort to keep my pre-teen sanity. But of all those books I was supposed to read, The Hound of the Baskervilles was the one I actually wanted to. So now I finally have and I hope this review will stand in lieu of the book report all these years later.

What surprised me the most about The Hound of the Baskervilles is that it was written prior to The Return of Sherlock Holmes. I had always understood it as Conan Doyle killed Holmes off in 1893, hue, cry, uproar, people cancelling their magazine subscriptions left and right, publisher weeping to Conan Doyle to not destroy him and Holmes, but Conan Doyle staying firm till ten years later he caved into demand and starting writing the short stories again in 1903 with "The Adventure of the Empty House." But this is not the case! The Hound of the Baskervilles was serialized in The Strand Magazine from 1901 till 1902! So he caved twice! I've always found it odd how much Conan Doyle seemed to hate his own creation, much like Victor Frankenstein of the aforementioned turquoise bound book. He hated his creation so much he killed him only to have the death not stick. He is immortal because of Sherlock Holmes, and yet he tried everything not to write him. In fact, The Hound of the Baskervilles was never intended to be a Sherlock Holmes story! As he was writing it he realized that Holmes was necessary, in fact essential, and as an added bonus it would appease the public.

But there is one person, narratively speaking, who lucked out with Conan Doyle's hesitance to write Holmes, and that is Watson. By keeping Holmes at bay Watson was left to play. Yes, Watson still has a little too much of the "I wish Holmes was here" obsequiousness, but the fact remains that Holmes is hardly in this story. He's there at the beginning and at the denouement to tie up all the loose ends, but in-between it's all Watson all the time. It's Watson's observances and recollections that help Holmes solve the crime. It's Watson taking the risks and striking out onto the moors alone. Sure Holmes gave him the basic outline of what he should do, but it's Watson risking his neck everyday for Henry Baskerville. While the previous volume of adventures showed the development of Watson as more than just Sherlock's number one fanboy and biographer, it's The Hound of the Baskervilles that sets Watson up as Holmes's equal. As I have said before, I've never been down on Watson like many are. In fact I've always rather liked him. But the truth is it's not until this point, which is ironically the half-way point in the Sherlock canon, that Watson finally gets his props. Go Watson!

Though what I loved about this book had nothing to do with Watson or Holmes and everything to do with the mood. The awesome Gothic mood. Myth and legend were the starting off point for this book, so it makes sense that this eerie atmosphere pervades the book, with the misty moors and the baleful howls on the wind. Because it's set on Dartmoor not far from Daphne Du Maurier's Bodmin I couldn't help but compare this story of Conan Doyle's to Du Maurier's work. In fact, I would place money on Du Maurier being inspired by The Hound of the Baskervilles to a great degree in writing her seminal work, Jamaica Inn. Both books have outsiders haunted by the bleakness of the moors and the dangers of hidden mires, and the dark majesty of the tors. In fact it was kind of like stumbling on a lost classic by Du Maurier. The truth is that I can see how it could have worked without Holmes, he's just the deus ex machina as many have complained. The real star of this book is the land. Even if you're not a fan of Sherlock Holmes, I urge you to pick this up just for it's Gothic awesomeness.

Yet I must warn you. Though I will totally stand behind this book I will add the caveat that Conan Doyle is a clunky writer. Sometimes with older books you have trouble adjusting to the writing style. It takes awhile to get into the flow when reading Jane Austen, or more specifically Shakespeare. Shakespeare is one of those writers who you're lost for about the first third, and then everything clicks and when you reach the end you really want to go back to the beginning because now you're in the zone. There is no zone with Conan Doyle. There is no time at which his writing flows and you're like, yeah, bring it on. It's a struggle. Constantly. And all uphill. Reading five of his books in a row I have yet to find any nice common ground where my mind could rest and just enjoy the reading experience. You will have to fight the text to enjoy these books, which is probably why I have found them more enjoyable as a re-read. I've fought the text once and won so I know I can do it again. So you can be victorious and come out enjoying the book, but you will also be a little exhausted by the whole experience. Which might be how Watson viewed this whole case...

