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The Baker Street Four, Vol. 1 (Book Review)

The Baker Street Four, Vol. 1

by J.B. Djian (Author), Olivier Legrand (Author), David Etien (Illustrator)
Insight Comics (May 2017)
112 p. ISBN 9781608878789

Publisher’s Summary

Based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, The Baker Street Four provides an inside look behind the infamous Baker Street Irregulars.

Billy, Charlie, and Tom are inseparable, and for good reason. Filled with con men and scoundrels, London’s East End is not easily survived alone. Fortunately, the three friends—and their faithful feline companion—can count on the protection of Sherlock Holmes, for whom they sometimes act as spies.

When Tom’s girlfriend is kidnapped, the Baker Street Irregulars must put their budding sleuthing skills to use. Then, when a Russian immigrant is framed for a Jack the Ripper–inspired crime, our heroes set out to discover the truth and uncover a conspiracy that may go deeper than they ever imagined. Armed with only their quick wit and street smarts, the Baker Street Irregulars must work together to solve mysteries in the nick of time. Make way for the youngest detective team of the Victorian era!

Hailed by critics and audiences, The Baker Street Four has received numerous awards and was featured at Angoulême in 2012. Insight Editions is proud to continue to bring this exciting story to English audiences worldwide.

General Review

I first read this series in its original French a couple of years ago.  Given how atrocious my French is, you know it had to be good for me to stick with it for six books worth.  Imagine my delight, then, when I discovered that it was being released in English! I was very lucky to receive an ARC from NetGalley of this book so I could enjoy it without wrestling with the language.

The Baker Street Four is a comic book series about the Baker Street Irregulars.  This first book covers two of the French volumes, making it nicely weighty.  Though a comic book, and about the Baker Street Irregulars, this is not necessarily a book that would suit children.  The authors do not shy away from the realities of being poor in Victorian England.  The first story involves a young girl being forced into sex work at an upscale brothel.  The second story involves Russian immigrants in London and the Tsar’s secret police.  The Baker Street Irregulars are frequently hungry, have unsavory contacts, and their own secrets to hide.

All that being said, it’s an excellent book.  In some ways, it follows a standard format for any story involving the Baker Street Irregulars: there is the leader figure who wants to emulate Holmes (in this case, Billy), there is a non-English member (Black Tom, who is Irish), there is the more empathetic child (Charlie), and there is an animal sidekick, who we admittedly don’t meet until the end of the first story.

Where the story differs is first in its relative darkness, but also in that, while the Irregulars work well together, they don’t always get along and have very different ideas about their role with the Irregulars.  Billy is a devoted detective; Tom gave up being a very talented thief; Charlie has their own motivations.  There are frequent conflicts between them, sometimes resolved through talking it out, and sometimes solved by yelling and kicking at each other.  It creates an interesting dynamic, one that speaks more towards a need for mutual survival rather than friendship.  It adds an extra level of tension through the story that often doesn’t exist in Baker Street Irregular stories.

The stories themselves are good, though if you’re looking for complicated mysteries, this wouldn’t work for you.  They’re very workmanlike in some ways.  The first story is the stronger of the two, as it gives us a much stronger sense of the characters and the world they inhabit.  The second story about the Russian exiles is still good, but there is less detective-work happening.

What truly sets this book apart, though, is the art.  The art for this series is absolutely lush, with not a detail spared.  Backgrounds are fully drawn out, so crowd scenes and fight scenes become a feast for the eyes.  Facial expressions are done beautifully, so you can actually decipher what a character is thinking without the narrative spelling it out.  The clothes have folds and wrinkles that move as the characters move from panel to panel.  Simply put, no shortcuts were ever taken, and it pays off by creating a truly gorgeous book.

I highly recommend picking up this volume.  The next volume will come out on August 8th, and the third volume on October 10th, and I can tell you that those stories are even stronger than these first two.  I am very much looking forward to picking them up and reading them without regretting all the time I neglected my French homework!

What About Our Watson?

 As in any Baker Street Irregulars story, Watson and Holmes function more in the background, and don’t have much focus on them.  However, this is a loveable, wonderful Watson.  First of all, let’s take a look at him.  Is this not a person who definitely knew women on three continents?:

(Photo from the French accompanying volume, Le monde de quatre de Baker Street.)

On the rare occasions he is on the page, though, his personality shines through, with Holmes calling him an incorrigible romantic and an incurable optimist at one point.  He helps out a young woman he doesn’t know, and he seems very capable and comfortable around the children themselves.  He is drawn as warm and open.  I love this Watson, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of him in future volumes.

(There’s also the cat, but I’ll leave that for you to read yourself.)

You Might Like This If You Like:

Graphic novels; art; darker and sadder depictions of Victorian England

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From Holmes to Sherlock (Book Review)

From Holmes to Sherlock

by Mattias Bostrom
Mysterious Press (August 2017)
544 p. ISBN 9780802126603

Publisher’s Summary

Everyone knows Sherlock Holmes. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created a unique literary character who has remained popular for over a century and is appreciated more than ever today. But what made this fictional character, dreamed up by a small-town English doctor in the 1880s, into such a lasting success, despite the author’s own attempt to escape his invention?

In From Holmes to Sherlock, Swedish author and Sherlock Holmes expert Mattias Boström recreates the full story behind the legend for the first time. From a young Arthur Conan Doyle sitting in a Scottish lecture hall taking notes on his medical professor’s powers of observation to the pair of modern-day fans who brainstormed the idea behind the TV sensation Sherlock, from the publishing world’s first literary agent to the Georgian princess who showed up at the Conan Doyle estate and altered a legacy, the narrative follows the men and women who have created and perpetuated the myth. It includes tales of unexpected fortune, accidental romance, and inheritances gone awry, and tells of the actors, writers, readers, and other players who have transformed Sherlock Holmes from the gentleman amateur of the Victorian era to the odd genius of today. Told in fast-paced, novelistic prose, From Holmes to Sherlock is a singular celebration of the most famous detective in the world—a must-read for newcomers and experts alike.

