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review 2018-01-05 21:32
Sherlock Holmes: Silver Blaze
Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection - Arthur Conan Doyle,Stephen Fry

“I am afraid, Watson, that I shall have to go,” said Holmes, as we sat down together to our breakfast one morning.

“Go! Where to?”

“To Dartmoor; to King’s Pyland.”

 

I was not surprised. Indeed, my only wonder was that he had not already been mixed up in this extraordinary case, which was the one topic of conversation through the length and breadth of England. For a whole day my companion had rambled about the room with his chin upon his chest and his brows knitted, charging and recharging his pipe with the strongest black tobacco, and absolutely deaf to any of my questions or remarks.

And so starts our favourite duo's first excursion to Dartmoor - that place of mystery and fantastical beasts.

 

The mystery in this story is the death of John Straker, a horse trainer, and the fantastical beast in question is Silver Blaze, a famous race horse, which goes missing. 

 

I wish I had many good things to say about the story or had noticed any interesting aspects in, but alas, no. As far a Holmes stories go, this is one of the most boring in the canon for me. I have no interest in horses, and even if I did, the horse doesn't even feature for most of the story. Apart from some delightful banter between Holmes and Watson and some insightful descriptions by Watson of Holmes at the beginning, there is little in this story that kept me interested until we reach the conclusion. 

 

The conclusion, however, is rather neat and does contain one of the most famous exchanges in all of the Holmes stories, and that I must applaud:

Colonel Ross still wore an expression which showed the poor opinion which he had formed of my companion’s ability, but I saw by the Inspector’s face that his attention had been keenly aroused.

“You consider that to be important?” he asked.

“Exceedingly so.”

“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.

 

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review 2017-12-29 22:37
Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Copper Beeches
Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection - Arthur Conan Doyle,Stephen Fry

Our gas was lit and shone on the white cloth and glimmer of china and metal, for the table had not been cleared yet. Sherlock Holmes had been silent all the morning, dipping continuously into the advertisement columns of a succession of papers until at last, having apparently given up his search, he had emerged in no very sweet temper to lecture me upon my literary shortcomings.

“At the same time,” he remarked after a pause, during which he had sat puffing at his long pipe and gazing down into the fire, “you can hardly be open to a charge of sensationalism, for out of these cases which you have been so kind as to interest yourself in, a fair proportion do not treat of crime, in its legal sense, at all."

Aaaah, ... Holmes winding up Watson. How lovely. 

 

 

But as we all know by now, Holmes usually gets in a bad temper only when he is bored or frustrated. 

 

When we meet our detecting duo at the beginning of The Adventure of the Copper Beeches, Holmes' work is stagnating ... hence the temper tantrum. Holmes believes that his skills are not employed for the detecting work he should be doing and that he is wasting his time with trivial cases that do not require any detecting at all. 

“Pshaw, my dear fellow, what do the public, the great unobservant public, who could hardly tell a weaver by his tooth or a compositor by his left thumb, care about the finer shades of analysis and deduction! But, indeed, if you are trivial, I cannot blame you, for the days of the great cases are past. Man, or at least criminal man, has lost all enterprise and originality. As to my own little practice, it seems to be degenerating into an 

agency for recovering lost lead pencils and giving advice to young ladies from boarding-schools. I think that I have touched bottom at last, however.

This note I had this morning marks my zero-point, I fancy. Read it!”

 

He tossed a crumpled letter across to me. It was dated from Montague Place upon the preceding evening, and ran thus:

 

“DEAR MR. HOLMES:--I am very anxious to consult you as to whether I should or should not accept a situation which has been offered to me as governess. I shall call at half-past ten to-morrow if I do not inconvenience you. Yours faithfully,

“VIOLET HUNTER.”

I sympathise. Many of us have probably been in a similar situation. What followed in Holmes' case was quite funny - he interviewed the young lady and basically dismissed her case as being not worthy of his time.

 

Two weeks later, he receives a telegram from the very same lady asking for his immediate help.

 

If ever some fan comes up with using the Holmes stories as parables for a motivational self-help book, I hope they're using this story for the chapter on "not missing opportunities when they present themselves". 

 

[Btw, if you are that fan who now wants to write that self-help book, feel free, but please don't send me an ARC to review ... it is the kind of book I would loathe to pick up.]

 

What follows is a trip for Holmes and Watson into the country to meet up with Miss Hunter and figure out why her employers are such oddballs.

 

As far as Holmes stories go, this is not a favourite. There are some themes in stories that are repeated throughout the Holmes canon - some better than other. This one essentially follows the same theme as The Speckled Band but is nowhere near as gripping or interesting. 

 

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review 2017-12-22 22:05
The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet
Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection - Arthur Conan Doyle,Stephen Fry

This is another one that I have read several times, yet, tend to forget it as soon as I put the book down. It’s not that good compared to the ones that have gone before in this collection. In fact, I’ll say it is the first “weak” story in the canon.

 

So much so that  I had to "rewind" Stephen's narration a couple of times because I found it far more interesting to try out two of the teas I picked up in town after the office Christmas bash yesterday. 

 

I've never tried Turkish Apple tea (it's a tisane but I'll call it tea all day long). It's delicious.

The second tea, Japanese Cherry (a green tea), was also delicious.   

 

Anyway, the story of the Beryl Coronet is really boring.