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Book Review - Arthur Conan Doyle's Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
Published by: Book-of-the-Month Club
Publication Date: 1894
Format: Hardcover, 259 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Money. It's what almost all crime is in aid of; the procurement of more. The vast wealth that can be attained by some underhanded dealing, holding a Greek heiress hostage, crippling a horse, stealing state secrets. This is where Sherlock Holmes comes in. If a case looks too hard, if the criminal looks too cunning, there is always Sherlock Holmes. Few can best him, and only one would use his powers for evil, the Napoleon of Crime, Moriarty. Though that might be selling Sherlock's brother Mycroft short. But despite the stranglehold that Moriarty has on the underworld, he isn't the only one up to no good. Some cases have echoes of cases past, as "The Adventure of the Stockbroker's Clerk" has shades of a certain red-headed organization. Some cases of criminals that would never have been suspected by their victims, as they are trusted friends and servants. And some cases where the answer is right there all along. But Sherlock Holmes would have never become who he is today if not for that first case. That first time when his powers were awoken to the use they could serve. "The Adventure of the Gloria Scott" occurred at his friend Victor Trevor's house over the school holidays. If it wasn't for Mr. Trevor's amazement and encouragement, who knows what would have happened to the course of Holmes's life... sadly things didn't end quite so well for Mr. Trevor.

Reading so many of these stories you really start to yearn for some originality in the criminal class, oh hello Moriarty, we'll get to you soon. You can see why Holmes longs for something out of the ordinary, because even if they have unpredictable twists and turns, there end goal is always the same for each villain; all they seem to want is money, money, and yes, more money. They are boring and passe, but worst of all, predictable. Eight of eleven stories all about greed. How I long for other motives. So the villains have no more allure for me and I have therefore decided to look to the victims... and oh, they are themselves an odd lot as well, but for the moment far more interesting. I don't know if Conan Doyle is exaggerating their distress for dramatic effect when they call on Holmes or if he really thought people in dire straights would act this way, but they are so frenzied and manic that they go beyond relatability into comedic fodder. The hyperactivity, the pulling out of hair, oh, and in one memorable case, the actual banging of the head into the wall... what was this all in aid of? Seriously, tension? What? Because I really don't think this is how people where. In fact, I think the overt showing of not just emotions, but an overabundance of emotions, is what signifies that something "beyond the everyday" is occurring. If sometimes the scales tipped into parody, well, that was just the price that was paid to show how bad the crime was on these unsuspecting people. Personally, I don't know how I would handle a situation that would require Holmes, but hysterics and brain fever might be a little outside my wheelhouse of personality traits no matter what the situation.

But the fact that the victims have such traits that are unique to each case shows a shift in Conan Doyle's storytelling. These stories are more character driven. We are getting to know Holmes more and more and, despite being originally this almost otherworldly being, he's being grounded in reality as time goes on, as evidenced by the fact that we finally meet his family! Yes, Mycroft Holmes makes his first appearance in "The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter." It is entertaining how Watson is almost incredulous at the mundanity of Holmes having a sibling. Yet thankfully Mycroft is anything but mundane, having the same, if not superior skills of Holmes, but lacking any moral compass or desire to "solve crime." He is the true armchair detective not even needing to have his hypotheses validated, because he knows they are right. Also, I oddly am starting to relate to Holmes myself. Not in his skill set, but in his work habits. He has intense periods or work wherein sleep or food are tertiary concerns. But come the end of the case he has his fallow periods, wherein he doesn't leave the apartment and just lays about all day in his dressing robe. Going to art school I have found that this is very much the temperament of the artistic mind. You go full steam ahead, hypnotically focused on your one task, until you are done and you crash, unable to even lift yourself out of a chair. I never thought that I'd relate to Sherlock in my habits... but there you go, sometimes I can be surprised!