General Review

Reviewing a nonfiction book is difficult for me, since there are no characters to review, just a series of facts and how they’re presented.  Wonderfully, however, Mattias Bostrom chose to write his history of Holmes and the people who shaped him in an engaging, story-like manner, making this not just an interesting read, but a fun one.

The book is divided into different sections, all of which cover a range of dates (there is no table of contents in my ARC, alas).  We begin, most naturally, with Arthur Conan Doyle and the circumstances that led him to create Sherlock Holmes and John Watson.  From there, the text makes a number of side trips into other people, such as publishers and editors, journalists and fellow writers.  At first I thought the stories and information about these people were added as colour to the text, but as we got further into the book I realized that the little asides about all of these different people had a point, and that they all influenced ACD or how Holmes and Watson would go on to become cultural icons.  It was a risky move- I could see some readers, perhaps not as devoted to Holmesian or Watsonian interests but more general readers, getting frustrated with the asides and leaving off before they saw the fruition.  But it’s a risk that pays off; Bostrom’s text is far more interesting for getting to meet some of our key players before they really enter the scene.

While the first two sections of the book are truly devoted just to ACD, in section three (1897-1930) we begin to see the impact that the stories have made and how Holmes begins to leave the hands of his creator and become the creation of a whole confluence of cultural factors.  It is in this section that we meet William Gillette and see the changes he wrought upon the character, as well as see some of the early films- and all the issues of copyright that immediately come up.

Though the book focuses on the ways that Holmes has been shaped by so many different people, I would say that the issue of copyright- who owns Holmes?- is the most important theme throughout the story.  I will confess it up front: I am someone who, while interested in a vague way in the history of Holmesiana, has never studied or memorized it in the way that so many Holmesians have.  So this book, for me, did an excellent job of keeping my interest even while explaining why the issue of copyright is so complicated when it comes to Sherlock Holmes.  We get to see the way ownership was handed over so easily in the Edwardian era to various film companies, often at the same time, which created problems for later films and television adaptations, which led to fights among the Conan Doyle estate, both among themselves and with outside companies.  Bostrom’s narrative is extremely compelling in this regard, and even though I knew the eventual outcome, I found myself tense as all the different factions fought amongst themselves for well over eighty years.

As someone who adores adaptations, it was incredibly interesting to see how familiar faces came onto the stage.  Edith Meiser, Frederic Dorr Steele (who made me cry at my desk at work), Nigel Bruce (who also made me cry), Evelyn Herzog (her story made me ugly cry at my desk… look, I got emotional while reading this book, it was that good), Peter Cushing, Ronald Howard, Robert Stephens… there were so many figures dear to me in general that appeared in this book.  If I have one fault for this book, it’s that I wish it dug in deeper with the different films and television shows.  That wasn’t the purpose of this book, so that isn’t a slight on the author, but rather a compliment: this book was so engaging that I wanted him to write another 544 pages just on the production histories of every Holmesian film and television show ever.

I will warn readers now, however, that if you are fans of Conan Doyle’s children, you might want to brace yourself.  While Denis and Adrian are treated with fondness, the author doesn’t shy away from their less admirable characteristics, especially when it came to managing their father’s estate.  I walked away from this book deeply grateful that we have any additional Holmes and Watson things at all, given the way they handled things.

I thought this was a fascinating book.  I received an ARC from Edelweiss, and though excited, was also a bit apprehensive.  As I stated, my interests in Holmesiana lie elsewhere, and so I was concerned that I would be a poor audience for this book.  Rather, it captured my attention and aroused my curiosity.  After finishing this excellent volume, I wound up doing some more research on my own.

What About Our Watson?

As this is a nonfiction book that specifically focuses on what influenced the ongoing cultural creation of Sherlock Holmes, as well as the people who were influenced by him, it is perhaps not surprising that there isn’t much discussion about Watson.  Though we get to peak behind the curtain and see some of the evolution of film and television shows, they largely focus on the creators of those adaptations as well as the figures who portrayed Holmes.  This is not exclusive; Nigel Bruce is talked about a bit, for instance.  But by and large, Watson is a footnote in this book.

Thankfully, the author does give us one excellent point about Watson.  Bostrom proposes that ACD’s genius was not in creating Holmes, but in creating Watson, and giving us an organic, clever way to meet Holmes and join in the stories.  It is an interesting point, and given the respect the author extends Watson, I would love to see him do a history of Watson and his evolution, which is many ways is far more intriguing than the evolution of Holmes.

You Might Like This Book If You Like:

Histories; adaptations and how they came about; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his family

Is there a book you want Lucy to review? Let her know!

Elementary, She Read (Book Review)

Elementary, She Read

by Vicki Delany
Crooked Lane Books (March 2017)
320 p. ISBN 9781683310969

Publisher’s Summary

Gemma Doyle, a transplanted Englishwoman, has returned to the quaint town of West London on Cape Cod to manage her Great Uncle Arthur’s Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium. The shop–located at 222 Baker Street–specializes in the Holmes canon and pastiche, and is also the home of Moriarty the cat. When Gemma finds a rare and potentially valuable magazine containing the first Sherlock Homes story hidden in the bookshop, she and her friend Jayne (who runs the adjoining Mrs. Hudson’s Tea Room) set off to find the owner, only to stumble upon a dead body.

The highly perceptive Gemma is the police’s first suspect, so she puts her consummate powers of deduction to work to clear her name, investigating a handsome rare books expert, the dead woman’s suspiciously unmoved son, and a whole family of greedy characters desperate to cash in on their inheritance. But when Gemma and Jayne accidentally place themselves at a second murder scene, it’s a race to uncover the truth before the detectives lock them up for good.

Fans of Sherlock Holmes will delight in the sleuthing duo of Gemma and Jayne in Elementary, She Read, the clever and captivating series debut by nationally bestselling author Vicki Delany.

General Review

What a FUN book!  This is what I call a step-to-the-left pastiche, in that the characters aren’t named Holmes and Watson, though they emulate aspects and fulfill the roles of the original characters.  Gemma is our Holmes and Jayne is our Watson.  They own a Sherlock Holmes themed bookshop and tea shop, which is a very cute idea, and it just becomes more fun from there.

