Previous reviews are at Mack Pitches Up

Monday, May 25, 2009

Side Trip in the SHRC: Holmes on the Range, Steve Hockensmith



St. Martins's Minotaur, 2006, ISBN 978-0-312-35804-4, 294 pages.


I read this story in November 2008 but, given my new interest in Sherlock Holmes, I decided to rework it and bring it to the top. As my personal Sherlock Holmes Reading Challenge progresses I expect to make occasional side trips into Holmes related material.

As one of the characters describes Holmes story, "The Red-Headed League," Holmes on the Range is a "A dandy little tale."

It's 1893 and the brothers Otto and Gustav Amlingmeyer, otherwise known as Big Red and Old Red, are itinerant cowboys in Montana. The previous year Gustav became a disciple of The Great Detective, Sherlock Holmes, after hearing his brother read "The Red-Headed League." As Otto describes it, Some people get religion. Gustav got Sherlock Holmes. Gustav is taken with the methods Holmes uses to solve cases, his powers of observation, and figures he would make a fine detective himself. I draw specific comparisons at the end of this post. You can which you can jump to them here Old Red and Sherlock Holmes

Old Red is curious about the mysterious and secretive Bar VR ranch and wrangles them a job there when the foreman comes to town recruiting. The Bar VR is British owned, VR being short for Victoria Regina.

When they get to the ranch they are met by Perkins, the manager, who tells them that their job is to keep quiet, do what they are told, go only where they are told to go, and don't try to show initiative. The Hornet's Nesters (as the new hands call themselves after the bar where they got the job) are put to work doing repairs and cleanup, no real cowboy work.

One day the deputy U.S. Marshall shows up to warn the ranch that Hungry Bob, an noted cannibal has escaped and may be in the area. The possible presence of Bob becomes a thread that runs through the rest of the story.

One night there is a terrible storm and all hands are on horseback trying to get the cattle to high ground. The next day it is discovered that Perkins is missing having last been seen by Big Red and Old Red during the storm. Everyone heads out to look for him. His remains are found, he apparently fell from his horse and was trampled. Big Red eloquently describes the remains - The remaining dribs and drabs of gristle were mixed in with the mud like strips of undercooked beef in a bowl of Texas chili.

Old Red thinks that Perkins' death might not have been an accident and decides I've got serious dectin' to do.

The absentee owner arrives with his entourage. He is the Duke of Balmoral, Richard Brackenstock de Vere St. Simon. Not long after there is another murder, Boudroux the albino negro, and Old Red gets the duke to agree to let him investigate before the authorities arrive. The duke is a gambler and is more interested in winning a bet with Edwards, a member of his party than seeing Old Red solve the case.

There is a danger that a novelty theme like cowboy detectives can't be sustained for an entire book but that isn't the case here. I enjoyed everything about the story. Parts of it might remind you of the movie Blazing Saddles and at times I heard Lefty and Dusty, the cowboys featured on Prairie Home Companion, in my head as I read.

Big Red and Old Red are simple cowboys but at the same time have a complexity that set them off from their peers. Big Red is literate and has worked as a clerk. Old Red, though illiterate, has a keen mind and powers of observation. He is a serious student of Holmes' methods and works on his deductifyin skills. The author works in the relationship of the brothers, how they are the remaining members of their family, and the bonds between them.

Old Red and Sherlock Holmes

In the world that Hockensmith created, Sherlock Holmes is a real person and the stories Big Red reads to Old Red are those written by Watson. As with Watson, the story is told in first person by Big Red who becomes the recorder. "Well, someone's gotta take down notes and such" says Old Red when asked why he needs his brother's assistance.

Otto tells us that Gustav got the nickname Old Red, not because of his age but his attitude, ..having as he does a crotchety side more befitting a man of seventy-two than twenty-seven. Holmes himself is twenty-seven in A Study in Scarlett and not shown as a cheerful and outgoing sort.

In the conclusion to A Study in Scarlet, Holmes describes analytical reasoning, reasoning backward from result to cause. Old Red displays that attribute when he and Big Red come upon the remains of Perkins after the stampede. Big Red accepts the evidence - Perkins fell off and was trampled. Old Red works backwards, looking for evidence to explain how it happened.

