It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

From Granada's "The Blue Carbuncle."

From Granada’s “The Blue Carbuncle.”

Some day in August or September, it hits me: There are only X number of days (and X number of paychecks) before the 12th Night Giveaway. I always plan to start the prize-gathering process well in advance, but you know how well that typically works out.

I always plan to tackle this, too.  The results of which plan are also...predictable.

I always plan to tackle this, too.

Still, I truly love scouring the internet, conferences, second-hand shops and everywhere else, looking for awesome Sherlockian gifts.  Because, let’s face it. Even when people know you’re passionate about Sherlock Holmes, they may not know how to go about shopping for you.  There may be questionable DVDs, or bobbleheads, or headwear in your stocking next week. This year and every year, as long as health and “wealth” permit, I hope to be your Sherlockian Elf–bringing just a little bit of Baker Street into your home for the holidays. *

But you gotta earn it.

The theme for this year’s trivia contest is “Straight Outta Canon,” meaning that every question is derived from the short stories and novels penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  No movies. No television shows. No pastiches, no biography and no history. They won’t be ridiculously obscure, but they will hopefully make you do a little reading. Speaking of which, here are this years’ rules.  There are a couple of modifications, so do give them a once-over.

12th Night Give-Away Rules

  • The quiz and giveaway will be conducted via this blog and FaceBook only, although I will also refer people to the question once per day via Twitter.
  • The questions will (obviously) have to do with Sherlock Holmes, and can be found in the Canon. I may or may not provide the story title, but you can find free copies of the novels and short stories online. I will put up a separate post with links.
  • The contest will begin on December 24th, 2014 and continue until January 6th, 2015, when the last winner will be announced. And yes, this is more than twelve nights. Because Christmas Eve is my favorite.
  • In order to encourage people to answer more questions, this year people will be allowed to win TWICE during the regular phase of the give-away, and all will be eligible to try for the grand prize, no matter how many times he or she has won previously.
  • If I receive only one answer for a question and it’s wrong…ok, that person wins. But next time, do your research. If I am wrong, well, I will be very happy to have it pointed out!
  • I will post the questions by 1 am EST every morning. Sometime during the day, as life permits, I will gather the names of those who answered the previous day’s question and place them in a box. One of my children will then draw from the correct answers to determine the day’s winner, and I will announce it on the blog and FaceBook sometime during that day.
  • To answer a question, please leave a comment here on the blog, PM me on FaceBook, or DM me on Twitter. Blog comment answers will be kept private. In this way, I hope to avoid concerns some might have with others simply “copying” answers. :)
  • For questions with two winners, you must specify which prize you want when you submit your answer. This keeps me from having two winners who want the same prize. If you do not specify a prize on your entry, I cannot place you in the drawing. I know that might be harsh, but hunting everyone down to see which prize they want before the drawing would be time-consuming, and allow for a greater chance of error.
  • If you win, I will ask you to message me privately  with your mailing address. After I mail your prize, I will delete the address. Please let me know if you do not receive your prize.
  • The daily prize will be announced, so that you can decide if it’s something that appeals to you.
  • If a prize has no takers, I will use it for a future giveaway.
  • I will do my best to contact winners. If, however, I do not hear from a winner, that prize will be used for a future giveaway if unclaimed by February 12, 2015 (Mycroft’s birthday). I cannot tag some of you on Facebook, so PLEASE check back to see if you have won. I CANNOT EMPHASIZE ENOUGH HOW IMPORTANT THIS IS!!!
  • At this point, I can’t see that geography will be a factor in anyone’s ability to participate. However, unless otherwise specified, videos are all Region 1 only, so please make sure your DVD player is either Region 1, or an All Region model.
  • I will ship prizes starting the week of December 29th. Be patient, because shipping can take time, depending on where you live.
  • We’re not talking blue carbuncles, here, just small tokens. All decisions are final. If your prize is damaged in shipping, contact me privately.
  • If you’ve already won twice, you can, of course, continue to answer questions. You can also answer questions and specify that you don’t want the prize on offer, or that you never want a prize. This happened a lot last year, and it was fun!
  • Brett and Mom–sorry, immediately family are not eligible. Also, as always, no Napoleons of Crime.
From BBC's "Sherlock." S2E1, "A Scandal in Belgravia"

From BBC’s “Sherlock.” S2E1, “A Scandal in     Belgravia”

*”Wealth” being my husband.  Who is really the greatest sport ever.

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Filed under Administrative, Giveaway

Campbell, J. R. and Charles Prepolec, Editors. Gaslight Arcanum: Uncanny Tales of Sherlock Holmes. Calgary: Edge SF&F Publishing, 2011.

'Tis the Season

‘Tis the Season

 

When I was a kid, I loved to read ghost stories. I checked the same books out of the library, time and time again. Many times, they were older and worn, or had cartoonish covers, but there were a few with covers so scary that at night, I hid them at the bottom of my book pile, safely contained by the weight of a dozen other, more innocuous books.*

You know, just to be safe.

Gaslight Arcanum is, actually, the third anthology in a series edited by Campbell and Prepolec, its predecessors being Gaslight Grimoire (2008) and Gaslight Grotesque (2010). I hope to review each of them eventually. I chose Arcanum, however, both because it is the most recent, and–unleashing my inner nine year-old–because it has the absolute creepiest cover….

See?

See?

