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review 2018-03-22 17:43
Didn't Love it, Didn't Hate it
The Sign of the Four - Arthur Conan Doyle

I don't see me re-reading this in the future. It's not a bad book, just not compelling. Reading about Holmes going in deep with his cocaine addiction is not interesting. And Watson hoping the case they are looking into keeps Holmes engaged is not that interesting either. If anything, I would say this book was just a big step towards Watson's development of a character (he meets the woman who is to become his wife).


"The Sign of the Four" has a woman (Mary Morstan) coming to Holmes and Watson in order to find out why someone keeps sending her a pearl on the anniversary of her father's disappearance.  Holmes agrees to take the case with he and Watson trying to track down what everything means. 


I have to say though that there is so much coincidence in this book it was a little hard to swallow. Also there are just random things inserted in this story...one word, crocodile. I started to wonder if Doyle was on cocaine when writing this story. 


We find out what happened to Mary's father, but I thought the whole thing sounded beyond hinky. And then from there we get to a young man who is behind sending Mary the pearls. I did want to go though really you decided in the end to send this woman a pearl a freaking year? Anyway, I could be here all day pointing out the weirdness and strange happenings in this story that defy common sense. 


I can't say much about Holmes beyond his views on women are appalling (and normal for the time I would say) and him being on cocaine made me wonder how he could even complete deductions at all. It sounds sickly based on Watson's description of him in the book. 

Watson seems a bit fed up at times with Holmes, but keeps hanging in there.

There's also a dog in this story (Toby) that made me think of the Agatha Christie book (Dumb Witness) which made me wish I was reading an Agatha Christie book. 


The writing was okay, but the flow was off through the whole book.


Some lines in the book though made me go, how did we go from brilliant amateur detective in "A Study in Scarlet" to this I am so into cocaine person we get in "The Sign of the Four."


"Which is it to-day?" I asked,—"morphine or cocaine?" He raised his eyes languidly from the old black-letter volume which he had opened. "It is cocaine," he said,—"a seven-per-cent. solution. Would you care to try it?" "No, indeed," I answered, brusquely. "My constitution has not got over the Afghan campaign yet. I cannot afford to throw any extra strain upon it."


Gee. If someone I was living with was all here is some cocaine I would be out of there. Also is 7 percent a good thing or what? I am not a coke head so I don't know.


"None. Hence the cocaine. I cannot live without brain-work. What else is there to live for? Stand at the window here. Was ever such a dreary, dismal, unprofitable world? See how the yellow fog swirls down the street and drifts across the dun-colored houses. What could be more hopelessly prosaic and material? What is the use of having powers, doctor, when one has no field upon which to exert them? Crime is commonplace, existence is commonplace, and no qualities save those which are commonplace have any function upon earth."

By the way most of this book is Sherlock being a total pill. 


"The division seems rather unfair," I remarked. "You have done all the work in this business. I get a wife out of it, Jones gets the credit, pray what remains for you?" "For me," said Sherlock Holmes, "there still remains the cocaine-bottle." And he stretched his long white hand up for it.



The setting of the book goes from England to India and I didn't get much a sense about India when we get bogged down with a re-telling of what went down with some of the characters we heard about earlier in the story. 


I just found myself getting bored and when we get to the ending where all is revealed via dialogue. I was just glad to be done. What a weird story in the adventures of Holmes and Watson. 

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text 2018-03-22 16:25
Reading progress update: I've read 100%.
The Sign of the Four - Arthur Conan Doyle

I don't know if I liked this or not LOL. Sherlock is taking cocaine and flailing about trying to solve the mystery of some hidden treasure. I wasn't bored while reading, just not fully engaged really though. Watson seemed to be a bit over Holmes at time, and even I would have had it with the cocaine, constant walking back and forth, etc. 


It is pretty cool to see Watson and the woman who ends up becoming his wife though. 

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review 2018-03-18 13:49
Arthur Conan Doyle - Beyond Sherlock Holmes
Arthur Conan Doyle: Beyond Sherlock Holmes - Andrew Norman

Arthur Conan Doyle - Beyond Sherlock Holmes, Andrew Norman's biography of Arthur Conan Doyle is one of those books that got off to a rocky start with me and I should have DNF'd after the Preface. 


However, I wanted to know how preposterous the book could actually get, or, ever so hopeful, if the premise set forth in the Preface was just an unlucky and sensationalist choice of "bait" that would be abandoned in the course of Norman's investigation of ACD's life. 


As I don't want to string anyone along, the book did not improve after page 11, which is where the Preface ended. In fact, if anything it got worse. So, if you plan to read on this short collection of thoughts about Norman's biography of ACD, you're in for a bit of a rant.


To recap, the Preface of the book seems to say that Norman's focus in this biography will be to explore what motivated a reasonable, logical fellow to believe in such ridiculous concepts as spiritualism and fairies, and the last paragraph of the Preface suggested that Norman's conclusion was that Doyle must have suffered from a mental illness:

Not only that, but this illness was itself a hereditable disease, in other words, one which Charles may have handed down to his son via the genes. Suddenly I realised that I now had an opportunity to solve what I consider to be the ultimate mystery, that of the bizarre and extraordinary nature of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself."

