Category Archives: Holidays

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 Rogues Gallery  is a collection of two short stories and three novellas, all featuring the (as-yet) unpublished mystery writer, Jefferson Cody and his larger-than-life Sherlockian brother-in-law,  Professor Sebastian McCabe.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

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.

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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

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