Hockensmith works in a direct link to Holmes. The British Duke St. Simon is the father of Robert St. Simon who was a client of Holmes in The Noble Bachelor. That case did not end happily for the St. Simon family.

In The Sign of the Four Holmes describes the three qualities needed for the ideal detective: power of observation, power of deduction, and knowledge. Like the French detective Francois Villard described in The Sign of the Four, Old Red only "deficient is the wide range of exact knowledge."

Old Red tells the Duke that I've made a study of the science of observation and deduction. Holmes uses this expression in his article, "The Book of Life" which Watson described as "ineffable twaddle."

Someone who has read A Study in Scarlet will see similarities between the scene where Big Red examines the murder of Boudreaux and Holmes exploring the scene of Enoch Drebber's murder: completely absorbed, muttering to himself, throwing himself flat on the ground to better examine a clue.

I believe that Holmes, encountering Big Red, would recognize in him a kindred spirit and hold him much higher regard than he does the detectives of Scotland Yard, Gregson and Lestrade. Remember, Holmes thinks his Baker Street Irregulars are more efficient than Scotland Yard so Holmes would have no difficulty acknowledging Old Red.

Holmes on the Range is a fun read with interesting characters and a good story that is Dickensian at the end. There are now two more books in the series - On the Wrong Track and The Black Dove - and I look forward in seeing how Old Red progresses with his Holmesifying.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Sherlock Holmes Reading Challenge - A Study in Scarlet



A Study in Scarlett was published in 1887 and marks the first appearance of Holmes and Watson. Two short stories precede it if we look at the Holmes stories chronologically. These are: The Gloria Scott (Holmes' first case) and The Musgrave Ritual.

This post is much longer that I'd like but it is our introduction to Holmes, his character and his methods and his friendship with Watson. This was of more interest to me on my first reading after several decades.

Three things struck me upon reading this story after many years. First, the British are still in Afghanistan. Watson, as you remember, has returned from the Second Afghanistan war where he has been invalided out of the Army due to injury and illness.

Secondly, I completely misremembered the scene where Holmes and Watson first met. My memory was that Watson came upon Holmes beating a cadaver to test bruising after death. It was actually a fellow named Stamford who related that story to Watson to illustrate the kind of man who might become his flatmate. When Watson met Holmes he had just discovered a means of testing for the presence of blood and he enthusiastically describes how it will keep the guilty from escaping justice.

Thirdly, Holmes is younger than I imagined. Using the chronology in Klinger's New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, in 1881 Holmes is 27 years old.

The first two chapters show Holmes and Watson settling in at 221B Baker Street surely one of the most famous addresses in fiction. Watson is very curious about Holmes who in turn is reticent to say anything about himself. Watson observes that he shifts between torpidity and highly energetic, capable of playing the violin with great skill or sawing away at the strings.

Here too, we get our introduction to Holmes' methods. Holmes has an amazing depth of knowledge in selected area but appears ignorant in what one would assume to be common knowledge. For example, Watson describes the Copernican Theory and the composition of the solar system. To this Holmes says "Now that I know it I shall do my best to forget it." He goes on to describe how the brain is like an attic and should only be stocked with what is needed. "...you say we go round the sun. If we went around the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work." Watson later draws up a chart trying to describe the limits of the limits of Holmes' knowledge.

I read a comment on some forum that later stories show that Holmes has a greater general knowledge than Watson grants him. This is something to keep in mind as I continue to read the canon.

There is a slightly awkward moment when Watson picks up a magazine Holmes had been reading and reads an article with the title "The Book of Life." It is an article that describes the Science of Deduction and Analysis and includes this passage:
From a drop of water, said the writer, a logician could infer the possibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara without having seen or heard of one or the other. So all life is a great chain, the nature of which in known whenever we are shown a single link of it.

"Ineffable twaddle" cries Watson. "As for the article, I wrote it myself" replies Holmes. In the ensuing discussion Watson finally learns that Holmes is a consulting detective, a detective other detectives come to when stumped.

Holmes' response when Watson compares him to Edgar Allan Poe's Auguste Dupin is amusing.
No doubt you think that you are complementing me in comparing me to Dupin, he observed. Now in my opinion, Dupin is a very inferior fellow. That trick of his of breaking in on his friends' thoughts with an apropos remark after a quarter of an hour's silence is really very showy and superficial. He had some analytical genius, no doubt; but he was by no means such a phenomenon as Poe appeared to imagine.