As for another important character who finally makes his appearance, I'm talking about Moriarty! And the enigma that he is. Why is he an enigma? Because he is in one and only one story and is never built up to and then he's gone, taking Holmes with him. I can see why 20,000 people cancelled their subscriptions to The Strand Magazine! It's lazy storytelling! Over the course of the year leading up to the "death" of Sherlock Holmes and even in every single other story ever previously written about Holmes there has been no mention of an arch nemesis, something I think you'd, you know, mention. Instead in this short twenty page story Moriarty is mentioned, hunted, avoided, and then dispatched. Why isn't this built up to in ANY WAY!?! If Conan Doyle planned on killing Holmes off eventually, you'd think he'd lay some groundwork, build it up a little. Clues like breadcrumbs leading to this final "noble" act. Instead it has this feeling of a petulant writer who was sitting at home one day and cracked. "You only want me to write Holmes, well see how you like this!" Grumbling about the ungrateful reading public all the while. Because it really does feel like a slap in the face to his readers. "Here's the end, you didn't see it coming did you? Haha!" There is no elegance, there is no mystery here. Adaptations have tried to fix this, to romanticize this relationship more, much as they have done with Irene Adler, but that doesn't fix the source material. "The Final Problem" might be a good story, but it is still lazy storytelling because of everything that came before.

I will tell you one thing I have learned from reading all these tales, if you don't trust Conan Doyle anymore, there's someone you should trust even less, and that is your "trusty" manservant! Because, even if they have been with your family all their lives, even if their family and your family have worked side by side for centuries, given the chance, they will screw you over. It might be stealing your family fortune out from under your nose. It might be blackmailing you! They are the viper in the garden. Because they don't care about loyalty, they don't care about tradition, they don't care about trust, they only care about the monies! Long before Downton Abbey and Thomas, Conan Doyle showed us that those we let into our homes, who see us at our most vulnerable, will take advantage whenever they can. I don't know if this is just good storytelling, like Downton Abbey, or some sort of personal vendetta against backstabbing servants, but it sure is a theme running through these adventures. Did Conan Doyle get burned or blackmailed? Because there is a feeling of pure hatred, especially in how these servants meet their ends... One wonders if Holmes every worries about Mrs. Hudson turning on him... now that could make an interesting story right there... or even that random pageboy that is always showing people up to the rooms... seriously, who is this pageboy and where did he come from? He's like in every story and is never mentioned by name or anything!

The final observation I have on the Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes is the meta of it all. Throughout the tales Watson narrates in such a way as to make the audience complicit in the stories, as if we're old friends and know all the public affairs that he does. We get a kick out of it when Holmes takes him to task for romanticizing the prose and not sticking directly to the facts. But in "The Adventure of the Crooked Man" Holmes brings up a whole new slew of things to consider. He basically lays all the fault in any of the readers dislike of the stories on Watson taking artistic license. Holmes aims right for Watson's heart when he says: "It is one of those instances where the reasoner can produce an effect which seems remarkable to his neighbor, because the latter has missed the one little point which is the basis of the deduction. The same may be said, my dear fellow, for the effect of some of these little sketches of yours, which is entirely meretricious, depending as it does upon your retaining in your own hands some factors in the problem which are never imparted to the reader." So all this time we thought we were comrades in arms with Watson, and here he's been holding out on us to make a better tale! It's an interesting revelation on Holmes's and therefore on Conan Doyle's part. Because simultaneously you like Holmes more but also the perceived intelligence of Watson as Conan Doyle's conduit is increased. I was never one who thought of Watson as unintelligent, but if you were... well, this is a slap in your face. Apparently Conan Doyle is willing and wanting to smack us all around a little... ungrateful author!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Adventuress by Tasha Alexander
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: October 13th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Emily and husband Colin have come to the French Riviera for what should be a joyous occasion - the engagement party of her lifelong friend Jeremy, Duke of Bainbridge, and Amity Wells, an American heiress. But the merrymaking is cut short with the shocking death of one of the party in an apparent suicide. Not convinced by the coroner's verdict, Emily must employ all of her investigative skills to discover the truth and avert another tragedy."

So excited for a new Lady Emily book! Now if only she has an event nearby...

Newt's Emerald by Garth Nix
Published by: Katherine Tegen Books
Publication Date: October 13th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Inspired by the works of Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen, Garth Nix's Newt's Emerald is a Regency romance with a fantasy twist. New York Times bestselling author Gail Carriger calls it "charming; quite, quite charming."

