BOOK REVIEWS

Introduction: First of all let me say that I am not really in favour of one author critiquing another author’s work, in general. It seems to be a good way of beginning a literary feud – and there has been more than one of those over the years.

But, although I do not want hate mail from the likes of Anthony Horowitz – and I’m sure that he would never do anything like that, anyway – I have decided to have a book review section, despite what I might have said in the past. I am consistently inconsistent.

I do read a lot of book reviews, though, generally in the review section of the Saturday Guardian. In my humble opinion a review should tell you what the book is like, without being overly judgemental. Fiction can be very subjective, with one man’s meat being another man’s poison.

A list of books will appear after this introduction, so just scroll down when you have read this bit. I will only be reviewing books which are close to the genre which I write: so expect to see steampunk, Victoriana, gas-lamp fantasy, and the like, but probably not any swords and sorcery. Sorry.

I hope to add to this list of books in months and years to come. The books will not necessarily be brand new, and, in some cases, might be years old. But they will be reviewed as I read them. So don’t expect to see the latest book in this section. Do, however, return to this section now and then, to see if it has been updated. But I am not that fast a reader, any more, so I’m not sure just when the next new review will appear.

I have decided that I may as well include here old reviews of books which have appeared in my blog, as long as the books fit the criteria mentioned above.

 

Contents

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Valley Of Fear

Anthony Horowitz: Moriarty

Michael Kurland: The Infernal Device

Various: The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

 

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Valley of Fear

I recently reread this novel for the first time since my childhood, as I was working my way through the whole Sherlock Holmes canon. I went to the book not being able to recall a single detail about it. Maybe that was because there have been no film or television adaptations of it (of which I am aware) while there have been television adaptations of The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Sign of Four. This book was the last of the four full length novels to be written by Conan Doyle, and was serialised in 1914 and 1915, before being collected in a single volume. The other three full length novels were A Study In Scarlet and the other two mentioned above.

I went into the book not knowing what to expect, but hoping that it would be a good tale. I had no preconceptions about the book, although I was aware that it was not considered to be the greatest Sherlock Holmes novel ever. I was not entirely disappointed, at least with the first half of the book, in which Sherlock Holmes is brought in to solve a mystery in a house surrounded by a moat. He proceeded to do so, in the same style which followers of Conan Doyle will be familiar with. It was not the greatest of mysteries which Sherlock Holmes was ever called on to solve; and have you ever known him to fail? But a lot of the appeal of the Holmes books is the description of the great detective, as much as the actual mystery which he has been called on to solve.

The mystery of the murder is solved halfway through the book, though, and that is where I begin to have issues with The Valley of Fear: because the second half of the novel does not concern the novel at all, but events in America leading up to the murder, involving a criminal fraternity of Freemen, also called the Scowrers.

I felt that this section was overlong. It is half of the novel, and the tale of what happened in America could have been told in a fraction of the space. But then you would not have had a full length novel, would you? I don’t know if this was planned from the off or whether, having had Holmes solve the mystery, Conan Doyle felt that the book was too short. I would much rather have had more Sherlock Holmes, though, and less of the Scowrers. It is not badly written, by any means. But it is not Holmes.

If you are a big Holmes fan, like I am, then you will want to read this work, as it is part of the official Sherlock Holmes canon. But I doubt if many people will want to read it more than once.

 

Anthony Horowitz: Moriarty

The first issue which I have is the blurb on the front cover: The Sunday Times Bestseller. I could understand putting that on the cover of the paperback, after it has actually charted. But I do not like the presumptuousness of putting it on the cover of the hardback. How do they know that the book is going to feature in the bestseller list?

Beneath that blurb, on the dust jacket, you have the name of the author, and then this sentence: Sherlock Holmes is dead and darkness falls. With the name of the novel being Moriarty it is enough to convince people that this is a highly non-canonical work. But Holmes is not dead, of course: this novel is set at the time of the Great Hiatus, when people, in that world, believed Sherlock Holmes to be dead, while he was actually off exploring Tibet under the name Sigerson.

