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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-10-15 17:00
Sherlock Holmes: A Scandal in Bohemia
Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection - Arthur Conan Doyle,Stephen Fry

To Sherlock Holmes she is always THE woman.


That is the opening line that still gives me goosebumps of delight even after decades of devoted reading of the Holmes stories.  


A Scandal in Bohemia is the first of the Holmes short stories and sets the structure and tone of many Homes stories to follow: Holmes and Watson are at 221B Baker Street when a new case presents itself. (There may be some spoilers from this point onwards.)


What may come as a surprise in this story - apart from the story line - is the construction of the story:


It is the first short story, so we have just gotten to know Holmes and Watson, yet, this story (despite being set in March 1888) is told from a point in time much, much later. 

Watson tells us this story with a lot of hindsight. One of the additional bits of information we get from Watson is that the story was told three years after the death of Irene Adler. 


I had not actually picked up on this on previous re-reads, but it does make sense that Watson would not have disclosed the story any earlier - not for the sake of keeping his promise of confidentiality to their client, but to allow Ms Adler to pursue her life without the public knowing knowing much about her past. While Watson and Holmes may have seen her brilliance and not judged her against the social mores of their late Victorian times, Watson readers may have disagreed. 


Ironically, of course, ACD did exactly this: He wrote a story that had the most brilliant mind and most anti-social of characters, show admiration - maybe even what may pass for affection - for not only another person, but one that beats him at his own game.

And that this person was a woman, may not have been that important to Holmes, but it may have been to many of ACD's readers. 

There is another quick jibe at Victorian society in this short story where Ms Adler writes to Holmes that

"Male costume is nothing new to me. I often take advantage of the freedom which it gives."

I have no idea what ACD's own view was on women's role in society, and he never has his characters elaborate on the standing of women other than when Holmes shows up the stupidity and arrogance of his client at the end of the story (another one of my favourite quotes!):

“What a woman--oh, what a woman!” cried the King of Bohemia, when we had all three read this epistle. “Did I not tell you how quick and resolute she was? Would she not have made an admirable queen? Is it not a pity that she was not on my level?” 

“From what I have seen of the lady she seems indeed to be on a very different level to your Majesty,” said Holmes coldly.

I would love to find out more about ACD's views on this issue, so am looking forward to researching it a bit more. 


So, anyway, we have ACD pointing at some issues with Victorian society, even to poke fun at the aristocratic beliefs that breeding cannot be substituted by other qualities.  


We also have some fun banter between Holmes and Watson, Watson describing Holmes cocaine habit, we have high adventure with Holmes being Holmes or someone else, and we get more insight into Holmes' method:

“I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.

(One day I will have this printed on a mug for the office!) 


However, what I probably love best in this story are the very subtle ways in which Holmes shows his affection for his adversary in this story:


“I was half-dragged up to the altar, and before I knew where I was I found myself mumbling responses which were whispered in my ear, and vouching for things of which I knew nothing, and generally assisting in the secure tying up of Irene Adler, spinster, to Godfrey Norton, bachelor. It was all done in an instant, and there was the gentleman thanking me on the one side and the lady on the other, while the clergyman beamed on me in front. It was the most preposterous position in which I ever found myself in my life, and it was the thought of it that started me laughing just now. It seems that there had been some informality about their license, that the clergyman absolutely refused to marry them without a witness of some sort, and that my lucky appearance saved the bridegroom from having to sally out into the streets in search of a best man. The bride gave me a sovereign, and I mean to wear it on my watch-chain in memory of the occasion.”



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review 2017-10-11 07:00
Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection (Audio)
Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection - Arthur Conan Doyle,Stephen Fry

Sherlock Holmes is my fictional crush; I know he'd be no damn good for me, but I'd still willingly follow him until the wheels fell off.  Proof of this being that I started listening to this audio in April and have since been devoted to it whenever I've been in the car - no cheating on it with Wilkie Collins or Kevin Hearne - and I've never gotten bored or developed a wandering ear.


Huge credit goes to Stephen Fry too, because my adoration of Holmes makes me picky and prickly.  If he'd portrayed him as nasally or supercilious I'd have been righteously indignant and all up in his business (metaphorically speaking).  But Fry gives him the perfect voice, which is, oddly enough, close to Fry's own (although I almost never heard 'Stephen Fry').  Condescending, a tad bored, but warm and tinged with a bit of humour at himself as well as others.


Where Fry really goes above and beyond though, in my opinion, is his portrayal of Watson.  He nailed Watson and he did it for 4,260 minutes without ever losing track of his voice or allowing it to wander into being someone else's.  It would have been an easier job to give his own voice to Watson instead of to Sherlock, but it works better this way; Watson sounds exactly like the kindly, naive, generous sort of man Conan Doyle created.  


If you've already read the Sherlock Holmes stores but would like to revisit them, this is an excellent way to do it.  If you haven't already experienced the brilliance that is Sherlock Holmes, this is a perfect introduction.  I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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review 2017-09-13 23:11
Sherlock Holmes: The Sign of Four
Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection - Arthur Conan Doyle,Stephen Fry

“My mind,” he said, “rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere. I can dispense then with artificial stimulants. But I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation.

This is probably my favourite quote of all the Holmes canon. And, yet, isn't it funny how a re-read of a book can change your reading experience of it?


This was my third read of The Sign of Four and I took away some completely new impressions from it. When I read the story previously first I was focused on the adventure part of the story that tells of Jonathan Small's history and the exploits that are described to have happened in India. 


On my second reading, I was more interested in the mystery aspect of the story. How did ACD weave the discovery of the treasure and the "curse" that came with it as the start to the story within the story? 


