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

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

The “Best” Sherlock Holmes Stories

A Curious Collection of Dates: Through the Year with Sherlock Holmes by Leah Guinn (JHWS “Amber”) and Jaime N Mahoney (JHWS “Tressa”), reminds us that the June 1927 issue of The Strand Magazine included the results of a contest in the preceding March issue: “Which are the best Sherlock Holmes Stories?”

The winner of the contest was the one who came the closest to matching a list compiled by Arthur Conan Doyle. An accompanying article gave Doyle’s reasons for choosing each story, though he evidently couldn’t resist “grousing a bit that he had had to reread them all.”

The contest winner, RT Norman, matched 10 of the 12 titles, receiving a copy of Doyle’s Memories and Adventures and £100. (Eric W Nye’s Pounds Sterling to Dollars: Historical Conversion of Currency, tells us that would be worth $8,714.79 USD today, which our friends at Google say equals £6,771.40 GBP.)

Arthur Conan Doyle’s List of the Best Sherlock Holmes Stories

  1. The Specked Band
  2. The Red Headed League
  3. The Dancing Men
  4. The Final Problem
  5. A Scandal in Bohemia
  6. The Empty House
  7. The Five Orange Pips
  8. The Second Stain
  9. The Devils Foot
  10. The Priory School
  11. The Musgrave Ritual
  12. The Reigate Squires

A Curious Collection of Dates summarizes the reasoning behind the selections. For those interested in more on the subject, there’s The Baker Street Dozen, edited by Pj Doyle and EW McDiarmid, a collection of essays on the stories (plus “Silver Blaze”) from authors including Isaac Asimov, Richard Lancelyn Green, and our friend over at Sherlock Peoria, Brad Keefauver.

For even more consideration of which story is the best, and why, look no further than About Sixty: Why Every Sherlock Holmes Story is the Best, edited by Christopher Redmond (JHWS “Buster”) and including contributions from a number of our members. (Don’t miss our interview with “Buster” about the book!)

On May 31st…

According to A Day by Day Chronology of Mr Sherlock Holmes, according to Zeisler and Christ, compiled and edited by William S Dorn, BSI and DWNP, on May 31, 1902, a house agent agreed to Mrs Maberly’s terms for sale of Three Gables. [3GAB]

Three days ago I had a call from a man who said that he was a house agent. He said that this house would exactly suit a client of his, and that if I would part with it money would be no object. It seemed to me very strange, as there are several empty houses on the market which appear to be equally eligible, but naturally I was interested in what he said. I therefore named a price which was five hundred pounds more than I gave. He at once closed with the offer, but added that his client desired to buy the furniture as well, and would I put a price upon it. Some of this furniture is from my old home, and it is, as you see, very good, so that I named a good round sum. To this also he at once agreed. I had always wanted to travel, and the bargain was so good a one that it really seemed that I should be my own mistress for the rest of my life.

Friend and Biographer Series: JHWS ‘Hyacinth’

Speaking of my old friend and biographer, I would take this opportunity to remark….Watson has some remarkable characteristics of his own, to which in his modesty he has given small attention…

Hello Watsonians,

Today we add to our series of brief biographic interviews with some of the members of JHWS. Our members, like the good Dr. Watson, have some remarkable characteristics of their own, and we would like to give some small attention to them.

Please welcome our Canadian friend Stephanie Thomas.  I enjoyed her comments very much (especially that ‘soft spot’) and I think you will enjoy them too.

Thanks,

Margie

JHWS/’Mopsy’

  1. Name and bull pup moniker –

Stephanie Thomas, JHWS “Hyacinth”

  1. Current (city, state, country) location –

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

  1. How long have you been a devotee of Dr. Watson?

I have been a devotee of the good doctor since I read the Hound of the Baskervilles in junior high.  I have always had a soft spot for Dr. Watson because he is intelligent, brave and loyal, and not self-centred like Holmes.

  1. Do you have a favorite canonical story?

My favorite story is ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ because it was the first Holmes story I read, Sir Henry Baskerville is Canadian, and Toronto is mentioned.  It is also my favorite because Dr. Watson has an opportunity to work on his own solving the mystery, and readers get to see how intelligent Watson is.  That is something we do not always get to see in the Canon because usually Watson focusses on Holmes’ work.  Runners up are The Adventure of the Speckled Band and The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.