The story begins just after the events at the Reichenbach Falls. Inspector Athelney Jones, of the Metropolitan Police, has been sent to Switzerland to make sure that Moriarty is actually dead. While on the way to where the dead body is being held he meets a man called Chase, an agent of Pinkerton’s who claims that he is on the trail of somebody called Clarence Devereaux, a crime boss from the USA, who has apparently come to Britain to join forces with Moriarty – a coded message is discovered on the body of the drowned man.

Together the two men try to investigate the mysterious Devereaux, who is like a dark shadow on the city of London. Athelney Jones, in this novel, is the not the fool of The Sign of Four, but, after having been embarrassed by Holmes one time too many, has done his best to turn himself into a second Sherlock Holmes, trying to take on the methods of the great man.

I won’t give too many details of the actual plot of the book, as I don’t want to give away what happens at the end. All that I will say is that my views on finishing the book were different to when I was halfway through the novel. I had been about to criticise certain elements of the book. But, on completing it, everything makes perfect sense.

Although Sherlock Holmes does not appear in this book (nor does Watson) this novel is most definitely set in his world, and expect to meet several other characters from the books of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Following the main narrative there is a short story, The Three Monarchs, written as though by Dr Watson, and featuring a minor case of the great detective. It is a case referred to in the main narrative. While being true to the style of the Holmes stories, and not the worst Sherlock Holmes short story ever, it certainly does not rank beside such tales as The Empty House or The Red-Headed League.

Finally, in my copy of the book – I have the first edition hardback – there was a crossword concerning the exploits of Sherlock Holmes. But I suspect that the crossword will not be in all editions of the book. I found the crossword to not be all that hard, and I suspect that most Holmes fanatics won’t have a problem with it.

So would I recommend this book? Halfway through I would have said yes, but with reservations. But, on completing it, I can whole-heartedly say yes, although I suspect that there may be followers of the Holmes canon who may disagree with some of the things in this novel.

 

Michael Kurland: The Infernal Device

This is one of the better non-Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes novels; and, as that list includes such luminaries as August Derleth and Anthony Horowitz, that is saying something.

In this book Holmes and Moriarty find that they are on the same side, for once, as there is a greater evil afoot than the Napoleon of Crime: the evil genius called Trepoff, and his infernal machine of the book’s title.

Moriarty, in this book, is closer to an anti-hero than a real villain; and he is cast as a patriot, too, who will protect his country, despite being a criminal mastermind within it. The book really is quite thrilling, at times, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, despite its non-canonical nature (or, perhaps, because of it). I feel that the character of Moriarty is drawn well by Kurland, as well.

There are a fair number of non-canonical Sherlock Holmes’s stories, both short stories and novels, by the likes of August Derleth, Anthony Horowitz (both mentioned above), Neil Gaiman, Isaac Asimov, Stephen Baxter, Colin Dexter, Adrian Conan Doyle, Stephen King, Kim Newman, Dorothy L Sayers, Fred Saberhagen, and many more. The list is not quite endless, but it is pretty long, and is constantly added to. Even I have written a Sherlock Holmes tale (Ripper: A Sherlock Holmes Novel – studiously ignored by Wikipedia). So why this novel, and not one of the others?

Well, I don’t feel that Kurland pastiches Conan Doyle, but I do feel that he writes as though it is the correct period of time. It does feel like the late nineteenth century. It does feel like the world of Sherlock Holmes. So I would recommend this book to anybody interested in adventure tales in that period.

 

Various: The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes 

I recently came across this collection in a charity shop and immediately snatched it up, as it was something which I had not read before, and I am a bit of a Sherlock Holmes fanatic.

The book is not by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, as any real Conan Doyle fan will know. It is a collection of non-canonical Sherlock Holmes short stories, written by a variety of authors. The authors include Adrian Conan Doyle, one of the sons of the good doctor.

The stories are enjoyable. They are of varying quality: none of them are truly bad, but none of them are of the brilliance of The Adventure of the Red-Headed League, either. All bar one of the stories is set during the years when Sherlock Holmes was based at Baker Street. The best of the stories – in my opinion The Adventure of Arnsworth Castle, the Adrian Conan Doyle tale – is better than Sir Arthur at his worst, as some of his later tales were not as good as those in his first two collections. If you see this cheap – as I did – and you are a Sherlock Holmes fan, then you should check this out.

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