Category Archives: David Ruffle

Ruffle, David. Sherlock Holmes and the Missing Snowman. London: MX, 2012

Well, it’s October, the time of year when many of us are thinking about jack o’lanterns, hay rides, bonfires, ghosts, goblins, and….snowmen?*

I know, I know, I’m not ready for snow yet, either. But that was before I got the marvelous opportunity to review David Ruffle’s new children’s book, pre-publication. A prolific writer, Mr. Ruffle now has six published books featuring Holmes and Watson to his credit, and is finishing up the seventh. Most of his books are intended for older readers; Sherlock Holmes and the Missing Snowman, however, is meant for a younger audience–much younger.

If you think about it, as ubiquitous as Sherlock Holmes is in our culture, it’s rare to find him in children’s books. When we do see him, he’s often doing a cameo (as in the Basil of Baker Street series), or in “disguise” as a dog, a muppet, or a 12-year-old detective operating out of the family garage. A picture book featuring Holmes and Watson in their human, canonical form is, therefore, a truly welcome development!

You may have actually read The Missing Snowman before, in its original form: the short story “Henrietta’s Problem.” First written in response to a holmesian.net Christmas story challenge, and then appearing as a chapter in Ruffle’s novella and short-story collection, Sherlock Holmes and the Lyme Regis Horror, the little piece garnered enough consistent praise that the author thought it might make a good children’s book.

King’s Market, London

The story is a simple one. Holmes and Watson are lounging about at 221B, one day near Christmas. They’ve been kept in by a two-day snowstorm (and, presumably, no cases), and Watson’s eager to go out for a walk. Holmes isn’t having it; perhaps it’s fortunate that their discussion is interrupted by the doorbell.

This is not your typical Baker Street supplicant, however. Their prospective client is Henrietta Fortescue, a five year-old girl who’s lost someone important. After spending the beginning of her short life in a hotter climate, she was thrilled to see snow for the first time, and built a large snowman, just as she’d seen in books–only to find him gone now that the sun’s come out.

Possibly a bit testy because Holmes won’t go out, or because his war wound is acting up, Watson informs Henrietta that Sherlock Holmes is a busy man of affairs, and is about to remind everyone of the impact heat has on frozen things, when his friend interrupts him and agrees to take the little girl’s case. What follows is a simple, touching story that reminds us that, no matter what he wants others to think, the Great Detective is much more than a logical machine.

When I heard that Mr. Ruffle was going to publish “Henrietta’s Problem” as a children’s book, I figured he’d just cut the text into smaller chunks, take out some words and be done with it.**  Instead, he’s re-written the story to a child’s level, without losing any of its original charm. In fact, after reading back through the original, I actually think that this simpler version is the best. Mr. Ruffle has a gift for expressing emotion without a lot of verbal clutter, and it’s used here to great effect. The Missing Snowman reads out loud extremely well (more on this in a minute), and Lyme Regis artist Rikey Austin’s soft, nostalgic illustrations, done in a light, wintry palette, add to its gentle mood.

Of course, we all know of children’s books–picture books in particular–which adults love, but children find boring. Having been blessed with three little people myself, I thought I’d give The Missing Snowman a field test. My kids are 10, 9, and 7–the first two a little older than Ruffle’s target audience, but since they still enjoy being read to, I figured they’d do in a pinch, so we snuggled up on the couch before bedtime. Here are their reactions:

Daughter, 10: “Sherlock Holmes is like a mysterious character. He likes kids and talks to them so they can understand things.”

Son, 9: “It was great!”

Son, 7: “It was awesome!”

My kids can be squirrely; they are not at all “the sitting-down type.” Their preferred reading material usually involves fantastic adventures or very broad humor. In other words, I was concerned. The Missing Snowman, however, kept their attention. They understood what Holmes does to solve Henrietta’s problem, and why he gives his young client the explanation he does at the end of the story. They especially appreciated the bits of humor; everyone agreed that the bit in which Holmes interrupts Watson before he mentions m-e-l-t-i-n-g was their favorite.

