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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-03-25 02:29
Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Final Problem
Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection - Arthur Conan Doyle,Stephen Fry

It is with a heavy heart that I take up my pen to write these the last words in which I shall ever record the singular gifts by which my friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes was distinguished. In an incoherent and, as I deeply feel, an entirely inadequate fashion, I have endeavored to give some account of my strange experiences in his company from the chance which first brought us together at the period of the “Study in Scarlet,” up to the time of his interference in the matter of the “Naval Treaty”--an interference which had the unquestionable effect of preventing a serious international complication. It was my intention to have stopped there, and to have said nothing of that event which has created a void in my life which the lapse of two years has done little to fill.

The Final Problem was published in 1893 and was meant to be ACD's last Holmes story. The author had grown tired of the Consulting Detective taking up all of his focus as a professional author, and tried to free up his time and his mind for more worthy projects. 

At least, ACD created a fitting final appearance for Holmes. He goes out in style. 


The Final Problem is a tough story to review. It's a story that hits home hard for any fan of the series, not just because of the ending, but also because we see Holmes pushed to the edge. He's showing cracks - Watson notices his looking run down. He's been beaten up, and Holmes himself remarks upon his mental state:

“Yes, I have been using myself up rather too freely,” he remarked, in answer to my look rather than to my words; “I have been a little pressed of late. Have you any objection to my closing your shutters?”

The reason for this is that Holmes has met his match. 

“He is the Napoleon of crime, Watson. He is the organizer of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in this great city. He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker. He has a brain of the first order. He sits motionless, like a spider in the center of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them. He does little himself. He only plans. But his agents are numerous and splendidly organized. Is there a crime to be done, a paper to be abstracted, we will say, a house to be rifled, a man to be removed--the word is passed to the Professor, the matter is organized and carried out. The agent may be caught. In that case money is found for his bail or his defence. But the central power which uses the agent is never caught--never so much as suspected. This was the organization which I deduced, Watson, and which I devoted my whole energy to exposing and breaking up."

In trying to expose Professor Moriarty, Holmes exhausts himself bringing down his organisation bit by bit, and at the same Holmes time is being hunted.



The final problem arises while Holmes and Watson are seeking respite in Switzerland. They are pursued even there, and the hunt is forced to its crisis at the now famous Reichenbach Falls: 

It is indeed, a fearful place. The torrent, swollen by the melting snow, plunges into a tremendous abyss, from which the spray rolls up like the smoke from a burning house. The shaft into which the river hurls itself is an immense chasm, lined by glistening coal-black rock, and narrowing into a creaming, boiling pit of incalculable depth, which brims over and shoots the stream onward over its jagged lip. The long sweep of green water roaring forever down, and the thick flickering curtain of spray hissing forever upward, turn a man giddy with their constant whirl and clamor. We stood near the edge peering down at the gleam of the breaking water far below us against the black rocks, and listening to the half-human shout which came booming up with the spray out of the abyss.


And then all that Watson is left with, all the we are left with, is one of the most gut-wrenching letters in literary history:

"I am pleased to think that I shall be able to free society from any further effects of his presence, though I fear that it is at a cost which will give pain to my friends, and especially, my dear Watson, to you."

That letter gets me every time. ACD could hardly have chosen a more dramatic ending to the series at the high time of Holmes' success.

How shocking it must have been to read this story as a follower of the series at the time it was written, at a time when this really did seem like the end for Holmes and Watson.

Of course, we now know that there are more stories, but at the time, the public reaction to this story was so strong that ACD was eventually persuaded to continue the series after all. 


But what about the story itself?


Apart from the high drama and the ultimate proof of the friendship between Holmes and Watson, and incidentally, the reassurance that Holmes, contrary to popular belief, does care about the other people in his life - including Mary Watson, there is another aspect of The Final Problem that I always ponder on. It is this one, the first ever meeting between Holmes and his nemesis, Professor Moriarty: 

“‘ You evidently don’t know me,’ said he. 
“‘ On the contrary,’ I answered, ‘I think it is fairly evident that I do. Pray take a chair. I can spare you five minutes if you have anything to say.’ 
“‘ All that I have to say has already crossed your mind,’ said he. 
“‘ Then possibly my answer has crossed yours,’ I replied. 
“‘ You stand fast?’ 
“‘ Absolutely.’
To me this is one of the most beautiful depictions of the duality of the human mind/spirit/whatever. It's the Jekyll/Hide, the ultimate light/dark side stand-off, and it is happening in a sitting room. While the focus of this story is often described as the altercation at the Reichenbach Falls, the more interesting challenge is fought at the first face off where Holmes and Moriarty could almost be two sides of the same coin - they would even complete each other's sentences except they don't even need to exchange statements at all because they already know what the other is thinking!
To me this is one of the great scenes in the canon.
I also love that he chose the Reichenbach Falls as the setting. However, it is a choice of location that in my reading may also carry a more personal connection for the author.
I'll need to resort to another ACD biography for back-up but from the horrible one I finished last week (Andrew Norman's Arthur Conan Doyle: Beyond Sherlock Holmes) it appears that the trip to Switzerland was an ad hoc trip on account of his wife having been diagnosed with tuberculosis. Like so many other sufferers, they believed that the Alpine air was a cure for the illness, and they stayed for quite some time (I believe she also returned there), but to no avail. She eventually died from tuberculosis a few years later.
So when reading this story, I was wondering of course if ACD, with his medical knowledge, had some inkling about whether his wife would recover.
No antibiotics at the time meant that 50-60% of TB patients died within 5 years.  