Holmes is thereafter drawn into "The Lauriston Garden Mystery" after being approached by Gregson, one of the smartest of the Scotland Yarders. Holmes doesn't think the Scotland Yarders are very smart at all. At one point he suggests that attending the crime scene would good for a laugh, if nothing else.

If you haven't read A Study in Scarlett in a while, you can dash over to Project Gutenberg and catch up now.

Why is it called A Study in Scarlet? Watson encourages Holmes to look into the mystery and later Holmes says to Watson
I might not have gone but for you and so have missed the finest study I ever came across: a study in scarlet, eh? Why shouldn't we use a little art jargon. There's the scarlet thread of murder running through the colourless skein of life, and our duty is to unravel it, and isolate it, and expose every inch of it.

This is an excellent mystery upon which to showcase Holmes' talents. the body of a man (Enoch Drebber) has been found in an abandoned house with no sign of injury despite the amount of blood on the floor and the word RACHE (German for revenge) written on the wall in blood. Arriving at the scene, Holmes first appears to wander aimlessly around the exterior looking at nothing in particular. Around the body, however, Holmes makes a minute examination of the corpse and room, takes incomprehensible measurements, examines everything with his magnifying lens, and scoops ash into an envelope. Holmes comes away from the scene of the murder certain how the crime was committed and the appearance of the murderer. Holmes sends a telegram to the U.S. asking the question that Scotland Yard should have asked which nearly completes his investigation. After a second murder takes place - this one of Joseph Stangerson, suspected in the first murder - Holmes has all the information he needs and the murderer is lured to 221B Baker Street and arrested.

The story now makes an abrupt shift in Part II, The Country of the Saints. This is a third person narrative set in Utah in the U.S. Who is telling this story? Jefferson Hope? This gives us the back story and the motivation of the murderer. A man and his adopted daughter (John Lucy Frerrier) are found lost in the desert by a wagon train of Mormons who tell them the only they they will be rescued is if they become Mormons. He agrees and prospers in the new settlement. The daughter falls in love with a non-Morman, Jefferson Hope and they try to flee. Hope becomes separated from the father and daughter who are captured, the father killed,and the daughter forced into marriage. She soon wastes away and dies. Hope vows revenge and follows Drebber and Stangerson after they leave the Mormon community. Hope held Drebber and Stangerson responsible for Lucy's death. Drebber married her and Stangerson killed her father. Doyle reportedly apologized later for the anti-Mormon sentiment of this part of the story.

The story then returns to Watson's narration and Holmes completes the explanation of his deductions.

What are we to conclude about Holmes - brilliant but vain, arrogant in his air of superiority, petty in his scorn for the detectives of Scotland Yard.

Since Holmes has a new and willing audience, the reader is treated to Holmes explaining his methods to an appreciative audience. We see that Holmes is not immune to flattery "My companion flushed up with pleasure at my words and the earnest way in which I uttered them." At the same time Holmes can be a bit peevish . Early in the book he complains that there are no crimes worthy of his brain. Other times he complains that his contribution won't be recognized and that Scotland Yard is going to get the credit.

In chapter VII, The Conclusion, Holmes gives a description of what he means by analytical reasoning
Most people, if you describe a train of events to them, will tell you what the result would be...There are a few people, however, who, if you told them a result, would be able to evolve from their own inner consciousness what the steps were that let up to that result. This power is what I mean when I talk of reasoning backward, or analytically.

Holmes also gives a detailed description of the steps to his reasoning. It is a good chapter to read and is available here through Project Gutenberg.

At the end, Watson tells Holmes that he has the details in his journal assuring him that the public will know who is responsible for solving the crimes. He concludes with this Latin quote

Populus me sibilat, at mihi plaudo Ipse domi simul ac nummos contemplar in arca which means The people hiss at me, but I applaud myself at home, when I contemplate the coins in my strong-box.

Up Next - The Sign of the Four.

Things I want to keep in mind as I read:

  • Does Holmes display a greater general knowledge than Watson credits him with?