After Lady Truthful's magical Newington Emerald is stolen from her she devises a simple plan: go to London to recover the missing jewel. She quickly learns, however, that a woman cannot wander the city streets alone without damaging her reputation, and she disguises herself as a mustache-wearing man. During Truthful's dangerous journey she discovers a crook, an unsuspecting ally, and an evil sorceress—but will she find the Emerald?"

Yes please! Regency fantasy, it's already a great book just from the description! 

The Story of Diva and Flea by Mo Willems and Tony DiTerlizzi
Published by: Disney-Hyperion
Publication Date: October 13th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 80 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Diva, a small yet brave dog, and Flea, a curious streetwise cat, develop an unexpected friendship in this unforgettable tale of discovery.

For as long as she could remember, Diva lived at 11 avenue Le Play in Paris, France. For as long as he could remember, Flea also lived in Paris, France-but at no fixed address. When Flea fl neurs past Diva's courtyard one day, their lives are forever changed. Together, Diva and Flea explore and share their very different worlds, as only true friends can do."

Um, two of my most favorite author illustrators doing a book together that stars a tuxedo cat? What isn't to love?

The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party by Shannon and Dean Hale
Published by: Candlewick
Publication Date: October 13th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 96 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Inconvenient monster alarms, a sparkly array of princess guests, and spot-on slapstick pacing make for a party readers will celebrate.

Today is Princess Magnolia’s birthday party, and she wants everything to be perfect. But just as her guests are arriving . . . Brring! Brring! The monster alarm! Princess Magnolia runs to the broom closet, ditches her frilly clothes, and becomes the Princess in Black! She rushes to the goat pasture, defeats the monster, and returns to the castle before her guests discover her secret. But every time Princess Magnolia is about to open her presents, the monster alarm rings again. And every time she rushes back—an inside-out dress here, a missing shoe there—it gets harder to keep the other princesses from being suspicious. Don’t those monsters understand that now is not a good time for an attack?"

Yeah! More new Shannon Hale collaborative books with her husband!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Book Review - Arthur Conan Doyle's Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
Published by: Book-of-the-Month Club
Publication Date: 1892
Format: Hardcover, 307 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Holmes and Watson have had some unique adventures over the years and Watson has decided to share the choice stories, even if Holmes disapproves. They are all individual in some way that attracted Holmes to them, though some of them, like "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle," just landed in their laps on a dull Christmas Eve, or more aptly, their dinner plates. Many of the tales actually have no crimes, per se, but that doesn't mean their isn't a mystery! And if it wasn't for Holmes untangling all the threads the police would have spent much time and possibly never learned that there actually was no crime. Money and greed is always a factor in crime perpetrated against people and institutions... sometimes on a grand scale, and sometimes in a very intimate fashion. Sometimes though it's a matter of revenge, years in the planning till finally the opportunity presents itself. And then, sometimes it's about something which Sherlock knows little about, love. It is with one of these cases that Sherlock finally meets THE woman of his life, Irene Adler. Holmes has only been outwitted four times in his long career, and only once by a woman. That woman was Irene Adler. She was just as clever as Holmes, but possessed true emotion, which Holmes viewed as a hindrance. Maybe she teaches him that it can be a benefit... she at least leaves a lasting impression.

While I usually have great issues with short stories, in that they have an inconsistency in quality which can have a stellar story followed by a disaster, I think that in the case of Sherlock Holmes it really works. With his first two books it felt as if Conan Doyle was stretching the story in order to give it greater weight and length; but the format of little short mysteries wherein you can sit down and enjoy one in about an hour before you go to bed is just right. As for the inconsistency, well, in this case a lot of it has to do with Conan Doyle developing as a writer. About half way through this collection, specifically during "The Five Orange Pips," you will literally be struck by how much more confident his writing is. What before was uneven is now smooth. This is perceptibly visible with each story's beginning. I wonder if Conan Doyle regretted marrying Watson off in The Sign of the Four because almost every one of these adventures has to justify Watson's presence at 221B. In the later adventures it's handled cleverly, either the story is set prior to the wedding, Watson is the instigator of the adventure, or it's just assumed that they were working in partnership. But these reasons are once Conan Doyle was more accomplished, prior to the shift, well, it doesn't just seem forced, but ham-handed. Almost each story starts "I was near 221B Baker Street and wondered what Holmes was up to." Seriously Watson? "Let's see what Holmes is up to!" Ugh. It just is a juvenile qualifier to start the story and lessens the tale as a whole by starting off on a wrong and amateurish footing. It's like forcing the story to start when it needs a more natural beginning.

