Friday, December 18, 2009

The Valley of Fear (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

The final Holmes novel—and the last full book review of 2009! There's only ONE WEEK LEFT until the Sherlock Holmes movie, so we here at the Daily Genoshan (and by "we" I just mean me, obviously) are winding down the great Holmesian read-through that's been going on recently. Hopefully you've been enjoying it and are now eagerly awaiting the film as much as I am!

Synopsis

The Valley of Fear begins much like most Sherlock Holmes stories: the great detective and his faithful friend Watson are seated in their 221B Baker Street apartment, fussing over some small riddle they've come across. The riddle is in the form of a coded message that Holmes has received, which, once deciphered, informs the pair that someone named Douglas is in danger somewhere called "Birlstone." No sooner have they figured out the code, however, than an inspector comes to the apartment to ask for their help; a man named Jack Douglas has been brutally murdered in his home, a manor called Birlstone!

From here, the first half of the novel progresses much like the others. And actually, if the first half stood alone as one of the short stories, it would probably be my favorite. All the clues were right there, but for the life of me I couldn't put it all together. There are a few bizarre contradictions, though, like the mentioning of Professor Moriarty and his possible involvement in the affair. Moriarty is only supposed to appear in "The Final Problem," the short story in which Holmes allegedly dies, but in The Valley of Fear Moriarty is still alive, and yet Watson talks about him as if the two have discussed him before. Oh well, slight problem. He isn't a main character really anyway.

What truly makes this novel stand out is the second half. Similar to the first novel, A Study in Scarlet, this book is broken into two parts, where the first part mainly concerns Holmes and his case, and the second part deals with the motives/backstory for the case. This backstory is told independent of Watson's narration, and takes place again in America, though this time in Pennsylvania coal country instead of Utah. Also, this novel again uses some kind of secret society based in the real world as its main antagonist. Where this novel's backstory veers away from that of the first novel, however, is in quality. I was blown away. Within the mystery from the first half of the novel, Holmes comes across the manuscript in which the second half is written, so it makes for a much smoother transition than in the first novel. It could almost stand alone as its own story as well, or even a feature film. It's amazing how well-written it is, and I'm pretty sure it was at least partially based on a true story, which makes it even more incredible. I don't want to give it away at all, so I won't go into the details too much, but it would be worth reading the novel even if the first half was crap, just to read that second part. Luckily, the first half is amazing as well. It's a completely different kind of story than The Hound of the Baskervilles, but just as good.

Rating

The Valley of Fear
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Story—9.5
Two incredible stories tied neatly into one amazing novel. I was kinda worried that the follow-up to The Hound of the Baskervilles would be bad, assuming that they couldn't all be so well-written. Wow, was I wrong.

Style—9
By this point in his career (1915), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had all but perfected the detective genre. To be able to write an action-packed American thriller alongside his upright British mystery is no small feat.

General—9.5
There's a whole lot of bloodshed in this one, which drops it to a 9.75 (some people aren't into that kind of thing, and that's ok), and then the weird Professor Moriarty contradiction docks another .25, admittedly, but it's still such an enjoyable novel. I'm astounded that one man could produce so many exceptional works.

Overall—9.33



I didn't go into these reviews as some Sherlock Holmes enthusiast, partial to the stories and wanting everyone else to enjoy them, too (that's also why I don't review books I've already read, it's cheating). I had never picked up a Holmes story before, or watched any of the films or tv shows. I was as new to them as most of you probably still are now. Look how it's affected the site, though! The #2 and #3 highest rated books of the last year are Sherlock Holmes novels! If that doesn't get you to at least check one of them out, consider this: Sherlock Holmes is in the public domain. All of these stories and novels can be read for free online. Please, do yourself a favor and look into it. I'm telling you, you won't be disappointed.

Make sure you come back next Wednesday for the final Holmes short story review. After that, there won't be any more reviews until 2010! Granted, that'll only be a week or two away, but still. Until then, keep reading, Genoshans!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Even More Sherlock Holmes Short Stories!

I have for you today the penultimate installment of my Sherlock Holmes Wednesday Supplement. After this we're left with only Friday's final Holmes novel, and next week's Supplement containing the last eight short stories. Strangely enough, this week's group contains some of the best and worst stories so far.


From His Last Bow by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle



"The Adventure of the Dying Detective"

Synopsis—Dr. Watson is sent for to fulfill the last wishes of a dying Sherlock Holmes. Can he find a cure to Holmes' rare Asiatic ailment before it's too late?
Comments—I kinda knew where this one was going, but it was fun to watch it play out. Very enjoyable.
Rating—4



"The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax"

Synopsis—Holmes sends Watson off to the continent to investigate the disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax. Will Watson be able to find the woman before its too late, or will he be stopped by the gruff-looking man that's been following his trail?
Comments—As was the case in The Hound of the Baskervilles as well, it's interesting to see Watson on his own. He's learned much over the years being with Sherlock Holmes, and puts it all to good use here, without forfeiting his own identity. Eventually the story comes back to London and remains interesting, so a nice read.
Rating—4



"The Adventure of the Devil's Foot"

Synopsis—While vacationing on the Cornish peninsula, Holmes and Watson stumble upon a devilish mystery. A woman seems to have been scared completely to death, and her two brothers have devolved into raving lunatics. With few clues to go off of, will Holmes be able to solve this "Cornish horror"?
Comments—Definitely an unusual case, and one with several points of singularity, but on the whole nothing too extraordinary. I enjoyed it, but it wasn't as much fun as the last two.
Rating—3



"His Last Bow"

Synopsis—A tale of the work of Sherlock Holmes leading into the First World War and how he aided his country.
Comments—"His Last Bow" comes completely out of nowhere and dives into the world of international espionage. Holmes uses his talents for the good of his country, and while the format does shift—Watson is not the narrator—that doesn't hamper my enjoyment. I liked seeing a different side of Holmes.
Rating—4



From The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle



"The Adventure of the Illustrious Client"

Synopsis—Holmes is hired to convince a young woman in love that her fiance is nothing more than a ruthless murderer. The woman, however, won't listen to reason. Can Holmes find a way to change her mind before the wedding?
Comments—I like that Holmes gets more and more inventive as these stories go on. This one is pretty straightforward—there isn't even a crime to solve—but there were still enough twists and turns that it kept me engaged.
Rating—4



"The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier"

Synopsis—A young soldier goes searching for his friend after the friend mysteriously stops replying to any letters he receives. Could his family be holding him hostage somewhere on their estate?
Comments—Sherlock Holmes narrates a story for the first time! It's true that Holmes doesn't have the same flair as Watson, and comments that it is difficult to hold back facts when he himself is narrating, but it's still an interesting read. Holmes is humbled for the first time, as he admits finally that Watson has to inject personality into the stories to make them readable, which had previously been a point of contention between them.
Rating—4



"The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone"

Synopsis—Holmes leads a notorious criminal to the sitting room of 221B Baker Street in order to determine the location of a missing crown jewel. With such a deadly man in his home, though, will the great Sherlock Holmes survive the night?
Comments—For some reason, neither Holmes nor Watson narrate this story. It's this strange, ambiguous third-person narration, completely out of nowhere. Maybe it's because Watson isn't around for most of it, I don't know. It's not good, though. Don't read it.
Rating—1



"The Adventure of the Three Gables"

Synopsis—Holmes is asked to investigate a strange happening just outside of London. An elderly widow has been offered an exorbitant sum of money for her home and everything in it. Suspicious of such a gracious offer, she brings Holmes in to consult.
Comments—This story sucks. It is absolutely terrible. This is the strongest group of stories so far, with mostly 4's—and a 3 that was almost a 4—but these last two are just awful. There's actually a strong argument to suggest that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle didn't even write "The Adventure of the Three Gables," and I believe it. Holmes acts very strangely, and the plot blows. Don't even try to read this one.
Rating—0



It sucks to end the group on such a low note, but oh well. Make sure to come back on Friday when I review the last of the Sherlock Holmes novels, The Valley of Fear. Until then, keep reading, Genoshans!

