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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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text 2017-11-02 02:22
October reading: epilogue
Distillery Cats: Profiles in Courage of the World's Most Spirited Mousers - Brad Thomas Parsons
Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection - Arthur Conan Doyle,Stephen Fry
Wildfire - Ilona Andrews
The Last Alchemist in Paris: & Other Curious Tales from Chemistry - Lars Ohrstrom
Murder on the Orient Express - Agatha Christie
The Red House Mystery - A.A. Milne
The Informed Gardener Blooms Again - Linda Chalker-Scott
Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady's Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners - Therese Oneill

This is going to be one of those super short, 1 paragraph, epilogues you sometimes miss completely, because it's November and October reading was soooo 2 days ago.


I read 24 books. 

2 of them were 5 star reads

6 of them were 4.5 star reads (which is odd, but ::shrug::)


Everything else was good.  Nothing below 3 stars*, which means I didn't waste any money on the books I read in October.  That's a win.


* Although there was This Side of Murder by Anna Lee Huber, which was excellently written, and a good story, but totally spat hairballs in the romance department.

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text 2017-10-31 00:37
Sad News for Shadow Police Fans
London Falling - Paul Cornell
The Severed Streets - Paul Cornell
Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? - Paul Cornell

I missed this blog post when it went up on the 21st, but saw it earlier today. Tor UK has dropped the line, so the last two books remain unwritten. These dark, procedural UF novels are excellent and I was so excited to read the next one. They are desolate and hopeful and one has a fucking Neil Gaiman cameo.


I would be more saddened, but the cover art rework and the format change to a paperback release for the third book make this also not terribly surprising.


If anyone sees him doing some crowd funding to finish the series, please let me know. I will definitely throw money at him for two more books.

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review 2017-10-28 00:44
Sherlock Holmes: A Case of Identity
Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection - Arthur Conan Doyle,Stephen Fry

“There’s a cold-blooded scoundrel!” said Holmes, laughing, as he threw himself down into his chair once more. “That fellow will rise from crime to crime until he does something very bad, and ends on a gallows. The case has, in some respects, been not entirely devoid of interest.”


Erm, as much as I love Holmes, this cracked me up: To say that the case has not been entirely devoid of interest is a round-about way of saying that it has for the most part been of no interest what-so-ever, but, you know, just not entirely.


That's how I would describe A Case of Identity - almost entirely devoid of interest.


The mystery is based on a the disappearance of a fiancée, which causes a young woman to seek out Holmes at Baker Street. The actual story is preposterous bordering on the plain silly and I would like to hope that ACD wrote this with a smirk on his face as he drew up the characters in this story:


On one hand we have gullible girl bestowed with an over-abundance of Victorian ideals, such as becoming engaged on a first outing with a suitor (I know, one has to laugh!), on the other we have a true scoundrel, who seeks to swindle the gullible girl out of her cash (or at least some of it) by "patronising" her in the most idiotic way. 


The actual story is almost the opposite of A Scandal in Bohemia: The characters lack the sophistication, the class, the wit, the flair. It may have been ACD's intention to draw this contrast, and make it even more apparent by Holmes and Watson even making specific reference to Irene Adler, I don't know, but the effect it had on me was that I had no interest in the mystery or the characters - quite the opposite to A Scandal in Bohemia.


However, to paraphrase Holmes, the story has, in some respects, been not entirely devoid of interest. We get more insight into the lives of Holmes and Watson. We learn that Holmes is not operating entirely on intellect as so often (falsely) portrayed. He has a strong sense of justice, but his main criticism of the scoundrel is that said scoundrel has been utterly heartless.


Aside from getting to spend time with my favourite Baker Street duo, there was only one other thing that proved interesting:  

“If I tell her she will not believe me. You may remember the old Persian saying, ‘There is danger for him who taketh the tiger cub, and danger also for whoso snatches a delusion from a woman.’ There is as much sense in Hafiz as in Horace, and as much knowledge of the world.”


I loved that paragraph. It made me laugh. However, I had no idea who Hafiz was. As my reading buddy, Troy, and I started to discuss the story, we also started to ponder about why ACD would choose to quote a medieval Sufi mystic and poet. How did ACD know about him? 


But the more we thought about it, the more it seemed to make sense. After all, Watson is a veteran of the Afghan Wars. A few of the Holmes stories have an Indian or Far Eastern element. With ACD being quite a circumspect citizen of the world and a traveller (tho, I could not find anything about him travelling to Persia), I can no longer think of a reason why he should not have been familiar with a medieval Sufi mystic and poet. 