First of all, I want everyone to know this up front: there is some very gentle ribbing at folks like us.  Gemma doesn’t quite understand the Sherlock Holmes obsession, and sometimes looks at her customers (especially her more particular clientele!) with bafflement.  Don’t let that put you off, though.  It’s very loving, as the author is clearly laughing at herself too.  Gemma also defends her customers later on in the book.  I wanted to state that up front, in case that’s a deal breaker for you, or if you bounce off the first encounter of the attitude.

Gemma is a great main character.  She’s not always very self-aware, even if she’s very observant, which allows us to make our own decisions about who she is.  I found her to be snobby, clever, brash and stubborn, and she clearly loves her friends and her community, even if she’s occasionally frustrated by them.  Her friendship with Jayne was my favourite part of this book by far, though anyone who enjoys romances might also like her interactions with the detective, Ryan, and the book collector, Grant.

The mystery is actually fairly light, despite the bodies hitting the ground.  If you are someone who prefers twisty, complicated mysteries, this may not be for you, but anyone who just wants the escapism of a straightforward mystery will find this enjoyable.  I also find it delightful that, despite the murders happening, the main mystery actually concerns a copy of the 1887 Beeton’s Christmas Annual.

One of the strongest parts of this book was the community that Delany depicted.  In the first book of the series, it’s tempting to do a lot of set up and exposition about just who everyone is, but instead the author just drops us into the small town of West London and lets us get to know how everyone knows each other, the friendships and the rivalries and the histories, in a more organic fashion.  This is an author who excels at show-don’t-tell when it comes to the people.  If she sets us up by telling us that someone behaves in a particular way, we also get the opportunity to see it and draw our own conclusions from it.  I thought it was an excellent depiction of a small town community.

I wasn’t originally intending to read this book when I saw it show up in the publishing lists, but the author contacted the Society to ask if she could send someone the book to review.  I’m very glad she reached out to us, as this was a book I enjoyed immensely.  I will definitely be looking for the second book in the series when it comes out in September!

What About Our Watson?

As already mentioned, this is a step-to-the-left pastiche, and as such, we don’t have a character named Watson.  The Watson role is instead fulfilled by Jayne Wilson, who is absolutely delightful.

Jayne owns the teashop connected to the Sherlock Holmes bookstore.  She’s a serious businesswoman, who cares deeply about how the business runs, and she’s good at it, too.  She is, in fact, much better at running a business than Gemma is, and frequently has to step up to handle the things that Gemma forgot about.  I personally appreciated the fact that it was Jayne who really had a handle on the business side of things, and it wasn’t just thrown in there for detail.  The fact that Jayne runs her business is an important part of who she is, rather than fluffy characterization.

Despite the fact that she’s serious about running her business, Jayne also clearly enjoys a good adventure, as she’s willing to step up and help Gemma with her illicit investigation when asked.  She is, at times, reluctant—Jayne does not enjoy finding bodies—but she is an excellent friend and wants to help.  She’s got a long way to go before she’s fully invested in being a partner to Gemma, and I’m hoping that the author will let her grow in this capacity in future books, but it was a wonderful start.

For people who are interested in Watson’s romantic relationships, they’ll be thrilled to see a version of it replicated in Jayne’s dating life.  Jayne, with her great business sense and willingness to adventure, doesn’t always have the best taste in men.  We meet one boyfriend in this book, and he’s a trip.

Most importantly, the friendship between Gemma and Jayne is strong and based in mutual respect.  There is a great deal of affection and kindness between the two of them, and it will absolutely remind you of the original Holmes and Watson.

You Might Like This Book If You Like:

Cozy mysteries; romances; bookshops; small town communities

Is there a book you want Lucy to review? Let her know!

The Last of August (Book Review)

The Last of August

by Brittany Cavallaro
Katherine Tegan Books (February 2017)
336 p. ISBN 9780062398949

Publisher’s Summary

In the second brilliant, action-packed book in the Charlotte Holmes trilogy, Jamie Watson and Charlotte Holmes are in a chase across Europe to untangle a web of shocking truths about the Holmes and Moriarty families.

Jamie and Charlotte are looking for a winter break reprieve in Sussex after a fall semester that almost got them killed. But nothing about their time off is proving simple, including Holmes and Watson’s growing feelings for each other. When Charlotte’s beloved Uncle Leander goes missing from the Holmes estate—after being oddly private about his latest assignment in a German art forgery ring—the game is afoot once again, and Charlotte throws herself into a search for answers.

So begins a dangerous race through the gritty underground scene in Berlin and glittering art houses in Prague, where Holmes and Watson discover that this complicated case might change everything they know about their families, themselves, and each other.

General Review

As noted in the publisher’s summary, this is the second book in the series, the first being A Study in Charlotte.  I read the first book in the series shortly after it came out, and loved the worldbuilding of it all.  The premise is that Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson are the latest Holmes and Watson, descended from the original Holmes and Watson.

That’s right- this is a modern story in which Sherlock Holmes and John Watson DID exist.  Rather than the headscratching of “how did the modern detective novel come about without the influence of the original canon” or, alternatively, “why is no on remarking on the fact that they have the same names as the fictional detectives and are solving crimes together?” which accompanies most modern adaptations, this takes the logical presumption that The Game is true: they were real people, and they had families.  It’s a fantastic premise, and I adored the first book, but there were certainly elements that I wasn’t as fond of, which continue in this book, to my dismay.  (Spoilers: there is a poorly handled rape plot line in both books; consider this a warning for those who need it.)

I would strongly recommend that you read the first book before you attempt The Last of August.  This book will make very little sense without it, and you will be completely lost.  Even though I did read the first book, I regretted not rereading it before diving into this one, as there were moments where I was a bit lost nonetheless.

The second book begins with two family trees, those of Holmes and Moriarty (because if Holmes and Watson were both real people with families, it stands to reason that Moriarty was as well!).  I lament the lack of Watson family tree, but the trees of Holmes and Moriarty will delight any reader, with their annotations by Charlotte.  I long for the stories of each family member, who seem fascinating and complex all on their own.