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Hound of the Baskervilles (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

Two weeks left until the Sherlock Holmes movie! I don't know about you, but I'm hoping to sneak out of the house Christmas morning to go see it. What better present can I give myself than that? As an early gift to you, though, I'm reviewing the third of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's four Sherlock Holmes novels, The Hound of the Baskervilles. I don't know if this is the case with anyone else, but The Hound of the Baskervilles was the only Holmes work that I had even heard of before I began this exhaustive undertaking, so I was really pumped to check it out.


Synopsis

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson are visited one day by a Dr. James Mortimer, who has a rather strange request. Mortimer wants Holmes' advice as to whether or not someone should move into the recently vacant Baskerville Hall in Devon. The previous tenant, Sir Charles Baskerville, was apparently scared to death—literally, he was frightened so much that he had a heart attack and died—by a massive spectral hound, said to be a curse upon the Baskerville line. Mortimer is set to pick up Sir Charles' nephew, Sir Henry Baskerville, off the morning train, and feels that he should warn the newcomer before they set off for the manor. Holmes decides that this might be an interesting case to study, and suggests that Mortimer and Sir Henry stay in London for a few days before going to Devon. During this time, Holmes discovers that Sir Henry is being followed, and so begins to look at the case as more than just a curiosity. Fearing for Sir Henry's life by this point, Holmes suggests that Watson accompany Mortimer and Sir Henry back to Devon to start gathering facts while Holmes works on a separate case in London.

I have to tell you, this book is absolutely fantastic. Maybe because it's the third one—I'm partial to The Bourne Ultimatum, Return of the King and Return of the Jedi, so I guess I tend to favor third installments—but this is definitely the best of the three that I've read. Sir Arthur Conany Doyle not only paints a beautiful picture of the moor and surrounding countryside where most of the novel takes place, but also tells the clearest story. It's definitely a mystery, with plenty of red herrings and bits of misdirection, so I don't mean clear in that way, but it's an engaging tale that's easy to read even when it's hard to figure out. The action begins almost immediately, with Holmes and Watson debating the qualities of the man who mistakenly left his walking stick in their parlor while they were out. It then progresses steadily, building steam with clue after clue, many of which seem more important than they are, and several of which are easily overlooked. Then Watson goes to Devon and the book really takes off. There are so many suspects with suspicious pasts and plausible motives for wanting to kill off the Baskervilles that I hardly knew which way to look. Even when Holmes solves the mystery and discovers who is behind it all, there are still twenty or thirty pages left where no one has figured out exactly how to catch the culprit or even how the crime was committed.

I don't like to go too much into the details of these stories because they are in fact mysteries, and if I stress any one clue too much it could ruin the whole thing. I will say that, of all the Sherlock Holmes tales I've read so far, not just the novels, this is by far the best. There were times when I actually gasped and said, "No way! Wow, I can't believe I didn't think of that sooner." Doyle weaves his threads and plotlines so intricately throughout the novel that it's hard to keep track of every little piece of information. It never seems contrived, though. I never once felt like Holmes or Watson had gotten lucky or stumbled upon a bit of information that they hadn't earned. It reminded very much of Professor Layton and the Curious Village, a Nintendo DS game where the protagonist is a professor trying to solve a mystery. Everywhere he goes, the professor is blocked by riddles that he has to solve in order to progress. Some of the villagers refuse to help him unless he answers their riddle or solves some puzzle of the natural world. The Hound of the Baskervilles is like that. It's cinematic, but also with a strong sense of division between the different levels of the mystery. Each chapter holds new revelations, bringing the reader one step closer to beating the game and solving the mystery of the curse of the Baskervilles.

Rating

The Hound of the Baskervilles
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Story—9.17
Doyle does an incredible job of keeping the story interesting, even when it seems like Holmes has reached a dead end. It amazes me how much content there is here. There are so many seemingly disconnected pieces that ultimately form the solution to this mystery.

Style—9
I feel like this is the point where Doyle finally perfected his idea of the mystery genre. This book is more suspenseful and gloomy than the previous two, and works in a strong sense of forboding. The other books are about solving a crime, but this one is about solving one and preventing the next.

General—10
This book is fun to read, but not flippant. It's easy to follow, but suspenseful. I also particularly like that Doyle is able to change point of view without changing narrator. Usually, Watson just regurgitates back whatever it is that Holmes has done. Here, though, there is a significant portion of the book where Watson is on his own trying to figure things out. Watson is easier to relate to than Holmes, since Watson—like the reader—doesn't have Holmes' miraculous deductive powers. It makes a huge portion of the book more accessible, even if it is still a complicated mystery.

Overall—9.39



There have been some really high ratings in the last few weeks. I worried for a little bit that I was beginning to curve too high, but then realized that I've just been incredibly lucky in finding so many great books. Hopefully this streak continues! Keep reading, Genoshans!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Short Stories Installment #5

This whole "Wednesday Supplement" thing seems to be gradually turning into a "Thursday Supplement" thing :/ I do have an excuse this week, though. I just finished the first draft of my first book/thesis! I'm a very busy guy, I swear. The upside of posting the supplement late, though, is that most of these stories were read in the last 24 hours, so they're fresh in my mind.


From The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle



"The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez"

Synopsis—A young man is murdered in his employer's home, but the police cannot figure out how the murderer escaped the premises! Sherlock Holmes is called in to clear up the matter.
Comments—Not too shabby. There's a map, and as I've said before, maps and pictures usually make the stories more fun. Stanley Hopkins even shows up again. A pretty well-rounded tale.
Rating—4



"The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter"

Synopsis—The star player for the Cambridge rugby squad has gone missing! Can Sherlock Holmes find him before the big match against Oxford?
Comments—This story has a lot going for it. Holmes is put on the wrong trail several times, which always makes for a more interesting mystery. There's also a highly intelligent adversary, which Holmes doesn't come across often.
Rating—4



"The Adventure of the Abbey Grange"

Synopsis—A drunkard lord whom no one cares for very much is bludgeoned to death in his own home after an attempted robbery. Stanley Hopkins asks Holmes to consult on the case in order to bring the criminals to justice.
Comments—There's some heavy-handed misdirection, followed by a jealous lover, a confession that clears everything up at the end, blah blah blah. Over it.
Rating—2



The Adventure of the Second Stain"

Synopsis—Sensitive international documents are stolen from the home of a high-ranking government official. It's up to Sherlock Holmes to retrieve the papers before a global crisis emerges!
Comments—Very similar to "The Naval Treaty," but it's still a great story. Holmes experiences a fair bit of luck in this one, making it all the more enjoyable. A great way to end the book.
Rating—5



From His Last Bow by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle



"The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge"

Synopsis—A young man comes to 221B Baker over a trifling matter, but when the police show up to take the man away, Holmes decides the case might be worth investigating after all.
Comments—There are some strange features regarding this story. First of all, it's inexplicably broken into two parts, each with their own title. Secondly, it begins with one person soliciting Holmes' aid, and ends up with a completely different mystery altogether. Thirdly, it introduces an Inspector Baynes from Surrey, who seems to be almost as good as Holmes himself, if not his equal.
Rating—5



"The Adventure of the Cardboard Box"

Synopsis—A lonely old maid receives a package containing two severed ears! She and the police assume that it's some kind of sick joke, but Sherlock Holmes suspects something more sinister.
Comments—It was alright. I enjoyed it, but it didn't really blow me away at all.
Rating—3



"The Adventure of the Red Circle"

Synopsis—A woman comes to Holmes complaining about a mysterious lodger who never leaves his room. Holmes turns the woman away, but later takes the case more seriously when her husband is abducted!
Comments—I guessed at a lot of what was to come in "The Red Circle," but so much more surprised me that I found myself really liking it by the end. This one was broken into two sections as well, but didn't include section titles. It's a little bizarre that Doyle shifted format so much, but whatever, it didn't change the story at all.
Rating—4



"The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans"

Synopsis—A young government clerk is found dead on the tracks of the London Underground. The case becomes an international scandal, however, when plans for a top-secret submarine are found on his corpse! Can Holmes find the missing pages of these plans before they're sold to the highest bidder?
Comments—I don't know what it is about international intrigue, but Doyle has a way of writing his strongest when the government is involved. This is essentially the same framework as "The Naval Treaty" and "The Second Stain," but it still holds so many singular events and original ideas that I can't help but be impressed. The reappearance of Sherlock's brother Mycroft is a fun aspect as well.
Rating—4



Make sure you check back in tomorrow when I review the third, and arguably most famous, Sherlock Holmes novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles!

