Tag: Sherlock Holmes

Book Review: Mycroft Holmes


What was Mycroft Holmes like as a young man? What events made him the man he became? His more famous brother once said he “was the British government.” He was a behind-the-scenes player who set the pace for national security foreign policy, while founding and running a social club for the anti-social known as the Diogenes Club.

This is the topic of Basketball Legend Kareem Abdul-Jabaar and Anne Waterhouse’s novel Mycroft Holmes. The book begins with Mycroft Holmes as a young man working at the foreign office, engaged to marry a beautiful woman. He’s best friends with Douglas, a native of Trinidad who secretly owns the finest tobacconist shop in London. Douglas pretends to be an employee of two white shopkeepers who pretend to run it in order to avoid the prejudices of the time. When children began mysteriously dying in Trinidad, Mycroft’s fiancée (whose family has a plantation there) takes off for the island and tells him not to follow. He, however, joins Douglas and departs for the Island to aide her and find out what he can do to help her and stop the trouble.

The novel is superbly researched. Abdul-Jabaar traces his heritage backs to Trinidad and the book reflects a broad knowledge of the island, its history, and the various sub-cultures that are part of it. The book’s plot deals with issues of slavery and race but rarely comes across as if we’re reading a modern-day screed on the topic. Much of it is told as simply what happened, with any sentiments being expressed being believable for people living in the Victorian era.

The book has pacing that’s appropriate to a novel set in this era. The pacing is never glacial but the book isn’t afraid to take its time, to paint a vivid picture, and to show the action’s development. As for the story itself, it’s a bit more action than it is a mystery.

At the heart of the book is Mycroft’s relationship to Douglas. In many ways, Douglas is Mycroft’s Watson. He’s not a genius, but he’s steady, reliable, courageous, and street smart. The dynamic is different because, as the book starts, Douglas is a 40-year-old man of the world, while Mycroft is a brilliant young man in his twenties who is, in many ways, naïve about the ways of the world. The book is a coming-of-age story for him.

Of course, no Holmes book would be complete without Sherlock playing a role in it, in some way. In Mycroft Holmes, it’s limited to a couple of brief cameos that offer a compelling take on the two brothers’ relationship. The book manages to be true to who the characters have been established to be in canon while showing just enough of brotherly warmth between them.

There are a ton of pastiches about Sherlock Holmes and friends. Many of them are awful. If you’re a little bit skeptical and wonder if a basketball player could write one of the good ones, wonder no more., Mycroft Holmes is a superb novel and a great origin story for the Greatest Detective’s big brother.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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Review: Elementary, Season Two

Season 2 of Elementary saw the modern-day Sherlock Holmes (Johnny Lee Miller) continuing to consult for the New York Police Department, with Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) as his junior partner who he is training in being a detective.

This season has them returning to London for one case and running into Holmes’ brother Mycroft (Rhys Ifans) who becomes a recurring character throughout the season.

The mysteries are solid, although they tend to take a fairly predictable turn of Holmes getting one or two incorrect solutions before arriving at the truth. The mysteries have a strong tendency towards intrigue and deep conspiracies as plot elements.

Probably the highlight of the season was their take on Inspector Lestrade (Sean Pertwee). In this story, Holmes’ assistance of Lestrade led to national notoriety. However, when that assistance ended due to Holmes’ drug use, Lestrade ended up on the downswing unable to cope with the unreasonable expectations set. It’s interesting exploration and Lestrade is a fun character with a nice little arc.

The series struggles on several fronts though. Of all modern Holmes adaptations, Elementary’s First Season featured the strongest supporting cast in Captain Gregson (Aiden Quinn) and Detective Marcus Bell (Jon Michael Hill.) It really felt like we saw less of them, particularly Captain Gregson. Bell had a mini-arc in the season where Holmes’ arrogance caused an injury which nearly ended Bell’s career. This arc was interesting, although the resolution wasn’t particularly satisfying.

The biggest problem is the relationship dynamic between Holmes and Watson. In the traditional Holmes and Watson relationship, Holmes is exceedingly brilliant compared to Watson. Watson’s no fool, but he lacks the pure brilliance of Holmes. What Watson typically contributes is determination, physical courage, and a better understanding of how human beings work. He also has a great awe for his friend’s power.

This is where the decision to gender-swap the role of Watson becomes problematic. To have a woman as in awe of Holmes, and to have Holmes as superior to a woman partner, would be seen in today’s era as sexist.So the writers made Joan Watson a novice detective to become almost Holmes’ equal in deductive ability by the end of the season.

The problem with this approach is, for the Holmes/Watson dynamic to work, Holmes must be head and shoulder above all his compatriots, considering how hard he can be to work with. With difficult detectives of any gender, if they are just slightly above average compared to other detectives, why put up with the headaches of working with them?