My kids are young. To them, the holidays are still magical, and it’s fun to try to create special memories for them. As a parent, however, I’m very conscious that a lot of what’s out there glorifies the material aspects of this time of year. Someone is always “saving Christmas,” which pretty much means “making sure there are presents.” There isn’t much about giving, and if there is, it involves…presents. In The Missing Snowman, Holmes, who was never a father, still knows how important it is to preserve a little girl’s sense of wonder, to let her keep her childhood just a bit longer. Henrietta, for her part, learns to show gratitude by giving up something which has meaning for her. In keeping with canon, there’s no emphasis on religion; the book is appealing whatever your views on the subject. For children, the book is about kindness. However, in its gentle way, Sherlock Holmes and the Missing Snowman also reminds us adults that what may seem trivial to an adult is essential to a child and that, to modify Holmes’ advice to Henrietta, “Your children will not be with you for very long. Enjoy them while they are here.”

Sherlock Holmes and the Missing Snowman has an official release date of November 28, 2012. It will be available in either print or e-book form, and can be had from your favorite online bookseller, or directly from the MX Publishing site. I plan to do a giveaway from my Facebook page once the book is released, so be on the lookout! David Ruffle is on Facebook, and keeps a regular blog at http://storiesfromlymelight.blogspot.com/


Star Rating: 5 stars out of 5 
“This is a wonderful book that gets it right.”

Footnotes:

*Unless you’re my kids. Then you’re thinking about candy. Legend has it that in the next neighborhood over, they give out full-size chocolate bars.

**We won’t talk about how silly this is.

3 Comments

Filed under Children's Books, David Ruffle, Five-star reviews, Holidays, Holmes and Children, MX Publishing

The Lyme Regis Horror, Part 2

My last review was devoted to Ruffle’s novella, “Sherlock Holmes and the Lyme Regis Horror.” However, his book contains plenty more. Let’s have a look, shall we?

Sherlock Holmes asleep/paget

Watson must be talking about cricket again….

Watson is to cricket as George Will is to baseball. For him, the sport is the embodiment of everything that is good about the British Empire: “honour, an inherent sense of duty and fair play,” as he declares in “Horror.” So when famed Australian batsman Victor Trumper shows up at 221B, asking Holmes to look into a kidnapping threat, he’s both shocked and eager to help. “The Trumper Affiar” (previously published as an e-pub on Amazon) is a solid story, written along more traditional lines than “Horror.” Ruffle provides accurate historical details, both in the setting and characters (actual cricket players), and his end notes are a nice touch for history aficionados. Holmes and Watson are also nicely in character and we’re treated to some nice running jokes as Watson continually bores the Great Detective (and occasionally the reader) with lengthy explications of cricket matches, and Holmes finds that the doctor’s novelistic touches have given him some unexpected anonymity. The story is not as atmospheric as “Horror,” but Ruffle performs a very nice sleight-of-hand in concealing the villain, the denouement is darker for its realism, and the ending is quite poignant.

Victor Trumper, safe and sound

Ruffle takes us back to the supernatural in “The Mystery of Loch Ness” and “The Runes Affair.”  In the former, a gruesome death forces the reader to apply Holmes’ famous maxim, “that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” In “The Runes Affair,” three highly nervous paranormal researchers ask Holmes to help them fend off what seems to be an evil author’s attempt to exact vengeance for poor reviews and rejection slips through supernatural means. Holmes and Watson take on the case to assuage the mens’ fears and meet with unexpected results; one has to wonder whether they might have been manipulated into unwittingly carrying out revenge themselves.

Other stories have a supernatural bent as well. Set in more modern times (the 1930’s and the recent past, respectively), “Forever 1895” and “A Lyme Ghost Story” suggest that Holmes dislikes partiers and inappropriate over night guests, but has a soft spot for pastiche writers. “Timeless in Lyme” is not about phantoms…at least from one perspective.  In each of these pieces, Ruffle mixes past and present with the deft touch essential for a satisfying ghost tale.