This was the in Preface! I don't know about other readers, but unless I am reading an academic text where the expectation is that the conclusion is summarised in the prefacing abstract, I am not looking to have the author's assumptions stated as facts on page 11 (!) of what I would hope to be a gripping biography of an extraordinary personality. 


Strike 1!


Next we get two (yes, TWO!) short chapters on Doyle's childhood, which are mostly pre-occupied with his the difficulties that his family had to cope with - mostly his father's alcoholism. There is, in fact, little about young Arthur in these chapters.


Following this we get no less than ten (TEN!) chapters about Sherlock Holmes. Not just about the writing and publication of the Sherlock Holmes stories but actual interpretation of Sherlock as a character - all substantiated with apparently randomly selected quotes from the different stories. 


Seriously? A book that carries the subtitle of "Beyond Sherlock Holmes" should not focus on the one topic that the subtitle seems to exclude. What is more, there are only 25 chapters in this book in total. Norman has spent 10 of them on Holmes. That is preposterous. 


Strike 2!


Luckily, we get back to ACD after this with a brief run down of his involvement in actual criminal cases, where he managed to prove vital in overturning two miscarriages of justice, and his work and life during and after the First World War. 

Unfortunately, there is nothing new or detailed in this, and the focus and ACD is superficial. Norman uses these chapters to write about ACD's father's illness and time in various mental institutions, surmising at what kind of psychiatric condition he suffered from. This, however, can only be guesswork on Norman's part. Charles Conan Doyle was hospitalised privately. There are few actual medical records. What is more,even if there had been medical records, the areas of psychiatry and medical treatment of addiction or mental illness in the 1890s was still in its infancy. The recording and diagnosis of cases of people who had been hospitalised or committed can hardly be described as reliable. And yet, Norman, with the help of The Shorter Oxford Textbook of Psychiatry (by Michael Gelder, Paul Harrison, and Philip Cohen) dares to presume to make a diagnosis of what illness may have plagued Charles Conan Doyle, and has the audacity to infer that Arthur Conan Doyle may have inherited the same potential for mental illness because in one of his works he wrote that he knew, rather than believed, that fairies existed!


What utter, utter rubbish!


And, btw, I kid you not, but the The Shorter Oxford Textbook of Psychiatry is referenced throughout the relevant chapters as the ONLY source to back-up Norman's ideas.




Never mind that spiritualism was an actual thing in the early 1900s and that ACD was not alone in believing in fairies and magic and the paranormal. Instead of investigating ACD's interest, Norman's work in this book is not just superficial but outright lazy. He simply regurgitates the same outrage and disbelief over how a man of sound mind can belive in something fantastic. With this book, Norman simply jumps on the gravy train of sensationalism and continues an outcry over the notion that an author of fiction may have believed in something other than hard facts.


I can't even...


Fuck this book. (Note: This is Strike 3!)


Seriously, I have no idea what Norman's other books are like, but he seems to have written several other biographies featuring Charles Darwin, Agatha Christie, Robert Mugabe (seriously???), and others. 


None of which will ever end up on my reading list.


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text 2018-03-16 21:17
Reading progress update: I've read 11 out of 192 pages.
Arthur Conan Doyle: Beyond Sherlock Holmes - Andrew Norman

This is not off to a good start.


The Preface seems to say that Norman's focus in this biography will be to explore what motivated a reasonable, logical fellow to believe in spiritualism and fairies.


I was hoping for a relatively objective biography that would explore different areas of ACD's life - he was an interesting person!


And then I got the last paragraph of the Preface!

"My investigations led me to conclude that Doyle's father had suffered not only from alcoholism and epilepsy, as has previously been described, but more importantly from a serious mental illness. Not only that, but this illness was itself a hereditable disease, in other words, one which Charles may have handed down to his son via the genes. Suddenly I realised that I now had an opportunity to solve what I consider to be the ultimate mystery, that of the bizarre and extraordinary nature of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself."

This is just bad. And this is the Preface!!!


This may end up being one of the fastest DNF's in the history of my reading (although, nothing will beat the English translation of Olivier Todd's biography of Albert Camus that sucked so much that I had to abandon it at the Translator's Note.)


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review 2018-03-13 02:11
I have zero idea how to review books I like.
Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows - James Lovegrove

Full disclaimer: I love Sherlock Holmes, and I love That Bastard HP Lovecraft, and I love James Lovegrove. So this review is gunna be a little bit of a love fest, to be honest.


So there are a few stories and such that combine HP and Sherlock, the most famous of which is Neil Gaiman's short story "A Study in Emerald," this is the first one I've read since that one. (I have another one on my shelf just waiting for me to read it.)


The book starts with Watson telling us how everything he's told us about Sherlock Holmes is a lie. I was hooked. I love AUs.  As Watson writes, he weaves little bits of the canon in with Lovegrove's new canon. (I can't go into it much without giving things away, but there are lizard people.)


Anyways, James Lovegrove merges the two universes seemlessly and I can't wait to read the next one in the series.


PLOT - 5/5
PROSE - 4/5

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