Meeting Charlotte’s family is probably my favorite part of this book.  Though we met her brother, Milo, in the first book, here we get to meet her mother and father, who are mysterious and odd in their own right.  I am especially intrigued by her mother, and I hope we see more of her in the third book.  We also finally- finally!- meet her Uncle Leander, the Holmes to Jamie’s father’s Watson.  Leander is absolutely charming, a nice contrast to the prickly Charlotte and her distant parents.  Leander is an easy character to love, and it is Charlotte’s adoration of her uncle that drives the mystery plot.

The mystery is complex, perhaps too much so.  Much of the time I had to simply sit back and let the story go where it wanted to go, without attempting to solve the case along with our young detectives.  Charlotte and Jamie go to Berlin in order to save Leander, and in doing so, we meet much of the Moriarty family.  I am, happily, just as intrigued by the Moriarty family as I am by the Watson and Holmes families; the parallels between Holmes and Moriarty (the originals) have often been noted, but this novel basks in them, bringing them to the forefront.  The plot is more spy thriller than mystery, but it was enjoyable, and very fun to watch both Charlotte and Jamie assume different personas in their attempts to unravel what has happened to Leander.

We also get to meet August Moriarty, a source of Charlotte’s angsty backstory.  This is hardly a spoiler, given the title of the book.  As this is a YA book, it is unsurprising that a bit of a love triangle is set up between August, Jamie, and Charlotte.  Delightfully, August wants no part of this love triangle, a refreshing twist from the usual YA plot.  I loved the moments where August and Jamie were able to speak with each alone, without Charlotte creating an emotional distortion field around Jamie’s POV- the pool scene, in particular, is one of my favorite scenes in the entire book.

Though I didn’t like the second book as much as I enjoyed the first, it was still a strong entry into the series.  I’m very much looking forward to the third book, and I love the possibilities that are opened by the world the author created.

What About Our Watson?

Jamie Watson is hotheaded, wears his heart on his sleeve, and cares too much about everyone around him.  In short, he is what one might expect from a young, teenage Watson.  Charlotte owes much of her characterization to the BBC version of Holmes, but I would say Jamie draws from a number of different portrayals of Watson, including Nigel Bruce, H. Marion Crawford, and of course, ACD Watson.

Though he is clearly no deductive genius, Jamie is still an intelligent boy.  He goes off on his own at a few points to try and find clues and evidence on the case they’re working on, and is moderately successful (this is no slam on Jamie; the other characters, too, are moderately successful in their individual attempts).  He is clearly a bit of a dreamer, having his own ideas on what a partnership between a Holmes and a Watson should look like.  He is also the brawns of the two, acting almost as Charlotte’s bodyguard at times, although Charlotte is capable to taking care of herself.

Jamie is, however, still very young, and exhibits the sort of flaws you might expect from a teenage boy.  While he clearly cares deeply for Charlotte, much of his adoration comes across as self-centered; it may be hard for some readers to get through, especially given we spend much of this book in his POV.  He can also be selfish, and jealous without cause.  The relationship between he and Charlotte can be, for an adult reader, somewhat troubling because of some of these aspects of his personality.

I like Jamie quite a bit, and it’s fascinating to see what a very young, modern Watson might look like.  A Watson without the various structures in his life to give him discipline and focus, and without time in general to give him experience, is a very unmolded Watson, but we can certainly see in Jamie how one could get from point A to point B.  It will be interesting to see how he continues to grow in book three.

You Might Like This Book If You Like:

YA romance; BBC Sherlock; James Bond

Is there a book you want Lucy to review? Let her know!

The Baker Street Peculiars (Book Review)

The Baker Street Peculiars

by Roger Langridge and Andy Hirsch
kaBoom! (January 2017)
112 p. ISBN 9781608869282

Publisher’s Summary

The Baker Street Peculiars is a supernatural twist on the beloved world of Sherlock Holmes.

When a giant lion statue in Trafalgar Square comes to life and wreaks havoc on 1930s London, it seems like the perfect case for the world’s most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes. With an overwhelmed caseload, however, Holmes recruits the help of three precocious young detectives-in-training (and one cunning golden retriever) to solve the mystery. Molly, Rajani, Humphrey, and Wellington (the dog) will have to work together and use all their wits if they are to uncover the truth behind the living statues and save London. But on the legendary Baker Street, nothing is as it seems and their biggest mystery might be the real identity of the famous detective who brought them together.

Written by Eisner Award winner Roger Langridge (Thor: The Mighty Avenger, Abigail and the Snowman) and illustrated by Andy Hirsch (Adventure Time, Regular Show), The Baker Street Peculiars is a heartfelt and supernatural twist on the beloved world of Sherlock Holmes.

General Review

I love stories that center around the Baker Street Irregulars.  I especially love them when they come in comic book form.  I have an entire shelf devoted just to such books, and I’m very pleased to be able to add this one, especially as it has a fairly new, fresh take on the Irregulars mythos.  Despite my personal disinterest in most Holmesian stories that incorporate supernatural elements, I found this one utterly charming.

The story is fairly straightforward.  Statues are coming to life all around London, wreaking havoc wherever they go.  Molly, Humphrey, and Rajani (as well as dog Wellington) are drafted by Sherlock Holmes to look into it, as Holmes is busy with several other cases and doesn’t quite believe the tales of walking statues.  Using their very different backgrounds, the children (not quite Irregulars in the traditional sense) piece together the clues, find the culprit, and save the day.  It’s a common formula, found in many different Irregulars stories, but Baker Street Peculiars manages to find its own unique twist on the formula.

One of the first things that makes this Irregulars story stand out is that, rather than take place in the Victorian era (and often right around the Hiatus), this takes place during the 1930s.  There are vehicles on the streets, electricity instead of gaslight, and slightly different social norms.  It gives the comic a different look, brighter and more colorful, helping it stand out from its predecessors.

Then there are the main characters.  While their personalities are largely told in broad strokes, without a great deal of depth, each of them brings their own set of talents and strengths, as well as unhappiness and baggage, to the investigation.  Molly steps forward as the leader, although her Jewish grandfather would rather she stay home and work towards becoming good wife material; she desperately wants to become a detective in her own right.  Rajani is a foundling, raised by a criminal that she viewed as a father, who ultimately died and left her to fend for herself; she is the most reluctant of our investigators.  Humphrey is the youngest son of a wealthy family, neglected and ignored, sent to a boarding school with a dog valet; Humphrey is naïve and well-intentioned.  They end up working well as a team, with some friction because of their very different backgrounds, in a way that is believable and engaging.