Yet I realized something interesting with the development of Holmes and Watson's relationship. Yes, Holmes needs Watson to be his "biographer" as it were to feed his ego, but he also needs Watson to provide a more engaging tale. Of all the cases they handle they don't always handle them together, sometimes Watson is nothing more than a sounding board that sits in a chair and listens to Holmes. In one instance he is literally housebound due to his war injury. The cases where Holmes is out and about solving crime and then Watson is just in for the denouement are boring. We, as readers, are just reading a precise of what Holmes was up to. And while this might entertain Holmes's number one fanboy Watson, for us readers it doesn't. I don't want to be the person who just stops in every evening to 221B to get the latest news, I want to be in on the action! That is exactly why Watson is important! When he is in on the action we don't get the bare facts, we get insight into things that Holmes thinks are beneath him, like how the clouds look and was there a pretty sunset while they hunted over a certain moor. While this might seem a 180 from my previous mocking of Watson's florid prose, I counter with the fact that we need them, to a certain extent. Plus Watson has reigned them in a bit. Without this other context Holmes's adventures would read like police reports. Of course that is what Holmes would like, the science without the superfluous. But we need a bit of superfluous. 

Watson also humanize Holmes to a certain extent. In his first two stories he was very inhuman in his abilities and was kind of looked at as an oddity who was also a genius. Someone alien is hard to relate to. You can admire him, but you can't connect. Watson gives us a connection, an "in" into the stories. Hence, as I mentioned previously, they need to be working side by side. Though people might joke about Holmes's disconnect from emotion and people while still having such insight, sometimes he is way to callous for comfort. In "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" a down and out man who would have been the unexpected recipient of the lustrous jewel is bought off with a goose. Um... shouldn't he be getting the reward money that was offered at least? He had the luck to get the goose that laid the golden egg and he gets nothing and Holmes doesn't even have a backward glance for this poor soul. In "The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb" he tries to cheer up Victor Hatherley that although he might have lost his thumb, almost lost his life, and was out his promised money, at least he has a great story! What the heck! Great way to console someone Holmes, it's all about the entertaining story, not about losing your opposable thumb! And then in "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor" he is offended that the bachelor in question, aka the bridegroom, won't sit down to a hearty meal with the woman he lost... excuse me? Holmes actually thought that everything would be fine? Seriously, he knows so much but is sometimes so dumb. And that's not even going into the full ramifications of "The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet!"

Which brings me in a roundabout way to Irene Adler. Firstly, Adler herself is a conundrum in the cannon of Holmes. She has one brief appearance in one story, "A Scandal in Bohemia," but can be found in almost all adaptations, continuations, what have you. This one character has taken on a significance almost greater than Watson. There is part of me which wonders if this is to balance the male and female dynamic in the works of Conan Doyle. Quite literally there aren't many women, and when they do appear in stories such as "The Adventure of the Speckled Band," "A Case of Identity" and "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches," they are just pawns in a greater game so that their families can steal their fortunes. Therefore Irene seems to be the great leveler. Here is someone who is not only female, but she bests Sherlock Holmes. She makes women of significance, though one should note that this is only for the readers, for Holmes she is the ONLY woman of significance. What I find interesting about Irene Adler is that she is almost the exact opposite of Holmes. She doesn't view emotions as unnecessary and stumbling blocks to solving cases. She uses them to her benefit and she outwits Holmes. Which makes me wonder if Holmes ever thought after their encounter if he was doing something wrong. Could he do what he does without shutting down human emotions? Holmes wouldn't be the man we know... but perhaps he would be a better man.