Nor is this (with one exception) a reprint anthology. Nothing wrong with those, but in Arcanum, Campbell and Prepolec have brought together a collection of new stories by very talented and respected writers. Some stories may be familiar to you, as they have since been reprinted elsewhere, but here they mark their débuts. Let’s venture down this dark, dusty hallway and meet them, shall we?**

The editors start out on a high note with Stephen Volk’s “The Comfort of the Seine,” a Sherlock Holmes “origins” story which is juuuusssst plausible enough that some readers may make it a part of their personal head canons. It begins with the “if you’re reading this I must be dead” trope, but then immediately leaps into much more original territory. Here the reader sees Sherlock Holmes as an intense twenty year-old student with scientific leanings, accompanying a group of classmates to Paris to explore that city’s art scene. Despite his relationship to Vernet, the young Sherlock is not all that interested in art, but who doesn’t want to leave his books for Paris? Besides, his friends need him–or rather, his fluency in French. While his classmates roam the galleries, he roams the city, becoming infatuated with a young flower-seller. When she turns up missing–and then dead–he is completely shattered. It takes C. Auguste Dupin to show him the way out of his overwhelming grief.*** And if you’re currently thinking, “well, that sounds predictable,” you would be wrong.  I truly cannot say enough good things about this story–the dark opulence of the author’s style, its characterizations, its evocation of mid 19th-century France, and most particularly Volk’s Dupin, a man who cross-crosses the edges of genius and madness so adroitly that you’ll change your mind about him more than once before the story is over. “Comfort” is not precisely a horror story in the way that its companions are, but it is both suspenseful and sad–and of all of these, I think, the most likely to haunt you when Arcanum goes back to your bookshelf.

Christopher Fowler’s “The Adventure of Lucifer’s Footprints” is a more traditional tale. It’s in Watson’s voice and recounts a strange case the detective and his Boswell investigated in Devon in February of 1888. They’re there at the urgent behest of Lucy Woodham, who with her father, Crimean war hero General Sir Henry Woodham, has recently moved to the family’s run-down ancestral home, Belstowe Grange. Belstowe Downs is an isolated spot, and its villagers swear that Satan himself sends a pack of lost souls to carry off area wrong-doers–sinners such as Woodham’s groom, attacked and killed during a storm, his body found surrounded by hoofprints which seem to have appeared out of nowhere. The solution–at least as Watson sees it–puts a rift between himself and his skeptical friend which he fears will never completely heal. “Footprints” is a very competent tale which uses several favorite Conan Doyle tropes. It’s a little clipped, style-wise, and Holmes and Watson don’t engage in their usual banter. Its main difficulty, however, most likely lies in the fact that it immediately follows Volk’s tour de force. Readers should still find it entertaining.

I will confess to at first being a bit put out with “The Deadly Sin of Sherlock Holmes.” Despite my desire to be less dogmatic about AU stories, there are a very few Canon facts about which I find it difficult to be flexible, and when I saw this adventure is set in May of 1891, well, I was just not having it.† It turns out, however, that author Tom English has a very good reason for placing his story so close to the fatal event at Reichenbach (which, of course, I cannot reveal). “Deadly Sin” is  a creepy tale about a Codex which inspires its readers to murder, and is shot through with witty exchanges between Holmes, Watson, and their clients–a group of monks who’ve travelled to London from Rome. The Canon references fly fast and furious, and in the end, even the Hiatus is accounted for–after a fashion.

William Meikle is the well-known author of hundreds (Really! Hundreds!) of stories in the supernatural and science fiction genres–and he’s a great fan of what is typically known as “pulp.” In “The Color that Came to Chiswick,” he sets Holmes and Watson up against a lethal green substance found in a brewery vat. It’s so hard so say more without spoiling the whole thing, but this particular adventure would probably be Holmes’ own favorite as it involves science–and caustic chemicals.

It did not escape from my refrigerator, I swear!

It did not escape from my refrigerator, I swear!

As I stated above, all but one of the stories in this anthology are original contributions. That exception is “From the Tree of Time,” by Fred Saberhagen, who passed away in 2007. Mr. Saberhagen was a well-known science fiction and fantasy author, and many Sherlockians are well-acquainted with his fondness for teaming the Great Detective with Count Dracula. This is a lively, tightly-written story, in which the Count remembers a time in which he served as Holmes’ own consultant in a blackmail case gone wrong. Like Lady Hilda in “The Adventure of the Second Stain,” the client (whom Dracula chivalrously refuses to name) was a bit “sprightly” before her marriage, and now wishes to hide the evidence. Or maybe the body. If she could find it, that is. The two men in her study are the only ones in the world who can tell her if she stands to lose her marriage–or her freedom. The denouement is both surprising and satisfying, making “Tree” my “second favorite” in the collection.

Fred Saberhagen,  1930-2007

Fred Saberhagen,
1930-2007

Classic nineteenth-century horror makes another appearance in the next story. In “The Adventure of the Empty House,” Holmes tells Watson, “about that chasm. I had no serious difficulty in getting out of it, for the very simple reason that I never was in it.” But what if that weren’t exactly true?  What if he had fallen into the Aare River–and Watson wasn’t the first one on the scene? In  “The Executioner,” Lawrence C. Connolly reveals what really happened at that fatal encounter, and why Holmes need three years to sort himself out afterward. It’s a fascinating story which takes an abrupt, dark turn at the end–and as someone who likes abrupt, dark turns, I enjoyed it greatly. That being said, I didn’t really share Holmes’ doubts in the final paragraphs, but you, as better, more sensitive people, may find yourselves in agreement.

If I were to give a prize for the most horrific story in this collection, Simon Kurt Unsworth’s  “A Country Death” would win the blue ribbon, hands down. Again, it’s difficult to review a short story without giving the whole thing away, and Unsworth works so hard to hide the main facts from you that it feels wrong to provide even the slightest hint. Let’s just say that it is extremely well-written…and so disturbing that–if you wish to enjoy sweet dreams–it should not be the last thing you read before you go to bed.