Rather than taking itself too seriously, the book is more comic than dramatic, with cartoonish reactions, villains, and physics.  Despite the comedy, though, it still manages to be touching and sweet at places in the story (watching Molly and her grandfather reconcile their different ideas on what her life should be; Humphrey and Rajani finding a point of connection).

The art, as mentioned earlier, features bright colors and bold lines.  The illustrations are very simple in many ways, but still satisfying.  The backgrounds are largely just shaded in, without a great deal of detail, while the characters receive most of the attention.  There are, however, a number of delightful Easter eggs hidden in the art, references to the Canon that made me guffaw.  Pay particular attention to the first big two-page illustration.

Overall, I thought this comic was an incredibly fun read.  I haven’t yet been able to find out if it will get another run, but I do hope it will, as the ending lends itself to further adventures.

What About Our Watson?

As a Watsonian, I try very hard to focus my attention on books that feature Watson or have him showcased in a particular way.  Occasionally, though, there are books that I very much want to review that lack a Watson entirely.  This is, unfortunately, one such book.  Not only is there no Watson, there isn’t even a Watson figure.  The end of the book hints that a reporter character may end up working with Holmes, fulfilling a similar role to the classic Watson.  However, that happens in the last two pages of the book, as is hardly a major feature of the plot.

Though there is no Watson, which is disappointing, it was still a fun little book.

You Might Like This If You Like:

Scooby Doo (particularly A Pup Named Scooby Doo); comic books; parodies; children protagonists

Is there a book you want Lucy to review?  Let her know!

The Great Shelby Holmes (Book Review)

[The recent review of The Great Shelby Holmes posted by Elise Elliot (JHWS “Lucy”) piqued Chips’s interest. He read the book and shares his thoughts here. -Selena Buttons]

Cover image of The Great Shelby Holmes by Elizabeth EulbergI love to read books that capture my attention and bring me into the book’s world. This book did that. I have friends who believe my world is the world of nine-year-old Shelby Holmes and her 11-year-old companion-to-be, John Watson. And they are right.

I was at the point of wanting a story to remember in, and this is one. My growing up years were not in New York. I come from a totally different background.

This book drew me in just like in the adult Canon. I became 11 year old John Watson and had a great time. I experienced how to accept and be a friend.

The mystery does resemble one from the Canon and is done well. I felt refreshed and ready to read the next one that I hope will follow.

So, to all 11-year-olds and 9-year-olds, you will like this story. Be prepared to explain it to all the adults who ask you to read this story to them. I hope you find the ones who are half Men and Women and still half Boys and Girls. The rest do not count.

-Chips

Sherlock Holmes and the Nine-Dragon Sigil

Sherlock Holmes and the Nine-Dragon Sigil

by Tim Symonds
MXPublishing (November 2016)
358p. ISBN 9781787050358

Publisher’s Summary

It’s the year 1906. Rumours abound that a deadly plot is hatching – not in the fog-ridden back-alleys of London’s Limehouse district or the sinister Devon moors of the Hound of the Baskervilles but in faraway Peking. Holmes’s task – discover whether such a plot exists and if so, foil it. But are the assassins targeting the young and progressive Ch’ing Emperor or his imperious aunt, the fearsome Empress Dowager Cixi? The murder of either could spark a civil war. The fate of China and the interests of Britain’s vast Empire in the Orient could be at stake. Holmes and Watson take up the mission with their customary confidence until they find they are no longer in the familiar landscapes of Edwardian England. Instead, they tumble into the Alice In Wonderland world of the Forbidden City.

General Summary

Unlike several of the reviews I’ve written for the Society so far, this book (which was sent to me by the author, Tim Symonds) features a Holmesian story much like the ones in the Canon.  Watson is the narrator, Holmes and his case are the focus, and it takes place in the era that the Canon was originally set.  This will, I am sure, make a number of Society members very happy.

The story, as noted in the publisher’s summary, takes place in 1906 and is firmly set during the Retirement Era.  Holmes is away in Sussex with his bees, while Watson tends to his practice.  It becomes clear from the get go that Watson is rather bored without the stimulation of his friend’s cases.  It is hardly surprising, then, that when approached by General Yuan for his help in developing a company of Chinese army medics, he leaps at the chance.

The book is steeped in historical detail which many readers will find incredibly rich.  The author meticulously notes the ephemera of the Edwardian era, such as ads and brands and the popular fashions of the time.  It does an excellent job of making you feel like you’re there, standing next to Watson.  When the narrative moves to China, the historical details do not end, and you’ll find yourself discovering a plethora of fascinating information.

The mystery is complex and knotty, and will satisfy anyone who has a fondness for royal dramas.  It was difficult to work out in advance, as no one is telling the full truth.  It also moves incredibly swiftly, moving from action to action to action, and it will certainly keep you engaged.

The Chinese characters, while occasionally steeped in unfortunate stereotypes both historic and modern, were as complex as the plot itself.  The Empress Dowager and the Emperor are, in particular, fully examined and have a plethora of emotions and motivations.  The Empress Dowager in particular was incredibly complicated character to understand, which is not necessarily surprising, given her role in history and the diversity of opinion on her rule.  Because the book primarily takes place in China, there are very few Canon characters who appear, but Mycroft shows off his role as The British Government as well, in a way that will certainly make Mycroft fans grin.

Canon was referenced throughout, and one can tell that Watson feels a bit nostalgic for the Good Ol’ Days, but it also serves to show just how deep the history between Holmes and Watson runs.  There is an easy camaraderie between the two that demonstrates the close friendship, and how quickly they can fall into old routines and patterns, despite the physical distance between them most of the time.

For anyone who likes a more traditional Holmesian romp, with an emphasis on investigation and friendship, this will certainly appeal!

What About Our Watson?