One thing this collection brought home to me once again is that for all that Holmes knows, Conan Doyle himself is quite ignorant on many things, and many of these things are related to the great U. S. of A. What bothers me even more is that this perpetuates myths and stereotypes about the country I happen to call home. And it's not just his not quite getting political and religious organizations, he needs to freakin' look at a map. This all started back with A Study in Scarlet. While Conan Doyle later went on to apologize about the atrocities and lies he propagated about the Mormons with his incorrect data, he didn't apologize for geographical errors. I would sincerely like to know how the Mormons on their journey from Illinois to Utah, which I have taken by train I might add, went through the alkali salt flats of Nevada... the state even further away from Illinois than their destination. As for the KKK in "The Five Orange Pips," ugh. The naivety of Conan Doyle just drove me to distraction sometimes. I mean really. This just gets under my skin. Holmes is supposed to be mystical in his all knowing prowess and yet time and time again whenever America comes up Conan Doyle's ignorance rears it's ugly head. Which kind of brings all the writing down a peg. If something that any American could point to as wrong is given as fact, what else is wrong in these books? How infallible was Holmes really? And all because of his creator...

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Book Review - Arthur Conan Doyle's The Sign of the Four

The Sign of the Four by Arthur Conan Doyle
Published by: Book-of-the-Month Club
Publication Date: 1890
Format: Hardcover, 125 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Miss Mary Morstan comes to Sherlock Holmes asking him to help her solve two mysteries in her life, that may or may not be related. The first is the disappearance of her father, Captain Arthur Morstan, ten years previously, the second is that four years after her father's death she answered a newspaper ad as to her whereabouts and started receiving a pearl a year, only this year was different, there was a note with the pearl saying that she had been wronged and asking for a meeting. The only item Mary has that might be of relevance is a map that was hidden in her father's desk with four men's names on it. Holmes immediately takes the case and finds that the pearls started arriving shortly after the death of Captain Arthur Morstan's friend and comrade in arms, Major Sholto. In fact the anonymous benefactor of Mary Morstan is one of Major Sholto's sons, Thaddeus. He tells Mary about a great treasure their fathers had brought back from India. A treasure that has been hidden all these many years until Thaddeus's brother Bartholomew found it the day he sent Mary the note. They arrive to find Bartholomew dead via a dart in the neck with a menacing note next to his body, just like the one found years earlier on Major Sholto, "The Sign of Four." Holmes quickly realizes the crime was committed by a man with one wooden leg and a rather small accomplice. They should be unique enough that finding them shouldn't be a problem, just a matter of waiting. Yet all the while Thaddeus is held in custody for his brother's murder and Watson is finding it hard to concentrate when he is bewitched by the lovely Miss Morstan. Yet with Holmes on the case, the truth will out.

The Sign of Four, or more accurately, The Sign of the Four because you learn something new everyday, is perhaps the Sherlock Holmes story I know the best out of all the stories. I remember when the adaptation with Jeremy Brett first aired in the late eighties. It was the first feature length special for the series and therefore a big to-do. Every one of the eventual five feature length adaptations would be a special occasion in my house growing up, in particular The Last Vampyre because of Roy Marsden, but you never forget the first one. I even remember that we bought it on tape. Whenever we needed a mystery to watch, into the VCR The Sign of Four would go. It didn't hurt that Watson was now played by Edward Hardwicke, I was never the fan of David Burke that my mom was. The problem going into the book is I knew this story backwards and forwards. I knew all the little twists and shocking revelations. I tried my hardest to look at this story with new eyes, but I just couldn't. All I could see was Tonga's evil face on the stern of the ship as it disappeared into the dark and foggy Thames. Not being caught up in the mystery, lots of little things started to annoy me to no end and while the story is interesting, I'd heard it all before and therefore it had the feeling of a story you've heard so many times it's worn out it's welcome.