  • Does Holmes continue to exhibit his arrogance and disparage the efforts of Scotland Yard?

  • Does Watson continue to be astounded at Holmes' brilliance or is he able to apply Holmes' methods himself?

  • What kind of friendship develops between Holmes and Watson?

  • Is Watson a reliable narrator?


Are there other questions you can suggest?

Review: Bad Traffic, Simon Lewis


Scribner, 2008. ISBN 978-1-4165-9353-9. 375 pages.

I'm late coming to Bad Traffic (see links to reviews below) but it was a happy day when I spotted it on the new book shelf in the public library. This is Simon Lewis' first Inspector Jian novel but we can hope that there will be others. Simon has written guides to China, Beijing, and Shanghai and lives in Asia half the year. I think this must account for the air of authenticity that comes with the Chinese characters in the book.

Inspector Jian is a Chinese police officer with a daughter, Wei Wei, attending Leeds University. Jian receives a frantic call from his daughter begging him to help her. The call is cut off. Thirty-two hours later Jian is in England, unable to speak a word of English, but determined to find his daughter. At Leeds, he is fortunate to find a student who speaks Mandarin but gets the bad news that his daughter hasn't attended classes for four months.

In spite of his inability to communicate, Jian's skills as an investigator lead him to a Chinese restaurant where he encounters a thug who calls himself Black Fort. Wei Wei worked at the restaurant and Jian knows instinctively that Black Fort has something to do with his daughter.

A parallel story begins with Ding Ming who, along with his wife, has been smuggled into England. The men and women are separated and Ding Ming is taken off to harvest shell fish from coastal mud flats. He is desperate to find out what has happened to his wife but is put off with empty promises that he will soon see her.

The plight of Ding Ming and the other illegal immigrants is the core around which the story is built and the meaning of the title. These people are looking for a better life but are exploited by the traffickers in human lives, the snakeheads. If they survive the trip, they still owe a crippling fee, one they may be able to pay off in twenty years.

Jian isn't a particularly likable character. He works in a world of corruption and is setting up a mistress in an apartment when his daughter calls for help. But his commitment to Wei Wei is absolute and he is willing to take himself to a foreign country, unable to communicate, and without official sanction to find her. There is no finesse in the way Jian deals with obstacles - direct, often violent, application of force.

Communication is a thread throughout the story. Jian speaks only Mandarin. A key figure in his investigation speaks only Cantonese. Ding Ming speaks both English and Mandarin. The scenes where Jian and Ding Ming are together in a forced and, on ding Ming's part, reluctant partnership are some of the most interesting in the book.

There is a mini-story around the middle of the novel that deals with the Chinese owner of a fish and chips diner in rural England and his thoroughly Anglicized daughter. She has her own problem to solve though it does intersect with the main story. It provides a lighter moment in a fairly grim story.

This a fast paced and well plotted story. The cultural insights as well as the action pulled me along and I'm left wanting another Inspector Jian story.

Highly recommended.

Other Reviews
IT'S A CRIME!(OR A MYSTERY)
Simon Lewis Talks about Bad Traffic on IT'S A CRIME!(OR A MYSTERY)
Reading Matters
Necessary Acts of Devotion
Euro Crime

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Review: Damn Near Dead: an Anthology of Geezer Noir, Duane Swiercznski ed.


Busted Flush Press, 2006. ISBN 0-9767157-5-9. 384 pages. Guest introduction by James Crumley.

Having achieved a certain age, the title of this anthology both intrigued and made me a bit anxious. Twenty-six reminders of getting older. But it is edited by Duane Swiercznski whose writing I enjoy and Busted Flush Press put out the Hell of a Woman anthology on of my favorite short story anthologies so I had to have it.

The stories are grouped in five parts: Twilight and Goodnights, Duffers and Bachelors, Killers and Cons, Guns and Geezers,and Felons and Friends. Duane added another level of organization; the stories appear in reverse chronological order of the birth year of the authors. Dave White's (b. 1979) "My Father's Gun" leads off the collection and John Harvey's (b. 1938) "Just Friends" closes it.

All of the stories are excellent making it difficult to select ones to feature in this review but here are four I picked out from the table of contents.