In many ways, The Final Problem is one of the saddest stories in the canon but also one of the most beautiful because it shows off so much about the human side of the characters, their friendship, their failings, their vulnerability. Of all of the stories, this one haunts the fictional world of 221 Baker Street like no other. 


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review 2018-03-21 13:15
The Dark Side of an Author
The Dark Half - Stephen King

Well I haven't read "The Dark Half" since I was a teen. I realize now why that was, probably because teen me was bored reading parts of this as adult me was now. I do think that parts of the book are fairly good (I loved the sparrows and the growing realization of who George Stark was)  but think that the book gets bogged down a ton with way too much talking that goes nowhere and an ending that kind of fizzles. You end up having to read the other Castle Rock books in order to find out what happens to the characters mentioned in this one which is okay, but does make it that "The Dark Half" is not a true standalone book. 


"The Dark Half" was written in response to when Stephen King was outed as writing as Richard Bachman. I have to say that "The Dark Half" really does read like a Bachman book (go read "The Long Walk," "The Running Man," and "The Regulators"). Most of those works seemed to have violence for violence sake. Not my favorite of King's works, but still interesting. "The Dark Half" is mostly brutal with parts broken up by characters talking to each other about things we as readers are already privy to. So most of the book you are just waiting for everyone to figure out things and for the ending to come. 


"The Dark Half" is about author Thad Beaumont who has recently come out and admitted that he has written under the name of  George Stark for years. Thad and his wife decide to declare George Stark dead after a man tries to shake them down for money to keep their secret hidden that he really is George Stark. Thad has started to find some success writing under his own pen name and thinks now is a good time to lay Stark to rest. Unfortunately, someone takes significant pains to go out and murder anyone connected with the "death of George Stark." When all signs point to Thad or someone close to him being responsible for these deaths, Thad starts wondering if someone is delusional enough to think that they are really George Stark.


The character of Thad intrigued me in this one. I do feel bad about what ends up happening to him (see "Needful Things" and "Insomnia"). Thad has a good life and when you realize his connection to "George Stark" I ended up being moved to mostly pity for the guy.

The other characters in this one come in and out and don't really sing to me. We have Thad's wife Liz that felt like an afterthought after the first couple of hundred pages. I wished for more from that character.

Sheriff Alan Pangborn I honestly didn't care for in this one. I liked him much better in "Needful Things" he is also referenced down the line in "Bag of Bones." I think the issue for me is that the sheriff blames Thad for what has occurred, but I didn't and thought it was weird how the book ended. 


We also get a plethora (not really but it felt like it) of characters who ended up being murdered by George Stark and reading all of their bad ends was gruesome after a while.

The writing was okay, but as I said, there was way too much talking going on. I found myself really bored after we get to Part II: Stark Takes Charge. Also since I had this in paperback format, it was hard to read some of the writing that was included in this book that was in cursive and showing what Thad and Stark's writing looked like. I honestly wish I had a magnifying glass.

The setting of this book is pretty familiar to Constant Readers. We are back with Castle Rock, Maine the site of some insanity that has gone on in many a King book. I always wonder why people never move away from that place. The first book in the Castle Rock series would be "Cujo". After "The Dark Half" you can read "Needful Things" where you can follow up with Sheriff Alan Pangborn and hear about Thad Beaumont again. 


The ending was a meh to me. I mean I liked how King dealt with the problem of George Stark. It sounded awesome and terrifying (I will never look at sparrows the same way again) but it just took way too long to get there. 

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text 2018-03-21 13:00
Reading progress update: I've read 592 out of 592 pages.
The Dark Half - Stephen King

Eh. This was okay. Not the best King or the worst, it was definitely a middle of the road book. I honestly think reading about what become of Thad in "Needful Things", "Insomnia", and I think he is even mentioned in "Bag of Bones" makes you wish that King had ended this story a bit stronger. 

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text 2018-03-21 01:57
Reading progress update: I've read 354 out of 592 pages.
The Dark Half - Stephen King

The book is dragging a bit for me. This also reminds me why I was kind of meh towards most of KingsK works as Bachman. It's not bad, but we have George Stark murdering and Thad Beaumont, his wife's and the sheriff (Alan Pangborn) just sitting around talking everything to death.

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text 2018-03-20 13:25
Reading progress update: I've read 221 out of 592 pages.
The Dark Half - Stephen King

So far so good. I recall now that at the time this book was kind of scary to me when I read when I was a kid. As an adult, it's not scary, just gruesome. We have a mysterious man with a connection to Thad Beaumont who seems hell bent on murdering people who harmed the author in some way. I recall Sheriff Alan Pangborn from "Needful Things", but honestly forgot he was in this one. 

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