 

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review 2017-12-16 16:02
Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor
Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection - Arthur Conan Doyle,Stephen Fry

"You have been reading the papers diligently of late, have you not?”

 

“It looks like it,” said I ruefully, pointing to a huge bundle in the corner. “I have had nothing else to do.”

 

“It is fortunate, for you will perhaps be able to post me up. I read nothing except the criminal news and the agony column. The latter is always instructive."

Ah, Holmes and Watson ... Every week, I look forward to reading a new adventure as part of this current buddy read, and every week I look forward to meeting up with our two guys at No. 221B. 

 

This week, I was particularly interested because this is another story that I mostly remember from the Granada TV adaptations. In this one, Holmes was haunted by a recurring nightmare ... it was all very "dramatic". 

 

Having read this week's instalment, I was a little disappointed that the actual story is very, very simple - no dungeons, no nightmare, no woman in black, and most of all ... no horrible, villainous baddie.

 

In fact, the story is really quite straight-forward - a bride disappears at the wedding reception and the husband engages Holmes to find her, which he does. In fact, in the original story the bride is probably the most inconsiderate character of the piece.

 

Still, there is some fun to be had with this story, too. 

 

For one, we have banter - both between Holmes and Watson and between Holmes and his client. Holmes is yet again not impressed with his client's status. This always makes for a fun setting. (Remember his exchanges with the King of Bohemia?)

 

The other is that I think ACD himself may have been poking a lot of fun at the aristocracy:

 

For example: In this story, ACD creates the Duke of Balmoral as a character - a highly powerful and, yet, severely impoverished chap (who also features in another story in the canon). 

 

Of course, in real life, there is no Duke of Balmoral. This is not altogether surprising as ACD would have made up any characters - especially members of the aristocracy. 

 
However, ....
 
Clearly and unmistakeably "Balmoral" is a real place and is the Queen's estate (about an hour west of where I am typing this) - it's a great place I love hiking there - and ACD cannot have chosen this reference by accident or without knowing of the connection with not just any aristocrat, but No. 1 on the list. 
 
So, I do not for a second believe that ACD chose the "Duke of Balmoral" on a whim. 
 
As mentioned, in this story the Duke of Balmoral is suffering from a chronic lack of funds and his son - the main character of this piece - is looking to marry into (American) money to help his unfortunate circumstances. 
The pith of mockery is that the son is being stood up...for no one less than a commoner who, once too poor to marry the lady in question, returns to ... "get the girl".
 
I know, I said this before... and still haven't done anything about it... but I really want to read a biography of ACD. Maybe 2018 will be the year for it!
 
 
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review 2017-12-08 19:19
Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb
Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection - Arthur Conan Doyle,Stephen Fry

It was in the summer of ’89, not long after my marriage, that the events occurred which I am now about to summarise. I had returned to civil practice and had finally abandoned Holmes in his Baker Street rooms, although I continually visited him and occasionally even persuaded him to forgo his Bohemian habits so far as to come and visit us.

The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb is a story that I tend to neglect. This is probably for no other reason than that Watson has moved out so visibly. I mean he's moved out for most of the other stories, too, but in this one, he actually says it.  For some reason, I prefer the idea of Holmes and Watson sharing digs at 221B.  

 

However, there is something remarkable about this story, too: There is a very dark undertone to this story.

For one, we have Watson involved, no fault of his (but he's not stopping it either), with a rather dodgy, erm, ... "agent", who brings him new patients. 

One morning, at a little before seven o’clock, I was awakened by the maid tapping at the door to announce that two men had come from Paddington and were waiting in the consulting-room. I dressed hurriedly, for I knew by experience that railway cases were seldom trivial, and hastened downstairs. As I descended, my old ally, the guard, came out of the room and closed the door tightly behind him.

“I’ve got him here,” he whispered, jerking his thumb over his shoulder; “he’s all right.” “What is it, then?” I asked, for his manner suggested that it was some strange creature which he had caged up in my room.

“It’s a new patient,” he whispered. “I thought I’d bring him round myself; then he couldn’t slip away. There he is, all safe and sound. I must go now, Doctor; I have my dooties, just the same as you.”

And off he went, this trusty tout, without even giving me time to thank him.

 

I was seriously wondering if ACD was pulling our leg with this one, because, to me, there was a distinct hint of Burke & Hare in this, except that Watson's patients were ... alive.

Was this common practice in ACD's day? Like a warped early version of ambulance chasing?

 

For another, we have the main story, which is probably more akin to a Gothic horror classic, than your typical Sherlock Holmes mystery:

 

A man has his thump chopped off with a meat cleaver while escaping certain death from a ceiling that has been engineered to lower and squash everything beneath it.

(spoiler show)

 

 

I had to read this twice, because I thought my mind was playing tricks on me and I had for some reason ended up with a story by Edgar Allan Poe. 

I threw myself, screaming, against the door, and dragged with my nails at the lock. I implored the colonel to let me out, but the remorseless clanking of the levers drowned my cries.

And if that was not unsettling enough, the ending leaves even more room for nightmares. 

 

Overall, this was a thrill of a story, even if I had to roll my eyes at some of the nationalist sentiments in this story, which is not something that often comes up in the Holmes canon. At least, not until the later stories...in which they are somewhat justified. Somewhat, but not altogether. 

 

 

(I was glad I had a reading blanket at hand, much like Holmes above. This was an unsettling read. Did you really think I'd write this without adding a picture of JB?)

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