  1. What is your favorite quote from the canon?

My favorite quote is from ‘The Adventure of the Three Garridebs’: “You’re not hurt, Watson?  For God’s sake, say that you are not hurt!”

My heart melted when I first read this passage.  Although it is obvious in the other stories that Holmes is fond of Watson, it is in the Three Garridebs where Holmes comes out and says how much he cares for his friend.

  1. If you could speak directly to anyone in the canon, who would you choose and why?

Like Lily, I would choose to talk to Mrs. Hudson.  She must have so many fascinating stories about having Holmes and Watson as lodgers, and she knows more about Dr. Watson than what he reveals to us in the Canon.  In ‘A Study in Scarlet’, Watson mentions that he has another set of vices when he is well.  Mrs. Hudson probably knows what those vices are, and she would know how many wives Watson had, and what happened to them.  Number two on my list would be Dr. Watson.  With his gift for story-telling, and his pawkish sense of humour, he would be an interesting and entertaining person to talk to.

  1. Are you fond of any particular canon adaptations—pastiche, radio, or film?

My favorite adaption is the Granada series starring Jeremy Brett, David Burke, and Edward Hardwicke.   The casting is spot on and I like that the series is true to the Canon.  My favorite film is ‘Murder by Decree’, with Christopher Plumber as Holmes and James Mason as Watson, where Holmes and Watson are hunting Jack the Ripper.  I also like Jude Law’s portrayal of Dr. Watson in the Guy Ritchie films.

  1. Do you have a local Watsonian/Sherlockian/Holmesian group you meet with on a regular basis?

My local Sherlockian society is the Bootmakers of Toronto.  I am also a member of the Friends of the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection, Toronto Public Library (ACD Friends).

  1. Do you have any recent Watsonian/Sherlockian/Holmesian projects/events you would like to tell us about?

I don’t have any Sherlockian projects on the go.  In January I attended the BSI Weekend in New York City.

  1. If you had a magic wand, allowing you to add, subtract, change one thing in your Watsonian/Sherlockian/Holmesian world, what would it be?

I would like to see more young fans joining Sherlockian societies instead of confining their interest in Holmes and Watson to social media.  I have met so many great people and made many friends by attending Bootmakers of Toronto meetings and ACD Friends events, going to Holmes and Doyle themed conferences, and attending gatherings such as the BSI Weekend.  It would be a shame if these opportunities to meet Sherlockians face-to-face died out because the next generation of Sherlockians only “meet” online.  I would also like to see more fans of BBC’s Sherlock reading Dr. Watson’s original stories.

Dr Watson’s Finest Moment

[Note from Chips: I have the author’s permission to use this for our membership to enjoy. For a society that honors the contributions of Dr Watson, I think it is a fitting tribute to the Good Doctor.]

WATSON’S FINEST MOMENT

by Carl L Heifetz

Prepared for The Formulary, The Journal of the Friends of Doctor Watson

April 17, 2006

The “sacred” Canon reveals many excellent instances that may fulfill the object of this essay – to describe the finest moment in the life and career of John H. Watson, M.D.

Could it be the time that he stood bravely on the deck of the Aurora, revolver in hand, facing down the dangerous Tonga and his poisoned dart in The Sign of Four, or, in the same adventure, when he walked, alone and unprotected, late at night through a dangerous part of London seeking Toby? How about the time that he steadfastly acted as a British jury in “The Adventure of the Abbey Grange?” The list is virtually endless.

Although many other episodes could be cited as exemplifying the subject of this discourse, I maintain that the best exemplar was the occasion in which Dr. Watson agreed to shares Baker Street quarters with Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

Look at the circumstances that would have mitigated against this decision. Watson was weak and weary from his horrible experiences. His leg and shoulder ached constantly, forcing him towards excessive drink. His constitution had been weakened by a case of enteric fever. He was probably also suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. And, no doubt, his nerves were very highly susceptible to anxiety, admitting later to “keeping a bull pup.” Yet, he agreed to share a suite with a man described as a very sinister companion; a man who greeted him with a mysterious statement concerning the fact that he had been in Afghanistan, a statement which could put most men’s nerve on edge, and then ran around yelling about some test for blood. It is indeed a tribute to Dr. Watson that he must have seen some very positive outcomes associated with a future relationship with the “mad scientist” whom he had just met.