Many pasticheurs like to explore what cases Sherlock Holmes may have taken on for his brother, The British Government–more familiarly known, of course, as Mycroft. In Kenneth Cockle’s “Sherlock Holmes and the Great Game,” the detective and his Boswell find themselves in Canada, investigating what appears to be a particularly dangerous Russian move in her proxy war with Britain. It’s soon revealed as a maneuver in an actual war–between the true source of Holmes’ powers and another enemy, just as ancient and just as powerful. I actually found the first explanation very clever, but I am still a little conflicted about the origins of the proffered nemesis. Holmes is right–Watson does have his work cut out for him when he goes to lay this one before the public. Perhaps Russians would be a more plausible explanation, after all.

From the Canadian north, Holmes and Watson next travel to the darkest depths of the ocean. In “Sherlock Holmes and the Diving Bell,” by Simon Clark, Holmes summons his erstwhile flatmate with one of his cryptic telegrams: “Watson. Come at once. That which cannot be. Is.”  Or is it?  Between the horrific account of a salvage ship disaster, the weird twin sisters, and our heroes’ claustrophobic trip down to a five year-old tomb, Clark serves up an atmospheric tale with subtle Canon overtones in which Holmes’ deductive ability ultimately proves a double-edged sword.

In “The Greatest Mystery,” Paul Kane commits one of the most common of the venial Sherlockian sins–well, I hope it’s common, as I’ve done it plenty of times myself. At the the story’s conclusion, Watson recalls (fuzzily, it must be said) that, while unraveling the case of the Six Napoleons, his friend mused: “I am just contemplating the one mystery I cannot solve: Death itself.” As happens so many times (to me, at least), Watson has inserted a Granada moment into the Canon. I have to suspect that it was done purposefully, as it is a superb quote and fits the story perfectly. While most “Holmes confronts the supernatural” adventures depict the detective either finding a rational explanation for the spooky doings, or being shaken in his logical boots, not many show him using the spirit realm to his advantage. Here he does just that, as he and Watson seek the mastermind behind a series of seemingly motiveless murder-suicides.

Hint: It wasn't him.

Hint: It wasn’t him.

Tony Kane’s “The House of Blood” is unique in this collection, because it features a 21st century Sherlock Holmes. No, not either of those–this Holmes was still born circa 1854, but (as we know) he’s immortal, and he’s trying to avoid the sometimes oppressive memories of London by traveling the world…and solving crimes.†† In this episode…er, story, he’s found himself in Las Vegas, helping the police investigate a series of murders in which recent casino winners have been found dead–and drained of their blood. Vampires? Or something else? The solution is quite creative, but the best part of this entertaining offering is watching Holmes navigate modern-day Vegas–with his usual competence, and a wry sense of humor.

The final story, Kim Newman’s “The Adventure of the Six Maledictions,” I’d already read, as part of Newman’s own later collection, Moriarty: Hound of the D’Urbervilles.  A complex riff on an actual poem, J. Milton Hayes’ “The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God,” it’s told in Colonel Sebastian Moran’s irresistible–if irreverent–voice. If Volk begins Arcanum with melancholy and (possibly) madness, Newman brings it to a breathtaking end with humor–and Moriarty’s  own special brand of psychopathology. Even if you’ve read it before, don’t skip it–with an author like Kim Newman, there’s always something new to discover. Besides, it’s funny, and once you finish, you won’t have to leave the lights on and waste electricity. The editors are thoughtful like that.

"Not seeing any vampires, Watson."

“Still not seeing any vampires, Watson.”

As we have discussed here before, a good many Sherlockians are not in favor of pitting Holmes against the supernatural. Not even Conan Doyle, who loved a good “creeper” would go that far. Others have no problem watching him face the uncanny in all of its many forms. If that’s you–or if you think you’re ready to take the plunge, I can’t recommend Gaslight Arcanum highly enough. Each story is well-written, respectful of the Canon, and there is enough variety in subject matter and style that you are bound to find several stories you’ll particularly enjoy. Our agency may rest “flat-footed upon the ground,” but it’s ok to stand on your tiptoes every once in awhile.

 

Gaslight Arcanum is available through all online booksellers and may also be found in your local brick-and-mortar shop. 

 

Star Rating: 5 –“This is a wonderful book that gets it right”

As far as canonicity goes, those of you looking for traditional cases narrated by Dr. Watson may not see a horror anthology as Canonical in any way. That being said, with the exception of the Granada quote, which I fully believe was intentional, I could find no evidence of Canonical carelessness.

 

Footnotes:

*Books about horses, for example. Or written by Judy Blume. If Judy Blume had written a book about ghost horses, I would have reached Nirvana.

**You first.

***Well, I say “Dupin.”  You’ll see.

†I may have screeched in the margins a bit.

†† Child of the ’70’s that I am, I totally thought of this:

Cue sad music.

Cue sad music.

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Filed under Anthology (Stories by different authors), AU (Alternative Universe), Five-star reviews, Holmes out of his Element, Pastiche, Supernatural

Andriacco, Dan. Rogues Gallery. London: MX Publishing, 2014

So. Got a question for you. Which do you prefer? Sir Arthur’s novels, or his short stories?

He wants you to say "the novels."

He wants you to say “the novels.”