Christmas is another favorite topic. In “Christmas at Baker Street,” Holmes explains to Watson the very best reasons for refusing a knighthood. He exposes even more of his heart in the incredibly charming “Henrietta’s Problem,” giving credence to Jeremy Brett’s view that “Holmes loved children.” My personal favorite in this collection, however, is “Christmas with Holmes,” which has an aging Holmes and Watson spending the holiday together in Sussex in 1916.  The end scene is beautiful and while I realized, upon a third reading, that it could have a darker interpretation, I’ll go with my first, sad-but-fitting one. Ruffle ends the book with a lovely poem dedicated to his son, Duncan.

So, my final conclusion? Sherlock Holmes and the Lyme Regis Horror is a well-written collection with “the charm of variety,” deserving of a place on your bookshelf or in your e-reader. I look forward to reading more of Ruffle’s work.

Sherlock Holmes and The Lyme Regis Horror is available from major online booksellers, and is offered on Kindle. “The Trumper Affair” is available as a solo work on Kindle as well. You can also buy the book directly from MX Publishing, or from independent bookstores such as Poisoned Pen.

Star Rating: 4 out of 5

1 Comment

Filed under Collection (Stories by the same author), David Ruffle, Four-star reviews, Holidays, Supernatural, Traditional, Uncategorized

Ruffle, David. Sherlock Holmes and the Lyme Regis Horror. (Expanded 2nd ed.) London: MX Publishing, 2011.