"Cranked" by Bill Crider (b.1941). "Cranked was nominated for a 2007 Edgar Award. It picks up after the story "Raining Willis" and tells us what happened to Karla after the meth lab exploded. I haven't read that story yet but it doesn't get in the way of enjoying "Cranked." It is the story of 76 year old ex-con Lloyd who breaks out of The Home, steals his daughter's car, meets Karla, and shows some young thugs that the old guy still has some moves. Bill has the most excellent Bill Crider's Pop Culture Magazine blog.

"Policy" by Megan Abbott (b. 1971). Two sentences into this story and I was thinking "wait a minute" I recognize this setting. It turns out that "Policy" is the short story that became Megan's Edgar Award winning Queenpin, a novel that made me a Megan Abbott fan. It is the story of a young woman who goes from being the bookkeeper for a strip club to the protege of an older mob connected woman. One isn't better than the other, I think of them as companion pieces. "Policy" works well as a short story and Megan said that "the story's kinda nastier--I didn't think I could maintain that for a whole book!" both "Policy" and Queenpin will remind you of Jim Thompson's The Grifters. Megan has a new novel coming out soon, Bury Me Deep. I love the cover.

Duan'e (b. 1972) contribution, "Say Goodnight to the Bad Man" looks at the consequences when a young fan of the pulps tracks down an author who published one brilliant novel then disappeared.

Stuart MacBride's (b. 1969) "Daphne McAndrews and the Smack-Headed Junkies" is one of my favorite stories in the anthology. Think cozy noir. Daphne is a terrific character and it is a nice, tightly written, darkly humorous story.

"Last Right" by Zoe Sharp (b. 1966). This is a story about reconciling past events. A young man returns to see his dying, domineering father.
I only know Zoe's work from short stories but I'm excited that Busted Flush Press will be bringing her previously unavailable Charlie Fox novels to the U.S. in 2010.

This is an excellent anthology and I highly recommend it. You might see a different side to authors you only know from novels and you may find new authors to read. Both are true in my case.

I would also like full marks for not using the word poignant.

Review: The Manual of Detection, Jededian Berry


The Penguin Press, 2009. ISBN 978-1-59420-211-7. 278 pages.
The Manual of Detection is a decidedly odd but fun book. It doesn't fall into the sort of crime books I usually review here but it does have crime and detectives and it is great fun. The experience of reading it is similar to what I felt with The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien (pseud. of Brian O'Nolan). If you demand realism in your detective stories then you should give this one a pass.

In a nameless city where it has been raining for fourteen days, Charles Unwin is a clerk of twenty years for the Agency, a detective agency that occupies an entire high-rise office building. Unwin is the clerk for ace detective Travis Sivart. His job is to take the reports submitted by Sivart and document the case, remove the extraneous, integrate subsequent reports. He is proud of his ability to give names to the cases - The Three Deaths of Colonel Baker, The Oldest Murdered Man, The Man Who Stole November Twelfth.

Unwin has a morning ritual of going to the Central Terminal train station and observing the woman in the plaid coat who appears every morning at the same time waiting for someone to arrive who never does. One morning when Unwin has finally gained to courage to approach the woman he is intercepted by an Agency detective who tells him he has been promoted to detective and gives him a copy of The Manual of Detection, standard issue. Thinking it is a mistake, Unwin goes to his floor in the Agency where he finds the woman in the plaid coat occupying his desk and apparently now his clerk. A note directs him to his new watcher, Lamech, who Unwin finds strangled in his office. At a knock on the office door, Unwin panics and shoves Lamech under the desk and allows himself to mistaken for Lamech by the woman at the door, Vera Truesdale. She wants Sivart assigned to solve a personal mystery.

In his new office (formally occupied by Sivart), Unwin finds he has an efficient assistant named Emily Doppel who is also likely to fall into a deep sleep at unexpected times. He also receives his badge and gun. With his watcher dead, Unwin tells Emily that their first case is to find out what happened to Sivart. Looking for a place to start, they search the office, finding nothing. Unwin has a clerk's trick up his sleeve, though. Sivart's typewriter ribbon is fairly new and he and Emily are able to read the words Municipal Museum so that's where they will start. The museum is also the scene of one of Sivart's famous cases, The Oldest Murdered Man.