The four Sherlock Holmes novels–namely, A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of [the] Four, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and The Valley of Fear– have some wonderful moments and great dialogue; I am particularly partial to Holmes’ and Watson’s meeting in STUD. However, I have to say that I am not overly fond of Conan Doyle’s technique of starting a story quickly, then dragging it back with a lengthy flashback in the middle of the book. In my opinion, his talents were better-suited to the short story format.* Other authors find it difficult to “think short” and do better when they have more time and space to explore their characters and slowly spin out the plot. It’s relatively rare, I think, to find a writer who can pull off both forms equally well.** Dan Andriacco achieves this feat in his latest Cody-McCabe release, Rogues Gallery.

Up until now, I have only reviewed Andriacco’s Cody-McCabe novels. Rogues Gallery  is a collection of two short stories and three novellas, all featuring the (as-yet) unpublished mystery writer, Jefferson Cody and his larger-than-life Sherlockian brother-in-law,  Professor Sebastian McCabe. Once again the whole gang is here, from police chief Oscar Hummel (now courting Cody’s PA, Annaliese Pokorny) to Cody’s new bride, former reporter (now editorial director) Lynda Teal. This is a good thing, too, as Erin, a small Ohio college town with an unusually high per capita murder rate, is about to get a lot bloodier.

First up is “Art in the Blood,” a novella which takes its title from Sherlock Holmes’ declaration to Watson that “art in the blood is liable to take the strangest forms.”***  As a college town, Erin has a small community of artists, including Cody’s sister (and Sebastian’s wife) Kate, a children’s book illustrator who has taken to working in stained glass. The Cody-McCabe clan is attending her first exhibit, part of a larger women’s art show at the Looney Ladies’ Gallery. The rest of the town also seems to be up for and evening of art, wine, and cheese platters, making for a long list of potential suspects when one attendee turns up with a corkscrew in his eye. Dr. Thurston Calder won’t be St. Benignus’ new art department head now, but was he dispatched by the competition, or someone else?

Jeff and Lynda rush from that adventure headlong into another (“The Revengers”) when, on the way to a Halloween party (for which they are dressed as The Avengers), they stop to help a mysterious figure in scrubs, waving frantically at them from the roadside.

Not these Avengers.

Not these Avengers.

These Avengers.

These Avengers.

Whoever it is apparently hasn’t heard of the Hippocratic Oath, however, because within minutes, Steed and Mrs. Peel find themselves bound on the floor of an empty house, staring at a timer set to tick away the last twenty minutes of their lives. Will they get out alive, or will the rest of their stories turn out to be past escapades, à la The Hound of  the Baskervilles?

Whichever it is, I won’t tell you. Won’t tell you who set the bomb, either.

Nyah.

Whoever the culprit was, they certainly don’t deserve a visit from Santa, but neither, it seems, does another member of Erin’s criminal class, who is just naughty enough to steal a pearl necklace from one of the town’s benefactresses. At a community Christmas Craft Show, no less. Again, both Cody and McCabe are there to take on the case, but one has to think that really, the citizens of Erin should be grateful no one dies in “Santa Crime.”

The same cannot be said of “A Cold Case,” however, and this time, it’s not an outsider who adds to the body count. No, Erin’s population drops by one when Jeff and Lynda, excited house hunters, open a chest-style freezer to find, not pre-made lasagnas, but a realtor. Apparently bludgeoned to death with a frozen salmon, Olivia Wanamaker had a bad marriage, at least one lover, and a Twitter feud with Erin’s mayor. Did one of these lead to her death? Or was her killer actually St Benignus’ unpopular provost, Ralph Pendergast?

Finally, what began with a Holmes quote, ends with a Holmes quote. “Dogs don’t make mistakes,” Holmes told Watson in “The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place.”  People do, however, and in the collection’s final story, Cody finds himself coming to the defense of fellow aspiring mystery writer Ashley Crutcher, who claims she shot and killed her estranged husband by accident, having mistaken him for an intruder. It sounds like yet another episode of “Snapped”–until a jewel theft is thrown into the mix. Only Ranger knows what really happened, but unfortunately, he can’t talk.

Toby

One of the enjoyable things about following a series is seeing how both the characters–and their author–develop. When I first began reviewing Mr. Andriacco’s books, I found them creative and enjoyable, but there were occasional passages which read “rough” to me, or abrupt insertions that, while they illuminated the characters, interrupted the general flow of the story. Those have vanished, and these stories go down as smoothly as Lynda’s favorite bourbon.†  Although there are some dark and eerie moments–the gory corkscrew to the eye and a masked-and-gowned figure waving in the dark, for example–Jeff Cody’s conversational and unwittingly revealing narrative style keep the overall tone light, giving the book more of a “cozy” feeling, rather than that of an excursion into the darker sides of human nature. All of the regulars make an appearance, and it’s as nice to see some of the minor characters (such as Hummel and Pokorny) experiences some changes in their lives as it is to watch the still-besotted newlyweds. One of the drawbacks to having such a close-knit cast is that it is more difficult to play hide-the-murderer. Andriacco does his best to provide a long list of potential suspects amd motives, however, so I was only able to solve one case with certainty before the denouement. Whether long or short, each story was well-plotted and read quickly. If I found “Santa Crime” a teensy bit saccharine, it could be put down to the fact that I tend to fall on the Scroogish side of the holiday spirit spectrum. A long-time Sherlockian and member of a number of Sherlockian societies, Mr. Andriacco inserts enough canonical references throughout the book to entertain the knowledgeable reader without confusing the novice. He also provides enough background to keep Rogues Gallery a stand-alone work; one can jump right in without having read its predecessors. I would definitely recommend it to fans of the modern cozy.