What really bothered me was how florid the writing of Watson is. Right now I'm totally coming down on the side of Sherlock who doesn't quite approve of the way that Watson writes, making it all romantic with a heavy heaping of nostalgia. Some of the romanticism is permitted in this instance as this is when Watson meets his future wife, Mary Morstan, but overall I'm siding with Holmes. This writing style just makes a mystery you're reading for the crime solving techniques of Holmes overwritten, to the point where Watson is almost obfuscating the deductive powers of his partner. But that is nothing to his sycophantic ways. Ugh. You can see where the whole "couple" theory emerged with Watson and Holmes, Watson totally wants to get a room with Holmes. If they were in high school he'd totally ask to carry his books, and maybe go steady. Yes, I know bromances have changed over the past hundred and twenty-five years, but there's admiration and there's adulation, and Watson is very much of the later. Holmes, you're so wonderful, only you could think of that, I would never have seen that in a million billion years, you are the smartest person that will ever exist, ever. Ugh. What's worse is the police getting in on this action. While Watson may be exaggerating the police's love, they do admire him to such an inconceivable degree that they're willing to break procedure for him. Holmes, you want the suspect brought to your house prior to going to prison so you can interrogate him? Sure, why not, anything for you Holmes. Ugh.

I wonder if there's some magical aura about Holmes that just makes everyone his to command. How else does he get the criminals to willingly tell all? It's such a cliched trope. Now Mr. Bond, while it looks like there's no way out for you I will detail all my plans so that when you escape the inescapable you will be able to thwart me. Sigh. This is the second Holmes story and also the second time the criminal comes clean. About everything. In A Study in Scarlet you can kind of get Jefferson Hope confessing all because he's about to die. Also, you could state that Jonathan Small confessed because he wasn't actually a killer, he was an unwitting accomplice to that crime, but still... it's too convenient. The only real purpose I can see to have these villains unburden themselves is that by having them tell everything they are corroborating Holmes's deductions. Because, without corroborating evidence, Holmes's hypothesises seem wildly absurd and almost complete shots in the dark that somehow find their target. It just is all too pat. Like the more cliched of Agatha Christie denouements when Poirot rounds everyone up in the library and states everything he knows and unmasks the villain. Sure, I could give it slack because it's fiction, but I won't. Fiction is better than reality and therefore has it's own set of rules and convenient tropes should be beneath Arthur Conan Doyle.

There is one thing I would like to ponder in a more generalized way, and that's lost treasure from India and the peril that befalls the criminals. In mysteries it comes across to readers that India is a continent awash with missing jewels and loot, all with guardians or some sort of curse. I don't know if I could actually remember every book and movie that has this trope but The Moonstone, The Ruby in the Smoke, and even The Pink Panther, all have this in common. And in each and every instance, something befalls those who removed the jewels from their rightful place. Seriously, how does one continent have so many jewels? Is this the real reason that Britain wanted to maintain control over India, because they thought it was awash with loot ripe for the picking? Yes, there's a romanticism associated with India and there's a mysticism with the culture that imbues magic to their jewels, even Indiana Jones fell prey to this; but after awhile, it's like, how many more stories will I have to read like this? How many times will it play out in the same way? Because the truth of the matter is The Moonstone and Wilkie Collins set the tone and the stage for this trope, and I don't think anyone will ever reach that level of perfection again. The Moonstone predates The Sign of the Four by over twenty years, and the later can not help but be compared to the former and found lacking. Sherlock Holmes may be a master of deduction, but in a story where every one is a pale imitator of the original, he had no chance to succeed.

Though for everything that got under my skin there was one thing this book did SO RIGHT and that's blow darts. Seriously, I think this is one of the coolest murder weapons out there, and ironically my love and reverence for them started with Sherlock Holmes, only Sherlock Holmes the younger. In the Young Sherlock Holmes the evil villain's sister uses a blow dart as her weapon of choice, and also shows what I fear most about them, them being used against you, when Sherlock blows in the out and kills the killer. So, they aren't a perfect weapon, seeing as they can be used against you, but at the same time, there's something so amusing about someone blowing through a tube and someone falling down dead or incapacitated that makes me giddy. If you doubt the humor value of blow darts instead focusing on the horror, I implore you to watch the Red Dwarf season seven episode "Beyond a Joke." In the episode there is a virtual reality game of Pride and Prejudice. The character of Kryten is annoyed that the rest of his shipmates have decided to play the game versus eat the lovely dinner he has prepared for them. Therefore he enters the game and eliminates each and every Bennet sister in a unique manner. Kitty is the victim of a blow dart. This one scene is perhaps my favorite and easily the funniest in one of my favorite series ever. So let's bring back blow darts shall we?

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