Watson is very much the central character in this story.  Even though it was Holmes that ultimately solves the mystery, it is Watson who drives the action and provides all the relevant clues.  As it is said in Canon, he is a conductor of light.

Delightfully, this story begins with Watson, not Holmes, being approached by a Chinese general who wants his help.  The General wants him to help build a company of medics in the Chinese military.  Although this explanation deflates a little bit later on, Watson provides a great deal of information and suggestions to the General, taking his job very seriously.

Watson also serves as a confidant to a number of people.  They tell him their problems with ease, as well as their secrets.  It is this quality of Watson, his unobtrusiveness, concern, and compassion, that provide him with so much information necessary for Holmes to solve the mystery.

If I have one complaint, it’s that the first-person narrative is perhaps a little distant, and so we don’t get to know a great deal of how Watson feels about the things he’s hearing and experiencing.  I would have loved to know more about his internal life throughout this book.  But he is a solid Watson, and I look forward to seeing this author’s other works.

You Might Like This Book If You Like:

Court intrigues; travelogues; Shakespeare; the Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce films

Is there a book you want Lucy to review?  Let her know!

The Women of Baker Street (Book Review)

The Women of Baker Street

by Michelle Birkby
Pan Books (February 2017)
368 p. ISBN 9781509809738

Publisher’s Summary

As Sherlock and Watson return from the famous Hound of the Baskervilles case, Mrs Hudson and Mary must face their own Hound, in the swirling fog of Victorian London …When Mrs Hudson falls ill, she is taken into a private ward at St Barts hospital. Perhaps it is her over-active imagination, or her penchant for sniffing out secrets, but as she lies in her bed, slowly recovering, she finds herself surrounded by patients who all have some skeletons in their closets. A higher number of deaths than usual seem to occur on this ward. On her very first night, Mrs Hudson believes she witnesses a murder. But was it real, or just smoke and mirrors? Mary Watson meanwhile has heard about young boys disappearing across London, and is determined to find them and reunite them with their families. As the women’s investigations collide in unexpected ways, a gruesome discovery in Regent’s Park leads them on to a new, terrifying case.

General Review

I was eagerly anticipating the release of this book, having thoroughly enjoyed its predecessor, The House at Baker Street.  Knowing that sequels can occasionally be a cause of disappointment, I tempered my expectations before I cracked open the spine (or, rather, digital copy- the hardcopy is not readily available in the US yet, and so while awaiting the arrival of my hardcopy, I went ahead and bought a second copy on my Nook) and settled in to find out what Mary Watson and Mrs. Hudson were up to now.

I needn’t have worried.  The Women of Baker Street is an excellent follow-up and, in some ways, is better than the first in the series.

The book wastes no time in getting us into the mystery.  With an incredibly creepy and ominous opening that sets the stage for what is to come, we are soon hurried through the circumstances of Mrs. Hudson’s illness.  Perhaps too hurried- I myself would have enjoyed some fussing over Mrs. Hudson by Watson and Holmes- but having read the whole book now, I can see why the author didn’t linger much over her actual moment of collapse.

Soon we are introduced to a truly eclectic and strange group of women who share the ward with Mrs. Hudson while she recuperates.  In the first book there were some truly fine original characters, but it largely focused on fleshing out the Canon characters.  Here, though, we meet eight new women in quick succession.  I worried I would have trouble keeping them all straight, and for perhaps a page or two I did.  But every woman has her own personality and her own mystery, so they soon became their own people and any confusion dried up quickly.  In fact, I found myself wanting to learn the full story about every single woman, and was captivated by their mysteries.

If secrets was the theme of the first book, haunting is the theme of this one.  Every single person in the book, including Mrs. Hudson and Holmes, is haunted by the spectral presence of their past.  It is these hauntings that drive the mysteries encountered.  At times the hauntings are simply heartbreaking; in other cases, dark and ominous.  Mrs. Hudson’s haunting was, I thought, the most effective, in part because she is our POV character, but also because the actions she took in the previous book took a toll on her.  Watching her struggle with the conclusion of the previous book is heart-wrenching, but also satisfying.  It is an easy thing to make a character accept their actions and move on; it is quite another to have a character grapple with them and force themselves to reexamine what they’ve done.  I loved watching Mrs. Hudson struggle, and particularly loved the help she received along the way, sometimes from the most unlikely of sources.

The theme of haunting is present in the overall atmosphere of the book as well.  It really was quite creepy at times, with certain scenes driving me to set down the book for a moment so I could take a breath.  There are moments of terror for the characters, and the writing was done so well that I found myself caught up in it all.

While the first book meandered occasionally, with flashbacks to Mrs. Hudson’s life before Baker Street, or providing little glimpses into shared histories and moments, this book is more firmly a mystery novel.  And it is an excellent mystery, incredibly twisty, with multiple suspects and a horrifying conclusion.  I was very much impressed in how the two separate mysteries were handled by the author; both were given roughly the same amount of focus, but at no point did I feel lost or like something was missing.  When the mysteries wove together, it was incredibly organic, with everything clicking into place naturally.  As a warning, it is also a very dark story, so if you prefer lighter mysteries, this may not be something you enjoy.  I, however, loved it.

With this book being more of an actual mystery novel, it is tempting to read it before the first one, which has elements of a character study.  However, I would advise that this isn’t a standalone book.  You will likely find yourself lost if you don’t read the first in the series, because while Women of Baker Street has a much more straightforward narrative, it also very much references and relies on threads that were set up in The House at Baker Street.

Once you finish this book, I fully anticipate you will be eager for the next.  Not to worry- I have already pestered the author on twitter, and she believes it should be out in early 2018.

What About Our Watson?

Much as in the first book of the series, this book provides us with two Watsons to examine, John Watson and Mary Watson.

It is Watson who, in some ways, helps set the stage for the case, for it is Watson who uses his connections to get Mrs. Hudson into the private ward.  He appears primarily as a doctor, stopping in to check on Mrs. Hudson, but we also discover that he’s assisting a young woman nurse in her studies to become a doctor, and is also helping Mary learn about anatomy and physiology.  He is an incredibly supportive husband to Mary, and I truly adore the ongoing depictions of their life together.  The hints we get in Canon about their relationship are brought more into the open, and they’re wonderful to behold.