On my third reading, I had lost almost all interest in the story behind the story, and in the mystery surrounding the treasure. So much so, that I wished the story had ended before we get to read Jonathan Small's account, because apparently, this now was old news to me and held little that was of interest on another encounter - and I believe this entirely due to one issue: The more often I re-read a story the less it is the plot that is of interest. To me a book proves its merit on the basis of the complexity of its characters and layers.


And unfortunately, only about the first quarter of The Sign of Four keeps me interested. 


Fortunately, tho, it is that first quarter that, to me, contain some of the most brilliant exchanges between Holmes and Watson and that shows us both characters with little filter: Having left their first exploit behind them, Holmes and Watson are settled at their home in Baker Street and have relaxed into that domestic routine that comes with sharing a residence. 


When Watson describes their living arrangements and how Holmes has usually risen before Watson, etc. I was almost expecting Watson to describe how they organise the day-to-day responsibilities of any shared flat: sticky notes on the fridge about buying milk, who's turn it is to take the bins out, etc. But of course, they had no fridge, and both the replenishing of milk and the disposal of rubbish would probably have been taken care of by Mrs. Hudson. That dear lady.


Then of course, all of their arrangements are unsettled by a woman.


That is, Holmes is still Holmes, but he now has to listen to Watson moon over Miss Mary Morstan. And what a lovestruck puppy he is!

In one scene where Watson listens to a potential patient, he is so absent minded that 

Holmes declares that he overheard me caution him against the great danger of taking more than two drops of castor oil, while I recommended strychnine in large doses as a sedative.

What I am getting at is that in the Sign of Four, we get to see both Holmes and Watson letting their guards down. Both are shown as humans: Holmes with his drug addiction, and his disregard for emotions, and Watson, not as a medical man of science, but a man in love. They both make fun of each other, and themselves, and it is in good spirit.


I really liked that. It sets up almost everything we know about the two, and will learn about the two in the subsequent stories.

But unfortunately, this is only the smallest part of this novel, which may be novella, but it just dragged and dragged, and no comic interlude, such as Watson collecting the famous Toby, could make up for it.

“Go on, you drunken vagabond,” said the face. “If you kick up any more row I’ll open the kennels and let out forty-three dogs upon you.”

“If you’ll let one out it’s just what I have come for,” said I.

“Go on!” yelled the voice. “So help me gracious, I have a wiper in the bag, an’ I’ll drop it on your ’ead if you don’t hook it.”

“But I want a dog,” I cried.


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review 2017-09-13 15:55
Halloween Bingo - Locked Room Mystery - I liked Mycroft better
The Sign of Four - Arthur Conan Doyle



I hadn't made up my mind about the Locked Room Mystery square until the last minute.  For some of the other squares my choices were fairly long and I was looking forward to them, so I was glad to spot The Sign of the Four on the suggested list. 


The novel is included in The Works of A. Conan Doyle published by Black's Readers Service, one of those inexpensive sets that used to be advertised -- maybe they still are? -- on the back cover of the Sunday newspaper magazine supplement.  My dad had a set bound in red cloth; I bought them in the tan paper-embossed-to-look-like-leather-and-stamped-in-gold back in the early 70s.




And it's been about that long, or maybe even longer, since I read The Sign of the Four, when I was on a Holmes binge.  Having just read Kareen Abdul-Jabbar's Mycroft Holmes, I thought the comparison would be interesting.


Yeah, I liked Mycroft better than his younger brother.


The opening scene with Sherlock shooting up cocaine because he's bored didn't shock me, because I had remembered it quite well.  Unfortunately, I didn't like it 45 or more years ago, and I didn't like it now.  "Well, if you're so freaking bored, why don't you go out and find a puzzle that's worthy of your supreme powers of deduction, you arrogant asshole?" was my thought yesterday.


See, Mycroft was arrogant, but he never reached the stage of full-fledged assholery his younger brother had.


As I continued reading, bits and pieces of the story came back to me, but not all in one flash, so as far as the story itself went, it was pretty much like a fresh read.  But Sherlock's personality didn't improve.  The general Victorian racism was no surprise either, but it sat no easier on my mind than Sherlock's addiction.


The locked room mystery part was quickly solved, and the rest was the search for the actual perpetrator once he'd been identified.   And the last quarter of so of the novella was in turn his tale of the events that had led up to the murder.


Many elements of Jonathan Small's history brought to mind The Moonstone (1868), but the Wilkie Collins novel was in my estimation not only much better done with a more interesting set of characters, but also dealt with the social issues more aligned with current attitudes than with the traditional Victorian views expressed by Conan Doyle.  Small's disposal of the treasure he considered he had a right to contrasted sharply with the ending of The Moonstone.  The mystery of the treasure really overshadowed the locked room mystery in The Sign of the Four, and Holmes had no part in solving it other than finally capturing Jonathan Small.





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text 2017-09-13 00:33
A Study In Scarlet
Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection - Arthur Conan Doyle,Stephen Fry

I decided to listen to this audiobook narration, since I'd been hearing such fabulous things about it from BrokenTune!


I started with A Study In Scarlet, which is neither my favorite nor my least favorite of the Holmes canon. I ultimately ended up enjoying it more than usual, largely because of the narration. Fry's Holmes & Watson are both extraordinarily well-done. I'm not entirely sure about his rendering of Lucy Ferrier, a young American girl, but it was adequate.


After finishing A Study In Scarlet, I decided to skip The Sign of the Four and go straight into The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, beginning with A Scandal in Bohemia. I plan to loop back and pick up The Sign of the Four at some point later, probably after I finish Adventures. While I'm not usually a short story fan, I actually think that I prefer to Holmes short stories to the full length treatments, with the exception of The Hound of the Baskervilles.


I'm going to use A Study in Scarlet to fill Amateur Sleuth, because it would piss off Holmes mightily if he knew. And this amuses me.

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