The story moves between reality and dream worlds. There are scenes too surreal to summarize, people who are not who they seem, people who can manipulate people's dreams, murderous (formally conjoined) twins, a crime syndicate based in a decaying carnival.

For me, this is a wonderful work of imagination. Berry is able to make an unreal world seem real with the detail and organization he applies to the story. I'm also a sucker for a mysterious organization and Unwin's exploration of the hidden departments within the Agency is most interesting and intriguing.

I recommend this book if you enjoy well constructed fantasy

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Help Needed!: Hercule Poirot on DVD

I'm trying to select some David Suchet/Hercule Poirot DVDs for the library. I innocently went to Amazon thinking that I would find a nice boxed set, maybe two as there are many episodes. I found, instead, an insane combination of movie, classic, classic crimes, collector's ... sets. After a few minutes wading through the descriptions I wanted someone's head on a pike.

Here are the the ones I've tentatively settled on. Are they a good representation of the Poirot stories?

The Definitive Collection
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
Lord Edgware Dies
Murder in Mesopotamia
Evil under the Sun
Death on the Nile
Sad Cypress
The Hollow
Five Little Pigs
The Mystery of the Blue Train
Taken at the Flood
After the Funeral
Cards on the Table

The Classic Collection
From POIROT INVESTIGATES (1924):
"The Disappearance of Mr. Davenheim"
"The Veiled Lady"
"The Lost Mine"
"The Adventure of the Cheap Flat"
"The Kidnapped Prime Minister"
"The Adventure of the Western Star"
"The Million Dollar Bond Robbery"
"The Tragedy at Marsdon Manor"
"The Mystery of Hunter's Lodge"
"The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb"
"The Case of the Missing Will"
"The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman"
"The Chocolate Box"
"Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan"

From THE UNDERDOG and OTHER STORIES (1926):
"The Cornish Mystery"
"The Plymouth Express"
"The Affair at the Victory Ball"
"The Underdog"
"The Adventure of the Clapham Cook"
"The King of Clubs"

From MURDER IN THE MEWS (1937):
"Dead Man's Mirror"
"Murder in the Mews"
"Triangle at Rhodes"
"The Incredible Theft"

From THE REGATTA MYSTERY and OTHER STORIES (1939):
"How Does Your Garden Grow?"
"The Mystery of the Spanish Chest" (a/k/a "The Mystery of the Baghdad Chest")
"Yellow Iris"
"Problem at Sea"
"The Dream"

From THREE BLIND MICE and OTHER STORIES (1950):
"The Adventure of Johnnie Waverly"
"Four and Twenty Blackbirds"
"The Third Floor Flat"

From DOUBLE SIN and OTHER STORIES (1961):
"Double Sin"
"Wasps' Nest"
"The Double Clue"
"The Theft of the Royal Ruby"

The Classic Collection vol. 2
The ABC Murders
Death in the Clouds
Dumb Witness
Hercule Poirot’s Christmas
Hickory Dickory Dock
Murder on the Links
The Mysterious Affair at Styles
One, Two, Buckle My Shoe
Peril at End House

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Two books read but not reviewed

I want to document what I read but not everything I read fits into the reason for this blog. Here are two book recently finished but for which I don't care to write a full-on review.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
HarperCollins, 2008. ISBN 978-0-06-053092. 311 pages. Illustrated.
Winner of 2009 Newbery Medal.

I don't read as much fantasy as I once did but if Neil Gaiman wrote the copy for a cereal box I'd read it. The Sandman series started me on the road to fandom and novels such as Good Omens (with Terry Pratchett!) and Neverwhere confirmed my status.

Stephen Cobert read a portion of the beginning of this book
There was a hand in the darkness and it held a knife. The knife had a handle of polished black bone, and a blade finer and sharper that any razor. If it sliced you, you might not even know you had been cut, not immediately.

The knife had done almost everything it was brought to that house to do, and both the blade and the handle were wet.

and asked Gaiman what happened to "Once upon a time there were four little rabbits ..." It is a terrific beginning for a story albeit perhaps a bit grim for a juvenile book. In the end this is an interesting and even uplifting story of a boy raised by ghosts in a cemetery after his family is killed by a member of a mysterious assassins guild. It has death and sacrifice and letting go of the past and moving on. I quite enjoyed it.