Now, if only poor Jeff could get a book deal.

Rogues Gallery is available at some bricks-and-mortar stores, but is best obtained from your favorite online bookseller (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million) or directly from the MX site (www.mxpublishing.com, or http://www.mxpublishing.co.uk). As of this writing, it is not available as an ebook, but that should change. You can learn more about Dan Andriacco, his writing, and other Sherlockian tidbits at his website, bakerstreetbeat.blogspot.com.

Star Rating: 5/4

For canonicity, Rogues Gallery earns a 5, with 4 stars for being “well worth your time and money.”

Footnotes:

*I say this not having read his other novels–although I have read a lot of his horror shorts, his true crime articles, his autobiographical works and his spiritualist writing. At some point, I need to venture into his historical novels, the Lost World and its related works. So–have you read any of ACD’s other novels, and if so, how do you think they compare to his Holmesian books?

**Of course, perhaps everyone else can, and I just blab too much. There is that.

***”The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter”

†Or so I have been told.  I can’t say for certain, as nothing alcoholic has ever gone down smoothly for me.

Reviewer’s Note:

In the interests of full disclosure, I will say that I read “The Revengers” in draft form. However, as I was working on A Curious Collection of Dates at the time, my brain was total mush, and I do not believe I offered comments of any real value. In fact, by the time I began reviewing the book, I had  forgotten who the actual culprit was.

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Filed under Collection (Stories by the same author), Dan Andriacco, Four-star reviews, Holidays, Holmes-related fiction, Jeff Cody and Sebastian McCabe, MX Publishing, Original Character

Lane, Andrew. Stone Cold (Young Sherlock series). London: Macmillan, 2014

It's not London, but he may learn to like it.

It’s not London, but he may learn to like it.

As my last book review post was dedicated to Andrew Lane’s Young Sherlock Holmes series, I thought it only fitting that my first after the break would take up with his newest offering. Currently, Mr. Lane is on a schedule of one new book per year, at least in the UK; the US releases are a little slower and more irregular. If you wish to purchase the entire series, or buy the latest books for the young reader in your life, I highly recommend you use Amazon.uk (or a similar site). There is a bump in the price due to the exchange rate, and you will need to allow about 10 days for delivery (in the Midwest, anyway), but I have found the UK site a valuable resource for the impatient.

When I pre-ordered the book, some months ago, the cover art was not available. I have to admit, when I opened the box last week, I laughed. The covers for this series (both US and UK) are definitely a study in marketing. Let’s review them, shall we?

First, the earliest US covers for Death Cloud  and Rebel Fire (Red Leech in the UK):

rebel-fire cover

Death-Cloud bieber cover

I am going to assume that these covers are interesting to the pre-teen male demographic (later note: I was wrong–see below). The colors, titles, and the model’s pose and expression suggest some drama, and probably not kissing.* At the same time, however, he  greatly resembles a certain floppy-haired pop star getting a lot of young girls’ attention when these stories were published, leading me to suspect that the publisher was not above stooping to the tactic of using “Bieber Fever” as a marketing ploy.†   To further entice the young reader, notice that Macmillan has included the fencing silhouette in the lower right hand corner. A smaller version of this figure appears in the UK versions of these books, and while we can deduce from the Canon (and learn from the books themselves) that he is holding a foil, the immediate impression is, I think, Harry Potter-esque–a clever (if inaccurate) play for fans of that series.  It’s sadly revealing to note that the name “Sherlock Holmes” does not command attention; it’s tucked down at the bottom of the cover. Apparently Macmillan does not believe that American pre-teens either know about or appreciate the Great Detective.

In the UK, Macmillan seems to have figured that it need only mention Sherlock Holmes and make a subtle visual appeal to  Harry Potter fans to make sales, to wit:

rebel fire coverred leech

Of course, I covered this in the last review, but as a mother I have grown used to repeating myself, so I will do so again. Note that in the US version (the book’s second cover, replacing the Bieber edition), the story title is featured much more prominently than “Sherlock Holmes,” and has been renamed Rebel Fire, which will have more resonance with an American audience. The UK version sticks with the Canonical title Red Leech. Both editions go with Potter-y covers, the long-coated, shagy-haired silhouette resembling some illustrations of that series, the pistol suggesting a wand unless one looks closely, and the watch recalling Hermione Granger’s “time turner.” These covers seem aimed at a slightly younger, unisex audience.

Now let’s skip ahead to the current crop of covers. This is what had me so amused:

Young Sherlock cold fire andrew lane cover

I dunno….”One Direction” Sherlock, maybe? The covers have all been redone, like so:young-sherlock-holmes-black-ice-978144720511101

Young Sherlock death cloud cover
Young Sherlock Snake bite

As you can see from this sample, the colors are now both darker and more vivid (there are yellow and red-based covers for other stories, but they also have this jewel-tone). Sherlock Holmes has gone from a fairly normal, non-threatening adolescent, or a small silhouette (that figure has completely vanished) to an older, more action-oriented figure with a darker, even dangerous vibe. He bears absolutely no resemblance to a younger Cumberbatch, but one suspects that the publisher is trying to tap into the BBC show’s extreme popularity. If you doubt this, note that the “Holmes” has mysteriously gone missing.  It will be interesting to see if Macmillan’s US division follows a similar route.

Thank you for indulging me. You can all wake up now.

Thank you for indulging me. You can all wake up now.

Of course, what’s really important about a book isn’t what’s on the covers, but what’s between them. On to the review.