Mary herself is much the spitfire we met in the first book, though she is clearly growing.  She has enlisted her husband to teach her more about the body so she can approach cases with more information, and though she still has a reckless streak, she’s more willing to listen when Mrs. Hudson tells her to slow down.  Mary is so passionate and brave, it’s impossible not to love her, and it’s easy to see why she and John Watson are such a perfect match.  Interestingly, she becomes quite obsessed with about her own case, the mystery of the missing street boys, in such a way that makes me raise an eyebrow and wonder if there isn’t something else going on with Mary…

The Watsons in this book will not disappoint, though if you are strictly a John Watson fan, you may wish he had more time on the page.  But as this book is about Mrs. Hudson and Mary Watson, it is hardly surprising that he takes a backstage role.

You Might Like This Book If You Like:

Hospital dramas; tragedies; psychological horror; relationships between women

Is there a book you want Lucy to review?  Let her know!

The Whole Art of Detection (Book Review)

The Whole Art of Detection

by Lyndsay Faye
Mysterious Press (March 2017)
388 p. ISBN 9780802125927

Publisher’s Summary

Internationally bestselling author Lyndsay Faye was introduced to the Sherlock Holmes mysteries when she was ten years old and her dad suggested she read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story “The Adventure of the Speckled Band.” She immediately became enamored with tales of Holmes and his esteemed biographer Dr. John Watson, and later, began spinning these quintessential characters into her own works of fiction—from her acclaimed debut novel, Dust and Shadow, which pitted the famous detective against Jack the Ripper, to a series of short stories for the Strand Magazine, whose predecessor published the very first Sherlock Holmes short story in 1891.

Faye’s best Holmes tales, including two new works, are brought together in The Whole Art of Detection, a stunning collection that spans Holmes’s career, from self-taught young upstart to publicly lauded detective, both before and after his faked death over a Swiss waterfall in 1894. In “The Lowther Park Mystery,” the unsociable Holmes is forced to attend a garden party at the request of his politician brother and improvises a bit of theater to foil a conspiracy against the government. “The Adventure of the Thames Tunnel” brings Holmes’s attention to the baffling murder of a jewel thief in the middle of an underground railway passage. With Holmes and Watson encountering all manner of ungrateful relatives, phony psychologists, wronged wives, plaid-garbed villains, and even a peculiar species of deadly red leech, The Whole Art of Detection is a must-read for Sherlockians and any fan of historical crime fiction with a modern sensibility.

General Review

Having been a fan of Faye’s work since she published Dust and Shadow, I expected to enjoy this book, and was thrilled to receive an ARC from NetGalley.  What I did not expect was just how MUCH I enjoyed the book.  Faye has a grasp of Watson and Holmes’ partnership that few authors manage to bring to life on the page in quite the same way.  Here we see playful teasing, uproarious arguments, protectiveness and fondness, and a way of interacting that can only come about from decades of knowing each other.

The book is divided into four sections: Before Baker Street, in which Holmes or Watson tell a story to one another about a case they had before they met; The Early Years, which all take place before the Hiatus; The Return, which takes place in the immediate aftermath of the Hiatus; and The Later Years, which cover the years leading up to Holmes’ retirement.

Before Baker Street will bring to mind Gloria Scott and Musgrave Ritual.  Even though either Holmes or Watson is absent from the mystery, however, they are very present within the story itself, either interjecting questions or asides, commenting on the action, or needing to take a break in order to adjust a blanket or eat some food.  If one looks at Gloria Scott or Musgrave Ritual and misses Watson, then that shouldn’t be a concern here.  He also presents his own case to Holmes, in a delightful turn of events.

The Early Years gives us four cases in which we explore the tentative beginnings to the friendship between Watson and Holmes.  Faye is very aware that these stories take place before they were truly comrades-in-arms the way we think of them, and so she shows the gradual blossoming of their friendship as we go through.  We are shown here vulnerable and deeply compassionate sides to Holmes, while Watson’s pawky humor comes through quite clearly, as well as his bravery and willingness to pursue justice.  My favourite story in the entire collection, the Gaskell Blackmailing Dilemma, is in this section.  This story takes place during HOUN, while Holmes is still in London, and is drawn entirely from Holmes’ journal entries… in which he rambles about Watson, rants about Watson, and worries about Watson.  If you’ve ever wondered just how Holmes feels about Watson, or worried that he didn’t value the friendship, this story will put such fears to rest.  It is a gem.

The Return, with most stories all taking place immediately after EMPT, focuses on the consequences of Holmes’ actions, and is possibly the bleakest of the four sections.  The first story in the group is heart wrenching, with Mary Watson having just died and Watson not knowing what to do anymore.  In the other stories, Holmes and Watson have to work through the emotional quandaries that arose from the Hiatus and, in The Willow Basket, we get to see just what Lestrade’s take on the whole thing is.  Despite this being perhaps the saddest section, it is still immensely satisfying, and really gives weight to the Hiatus as a whole.

The Later Years feature your classic pastiches, with the focus truly being on the cases themselves.  At this point, Holmes and Watson have largely sorted out any rocky patches in their friendship, and these are some of the years Watson claimed Holmes was at the height of his powers in Canon; the mysteries are, suitably, excellent.

Most of the stories in this collection feature an A plot, which focuses on the mysteries at hand, and a B plot, examining a facet of the relationship between Holmes and Watson.  If the mysteries are at times predictable, it is the B plots that make this book a standout.  It is an amazing collection, and you will want to have it on your shelf.

What About Our Watson?

The Watson that appears here is everything a good Watson should be: he’s loyal, he’s clever, he’s an excellent doctor, he’s brave and resolute, he’s funny, and he’s protective.  The stories are told in a classic pastiche style, very reminiscent of Canon, but we are lucky here in that Watson isn’t edited out as much.  He doesn’t come back into the story just to ask a question so that Holmes will explain something; instead, he is as much a part of the process of detective work as Holmes himself.  His medical experience is featured heavily in these stories, in particular as Holmes’ doctor.  Two stories, Colonel Warburton’s Madness and An Empty House feature Watson alone, with very little Holmes, and so we get experience a slightly difference view on him, unrelated to case work.