Promises in Death by J. D. Robb.
G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2009. ISBN 978-0-399-15548-2. 342 pages.

The In Death... series is my guilty pleasure. While this is the 28 novel, only about a year and a half have passed in time since the first, Naked in Death. This time a fellow cop has been killed, a detective recently transferred in from Atlanta who was also in a serious relationship with Chief Medical Examiner Morris.

Robb does an excellent job growing the relationship between Lt. Eve Dallis and her gorgeous and obscenely rich husband Roark. In the beginning it didn't take much for their equally strong personalities take offense and spoil for a fight. In Promises in Death, Eve is noticeably more comfortable in her marriage and she and Roark have achieved a balance and acceptance of each other. Robb also introduces a bit more back story from the pasts of Eve and Roark. I wonder if she has something really huge in mind.

I enjoy the books as much, or possibly more, for the snappy dialog and banter and the diverse group of friends and colleagues with whom she interacts as the story itself.

I enjoyed it.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

SHRC Update 1 May 2009 - Where to Start: The Sherlockian Chronologies


Previous posts in the Sherlock Holmes Reading Challenge (SHRC)
My Personal Sherlock Holmes Reading Challenge
SHRC Update 30 April 2009

When I began planning my Sherlock Holmes Reading Challenge I decided to read the stories in publication order. If I read the stories more or less in the order Doyle wrote them I might be able to detect an evolution in the characters of Holmes and Watson. Does this seem reasonable?

Today I checked out The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes edited by Leslie S. Klinger. In the Notes for Scholars I discovered that there is the science of Sherlockian Chronoligisation which tries to determine "the dates on which the events recounted in the stories actually occurred." This is what Baring-Gould emphasised in his classic work, The Annotated Sherlock Holmes. The chronologists expend great effort looking for the most minute of clues that could date a story.

Even publication order is not a simple matter as Klinger points out that there are three starting points:
1. The Strand Magazine version
2. The original English book version
3. the original American book version

Klinger relies on the English book version "under the theory that these versions received the most careful review from the author." He further points out that there are significant variations among sources.

I'm going to stick with my plan to work through the stories in order of appearance now using the Klinger sequence but will work in the date of occurrence somehow. Foolish me, I thought I would just pick up a book and start reading.

Here are several links to sources that have worked out time lines for the stories:
A Basic Timeline of Terra 221B
Klinger's Table of Major Events
Baring-Goulds Chronology of the Canon

Friday, May 1, 2009

SHRC Update 30 April 2009


First post in the Sherlock Holmes Reading Challenge.

I'm fond of "Best of" lists and Wikipedia has two lists of favorite Sherlock Holmes stories. One is by Conan Doyle (1927) and the other from the Baker Street Journal (1959). Trivia-Library.com adds that Doyle revisited his list and considered stories after 1927 and added seven more stories. I think it will be interesting to keep these lists in mind when reading the stories.

Conan Doyle's List
Sources: Wikipedia and Trivia-Library
Original List
1. "The Adventure of the Speckled Band"
2. "The Redheaded League"
3. "The Adventure of the Dancing Men"
4. "The Final Problem"
5. "A Scandal in Bohemia"
6. "The Adventure of the Empty House"
7. "The Five Orange Pips"
8. "The Adventure of the Second Stain"
9. "The Adventure of the Devil's Foot"
10. "The Adventure of the Priory School"
11. "The Musgrave Ritual"
12. "The Reigate Squires"

Later, considering his short stories about Sherlock Holmes written after 1927, and reconsidering some written before that date, Doyle added seven more favorites, again listing them in descending order of merit.

1. "Silver Blaze"
2. "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans"
3. "The Crooked Man"
4. "The Man with the Twisted Lip"
5. "The Greek Interpreter"
6. "The Resident Patient"
7. "The Naval Treaty"

The Baker Street Journal's list:
1. "The Adventure of the Speckled Band"
2. "The Red-Headed League"
3. "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle"
4. "The Adventure of Silver Blaze"
5. "A Scandal in Bohemia"
6. "The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual"
7. "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans"
8. "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons"
9. "The Adventure of the Dancing Men"
10. "The Adventure of the Empty House"