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Sign of Four (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

Only three weeks remain until Christmas and the release of the new Sherlock Holmes movie, starring Robert Downey, Jr., Jude Law, and Rachel McAdams! If you haven't noticed, the Daily Genoshan has been on somewhat of a Sherlock Holmes kick lately, and that will continue right up to the film's release. Today I have for you the second of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's full-length Sherlock Holmes novels, The Sign of Four.


Synopsis

Sherlock Holmes, the world's only unofficial consulting detective, and his faithful friend Dr. John Watson are debating the merits of Holmes' cocaine addiction one day when a lovely young woman enters their office looking for assistance. No, seriously, Holmes is apparently a coke fiend, and only gives it up when he has the thrill of a case to give him a rush instead. Anyway, a woman comes in, worried about a strange letter that she has received. She says that her name is Mary Morstan, and that her father, Captain Morstan, has been missing some ten years. Roughly four years after his disappearance, she began receiving one very large and lustrous pearl each year from an unknown benefactor. Six years and six pearls later, she receives a letter requesting her presence from the same mysterious person who has been sending her the pearls. Too afraid to go meet this person on her own, she asks Holmes and Watson to accompany her. The three set off, and find themselves in the company of an exceptionally rich man named Thaddeus Sholto. Sholto tells Mary that she has inherited half of a large treasure, and that all she has to do in order to claim it is follow him to his brother Bartholomew's estate in Norwood. Holmes, Watson, and Mary Morstan accompany Sholto to his brother's home, but when they arrive, they find Bartholomew dead and the treasure stolen. Holmes sets out to discover how on earth this could have happened, since the room is sealed tight from the inside. The mystery takes Holmes and Watson all over London, and even includes a deadly boat chase!

The Sign of Four is much different from Doyle's first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet, in several ways. First of all, since it is the second novel, introductions and backstory are largely unnecessary, so Doyle moves almost immediately into the mystery. Secondly, the first novel is divided into two distinct sections that are very different stylistically, while the second novel is one large, unbroken story. Thirdly, a sense of familiarity pervades most of the second novel. Watson is presented as being accustomed to some of Holmes' quirkier traits. It reads as being almost identical to the short stories found in Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, which was published in 1892, two years after The Sign of Four. In this way it is an excellent precursor to the majority of Holmes' cases. This lack of freshness does slightly hurt the overall power of the book, but as a segue into further reading, or even as a simple mystery to sit back and enjoy one afternoon, I have to admit it's still a very engaging read.

Doyle is a master at setting up his clues and bringing mysteries to a dramatic conclusion, but in this book he tries to branch out into other areas of writing. One of my favorite things about The Sign of Four was his bizarre attempt to inject a love story into the mystery. In moments of fear, Mary Morstan tends to reach out to Watson instinctively, and a slow, awkward romance tries to push itself in as a subplot. It has almost nothing to do with the rest of the book at all. Another strange feature is that boat chase that I alluded to earlier. While much of the book is focused on deduction and Sherlock Holmes' detective work, there are certain aspects of the plot that make it seem more like an action-adventure novel. There's a boat chase! It's 1890! How fast could those boats really be going? It's a well-written scene, definitely, and Doyle can write suspense as well as he can write quirky little deductions or realistic setting, but I'm curious as to why he would try to fit so many different things into one book. It works, definitely, and leads readers smoothly into his short story collections, so I'm glad he wrote it that way, but the novel suffers somewhat when you compare it to the first.

Rating

The Sign of Four
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Story—7.5
Not as polished as the first novel. It's still an incredibly enjoyable book, but I think it could have been a lot better. The descriptions are fantastic, and most of the characters are vivid and real, but Mary Morstan in particular falls flat. You'd think he would have developed her a little better if she was going to be Watson's love interest, right?

Style—9
As the forerunner to an amazing collection of short stories, Doyle does very well by establishing a more permanent style of writing here. A Study in Scarlet may have been a better stand-alone novel, but The Sign of Four is the book that truly sets up what is to come.

General—8
I had a good time with this book, and got through it incredibly quickly, but as I've mentioned, it could've been better. If you plan on reading the short stories, then you definitely need to check this out, since it contains many items that will be referenced later. If you're just looking for a great novel, however, this might not be the book for you.

Overall—8.17



It may seem strange that I was so down on this book, but still gave it such a high rating. There's no discrepancy, Doyle is an amazing writing. This might not have been his best work, but it's still better than the majority of other books out there. I've had no trouble being drawn into the incredible world that he's built up around Sherlock Holmes, and this is just another example of Doyle's talent at work. Keep reading, Genoshans!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Short Stories: Continued!

It's only 22 more days until the Sherlock Holmes movie, but I've decided not to find out what the screenwriter has chosen as the main plot. It could be any one of the many, many tales that Doyle wrote about his cunning detective, so here are the reviews for eight more short stories—any one of these could be in the film!


From The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle



"The Adventure of the Norwood Builder"

Synopsis—A young man is accused of murdering an old builder after the builder, a complete stranger, makes the young man the benefactor of his will. Can Sherlock Holmes find the real murderer before the young man is executed?
Comments—This one starts off very well because for once Watson is smart enough to pick up on some clues on his own. When the young man first enters Holmes and Watson's residence on Baker Street, Holmes declares that the man is "a bachelor, a solicitor, a Freemason, and an asthmatic." Usually these kinds of deductions confound Watson, but not this time. It's also a curious case in that Holmes comes his closest so far to failing completely.
Rating—4



"The Adventure of the Dancing Men"

Synopsis—Holmes and Watson are approached by a man in a happy marriage whose wife has been acting strangely. The only clue he has as to why her attitude has changed is a slip of paper covered in a series of stick figure drawings.
Comments—Eh, alright. I like when there are diagrams and pictures and things like that to break up the monotony of a block of text, but how many stories can Doyle come up with that turn out to involve old lovers? Not his best work.
Rating—3



"The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist"

Synopsis—A beautiful young music teacher begins to fear for her life when a strange man begins following her on her weekly bicycle route. Sherlock Holmes is brought in to discover who the man is and what he wants.
Comments—This one is pretty clunky. There are all kinds of clues strewn throughout, but without any real twists or turns at all. The explanation at the end almost isn't even worth it. I must say that it does include some of Doyle's better descriptions of setting, but honestly, who care?
Rating—2



"The Adventure of the Priory School"

Synopsis—Holmes and Watson are hired by the head of a priory school to find the missing son of one of England's most decorated subjects. One of the school's teachers is missing as well, could the two have gone off together?
Comments—Following two lackluster stories, "The Adventure of the Priory School" comes out of nowhere as a fantastic piece of writing. Doyle plants so many false leads and twists the results around so well that I couldn't help but be pleased with the final result. Not only that, but this one also includes a cute little map. Maps are fun.
Rating—5



"The Adventure of Black Peter"

Synopsis—A constable named Stanley Hopkins, a young protégé of Holmes', tries to solve the murder of Black Peter Carey on his own, but ends up coming to Baker Street for some help. Not many people liked Black Peter, but someone hated him enough to nail him to a wall with a harpoon!
Comments—Similar to the "The Adventure of the Norwood Builder," a man who had visited the victim shortly before the murder is suspected of the crime, and it's up to Holmes to clear the man before he reaches the gallows. I wasn't very impressed by any of the particulars of this case, although it was nice to see a new character introduced.
Rating—3



"The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton"

Synopsis—Holmes is asked to pay off Charles A. Milverton, a terrible man who makes his living by paying for incriminating letters and then blackmailing people. What will Holmes do, though, if Milverton's price is too steep?
Comments—I liked this one a lot. It wasn't a mystery, so it was nice to break out of the usual formula, and it involves Holmes making some questionable decisions, which adds a depth of character. Nicely done.
Rating—4



"The Adventure of the Six Napoleons"

Synopsis—There's a madman in London breaking in to houses and destroying busts of Napoleon. Scotland Yard enlists the aid of Sherlock Holmes in order to put the man away in a mental institution, but is something more sinister afoot?
Comments—I don't like when the stories are obvious right from the beginning, and this one had all the subtlety of an Indian elephant. Wait, what? The man is looking for something inside the busts?!?! Noooooo, you don't say?
Rating—2



"The Adventure of the Three Students"

Synopsis—Holmes and Watson visit a small university town and stumble upon a small university mystery! Can Holmes discover who stole the answers to the Fortescue Scholarship application exam before the cheater sits down to take the test?
Comments—It's refreshing whenever Holmes and Watson are looking into a mystery that isn't life or death. It makes the story more fun in general. There were a lot of different things going on in this one that made it difficult to clearly predict the ending, but more importantly I enjoyed reading it.
Rating—4



Make sure you tune in tomorrow for the Daily Genoshan's next Sherlock Holmes novel review, The Sign of Four!