Perhaps the two best stories, however, for showcasing our Watson are the two stories that are drawn from Holmes’ notes.  These are not done in the style of Lion’s Mane or Blanched Soldier, with Holmes attempting to write his own story.  Instead, these are unfiltered, raw Holmes, straight from his journals, and so the Gaskell Blackmailing Dilemma and The Diadem Club Affair show us exactly how Holmes sees his friend, and, more importantly, gives us an unedited view on what Watson is truly like, without his authorial hand adjusting things.  Watson is steadfast and gentle, brave and bullheaded, sarcastic and intelligent.  It’s a brilliant portrayal, and immensely satisfying for a Watsonian.

You Might Like This If You Like:

Bert Coules radio dramas; friendship stories; the tin box mysteries with new plots; classic pastiche collections

Sherlock Holmes and the Eisendorf Enigma (Book Review)

Sherlock Holmes and the Eisendorf Enigma

by Larry Millett
University of Minnesota Press (February 2017)
240 p. ISBN 9781517900861

Publisher’s Summary

Dogged by depression, doubt, and—as a trip to the Mayo Clinic has revealed—emphysema, 66-year-old Sherlock Holmes is preparing to return to England when he receives a shock: a note slipped under his hotel room door, from a vicious murderer he’d nearly captured in Munich in 1892. The murderer, known as the Monster of Munich, announces that he has relocated to Eisendorf, a tiny village near the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

If Holmes is not what he once was, the same can be said for Eisendorf: once a thriving community founded by German idealists but now a dying town with only forty residents—two of whom have, indeed, died recently under highly mysterious circumstances. Replete with all the gothic richness of Larry Millett’s earlier Holmes novels, Sherlock Holmes and the Eisendorf Enigma links events in 1892 Germany with those in small-town Minnesota in 1920 in a double mystery that tests the aging detective’s mettle—and the reader’s nerve—as never before.

Guided by Eisendorf’s peculiar archivist and taunted by the Monster, Holmes finds himself drawn into the town’s dark history of violence and secrecy, and into the strange tunnels that underscore the old flour mill where answers, and grievous danger, lie in wait. No longer the cool, flawless logician of times past, Holmes must nonetheless match wits with a fiendish opponent who taunts him right up to a final, explosive confrontation.

General Review

Taking place during the Retirement Years, even past World War I, Eisendorf Enigma is a fun, fast-paced mystery.  I was very excited when NetGalley sent me an ARC of Millett’s latest Sherlock Holmes novel- growing up, his novels were some of the first pastiches I encountered- and I’m deeply grateful to them for the opportunity to read this book in advance and comment on it.

The story begins quickly, almost abruptly, with the reader being introduced to several things at once, including Holmes’ illness and his history in Munich, before we find ourselves in Eisendorf itself, meeting our cast of suspects.  Eisendorf is a miniscule German village in Minnesota, and it’s layered in secrets.  It is fascinating to see Holmes attempt to tease out information from people when literally everyone he meets lies to him or misdirects him, and the only records he can consult are written by the same people who are lying to him.  Although the book starts very quickly, it soon adjusts to a slower, more measured pace that absolutely suits the very Southern Gothic atmosphere of this book.  We spend a great deal of time meeting the inhabitants of the town, few as they are, and learning the history and the founding of Eisendorf.  In between these moments, we flash back to 1892 Munich, when Holmes first encountered the serial killer known as the Monster.  The two stories are woven together well, each contributing new insights to the other.

Millett has always been phenomenal at writing eccentrics (many familiar with the series will well remember Shadwell Rafferty, who dominated Millett’s later books; while Rafferty appears in this book, he is not a main character), and it shines through here.  Eisendorf is full of strange people.  There’s the archivist, who notes down every detail of the town and whom Holmes cannot unravel; the young woman with a childish spirit who wears angel wings and claims to know secrets; the recluse who threatens Holmes whenever they meet; the outcast whose actions during World War I endangered much of the town; the town leader and his wife, who make for an odd pair; and the widow, that Holmes finds captivating.  The secondary characters are delightful, and it is enjoyable trying to sort out which among them may have a motive and committed the crimes Holmes is investigating.

Millett’s descriptions are lush and rich, and anyone who likes to craft a good visual in their head will appreciate his attention to detail with the setting.  Minnesota is a beautiful place, and the author’s descriptions create a written picture that will match any photos you pull up on the Internet or in a book.

The first two-thirds of the book are from a third-person perspective, following Holmes, which could be disconcerting for readers used to Watson’s first-person perspective.  Thankfully, in the last third of the book, we return to what we are used to.  The first part of the book is still well done, however, if occasionally too willing to repeat internal thoughts of Holmes’ that don’t need to be stated with such frequency.

It’s a charming, quick book, and I enjoyed it immensely.  I hope Millett will consider writing more works in this timeline, one rarely explored by pastiche writers.  It would be lovely to have a set of books that focus on the cases of Holmes and Watson, well past retirement and post-World War I.

What About Our Watson?

For a while, I feared I would have little to report on the Watson front.  The first two-thirds of the book feature Holmes by himself, without any of his usual allies or friends, in Eisendorf.  I was fully prepared to write about the occasional affectionate thoughts that Holmes has for Watson, and to note that his brief appearance at the beginning is pleasant, if unsatisfying for the dedicated Watsonian.

Thankfully, however, Watson makes a heroic entrance towards the end, and while he doesn’t get to contribute much in the solving of the mystery, his personality comes through in spades.  Watson rushes off to America, leaving his irate second wife behind (the second Mrs. Watson is not well liked by Holmes, or the author it would seem) in order to get to Holmes’ side.  He is shown to be an excellent doctor, whose medical opinion Holmes trusts above all others, and is quick to follow through on Holmes’ strange requests.  His sarcastic humor comes out at the most unexpected times, much to my amusement.

While there isn’t as much Watson content as I would like, when Watson is there, he is very recognizably Watson.

You Might Like This Book If You Like:

Minnesota; small town histories; Southern Gothic mysteries; ruminations on age and illness