Despite his new look, Sherlock Holmes has not become a twenty year-old necromancer-assassin. To start with, he’s only sixteen. When Stone Cold opens, he is at a concert with his brother, Mycroft, and his violin teacher/minder/secret agent/friend, Rufus Stone.** The artist is violinist Pablo Sarasate, here at the beginning of his career. For those of you interested in writing pastiche, it’s worth noting what Lane does here in dealing with a “Real Historical Personage.” First, he gets the general details right: Sarasate was 26 in 1870 (after March anyway), he played a Stradivarius, and he had already debuted in London. The music selection is accurate as well. But then, Lane essentially makes a bet. At this point, everything that the reader could check quickly–or is likely to retain as fact–is accurate.  However, a brief online search of British papers reveals that, as far as can be determined, Sarasate did not perform in London in 1870; The Era reveals that, for at least part of the year, he was, in fact, on an American tour. Lane wants to use Sarasate; he’s mentioned as a musician Holmes admires in the Canon, and he’s a way of showing the reader how Holmes develops his own musical talents. It is, however, often difficult to know what a real person was doing on any given day in history–and, while Lane seems willing to bet that most people are probably not going to fact-check this scene, he also knows that someone might.††  And, quite rightly, he does not wish to present as historical fact something which cannot be verified. So, he plays it safe by being vague. We’re given neither a date nor a venue for the concert, and there’s likely no way to know for sure that the man did not play a single show in London that year. It’s a useful example for the would-be pasticheur: be sure of your facts, and if you must “fudge,” be plausible, and never dishonest, about it.

Mycroft doesn’t care about Sarasate at all, however, either as a character, or a musician. He prefers marches, and is quite uncomfortable in the smallish seats. His purpose for bringing Sherlock to the concert is to find some neutral ground on which they can discuss his (Mycroft’s) plans for his (Sherlock’s) future. Over the past few years, his little brother has led a remarkably adventurous life, and has even proven useful to Mycroft on occasion. However, the elder Holmes, always practical, is still determined to fit his brother out for a position in banking or the civil service.

Seriously, Mycroft. Let's rethink this one.

Seriously, Mycroft. For the sake of the British taxpayer and stockholder, let’s rethink this one.

With a view towards this less-than-exhilarating goal, then, he has arranged for Sherlock to be professionally tutored, to bring him up to speed before he enters university. Sherlock would prefer Cambridge–it’s closer to his family and he would like to be there when his father eventually returns from his post in India.‡‡ Mycroft, however, suffered an unenjoyable stint at Oxford, and so is sending his brother there, to be tutored in logic and mathematics by an old friend and professor, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson.***

So. Here we have another “Real Historical Personage,” because, of course, Dodgson is better know as Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland, “The Jabberwocky,”  and other works.  I have to admit I was a little concerned, because it seemed that Dodgson was set to play a major role in the story, which can be tricky. In the end, however, he plays only a very small part, teaching Sherlock some mathematics and logic skills (which, of course, figure into the plot) and introducing him to photography.***

Given that this is 1870, and photography, while not ubiquitous, had progressed to the point that it is fairly easy to find examples of formal portraits (and even, thanks to the Civil War, battlefield photos) from the era, it seemed to me that the Holmes brothers would be better acquainted with it than they were. It therefore comes across as rather artificial that Dodgson feels the need to explain it as much as he does. Still, the photography plays into the plot in two valuable ways. First, Sherlock gets to see a photo of Mycroft in his student days, with (shock!) friends–a photo which will prove significant later on. Second, Dodgson has some interesting ideas on what constitutes a good photography subject, and these earn him a round of police questioning in a body-snatching case.†††

The questioning also extends to one of Sherlock’s roommates in Mrs. Mc Crery’s boardinghouse. By this time, Sherlock is intrigued and, accompanied by his friend, Matty (who has  followed along and docked his boat in Oxford), sets out to discover who is stealing body parts from the Oxford mortuary, and why.

Lane always provides an “Author’s Note,” in which he discusses his sources, aspects of the story, and provides a glimpse of his future plans. In this book, he writes that, while he is moving Sherlock into an independent adulthood (which is, of course, natural for that age), the story is also “a return to the kind of stripped-down, pure version of the books that I managed to hit in Death Cloud– Sherlock and Matty working together to solve a crime.”****  Although the three major adult characters (besides Mycroft) in the book do offer a little in the way of mentoring, there is no one who takes on the all-encompassing role once held by Amyus Crowe, and honestly, I find the book better for it. It’s always good to see what Sherlock can do on his own–which is, by this time, a good deal.

It’s hard to get into specifics without accidentally giving away spoilers, but the plot is juuuuuuust  a tad unwieldy. Lane’s stories tend to have an element of the fantastic in them–outsized villains, international plots, that kind of thing–so the reader should expect more of the same. Still, the body snatching caper seemed overly complex and the culprit’s identity and motivations a little difficult to swallow. I found the more outlandish case, involving the Canonical Mortimer Maberley, strangely easier to accept.†††† In the end, however, Lane brings both story lines together in an absolutely electric confrontation. Whether the demands of justice are truly satisfied, however, is left to the reader to decide.

Vox Populi, Vox Dei

Vox Populi, Vox Dei

For all my quibbles, Stone Cold ultimately holds up, both as a story and as a part of the larger series. The dialogue, as in other stories, tends to sound a bit anachronistic, which, again, I put down to Lane’s desire to take into account the age and possible reading level of his target audience. The Canon references in this book are fairly oblique. Victor Trevor makes his first appearance, but they have little interaction. I found what could be at least one example of “the most winning woman,” there is a reference to the hidden wickedness of the countryside, and several other similar passages. As long as Mortimer Maberley lives to marry, I could find no errors. The book reads quickly, holds your interest, and Lane is still doing a fine job of showing us how the young Sherlock Holmes will eventually become the man we meet in the lab at Bart’s. And if you are looking for a way to introduce the 8-12 year olds in your life to your obsession interests, I would recommend it.

