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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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text 2017-11-26 22:02
Reading progress update: I've read 49 out of 238 pages.
Exit Sherlock Holmes - Robert Hall

by page 27, Mrs. Hudson is telling Doctor Watson about the secret basement Holmes has always kept in the bowels of 221b Baker Street. so, at that point, I thought "here we go. something Mrs. Hudson has known all these years that Watson didn't...and a 'secret basement' seems to be the first whiff of getting uber-noncanonical". what is in the basement is of course bizarre...and here we have Moriarty confronting Watson. Watson, who had not seen Moriarty up close through all the previous adventures, notices how the 'Napoleon of Crime' looks remarkably like Holmes!

 

okay--I don't know who is from outer space yet, and who is not--but is this a clone story, or maybe an "alien super-agents grown in vats, and one went bad" story?? who knows. up to a certain point, this novel had been reading like a fairly trad Sherlock adventure--Holmes, Watson, Mrs. Hudson, Lestrade and Gregson, someone I'm less familiar with named Billy the page-boy--and a fun one, albeit not from the hand of Doyle himself. so I started to wonder if it would be quite a while before it seemed to borrow from Fringe or The X-Files; maybe a slow-burn approach to the SF elements. but, by page 49, things are starting to get gonzo.

 

I do like it, though! I read about three more chapters than I was planning to, and have left things at a bit of a cliffhanger, and if this Moriarty is some kind of extraterrestrial, vat-incubated, "gone wrong in production and now loose in the universe!" version of the great and noble Holmes, then he's certainly scary. Holmes, come back (ie. don't leave Earth yet...if you are in fact, a thing from another world)!!

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text 2017-11-26 17:02
Reading progress update: I've read 1 out of 238 pages.
Exit Sherlock Holmes - Robert Hall

"I'm sorry...what'd you say?...who was from outer space?!"

 

I'm reading this at a point in my schedule where I would normally slot in a Science Fiction pick, as a break from Crime & Mystery after Crow Girl. yah--Science Fiction. that's what I said. book starring Sherlock Holmes...Science Fiction. not for purists, apparently.

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text 2017-11-24 18:57
16 Tasks of the Festive Season - Square #7: December 10th & 13th - Saint Lucia's Day

Tasks for Saint Lucia's Day: Get your Hygge on -light a few candles if you’ve got them, pour yourself a glass of wine or hot chocolate/toddy, roast a marshmallow or toast a crumpet, and take a picture of your cosiest reading place.

 

It is Friday night, it is cold outside, and Advent is coming up. As I have been reading the Sherlock Holmes stories with my reading buddy on Friday nights, it is only fitting that tonight's story kick-start the Christmas theme. 

 

Yes, it is time for reading The Blue Carbuncle. It is one of my favourite stories in the canon and I have been looking forward all day to settle down with some tea, biccies, reading blanket, and the kindle to meet up with Holmes, Watson and Mr Henry Baker. Not much comes as close to the meaning of "hygge" for me as that.

 

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review 2017-11-11 00:38
Sherlock Holmes: The Five Orange Pips
Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection - Arthur Conan Doyle,Stephen Fry

My wife was on a visit to her mother’s, and for a few days I was a dweller once more in my old quarters at Baker Street.

“Why,” said I, glancing up at my companion, “that was surely the bell. Who could come to-night? Some friend of yours, perhaps?”

“Except yourself I have none,” he answered. “I do not encourage visitors.”

“A client, then?”

“If so, it is a serious case. Nothing less would bring a man out on such a day and at such an hour. But I take it that it is more likely to be some crony of the landlady’s.”

Sherlock Holmes was wrong in his conjecture, however, for there came a step in the passage and a tapping at the door.

I'm not going to comment on every Holmes story - I left out The Boscombe Valley Mystery, for example - but will focus on the ones that have left me with thoughts, and The Five Orange Pips definitely has done so.

 

It is a relatively short story, but there were quite a few points that got my attention on this re-read / re-listen:

 

1. Forget Sherlock's "mind-palace". Sherlock is much more down to earth. ACD gave him a brain-attic. I am not kidding, here's the textual proof (although I apparently missed its mention in A Study in Scarlet):

Holmes grinned at the last item. “Well,” he said, “I say now, as I said then, that a man should keep his little brain-attic stocked with all the furniture that he is likely to use, and the rest he can put away in the lumber-room of his library, where he can get it if he wants it.

I much prefer the brain-attic. It is much easier to relate to. ;)

 

2. Watson has obviously changed his mind a little about Holmes' shortcomings with respect to general knowledge. In this story, Watson now laughs about his initial assessment of his friend's intellectual capacity. In fact, both Watson and Holmes seem to find it funny in hindsight, which again tells me that some people get Holmes wrong when they say he belittles Watson all the time. Holmes clearly acknowledges his friend's assessment, but instead of being offended by it, he just explains his reasons for not expanding his general knowledge.

 

It is this interaction between the two and the acceptance between the two make the stories so much fun for me.

 

3. There is a reference to Georges Cuvier, one of the forces that established the sciences of comparative anatomy and paleontology. He's much forgotten in today's general knowledge but is mentioned in this story. It made me smile. It also brought home that this story was written only a few decades after the natural sciences were really taken seriously.

 
 

4. Without going into the plot of the story, I loved the acknowledgment that Holmes can fail, and that his sense of pride is not the only motivation in his attempt at make good, but that he is also driven by the senses of justice AND personal responsibility. 

 
5. This is going to be a spoiler, so look away if you want to read this story untainted:
 
The way ACD describes theactualparts about the KKK was handled well. I loved that ACD does not explain them to the reader much. To explain the KKK would provide a platform to argue about their "cause" or their "justifications". ACD cuts this out from the start by presenting them as the contemptible murderers they are.
(spoiler show)
 
6. This is also going to be a spoiler, so look away if you want to read this story untainted:
 
 
As my reading buddy points out, the ending is a bit disappointing because it is left to fate to bring about the end of the three murderers, and it would have been a stronger message to have a people stand up to bring about justice.
 
At the same time, tho, the sense of unresolvedness and denial of that delivery of justice also carries some power as a cautionary tale that these secret societies of evil exist in our midst and that people must keep vigilant about spotting their actions.
 
(spoiler show)
 
There is much to admire about this story. It definitely is another story in the Holmes canon that is underrated.
 
“I have come for advice.”
“That is easily got.”
“And help.”
“That is not always so easy.”
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