So, even though, the actual mystery is pretty underwhelming, I liked that I learned something new (to me) about a medieval Persian poet.


Here's one of Hafiz's to round things up:


For years my heart inquired of me 
                   Where Jamshid's sacred cup might be, 
And what was in its own possession 
                   It asked from strangers, constantly; 
Begging the pearl that's slipped its shell 
                   From lost souls wandering by the sea. 
Last night I took my troubles to 
                   The Magian sage whose keen eyes see 
A hundred answers in the wine 
                   Whose cup he, laughing, showed to me. 
I questioned him, "When was this cup 
                   That shows the world's reality 
Handed to you?" He said, "The day 
                   Heaven's vault of lapis lazuli 
Was raised, and marvelous things took place 
                   By Intellect's divine decree, 
And Moses' miracles were made 
                   And Sameri's apostasy." 
He added then, "That friend they hanged   
                   High on the looming gallows tree— 
His sin was that he spoke of things 
                   Which should be pondered secretly, 
The page of truth his heart enclosed 
                   Was annotated publicly. 
But if the Holy Ghost once more 
                   Should lend his aid to us we'd see 
Others perform what Jesus did— 
                   Since in his heartsick anguish he 
Was unaware that God was there 
                   And called His name out ceaselessly." 
I asked him next, "And beauties' curls 
                   That tumble down so sinuously, 
What is their meaning? Whence do they come?" 
                   "Hafez," the sage replied to me, 
"It's your distracted, lovelorn heart 
                   That asks these questions constantly."
(Found at www.poetryfoundation.org)  
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review 2017-10-25 20:56
The Adventure of the Red-Headed League
Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection - Arthur Conan Doyle,Stephen Fry




October 9, 1890.


Sherlock Holmes and I surveyed this curt announcement and the rueful face behind it, until the comical side of the affair so completely overtopped every other consideration that we both burst out into a roar of laughter.

The Adventure of the Red-Headed League is one of the first Holmes stories that I have read and it also is one of the most memorable. Of the 50-odd short stories, many merge into one another after reading them, but a few are distinctly different. 


What makes TRHL quite special is that it shows Holmes and Watson laughing - yup, Holmes does not only show emotion but shares a joke with Watson. Their client does not see the funny side as much of the joke is on him (which is not Holmes' fault!), but nevertheless it shows that Holmes, too, can be silly.


In fact, we get to know that there are a lot sides to Holmes that his clients do not get to see:

My friend was an enthusiastic musician, being himself not only a very capable performer but a composer of no ordinary merit. All the afternoon he sat in the stalls wrapped in the most perfect happiness, gently waving his long, thin fingers in time to the music, while his gently smiling face and his languid, dreamy eyes were as unlike those of Holmes the sleuth-hound, Holmes the relentless, keen-witted, ready-handed criminal agent, as it was possible to conceive. In his singular character the dual nature alternately asserted itself, and his extreme exactness and astuteness represented, as I have often thought, the reaction against the poetic and contemplative mood which occasionally predominated in him.

The most important aspect of this story, however, is the The Red-Headed League. It is almost sad that this enterprising collective is nothing but a ... oh, but I won't spoil this. The underlying mystery must be maintained for anyone who hasn't read this, yet!


What I will say, tho, is that even though the underlying plot itself has become standard repertoire, it made me laugh to think about how much fun ACD must have had writing this story - which in many ways compares to slapstick comedy.



As my (everso-patient) reading buddy also noted, it is hard to read The Adventure of the Red-Headed League and not think of the Granada/ITV adaptation featuring Jeremy Brett. Although I love ((you have no idea how much!) the Brett adaptations, there are some differences between the adaptations and the original stories - with TRHL, the tv adaptations brought in an aspect that is not present in the book - Moriarty!


I understand why the producers may have thought this would be a good idea. After all, it lends some common purpose to the first series, which we know will end with The Final Problem. Without this common thread (Moriarty), the tv series, like the stories, is just a random collection of unconnected plots. This works as a magazine article (the way stories were published originally), and in theory should work as a tv series (after all Ironside or other series did not need an over-arching plot!) but it made me wonder how much faith the producers had in the first series of adaptations. Did they not think that it would appeal to the public enough to come back to watch another episode? 


I don't know, but if one thing should have been clear from the history of Holmes, it is that the stories hardly ever fail to find an audience!  


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