Erste_begegnung

The Young Sherlock Holmes series is available both at all online booksellers and your local brick-and-mortar shop, in both print and ebook format. I need to caution you, however: the US is running about a year behind. Snake Bite is just now coming out in hardcover in the States, while and Stone Cold aren’t even on the radar (except in 3-party UK version sales). Fortunately, you can order these books directly from amazon.co.uk, and only wait about a week to 10 days for shipping. Unfortunately, you cannot buy them from the UK site in e-book form. You can learn more about the series, and Mr Lane at: http://www.youngsherlock.com, although his website is not currently up-to-date.

Star Rating: 5/4.5

For canonicity, Stone Cold earns a 5, as there are no discernible errors. For story, I give it a 4.5, as I believe the plot is not as cohesive as it could be, and as others in the series have been. Please bear in mind that, while the book is aimed at the 8-12 market (or thereabouts) there are some scenes of intense danger which may frighten or disturb sensitive children. There may be a rare instance of mild swearing.

Footnotes:

* My sons, who are currently in this series’ target audience, are not fans of kissing in books, unless it’s funny or disgusting.

†Later editions use a more Harry Potter-y jacket. However, you can still obtain the older cover, leading me to believe that MacMillan has tapped into the obsessive nature of Holmesian collecting.

‡ In a totally unscientific study, I asked my daughter, 12 1/2, and my son, 11, what they thought of each series of covers. My daughter said that she thought the “Bieber” cover meant the books were for girls, because the model was “hot.” My son had no interest in the books at all, because he thought the boy indicated that they were meant for girls. Both kids found the “Potter” covers appealing. And, interestingly, the new cover series appealed to both as well. My daughter again found the model “hot,” and my son thought it looked “cool.”  They were both more vocal in their reactions to the most recent covers than they were to the others. So, looks like a win, Macmillan.

** Spies. So versatile.

††Like some ridiculously pedantic reviewer.

‡‡ Mrs. Holmes is still terminally ill with consumption, and appears to be nearing the end. Mycroft and Sherlock have a sister, who, judging by the little we know of her, seems to be not quite right in some way. In this book, Lane tells us that she is currently enthralled with an unsuitable beau and will not listen to reason. It is interesting to speculate on whether or not he has plans for either her or for Mr. Holmes (who from earlier books we know has a mental illness), or if they have just become inconvenient and must be dealt with quickly in every story. It’s obvious that Mrs. Holmes won’t survive past 2 more books, tops.

***Ah, the old Oxford vs. Cambridge question. The Sherlockian world is evenly divided. For a nice look at both sides of the argument, see Dorothy L. Sayers’ essay, “Holmes’ College Career,” O.F. Grazebrook’s examination of the subject, “Oxford vs. Cambridge,” and Gavin Brend’s take in “Oxford or Cambridge.”  All are conveniently located in King and Klinger’s The Grand Game: A Celebration of Sherlockian Scholarship, Vol. 1

†††Dodgson was a photographer in real life, and some of the controversy surrounding him, of which most adult readers will be aware, involves his particular interest in photographing young girls. This was another reason why I was leery of his appearing in this book, but the matter, fortunately, never comes up.

‡‡‡This bothered me a bit, because post-mortem photography was common in the 19th century, both in the US and in Britain, so I am not sure that any interest in taking photos of dead bodies would stand out that much. I cannot tell, from the resources available to me, that Dodgson had a particular interest in post mortem photography, although he did take photos of skeletons; it seems that he preferred taking pictures of the living.

**** p. 305

†††† In “The Adventure of the Three Gables,” Holmes’ client, Mrs. Maberley, tells him:”I believe that my late husband, Mortimer Maberley, was one of your early clients,” to which he replies, “I remember your husband well, madam.” As Maberley is single at this time, we must assume he marries later. Given the nature of his case, it is no wonder that Holmes remembers him well.

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Filed under Andrew Lane, Children's Books, Cover Analysis, Four-star reviews, UK and US, Young Sherlock Holmes

And…We’re Back

Don't faint, or anything.

Don’t faint, or anything.

Well, it hasn’t been three years, although it certainly seems like it. Jaime Mahoney (of Better Holmes and Gardens fame) and I have finally finished our book! When we first came up with the idea, in February of 2012, we had no idea how large an undertaking it would be, but finally, last week, we delivered all 580 pages, plus illustrations, to our publisher, Wessex Press.*

And none too soon. The Clean Police are here.

And none too soon. The Clean Police are here.

It was, excepting the occasional day of frustration and panic, a wonderfully rewarding experience in which I learned how little sleep I actually require, and the kids learned that clothing can, in fact, be reworn. For weeks. I also discovered what a remarkably patient, supportive, and tolerant husband I have, and how thankful I am that his job provides work clothes.

One of the most excellent benefits of writing this book is that, while conducting research, I had the opportunity to read or sample dozens of wonderful Sherlockian or Sherlock Holmes-related books. Through them, I gained a much greater appreciation of how incredibly broad our niche can be, and of what it means to be a “well-read Sherlockian.” There is so much great stuff out there, guys!!!! 

And I cannot wait to share it with you.