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Study in Scarlet (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

Happy Black Friday! I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and thank you for taking the time to check in with the Genoshan on your holiday weekend! I'll jump right into the review so you can go back to eating your leftovers.

Synopsis

After being wounded in battle in Afghanistan, Dr. John Watson returns to London on leave and attempts to find ways to occupy his time. After several weeks of idle debauchery, he discovers that his funds are quickly running out, and so decides to leave his expensive room and find a more economical situation, preferably with a roommate. Through a mutual friend, Watson meets a strange fellow named Sherlock Holmes, and the two decide to go halvsies on a two-bedroom flat on Baker Street. After a few weeks of living together, however, Watson is confounded by the number of strangers who visit the apartment and pay Sherlock for "private meetings" (get your mind out of the gutter). Holmes finally confides that he is a private detective, and is often consulted by police officers and civilians alike in order to solve difficult cases.

The next day, a case is brought before Sherlock Holmes that he is less than willing to take on, since he knows all the credit will end up going to the police. Watson, however, convinces him to at least check it out, and the two go off to solve their very first mystery together. The police had found a man dead on his back in an uninhabited building, with no signs of any kind of struggle or wounds. For some reason, though, there is plenty of blood on the floor, and the word "Rache" is written on the wall in it. Despite the seeming perplexity of the case and the police's inability to solve the crime, Sherlock Holmes sets off on his own to catch the dead man's killer using only logic and reason as his tools.


If you've been reading my Wednesday Supplements of Sherlock Holmes short stories, you know by now that this is the basic formula that Doyle uses for most of his mysteries. A Study in Scarlet is different—and better—in quite a few ways, though. First of all, it's a novel, so it's obviously longer. The case is more complex, and there are several dead ends and near misses that Holmes has to shrug off throughout the book. Secondly, it features an incredible flashback that mostly takes place in America, written in a completely different, but equally engaging, voice. You get a kind of western/detective story amalgamation that seems weird at first, but ends up working really, really well. Thirdly—and this is probably the most important—, this is the first story! Here, the reader is introduced to Sherlock Holmes and his faithful biographer, Watson, for the very first time. Doyle makes the meeting remarkably natural, and includes several misgivings that Watson initially has upon meeting Holmes. I thought that I might have gotten sick of all this Sherlock Holmes stuff by now, but A Study in Scarlet is so well written that I could hardly put it down. It's not very long, so I read it all in an evening. That's one of my favorite things about these stories, actually, that I can just pick them up and read through them quickly, and they're almost always enjoyable. This was a much better book than I expected, though. I still have plenty of Holmes stories to get through, and I might find something that I end up liking more than this, but it's definitely my favorite so far. I recommend checking out A Study in Scarlet first if you're interested in this Sherlock Holmes stuff at all. You won't be disappointed.

Rating

A Study in Scarlet
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Story—9
Doyle came up with one of the most singular characters in all of literature, but was able to write a compelling story around him as well. I can hardly believe this book was written over a century ago.

Style—8.5
Some people might not like reading mysteries, so I can understand them not wanting to read something like this. When it comes down to it, though, if a book is good, it's good. The Harry Potter books are mysteries; most comic books are mysteries; The Lost Symbol, the fastest selling adult novel in history, is a mystery. Try it out, I think you'll like it.

General—9.5
It's rumored that Doyle stole some of his ideas from Edgar Allen Poe and a couple other people, but I honestly don't even care. He did a great job writing a strong protagonist and an accessible, entertaining mystery. I can't wait for the next one.

Overall—9



There's definitely a reason why Sherlock Holmes is one of the most recognized characters in the world. These books are no joke. I've been having way more fun with this little project than I ever could've imagined. I highly recommend taking a look at some of them.

Again, I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving! Thanks for remembering to stop by for a quick review. Have a great holiday weekend, and keep reading, Genoshans!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Further Goings-On of Sherlock Holmes!

Love! Hate! Murder! Intrigue! I have for your reading pleasure eight more thrilling exploits of the amazing Sherlock Holmes!


From Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle



"The Musgrave Ritual"

Synopsis—A long-trusted butler goes missing just days after having an argument with his employer. Sherlock Holmes suspects foul play, but where's the body?
Comments—Not terrible. The only thing of note in this one is that Watson goes into some of the quirkier details of Holmes' character, like the fact that Holmes keeps tobacco in the toe of a Persian slipper.
Rating—3



"The Reigate Puzzle"

Synopsis—Holmes and Watson go to visit an old friend of Watson's, and stumble upon a small, country mystery! A string of robberies has been plaguing the village of Reigate, although the burglar doesn't seem to be taking much...
Comments—I really enjoyed "The Reigate Puzzle." While it wasn't the most exciting story, there were so many clues and obvious tips that I completely missed, which made the ending really satisfying.
Rating—4



"The Crooked Man"

Synopsis—A man is seemingly murdered by his wife after the two have an argument one evening. Sherlock Holmes is brought in to look over some of the more peculiar aspects of the case, however, like the existence of an extra set of muddy footprints that were tracked into the room, and the animal tracks climbing up the curtains.
Comments—I didn't enjoy this very much, but it contains the only instance in any Sherlock Holmes story or novel where Holmes actually says "Elementary." That alone is probably worth the read, right?
Rating—3



"The Resident Patient"

Synopsis—A young doctor comes to Holmes with a curious problem: his landlord and benefactor has become increasingly delirious in recent weeks, and now swears that someone is out to kill him. Can Holmes discover the identity of the supposed killer before it's too late?
Comments—It may not seem like much from the synopsis, but "The Resident Patient" is actually really good, and it kicks off a string of amazing stories that are all in a row. It was the first time so far that I've just plowed through from story to story, unable to put the book down.
Rating—4



"The Greek Interpreter"

Synopsis—A Greek interpreter is kidnapped and forced to aid in a shady international business deal. When the man is finally set free, he tells of his curious adventure to only man he knows who can shed some light on the situation—Mycroft Holmes?
Comments—Sherlock Holmes has a brother? What? Watson is just as amazed as you and I when he meets the older and smarter—though much less energetic—of the two Holmes brothers. Great mystery, too.
Rating—4



"The Naval Treaty"

Synopsis—An old school chum of Watson's is thrown into a fit of brain fever when an important Foreign Affairs document left in his charge is stolen. He turns to Sherlock Holmes to find the document before it falls into the wrong hands and causes an international crisis!
Comments—First of all, this is probably one of the best mysteries that I've read so far. It's got a ton of different things going on, and the ending makes perfect sense, even though I couldn't figure it out ahead of time. Secondly, though, and more interestingly, the plot revolves around a secret treaty that Britain signs with Italy and Germany that France and Russia can't find out about or else it would result in a global catastrophe. This was written in 1893. Twenty years later, a World War is started because Britain had a secret treaty with France and Russia that Germany and Italy didn't know about. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle basically almost predicted World War I, wow.
Rating—5



"The Final Problem"

Synopsis—The last Sherlock Holmes story! Two years after the death of Sherlock Holmes, Watson takes up his pen to tell the detective's last tale.
Comments—Amazing. After months of chasing Professor Moriarty around London, Holmes becomes the hunted, ultimately falling to his death at the Reichenbach Falls. I actually got a little emotional at the end of this one, not gonna lie.
Rating—5



From The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle



"The Adventure of the Empty House"

Synopsis—Sherlock Holmes lives! Having barely avoided death at the hands of Professor Moriarty, Holmes goes into hiding for several years, but is forced to come out of retirement to put one of his old opponents behind bars.
Comments—I honestly don't know how he did it, but Doyle brought Holmes back in a way that made sense, and I'm glad he did. I've seen characters die and come back in comic books plenty of times, but this is a great story and a fantastic way to start a new book.
Rating—5



That's all the short stories for this week, but make sure you check back in on Friday when I review the first of Doyle's four Sherlock Holmes novels, A Study in Scarlet. Until then, keep reading, Genoshans!