To be honest, Holmes is often insufferable throughout this second season. He remains manipulative and self-absorbed. He harasses the family of a friend who died of a drug overdose after decades of sobriety and raises the possibility of foul play because he’s afraid of eventually relapsing himself. He’s rude with a lot of people who clearly didn’t deserve such mistreatment. (Editor’s note: no one deserves mistreated.) His story line this season is one of trying to keep Watson close, because he needs her for his well being and equilibrium.

What the season seems to show is she has no need for him. She is a strong, independent woman who makes her own choices, is her own person, and has no need for anyone. She needs the work but is perfectly capable of doing it without him by the season’s end.

The original Holmes and Watson dynamic was interdependent. They needed each other, and that’s the key to any dynamic joint detective program. Failing to capture this hurts the series.

Not helping it was a story arc woven through the season that seemed more Soap Opera than Sherlock Holmes where Watson had a relationship with Holmes’ brother because they could. The plot twists and turns were outrageous and seemed to be trying to compete with the bizarre and wild plot turns on the BBC Series Sherlock. While I’ve criticized many things about Sherlock, the series has an undeniable sense of style that allows it to pull of most of its wild plot turns. Elementary lacks that and so many of these plot ideas fall flat.

The series isn’t bad, particularly when it comes to its mysteries. Yet, Season 2’s fundamental problems with characters and characterization make it okay at best.

Rating: 3.0 outof 5.0

 

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Book Review: A Study in Terror

In A Study in Terror, while trying to work on his latest novel, Ellery Queen is distracted by a friend who brings him a manuscript purporting to be a lost Sherlock Holmes story where Doctor Watson recounts how Holmes investigated the Jack the Ripper murders.

The book is mostly a Sherlock Holmes pastiche with an Ellery Queen story framing it. The pastiche is a good one that shows proficiency in Holmes and a love for the character that the author obviously possesses. The framing story is mostly okay. It’s hindered by an unnecessary romantic angle that doesn’t add much to the story. It takes quite a while to figure out why Ellery Queen is in this book and it’s that someone thinks the conclusion of the Sherlock Holmes story is wrong. The author deserves credit for finding some way to make this argument without creating a situation that makes Ellery Queen out to be a better detective than Sherlock Holmes.

The book is enjoyable but those looking for a realistic solution to the Ripper murders will have to look elsewhere. The solution offered in the book is consistent with the book but not with all the evidence that’s been put out on the Ripper murders. It would have probably been better to fictionalize the murderers rather than to make it a well-known case and not offer a plausible solution.

Still, A Study in a Terror is an enjoyable mash up of two great detectives that gives both of them their due.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: All Consuming Fire


Despite both series being produced by Stephen Moffat, BBC’s hit shows Sherlock and Doctor Who are unlikely to crossover despite the desire of many fans to see such an event. However, with its adaptation of Andy Lane’s novel All Consuming Fire, Big Finish gives listeners a chance to hear a meeting of the two great heroes with Sylvester McCoy reprising his role as the Seventh Doctor and Nicholas Briggs taking on the role of Holmes (one he has played quite well in Big Finish’s Sherlock Holmes range.)Books stolen from a church library set Sherlock Holmes on a collision course with the Doctor. We’re given a very intriguing concept involving spooky ancient spirits, and a planned human invasion of alien worlds from Victorian England.

The plot is fun, if a bit dense, which often happens when novel plots are heavily condensed. The key to enjoying this is to properly set expectations. This is definitely a Doctor Who story guest-starring Sherlock Holmes as opposed to a story where the two are equals. Things really go beyond Holmes’ experience in the last two parts, although he does a relatively good job of rolling with the punches.

While the actors are the same as for Big Finish’s Sherlock Holmes stories, the characterization is different both because the novel was written independent of other Holmes pastiches and the story was set prior to the seminal events of the the last two Sherlock Holmes box sets and therefore the characters are younger.

Still, this story is quite enjoyable. There’s a great mix of suspense, mystery, and atmospheric moments, as well as some comedic ones such as Holmes’ response to the Doctor’s compliment at the end of the story. And there are enjoyable interactions between the Seventh Doctor’s companion Bernice Summerfield (Lisa Bowerman) and Dr. Watson (Richard Earl).

One complaint is the role of the Doctor’s other companion Ace (Sophia Allred). She only plays a part in Episode 4 in helping the Doctor and a friend stay alive on an alien planet but makes cameos in the prior episodes to remind us that she is eventually in this story. It’s an odd use of a popular companion and the cut scenes throughout the other episodes are a bit jarring.

Still, despite some minor production errors, this was a satisfying and entertaining audio drama that delivers a fun story worthy of these iconic characters.

Rating: 4.0 stars out of 5.0

 

 

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