A Note on Policy:

I first conceived of this blog as a place to review pastiche, and that’s still going to be its primary focus.  However, be prepared for a good deal more non-fiction and Doyleana in the coming year. I have several series I need to catch up on, and there were some review requests which came in during the little hiatus that I will try to fill, although I have no idea when those reviews will appear. If you have a book which you would like me to review, feel free to send a request, via comment, but at this time, I am not really sure that I can promise to meet a particular time frame. Also, please be aware that a review is not a promotional service. Every reviewer walks a tightrope between being fair to the writer and honest with the reader, and in the end, our loyalties must lie with the latter. If you request a review from me, and I feel that, for whatever reason, the book will not appeal to most Sherlock Holmes fans, either due to quality or content, I will not run a piece on it.

I have also decided to revamp the “star system.”  Most of us, I think, are not static as Sherlockians; we grow and change, both in our knowledge of, and our appreciation for, certain topics. Although I don’t review it here, I am ridiculously obsessed with fanfiction, which has given me a greater appreciation of AU; I have also become more aware of some Canonical debates. At the same time, I realize that many people who read Sherlock Holmes pastiches are looking for continuations of the Canon, Watson-Voice included. Therefore, I am going to review each book with a dual star rating, like the one I used for Margaret Park Bridge’s My Dear Watson. One star will be for general content, story elements, pacing, interest, historical accuracy, etc–the quality of the story itself. The second star will be for Canonical content and accuracy (as far as I can determine). In this way, the reader who is simply looking for a good story and does not care about chronology or who Watson’s wife is will not be dissuaded by a low star rating, while the person who will have a stroke if the jackknife is not in its proper place will be warned off. I think this approach will better serve both writer and reader, as well as saving me hours of hair-pulling angst.

I will be starting off the new review season with a look at two series we’ve been following in the blog. An October-esque anthology will follow, along with a new essay collection. After that, who knows?

It will be a surprise.

It will be a surprise.

Footnote:

*I am not going to use this blog to promote the book.  Because I love you all. However, I will say that we are anticipating that it will be released in January–or (given its size) sometime in the spring.

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Filed under Administrative, AU (Alternative Universe), Canon Works

The Vaguely Minor Hiatus: Admin Note

Awww, now, don't worry, it's not that bad! Save those tears for Mofftiss and the Season 3 Finale!

Awww, now, don’t worry, it’s not that bad! Save those tears for Mofftiss and the Season 3 Finale!

Well, now that the Giveaway is complete, there is another pressing matter to attend to. You may remember that, in the spring of last year, I mentioned that this blog would be slowing down a bit, due to a long-term project that would be taking a great deal of my time. As it turns out, that project–a reference book co-authored with Jaime Mahoney, blogger at Better Holmes and Gardens–was accepted for publication with Wessex Press. And I have found, over the past few months, that it truly requires all  of my time.

Not far off the mark.

Not far off the mark. I am looking into disposable clothing for the children.

Just about everything not necessary to sustaining life has had to give, this blog being one of them. Books are still coming out, however, and I have had several review requests from authors. So, until circumstances permit, this will be blog policy….

For Authors:

With the exception of a review I have already promised, I will not be able to review any books until sometime in the Fall. However, I would be happy to feature you in an interview. This would consist of about ten e-mailed questions centered around your book, your experiences with Sherlock Holmes, and your writing process. Your responses will be edited for mechanics and (if necessary) profanity or adult content, but other than that, the content will be unaltered.* Publishing an interview will not constitute an endorsement of your book, nor is it a promise of a future review. As I won’t be able to give books the attention they deserve, I also won’t be able to provide a star rating. That being said, I really do hope to go back and review any book whose author does a review–I just can’t make any promises as to when. If you would like to do an interview, just contact me via the blog comments and leave your email address!

For Readers:

When I review a book, it’s typically a lengthy, in-depth process involving lots of note-taking, canon-researching and fact-checking, as well as the usual attention to story, characterization, and style. I like to try to give you enough information to know whether or not the featured book is something you would want to spend time and money on. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to do that for awhile. If I interview an author, I will not have read his or her book with my typical thoroughness. I will try, in the interview questions, to give you an idea of what type of book it is–strictly Canon or alternative universe, for example–and a basic sketch of the plot, but I won’t be able to tell you whether or not I think you will enjoy it, although I hope to do so eventually.

So–thanks for reading, commenting and following!  I hope to post interviews every once in awhile, and look forward to getting back to reviewing sometime in the fall!

It will be here sooner than we think.

It will be here sooner than we think.

Footnote:

*Yeah, I know, I can’t imagine it, either, but bases must be covered.

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Filed under Administrative

12th Night Giveaway: Finale

Well, it’s been an eventful few days. First, there was a lot of this:

So exciting.

So exciting.

And, coincidentally, a lot of this:

Ok, the sick ones were on the couch watching endless Harry Potter, but still....

Ok, the sick ones were on the couch watching endless Harry Potter, but still….

And, not so coincidentally, a whole lot of this:

Mrs. Hudson!!!!!!!!!!!

Mrs. Hudson!!!!!!!!!!!

Add to that only intermittent internet, and, well, this final drawing is a bit later than planned….

However, I am happy to announce that the winners of the year’s subscription to the Baker Street Journal are:

Magdalena Poplonska

Paul Hayes

Kristin Franseen

Everyone who entered knew that Stamford called Holmes a “walking calendar of crime,” and then told him, “You might start a paper on those lines. Call it the ‘Police News of the Past.'”

Thanks so much to all of you–for reading, commenting, and playing. Your enthusiasm made this year’s Giveaway a great deal of fun!

new years card

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Filed under Giveaway, Trivia contest, Twelfth Night Giveaway