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee (Rebecca Miller)

Next Friday, November 27, sees the release of The Private Lives of Pippa Lee in theatres, written and directed by Rebecca "Hey Look At Me My Dad Wrote The Crucible So I Wanna Be A Writer Too" Miller. I'd like to say that I did extensive research on the film and timed this review to perfectly coincide with its release, but in fact I'm just incredibly lucky. It stars Robin Wright-Penn, Keanu Reeves (we share the same birthday, just yeeeaaaaars apart), Monica Bellucci, and Blake Lively(!), and is adapted from a novel by the same name, written by—wait, this can't be right—Rebecca Miller? Huh, so she's adapting her own novel? Wonder how that's gonna turn out. Wikipedia doesn't even list her as an author, or TPLOPL as anything other than a film, for that matter. Curiouser and curiouser. Well, let's not judge until we've at least seen the trailer, shall we? Back yet? I'll wait {thumb twiddling}. Alright, what'd you think? Yeah, same here.


Synopsis

Pippa Lee is a middle-aged woman who is forced to move into a retirement village after her much older husband suffers a series of heart attacks. While the new living situation isn't ideal for Pippa, she finds comfort in the fact that she has now regained her youth in a way, being the youngest resident of the village by at least a decade. Content with the idea that the adjustment to the house will just take time, she begins to settle into her new life. One morning, however, Pippa wakes up and discovers a chocolate cake on the kitchen table, sliced up and served on several plates. A few mornings later, she finds a dirty frying pan in the sink and eggshells on the counter. Thinking that her aging husband is growing senile, making himself meals in the dark, she installs a security camera in the home. Unfortunately for Pippa, it's not her husband that has the problem: Pippa has been sleepwalking.

Here the book jumps back four decades or so, to the point in Pippa's childhood where she says she first began sleepwalking. The book doesn't exactly make it clear how or why this started, or how or why it specifically ended, but it seems more like a writing tool anyway, geared as a transitional element to bring the reader back to what I like to refer as Pippa's White Oleander period. She has a terrible relationship with her mother, a woman so hopped up on diet pills she can hardly stop talking. She begins seeing an older man, taking drugs, moving from one bad situation to another. It's all very dramatic, I promise. I don't want to ruin the whole book/movie/traveling cliche circus for you, so I'll just get right down to it: this book is okay. It's about as okay as you can get. It's not fantastic, but it isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination. It's really just okay. I'll expound.

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee starts out as a serious piece about the problems a middle-aged woman faces when her older husband is on the verge of death. She doesn't want to watch him die, but loves him too much to even consider leaving him. It's fresh, compelling, and a great idea for a novel. Then it jumps back to Pippa's teenage years, and it's sex this, drugs that, bad situation over here, terrible life choice over there, meet the future husband and fall in love. There's no real suspense or sense of excitement about it, because you know it's all going to work out just fine. In the beginning of the novel, middle-aged Pippa is a happy, well-adjusted housewife, so we know where her life is going. Rebecca Miller might as well have written, "Well let's just see how she got here, in case you're curious." It's interesting, it's well-written, but it doesn't really drag the reader in at all. Everything is too neat and tidy. I'm not really giving anything away by saying this, but I hated the ending of the book because it wasn't a book ending, it was a movie script ending. Everything was all cleaned up and the loose ends were tied and every little issue became resolved within the last ten pages. Then, looking back, I realized it fit, since the rest of the novel wasn't really a novel, it was a prose film. Again, it wasn't bad. I wouldn't go around saying this book is terrible. It just wasn't all that great, either.

Apparently, Rebecca Miller has done this before. Her first film, Personal Velocity, was adapted from her first book, a collection of short stories. I'm sure the woman is a fantastic screenwriter and director—although that trailer looks like garbage, honestly, so who knows, maybe she's not—but I don't see the need for a novel and a film, within a year of each other. Does she think that publishing the novel first gives her more credibility? Can she not decide which she wants to focus on? Remember when you were little, and your favorite movie would come out, and there'd be a companion book that would come out at the same time, and it was crap because the studio had it written just to make some more money? That's what this feels like. I like her style of writing, I think the voice is good because it's clean and well-suited for narrative. I think she does a very good job at creating characters and making them real. I also think she's not a very good storyteller, though, and could have written a fantastic novel if she kept Pippa in the retirement village the whole time. That might not have made a very interesting movie, though...

Rating

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee
by Rebecca Miller

Story—6.83
She's really lucky that she's so good at characterization, or else this score would have been much lower. Like I said before, the entire middle portion of the book was a cheap White Oleander knockoff. I'm sick of wayward girls getting into trouble because they lack an adequate mother figure.

Style—6.5
I think that this could have been a great book, and just wasn't, almost by accident. It's adequate. Read it if you like, I wont stop you. Maybe you'll love it. You might as well just go see the movie, though.

General—7
I enjoyed reading this book while I was reading it. It has a voice that's easy to follow, and is never heavy handed in its themes. I realized once I'd finished that it read so easily because there was no real substance, so there's that, but it's not a terrible book. It's okay. I guess.

Overall—6.78



If I'm flipping through the channels a year from now and The Private Lives of Pippa Lee is on TBS, I'll probably watch it, because I like Robin Wright-Penn and Blake Lively. I wouldn't pay to go see it, though. If any of you do check it out next weekend, let me know how it is. Otherwise, keep reading, Genoshans!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

More Sherlock Holmes Short Stories!

This week, the Wednesday supplement is being posted on Thursday. It's fun keeping you on your toes that way. That and I hadn't finished this week's eight stories until last night. As I'm sure you remember from last week, each review includes a brief summary of the story, followed by a few choice comments, and a rating from 1-5, with 1 being God awful, and 5 being His gift to Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts.


From Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle



"The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb"

Synopsis—Watson is visited by a young engineer who has just lost his thumb in a terrible accident—or was it foul play? The two men take a trip to see Sherlock Holmes in the hopes of discovering exactly what this engineer has gotten himself into.
Comments—Eh. It wasn't terrible. I admit I had no idea what the final outcome was going to be, but it didn't blow me away.
Rating—3



"The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor"

Synopsis—A young Lord calls upon Sherlock Holmes and his faithful friend Watson when the Lord's new bride goes missing the day after their wedding. Could it have been a jealous ex-lover?
Comments—Skip this one. I saw it coming a mile away.
Rating—2



"The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet"

Synopsis—When a banker in possession of a priceless national heirloom is robbed in his own home, he enlists the aid of Sherlock Holmes to get back the missing jewels. The plot thickens, however, when all of the evidence points towards the man's own son!
Comments—There are enough twists and red herrings in "The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet" to make it one of the better stories so far. I was never quite sure where it was going to end up, but didn't feel like it came out of nowhere, either.
Rating—4



"The Adventure of the Copper Beeches"

Synopsis—A young red-head (Doyle really likes red-heads, apparently) is hired as a country governess for a wealthy, if eccentric, family. As the family's quirky requests grow more and more outlandish, however, the woman decides to ask Sherlock Holmes for help in discovering what's really going on with them.
Comments—This one is just weird. You'd think Doyle would want to end the book with a bang, but this bizarre tale is lackluster at best. Also, I'd like to point out that for the entire first half of this story, I thought it was titled "The Adventure of the Copper Breeches" and had something to do with a special pair of pants...
Rating—3



From Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle



"Silver Blaze"

Synopsis—A famous racehorse goes missing, and the trainer is found dead in the moors outside the training grounds. Can Sherlock Holmes and his faithful friend Watson discover the whereabouts of the horse and reveal the identity of the killer before the Wessex Cup race?
Comments—Not a bad way to kick off the next book, I must say. "Silver Blaze" is the most original story of this bunch, and includes more forensic investigation than some of the others.
Rating—4



"The Yellow Face"