Let us consider the serious consequences had Dr. Watson not decided that it would be in his best interests to share rooms with this eccentric gentleman. Just imagine, we might never have heard of Sherlock Holmes.

His personal reticence would have dimmed whatever other records there were of his accomplishment. Think of it: The world would never have been the same; we would all have been deprived of the main focus of our scholarly pursuits.

Let us all sing the praises of Dr. Watson, and his finest moment – the beginning of an adventurous life for Dr. Watson and all of us who relish Dr. Watson’s accounts.

From Limerick Corner

I have the author’s permission to publish this limerick, and I felt that there is such a great description here I wanted my fellow members to see and appreciate the quality. Tomorrow I have an article about Dr Watson’s finest moment by this same author that I think you will really
enjoy. My first love in Sherlockian research is limericks so this one is first. I hope you understand and allow me my passion. -Chips

SHERLOCK HOLMES LIMERICK
by Carl & Sandie Heifetz

(Presented at the Pleasant Places of Florida Sherlock Holmes Birthday Bash, January 17, 1998; Cité Grill: Dundin, Florida), Published in The Hounds Collection Vol. 4, p 70, Bill Barnes 1999.

Sherlock Holmes, a detective from London,
Could not tolerate puzzles too humdrum.
He looked at all trifles,
Butts, tracks, and air rifles,
And used Science to solve each conundrum.
He was the best London detective,
Who thought police methods defective,
He placed his reliance,
On methods of Science,
And used logic that was quite objective.
On all of the clues he would meditate,
While smoking his pipe would eliminate,
All items impossible,
But not the improbable,
And then his hypotheses validate.

Stephen Fry and Sherlock Holmes

If any fictional character can be said to be immortal, it is Sherlock Holmes.

So begins Simon Callow’s review of the new audio version of (most of) the Canon from Audible, read by Stephen Fry, in the New York Times Book Review: The Sound of Sherlock: Stephen Fry Voices the Master Sleuth.

After recounting a few of the many adaptations and pastiches that have appeared over the years – including The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, and House – he returns to the ongoing interest in the Canon since its original publication.

The reasons for Holmes’s enduring fascination are easy to understand. He restores logic to an unruly, disturbingly incomprehensible world. Initial chaos — the crime — appears to be without meaning. The great detective, inhumanly brilliant, makes sense of things again. […] We come to him like frightened children, in search of explanations. He will never fail us. At least in the realm of crime — though not in the territory of the human heart — he sheds light where there has previously only been darkness. He is clever Daddy, who leaves us reassured, able to sleep at night. But he is by no means perfect. Conan Doyle’s coup de maître, as Watson might say, is to make his hero a flawed man, prone to deep melancholia, liable to escape into cocaine- or opium-induced oblivion. He has the soul of an artist, as demonstrated in his violin playing: He is prepared to please Watson by knocking off some Mendelssohn or Wagner, but when left to himself, he “scrapes carelessly” at the fiddle thrown across his knee. Sometimes, Watson tells us, the chords were sonorous and melancholy, sometimes fantastic and cheery: obviously an avant-gardist at work. Holmes’s behavior, tut-tuts Watson, is bohemian: His papers are piled up higgledy-piggledy all over his rooms, he is entirely disorganized domestically, he is given to long bouts of brooding silence. Nothing that is not germane to his work as a consulting detective is allowed to clutter up his mind. He is indifferent to literature, knows little of history, and cosmology has no part in his intellectual framework. This, too, has endeared Holmes to his readers: The genius is vulnerable, his mental prowess bought at a cost.