The Harbor and the Cobb

January is a time for new beginnings. This book experienced a rebirth of sorts late last year, going from a well-received self-published story to a revised and expanded edition with the Holmesian publisher, MX, complete with a gorgeous new cover. The first edition cover features a view of the sea at either sunrise or sunset. It’s  pretty, but not exactly evocative of the word “horror” (although, come to think of it, the contrast does bring to mind Holmes’ particular view of beautiful scenery).* The new cover, done in rich browns, looks like the negative of a sepia photograph, and is fittingly ominous without being over-the-top. The lettering is lovely, calling to mind age, sand, and…dust?
The contents, however, are ultimately what matters, and Mr. Ruffle manages to fit quite a bit into 265 pages. So much content, in fact, that in the interest of brevity, I’m dividing this review into two parts:  “The Lyme Regis Horror,” and the other, shorter stories.
“Sherlock Holmes and the Lyme Regis Horror” begins, not surprisingly, with a provenance story. You know how people who are not you are always finding exciting things in their old houses? Instead of mouldy utility bills and smelly polyester, Mr. Ruffle found the literary Holy Grail in the walls of his Lyme Regis home: a Watson manuscript.  Although his attempts to authenticate it remain inconclusive, he’s nice enough to share it with us.
Like most stories Watson thought best to hide in dispatch boxes or walls,  this one has sensational elements. And, like most of his tales, it starts quietly enough, with Watson boring Holmes with cricket, worries about the morocco case, an invitation from an old school friend/teammate and, finally, the doctor convincing his friend to accompany him on a brief holiday to Lyme Regis. Watson, of course, is eager for sea air, good friends, and relaxation. Holmes is tempted by an exhibition on paleontologist and Dean of Westminster, William Buckland; fossil-hunting, and his favorite pet project, using local dialect to connect people in the southern sea-faring regions of Britain to Phoenician traders.**  As they get off the train at Axminster, neither has any idea his world is about to be emotionally and spiritually upended.
Watson is shaken first, when the landlady of their boarding house turns out to be the very image of his late wife, Mary. Beatrice Heidler, widowed by the Boer War, is focused on her teenaged son, Nathaniel, and has never considered  remarriage. The attraction between the two is instant, however. Their courtship is realistically tentative, and we get to see why Watson is such an appealing suitor.***
Holmes, of course, has other interests. Despite his professed enthusiasm for ancient worlds, he must be harboring some fears of ennui, because once Watson’s friend Dr. Jacobs mentions “most curious events,” he’s on it like a pitbull and won’t let go until Jacobs describes them and “omits no detail.” The events (without  details) are these:
  • A mysterious schooner appears during a storm (some believe it brought the storm with it). There’s no evidence of a crew and by the morning it has vanished, leaving behind three boxes of earth. These are later claimed by a Count Orlana, who is staying at Haye Manor. Said manor belongs to Sir Peter Rattenbury, an expert in Eastern Europe, currently away in Italy.
  • The “Black Dog of Lyme” has been seen recently, both in its traditional haunt of Haye Lane, and throughout Lyme Regis.
  • 18 year-old Rose Hannington, patient of another area doctor, has recently died of a wasting illness, possibly an exotic anaemia, yet has been seen, apparently quite solid, in the cemetery and near her family home.
Within 36 hours, Dr. Jacobs calls on our friends to examine a body on the beach, Rose’s cousin Elizabeth takes ill,  and we are off to the races.
Holmes and Watson may not know what’s going on, but by this time, the reader certainly does (if you don’t, consider this a spoiler warning). The only mystery left is whether or not Ruffle can put his own twist on a match-up which has been done countless times in the pastiche universe.
I was dubious, I’ll admit.  And vampires don’t particularly scare me, so I wondered how Ruffle would keep me in the story. The answer lies in his ability to put across the challenge this villain poses to the heroes’ views of the world and the evil it contains. This is not someone to turn over to the police, to send away to Australia, pardon de facto, or deliver to Divine Justice through shipwreck. This is Moriarty redux, with the disturbing difference that they can’t have been the only men in 500 hundred years to have taken him to the ledge.
“The Lyme Regis Horror” begins sedately enough.  Ruffle knows Holmes and Watson very well; canon devotees will find plenty of insider references and familiar-sounding (though not verbatim) phrases. The Watsonian voice is decently done and witty; Ruffle stays in his narrator’s head the entire time. Holmes is mellower than he is often portrayed, particularly when he quickly catches on to Watson’s fascination with Mrs. Heidler; perhaps his experience with Watson’s first (second? twelfth?) marriage has assured him that he will not be displaced. He also seems to know more about Jane Austen than one would suspect of a man who sneers at softer emotions. On another interesting note, Holmes (using his impossible/improbable line of reasoning) is convinced early on that the culprit is supernatural, while the two physicians take some convincing. I never felt, however, that either Holmes or Watson was veering out of character.
One of Ruffle’s great strengths is his ear for dialogue; it rarely rings false, and is often quite funny such as when   Watson informs Mrs. Jacobs that his writing is not for children, or the Inspector advises everyone not to “quibble with small details.”  If a little too much time is spent delineating incidents in local history which don’t relate to the plot, it can be forgiven; Watson does like travel guides.
When it’s time to bring the suspense, Ruffle delivers as well. The atmosphere changes perceptibly when Sarah Jacobs opens the door to the Count. The following confrontation is electrifying, and reminds the reader that Holmes is truly master of the “and the horse you came in on” speech. The feeling of dread continues as Holmes, Watson, and Jacobs ready themselves for battle; they don’t know whether or not they’re coming back, and neither do we. In fact, as they walk towards the manor in dark of early morning, Ruffle’s description is so skillful, the chills are palpable.
Ruffle’s ability as a writer is, finally, evident in his deceptively simple denouement. In it, he takes up a thread I had thought dangling and superfluous, using it to pull the physical and emotional parts of the story together. I won’t divulge any more except to say that, as a writer, I admired the skill with which he accomplished this, and found myself thinking about it all day.
As a writer, reader, and reviewer, I have learned not to disparage self-published work. Sure, Mr. Ruffle is now working with an accepted publisher;  remember, however, he first published “Horror” on his own. It’s a perfect example of how one should never be afraid to take a chance on an unknown. You’ll often be glad you did.
*Holmes famously said, “…the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.” (COPP)
**It may sound silly. However, the ancient Greek geographer Strabo mentions that the Phoenicians traded in tin brought from Britain.
***He tells her “the laundry can take care of itself.” Who doesn’t love a man like that?
Sherlock Holmes and the Lyme Regis Horror is available on Amazon and other online bookstores. You can buy it in a Kindle version, but not for Nook.  It can also be purchased directly from MX Publishing, or from independent bookstores, such as The Poisoned Pen.
Star Rating: 4 out of 5

1 Comment

Filed under Collection (Stories by the same author), David Ruffle, Four-star reviews, MX Publishing, Supernatural