Synopsis—Sherlock Holmes is visited one day by a distraught young man whose wife seems to be hiding something. Could it possibly involve the couple's new neighbors, and the freakish yellow face that sometimes appears in an upstairs window?
Comments—This book is a little different, and breaks form more often than Adventures does. "The Yellow Face," for example, includes an introduction by Watson that states how, for once, Sherlock Holmes was wrong in his deductions. That little novelty doesn't make this story any better, though. The ending is slightly unexpected, but only in one minor detail. Boring.
Rating—2



"The Stock-Broker's Clerk"

Synopsis—A young stock-broker's clerk comes to Holmes' office hoping the detective will be able to shed some light on a strange work situation. The new position that the clerk has just been hired for seems too good to be true—and just may be!
Comments—Really now, Doyle, this again? "The Stock-Broker's Clerk" is basically the exact same story as "The Red-headed League." Strange new job, a little too good to be true, someone lying about their identity. Nice try. The only truly interesting thing about this story is that it begins with a little background into Watson's medical practice.
Rating—2



"The 'Gloria Scott'"

Synopsis—Sherlock Holmes' very first case! A friend of Holmes' from college enlists the young detective's aid when the man's father dies of horror after reading a simple note. Does the note have some hidden meaning? What could be so terrible as to scare a man full to death?
Comments—Another disappointment. Similar to the self-plagiarism of "The Stock-Broker's Clerk" of "The Red-headed League," "The 'Gloria Scott'" is pretty much the same story as "The Boscombe Valley Mystery." This story is even worse, though, because it's completely expository. All of the stories are told by Watson after the fact, but this one is told by Watson as told to him by Holmes, so at some point the dialogue goes three or four quotation marks deep. I had no idea who was speaking half the time.
Rating—2



So far Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes is not nearly as good as Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, but perhaps that will change. We shall see. Until next time, keep reading, Genoshans!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Lost Girls (Alan Moore & Melinda Gebbie)

***WARNING: EXPLICIT CONTENT! DO NOT CONTINUE IF YOU ARE UNDER THE AGE OF 18!***

Before anything else, I have to warn you that this book, Lost Girls, is porn. I had heard rumors to that effect, but didn't know of anyone who had actually read the thing, so I didn't know if it was artsy, almost porn, or legit, hardcore porn. When I saw it in a huge, leather-bound version at Borders the other day—with a nice "For Adults Only" sticker on it, btw—I decided to see if it was really all that scandalous. It is.

Synopsis

Set just before the outbreak of World War I, Lost Girls tells the story of three women who meet in an Austrian hotel and quickly become close friends. These three women, however, are not just ordinary people, but Alice, Dorothy, and Wendy, from Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and Peter Pan, respectively. Another unique quality that these three women share is that they each had luridly sexual childhoods, committed unspeakable acts of depravity, and have never shared their secrets with anyone—until now. Alice details her misspent youth as a virtual concubine to the "Red Queen," an abusive woman with an insatiable sexual appetite; Dorothy tells a story that involves becoming rather intimate with three farm hands and a "wizard" of a man; Wendy confesses to having been sexually involved with a charming young street urchin named Peter and his "lost boys" one summer when she was sixteen. Startled by the bizarre similarities between their childhoods, the women continue to grow closer together, until they ultimately become lovers themselves.


So yeah, it's pretty much just porn. Alan Moore made an interesting comment regarding Lost Girls that I had discovered before purchasing the book, and which made me curious as to the artistic elements vs. its pornographic nature:
If we’d have come out and said, 'well, this is a work of art,' they would have probably all said, 'no it's not, it's pornography.' So because we're saying, 'this is pornography,' they're saying, 'no it's not, it's art,' and people don't realise quite what they've said.
"They," naturally, are anyone who might be a critic of the book. As it turns out, he was right. Since he preemptively labeled it "pornography," it hasn't received nearly as much criticism as would be expected. Nevertheless, that doesn't change the fact that, indeed, Lost Girls is one big, fat, comic book porn.

I don't like Alan Moore very much. I didn't enjoy Watchmen or The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and as much I loved the film version of V for Vendetta, I couldn't even get through the first few issues of the comic book. Lost Girls is a little better. Moore and Gebbie—who are married now, btw, as a result of working on porn together for 16 years (yeah, that'll do it)—do a really good job of separating the characters and their stories stylistically. Alice's stories look completely different than Dorothy's stories, which look nothing like Wendy's stories, which have little in common with the smaller stories told through a book they read together, which don't look anything like the regular style of the main narrative. Lost Girls is also very mathematically meticulous, and is broken into three books of ten chapters each, with each chapter consisting of 8 pages. I also have to admit, begrudgingly, that the way Moore retells each of the girls' stories is rather ingenious. Apparently his idea for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which brings together characters from several different novels to fight crime and solve mysteries, was born out of the sexual dalliances of Lost Girls. Enough of this artistic mumbo-jumbo, though.

At this point, I'm sure half of you are saying, "Oh my god, this is absolutely disgusting," and the other half are saying, "I get it, it's porn, but is it good porn?" Interestingly enough, both of these comments can be addressed pretty much simultaneously. Yes, it is disgusting, it's an absurdly depraved book containing several absolutely unspeakable sexual acts which I hope to God have never actually been committed by anyone over the course of human history. That being said, it's also a comic book, so it's not nearly as disgusting as watching things that are half as bad in a John Waters movie or a real porn. Yeah, it's gross, but it's clearly not real. My biggest problem with Lost Girls, though, was that after a while it got boring. It's just the same thing over and over again. People having sex, telling stories about having sex, having more sex, watching other people having sex, etc. ad infinitum. This book is gigantic, and every single page depicts someone having sex. Although, when I think about it, I guess that's kinda the point...

Rating

Lost Girls
by Alan Moore & Melinda Gebbie

Similar to poetry, I'm not going to give a numerical rating to pornography. Poetry and porn have a lot in common, actually: both are highly subjective; both can be intensely personal; both tend to induce phrases like "Oh yes, this is exactly what I've been looking for" or "why would anyone ever publish this garbage?" If you're into comic book porn, then read Lost Girls, because I can't imagine that there's a book out there with more sex page-for-page than this (and no, you can't borrow my copy, that's gross). You can get it in stores for $45 now, or on Amazon for cheaper, which is a deal considering until recently it was extremely rare and cost well over $100. However, if you're squeamish, sexually inhibited, uninterested in porn and/or comic books, prefer movies, never want to think of your favorite literary characters doing explicit things to eachother, don't enjoy lesbians, or are under the age of eighteen, this book is not for you. I must say, though, this is definitely my favorite Alan Moore comic. Does that say more about me, or him?

Either way, keep reading, Genoshans!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Short Stories of Sherlock Holmes: New Wednesday Supplement!

Welcome, Genoshans, to the first installment of my new weekly supplement: The Short Stories of Sherlock Holmes! In honor of the new Sherlock Holmes film that's coming out Christmas Day, I decided it might be fun to go through the detective's entire canon (I was lucky enough to pick up The Complete Sherlock Holmes: Volumes I & II from Barnes & Noble for only $12!). Each Wednesday leading up to Christmas, I'll review 8 of Doyle's 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories. Then, as the release of the film draws closer, I'll review the four Sherlock Holmes novels as well. Due to the number of reviews this involves, I'm going to modify my usual numbering system and condense it significantly. All the short stories will include a brief description, followed by a review, and will be rated on a scale of 1 to 5. When I review the novels, I'll go into greater detail as to who Sherlock Holmes and his faithful assistant Dr. John Watson are, since that knowledge isn't actually all that crucial to enjoying these shorter works. I don't expect all of you to read every Sherlock Holmes story Doyle ever wrote, but hopefully this will help those of you who are interested find stories that you'd definitely enjoy!


From Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle



"A Scandal in Bohemia"

Synopsis—The King of Bohemia asks Holmes to retrieve a compromising photograph currently in the possession a past mistress, one Irene Adler.
Comments—A great introduction into the methods and characterization of Holmes and Watson. This one also lets readers know that, no matter how impressive the great Sherlock Holmes may be, he's still far from perfect.
Rating—4



"The Red-Headed League"

Synopsis—A red-headed man approaches Holmes in regards to the unexpected loss of a cushy job that the man had recently attained just for having red hair! Holmes, though, thinks that something sinister is afoot.
Comments—This one was kind of a stretch. Sometimes you can almost see what Holmes is thinking, but the results of this one come literally out of nowhere. All of these are unbelievable to an extent, but "The Red-Headed League" was a little too much for me.
Rating—3



"A Case of Identity"

Synopsis—A woman's fiance disappears on the day of their wedding. Could it have anything to do with her stepfather's objections?
Comments—Some of these stories are about terrible crimes with sinister motives involving cruel individuals, but many are just flippant curiosities. "A Case of Identity" is playful and enjoyable, and does a great job showing readers that Sherlock Holmes doesn't just deal with murders and jewel thefts.
Rating—4



"The Boscombe Valley Mystery"

Synopsis—A young man is accused of killing his father, and Holmes is brought in to consult on the case.
Comments—This is probably my favorite so far. In some of the stories I could kinda figure out who the culprit was ultimately going to be, and this was one of them, but the motives were totally unexpected. I like knowing that even the mysteries that seem easy to solve might have more to them than just "who done it."
Rating—5



"The Five Orange Pips"

Synopsis—Mysterious letters from the KKK prelude death to all who receive them! Holmes must find a way to stop these evil men before they strike again.
Comments—It's interesting seeing the KKK as this esoteric, post-Civil War organization, as opposed to the more modern group that showed up during the civil rights movement, but that doesn't pull this one through. It's a curiosity as far as Holmes stories go, though; looking back, all of the events that transpire would've happened with or without Holmes' intervention.
Rating—2



"The Man with the Twisted Lip"

Synopsis—A woman's husband goes missing, so she enlists the help of Holmes and Watson to track him down. The last place she saw him: a vile opium den!
Comments—I was so disappointed by "The Man with the Twisted Lip." I figured it out really early, and was hoping for some kind of twist that would cancel out my deduction, like in "The Boscombe Valley Mystery," but I ended up being right. It made it really uninteresting.
Rating—2



"The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle"

Synopsis—A friend of Sherlock Holmes' discovers a stolen jewel inside his Christmas goose. It's up to Holmes to determine how it got there.
Comments—Eh, I guess this was alright. It was fun watching Holmes and Watson work backwards from the stolen item for once, instead of trying to find something. Other than that it was just okay.
Rating—3



"The Adventure of the Speckled Band"

Synopsis—A distressed young woman approaches Sherlock Holmes when the terrifying events that led to the death of her sister seem to be repeating themselves.
Comments—"The Adventure of the Speckled Band" is one of the classic Sherlock Holmes stories. It's the first of the short stories that presents Holmes not just as an intellectual, but as a powerful adversary to those who would stand in his way. It also has a ton of interesting twists, I liked this one a lot.
Rating—5



So there you have it, Genoshans, the first installment of my new Wednesday Sherlock Holmes supplement. Next week I'll have eight new stories, moving right into Doyle's second book of Holmes short stories, Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. And don't forget to come back Friday for the regular, weekly book review! This week's title is scandalous, to say the least.

Keep reading, Genoshans!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Jonathan Safran Foer)

I've heard really good things about Jonathan Safran Foer's first novel, Everything Is Illuminated, so when I received a request to take a look at his second novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, I put it at the top of my list. Of course, the fact that the request came from my girlfriend might've contributed to that as well. Luckily for me, I'm dating a lovely girl with exceptional taste in literature—this book kicks so much ass.

Synopsis

Oscar Schell is a nine-year-old boy living in Manhattan. He's extremely intelligent, but quirky and strangely neurotic. He has anxiety issues, most of which stem from trauma over the death of his father on September 11. One afternoon, while looking through some of his father's old things, Oscar finds a small key in a tiny envelope marked "Black." He tries the key in every lock in the Schells' apartment, but none of them match. He decides that the only way to discover this last secret of his father's life is by trying the key in every lock in New York, starting with everyone in the phone book with the last name "Black." With nothing more than a list of names and this mysterious key, Oscar sets off to a different address each Saturday, hoping to find some clue that will bring him closer to his deceased father.

That's what happens, but that doesn't really tell you anything about the book itself. I have never encountered another novel like this, it's incredible. It's completely original, even innovative, to the point where it's almost hard to explain. Foer supplements the main narrative of Oscar's journey with letters from his grandmother and grandfather at different points in their lives. At times the story goes back to Germany in World War II and the bombing of Dresden. It jumps to their lives together before Oscar's father was born. Oscar's grandfather can't speak, so he writes in little daybooks that he carries around with him. Foer often adopts this method of communicating in the novel, writing only one line per page in the grandfather's "voice." Foer also includes photos of people Oscar meets throughout his journey, or of places he visits and items he picks up along the way. It's fascinating how many conventions this novel breaks without thinking twice. It's bold, creative, and has one of the most compelling styles I've ever seen.

I really can't say enough about this novel. I hate being so emphatic and emotional about this when Im trying to describe its qualities and merits objectively, but I can't help it. A lot of the events that take place seem fantastic and outlandish, but the characters and the tone make everything believable. If Oscar jumped off a bridge and flew to New Jersey on page 200, I would believe it. Foer does a spectacular job of making everything and everyone in this novel stand out. Oscar exists. His grandmother exists. His grandfather exists. The limo driver that takes Oscar and his mother to Oscar's father's funeral exists. All of these characters live and experience grief and frustration over the aspects of their lives they can't control. And it's consistent. Foer develops all these little neuroses in Oscar that stick, even the things that are never explained, or aren't explained until halfway through the book. Nothing is left out or forgotten. This book is more real than any memoir; I highly recommend it to absolutely everyone.

Rating

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
by Jonathan Safran Foer

Story—9.17
I can't imagine improving on this novel at all. The only reason why the story doesn't get a 10 is because I'm selfish and wanted more. I wanted to find out what happens to the characters after the story ended. I still have questions I want answered, but I guess life's that way, too.

Style—10
It's original, but in a way that works. I'm so impressed by the risks that this novel takes, and how well those risks are rewarded. I would not change a thing about the way this story is told.

General—9.5
Read this book. If you buy it and somehow don't like it, I'll give you your money back myself and give it to someone else. If you've ever had any kind of tragedy in your life, if you've ever felt sad or happy or alone or anything, if you've lived at all, you'll enjoy this book.

Overall—9.56



I wish I could read this book with you. This isn't some kind of guilty pleasure, or a novel that just happens to strike the right chords with certain people. This is the pinnacle of great literature. Seriously, read this book.



P.S. Next week I'm going to have a surprise for everyone. In honor of a certain detective film that's being released Christmas Day, I'm going to begin a weekly supplement reviewing all the works that the film is based on. I'm sure you can deduce what film I'm talking about from these elementary clues. Until then, keep reading, Watson! I mean, Genoshans!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Peter & Max (Bill Willingham)

I've had a hectic week, but it involved lots of flying, so I was luckily able to finish a book in time for today's review anyway. If you're not familiar with Bill Willingham, that's understandable, since Peter & Max is his first actual novel. He's probably most famous as being the writer/creator of the multiple-award-winning Fables, which I would say is one of the greatest comic book series of all time (and is allegedly being turned into a TV show by ABC eventually? maybe? so they say?). Fables is based around the idea that the characters in fairy tales are real, and are forced to move to our world after an evil emperor invades their Homelands. They try to live their lives in peace among us mundane humans—or "mundys"—but due to their near-immortality and magical nature, find it hard to fit in, and so set up their own secret neighborhood in New York City: Fabletown. Peter & Max takes place in the Fables universe, but introduces many new characters and doesn't require the reader to be familiar with the comics.

Synopsis

The story opens in the present, when a man named Peter and his paraplegic wife, Bo, receive news that Peter's brother Max has resurfaced. Peter is shaken by this, but is determined to hunt his brother down, despite the warnings from Bo and the Fabletown officials who first pass along the news. Flashback a few centuries to one of the old Fable Homelands: Max and Peter Piper are two young brothers traveling with their mother and father as part of a family minstrel act. On their way to a large festival, the family stops to spend a night with their friends the Peeps at their country estate. After an evening of feasting and beautiful music, the two families settle in for the night. While everyone else is asleep, Johannes Piper passes down his most prized possession, a flute named Frost, to his younger son, Peter. Peter doesn't understand why Max shouldn't be the one inheriting the heirloom, but Johannes explains that Peter is the better musician, and therefore would make better use of this magical instrument.