“12 Scenes from Holmes’s Career” by Sidney Paget

The audio recording also includes some forewords from Fry himself, which Callow says “constitute one of the set’s major pleasures, illuminated by informed enthusiasm and personal revelation: In one he rather touchingly recounts how his first encounter with Holmes, at a very early age, changed his life, leading him on to truancy, expulsion from school and, finally, briefly, prison.” For Fry’s vocal performance, Callow has nothing but praise:

In the Holmes books, he reads just under a thousand pages in his wonderfully even and infallibly intelligent voice, touching the characters in deftly — the books field a very large number of well-educated middle-aged men, and it must have been difficult to differentiate one from another. Otherwise, he finds a variety of accents and tones for the many foreigners Holmes encounters; his American accents are lightly done, without attempting, for example, a Utah accent in “A Study in Scarlet.”

Callow concludes, “There are other complete recorded Holmeses (as it happens, the current collection omits the last book of all, presumably on copyright grounds), but none that sustains the course so buoyantly, and none with the added pleasure of the reader’s pithy commentary on each book.”

There is a “Definitive Edition” available in the UK that includes The Case-Book, but it is not available in the United States. Maybe that edition will be released this side of the pond when those stories (finally) roll into the US public domain.

Have you listened to the Stephen Fry audiobook, or any other audio version of the Canon?

A Bit on Tid Bits

I always meant the definition of Tid Bits to be as the Oxford English Dictionary defines it: “a small and particularly interesting item of gossip or information”.

So, from time to time I will be adding a small and, to me, particularly interesting item of gossip or information. I hope you find the tid bit interesting too. If not, please let me know. This is my baby, so Selena is not to be blamed, just me in this case for as long as it lasts.

Yours in Sherlockian fun and information, “Chips” aka “Tid Bits”

Tid Bit for Today

Are you looking for a dentist in the Denver metro area? You might give him a try. The tooth with the deerstalker looks a little loopy, maybe from the Novocaine?

On May 26th…

Peter Cushing as Holmes and Nigel Stock as Watson (1964)

“Chips” writes that today marks the birth of his favorite actor to play Sherlock Holmes: he put an emotion into Holmes as one who could be aloof, standoffish because of his knowledge but underneath a warm caring human who loved Watson as a brother and cared for his clients.

Peter Wilton Cushing was born on May 26, 1913, in Kenley, Surrey, England. He played Sherlock Holmes many times, beginning with Hammer Films’ The Hound of the Baskervilles in 1959, which was the first Holmes adaptation filmed in color. He went on to play Holmes in 16 episodes of the BBC’s Sherlock Holmes series, though only six episodes have survived. Twenty years later, he portrayed an older Holmes in the television movie, Sherlock Holmes and the Masks of Death.

Cushing was a Sherlockian, and as such insisted on including lines from the stories into the TV episodes. He also included actions such as writing on his sleeve cuff in Study in Scarlet. Unfortunately, the series was underfunded and given no time to film quality episodes, so Cushing and the BBC parted company.

In Starring Sherlock Holmes: A Century of the Master Detective on Screen, film historian David Stuart Davies notes:

Cushing requested that the costumes for the series replicated those shown in the Paget illustrations. The BBC agreed, and in doing so exploded the myth of Holmes’s Inverness cape…

 

Sources:  A Curious Collection of Dates: Through the Year with Sherlock Holmes by Leah Guinn (JHWS “Amber”) and Jaime N Mahoney (JHWS “Tressa”), IMDB.com, and the Peter Cushing Appreciation Society UK.

Start the Presses (Again)!

watsonian-cover-squareThe Spring 2017 issue of the Watsonian is currently being printed and will soon be winging its way to mailboxes around the world. Digital subscribers will receive an email including a link to download the new issue.

Our publication schedule is now two issues per year: the Spring issue in May and the Fall issue in November.

This is the last issue in many members’ subscriptions. If your membership expires on June 30th, you will not receive the Fall issue unless you renew. Not sure when you’re due for renewal? Membership dates can be found on the Members Page, and mid-year renewals (through December 2018) are available in the Shop.

If you’ve been meaning to join, it’s not too late! Membership is available for the 2017 calendar year, and you will receive both the Spring and Fall 2017 issues of the Watsonian. Don’t miss out on the art, essays, fiction, and puzzles that make up each issue of our excellent journal!