The next morning, Max awakes to find two startling sights. The first is the presence of a column of invading soldiers claiming the estate for their emperor. As terrible as this is, however, the second is much worse to Max. While huddled together with the Pipers, the Peeps, and the Peeps' servants in the great hall of the estate, Max notices that Peter is holding Frost. Thinking it stolen, Max tries to retrieve what he thinks is still Johannes' flute, citing his maturity and seniority as oldest brother. When Peter claims that Frost was actually given to him, Max flies into a jealous rage. His tantrum is cut short, though. The adults plan an escape from the estate to a nearby city that they believe can withstand the siege of the invaders. Max sees this as his opportunity to get even with his brother, and as the group sets off into the haunted depths of the Black Forest, he comes up with a plan of his own.

That's only about the first quarter of the book. The narrative goes back and forth between the Piper brothers' past and Peter's present as he sets off to find and kill Max. Willingham uses the tricky dual narrative structure very well, and keeps the foreshadowing simple. Questions are raised early on in the present timeline that are gradually answered in the past timeline, but never in such a way as to make you think the writer is trying too hard to be clever. The reader knows from very early on that Peter and Bo are married, that Bo was somehow crippled, and that Max is some kind of extremely powerful evil sorcerer, as well as some other bits of pertinent information. The rest of the book becomes about discovering how those events and others came to pass, and witnessing the final confrontation between the two brothers.

I was pleasantly surprised by Peter & Max. The very first chapter breaks the "show, don't tell" rule fairly often, so I was initially worried that the rest of the book would continue the same way. I guess it was necessary to explain how the Fables universe works, but I thought that it could have been explained more subtly. As the story progresses, however, it definitely picks up a lot. Having read all of the Fables comics, I can't really know if this is true, but I'm pretty sure that the novel stands on its own really well. Willingham works in the real stories behind the nursery rhymes and fairy tales that made Peter Piper and Bo Peep famous—something that he's exceptionally talented at, having the last eight years of writing Fables as practice. The story isn't overly complicated, but fun to follow along. You can tell that Willingham has the entire history and universe of Peter & Max worked out behind the scenes, but he doesn't write in more than is necessary to tell this story. On the whole it's rather accessible. It's also got some nice illustrations by comic book artist Steve Leialoha to reinforce the already visual writing. If you're into comic books, fantasy, fairy tales, or simple stories you can probably finish in an afternoon, I suggest picking this one up. It just came out a couple weeks ago, so it should be pretty easy to find, either at comic book shops or bookstores.

Rating

Peter & Max: A Fables Novel
by Bill Willingham

Story—7.7
Although it takes place in the Fables universe, this is a self-contained story. Willingham does a great job writing a compelling book set apart from the comic series in a way that makes it interesting for fans and newcomers alike.

Style—7
It's a great book, and, as I said, fans of Fables will probably like it just as much as the people who've never read a comic book in their life, but I'm not going to pat him on the back for doing the same thing in a different format. Congrats on the first novel, but next time try something new.

General—8
It's a quick, fun read. I really had a good time with it. Even if you're not someone who's likely to stop into a comic shop, if you enjoy books like Wicked or Ella Enchanted, anything with that kind of "fairy tale reimagining" style, you'll probably enjoy this, too.

Overall—7.57



What are you reading? What have you heard about recently that you'd like to see reviewed? Drop a comment and let me know what's going on in your literary world!

Keep reading, Genoshans!

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide (Douglas Adams)

I had some extra time this past week, so instead of reading one novel I read four (and a short story). While The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide: Five Complete Novels and One Story is, as its name implies, five novels, I didn't have time to read the fifth. I will eventually—maybe even today—but I figured I could probably get away with only reviewing the first four. If you don't like the first one, you'll most likely not like the rest anyway, and contrary-wise as well. Also, I found out today that Eoin Colfer, writer of the Artemis Fowl series, just released a sixth Hitchhiker's Guide book on October 12 (with the approval of Adams' widow, of course), proving once again that the universe works in mysterious ways—though don't ask me when the first time was. I'm gonna use that as an excuse for why this 30-year-old series is relevant to your life.

Synopsis

Arthur Dent is boring. He lives in England, works for the BBC, doesn't really do much. One day he wakes up to find bulldozers outside his front door, prepared to knock over his house to make way for a new highway bypass. Try as he might, he can't figure out a way to stop this from happening. Luckily for Arthur, Earth is destroyed just after lunchtime, so the problem mostly solves itself.


Thus begins the first novel of The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide, inexplicably titled The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Arthur is saved from an imminent demise by his friend Ford Prefect, who is not from Earth at all, but actually from a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse. Arthur and Ford hitchhike off the planet in time to watch it explode, along with everything and everyone Arthur has ever known, loved, or was marginally aware of existing at some point in his life. They meet up with Ford's semicousin Zaphod Beeblebrox, President of the Galaxy, who is piloting a stolen spaceship prototype with an Infinite Improbability Drive, along with a chronically depressed robot named Marvin, and Trillian, the last human female in the Galaxy. They then have a series of highly unlikely adventures, including but not limited to: discovering an undiscoverable planet; killing a potted plant; learning the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything; watching a whale explode; and meeting the man who built Norway.

Somewhere in all of that is a plot, but who really cares? The subsequent books continue on in similar fits of improbability, and the whole shebang is generally quite hilarious. It's really interesting how well the humor comes across, considering these books were written decades ago in England. For the most part, I would have believed they'd been written yesterday in New Jersey or something if that's what you told me. Sometimes humor loses its luster over time, but these don't feel dated at all. The books are absurd, but accessibly so. I saw the film version when it came out a few years back, and reading the books now I was surprised at how well the tone was copied. It was difficult not to picture Mos Def as Ford Prefect and Sam Rockwell as Zaphod Beeblebrox as I was reading, but as it turns out the casting for the film was pretty phenomenal, and the picture in my mind throughout all four novels synced up well with what I'd been supplied with by the movie version. I usually read a book before I see its film adaptation, but I think in this case it genuinely doesn't matter which you experience first. The film is slightly more plot driven than the book—the novels all introduce plots, and then proceed to not really worry too much about them—and I think the book is a little bit more fun, but on the whole they both offer up some decent entertainment.

One thing I really enjoyed about these books—aside from the humor, the tone, the improbable events, and the talking mattresses—is that Douglas Adams makes the actual The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy a real book. There are tons of references to different entries from the guide, and Ford Prefect is himself a researcher for the publisher (he got stuck on Earth for fifteen years when he popped down to update its entry and couldn't find a way off the planet again). Adams is also excellent at using these random entries and factoids to subtly foreshadow events that happen later on in a book or later on in the series. Some of these are casual, offhand remarks made to be humurous, but others are introductions to aspect of the story that become major plot points, and you never quite know which is which. It reminded me a lot of Harry Potter in that way. The universe of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy exists already in its entirety; we're being told just a few of its infinite number of stories.

Rating

The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide: Five Complete Novels and One Story
by Douglas Adams

Story—7.67
It definitely helps having all of these novels together in one place. They read more like pieces of the same large book, and it all fits together very nicely in this format. I got mine at B&N for like $20—a nice leather-bound edition, too—but I'm pretty sure there are several versions.

Style—8.67
The absurd, improbable, humorous tone is consistent throughout. Also, some of the chapters are of a normal, average novel chapter size, but some are only half a page, or a sentence, and it's nice that these are injected into the story every so often.

General—9
All of these books are fun and easy to read, but filled with thought-provoking ideas and universal questions. They all mesh together nicely, but aren't overly formulaic and don't seem like the same plot on a different day. It also isn't nerdy or overly sci-fi. I loved Dune and Ender's Game, don't get me wrong, but this is absolutely nothing like either of those.

Overall—8.44



I'm definitely going to finish that fifth novel, partly so I can read the new one, but mostly because I'm going to assume that it's just as entertaining as the other four. Adams kept my attention through four novels (and a short story) in under a week. That's nothing to shake an Arcturian Megadonkey leg at. Keep reading, Genoshans!

Contact Information and FTC Disclaimer

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