Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Sherlock Holmes’

murderofmaryYes, there’s a pool of blood. Yes, Mary Russell, the intrepid young wife of Sherlock Holmes, is missing. Yes, housekeeper Clara Hudson smells gunsmoke. No, I don’t believe that Mary is dead, despite the title of Laurie R. King’s latest installment in her long-running series, The Murder of Mary Russell (Bantam, digital galley).

Still, King leaves readers in suspense and Mary’s fate up in the air shortly after she confronts an Australian visitor to her farmhouse claiming to be Mrs. Hudson’s long-lost son. Mrs. Hudson returns home from shopping to discover an empty house, a broken cup, gunsmoke, blood and no Mary. From there, King jumps back to give us Mrs. Hudson’s complicated and surprising history, beginning with the unlikely romance between her Scottish mother and seafaring father. Said dad is a charming con man and grifter, and, growing up in Australia, little Clarissa is his most apt pupil. Her talent for disguises and playacting helps her in her quest to make something of herself, despite her father and spoiled younger sister. Eventually, too, she crosses paths in London with a young Sherlock Holmes and transforms into Mrs. Hudson. But what about Mary? Soon, back at the farm, Holmes is on the case with Mrs. Hudson’s help, and Mary herself is doing her cunning best to stay alive.

Longtime fans of the series will be especially entertained by King’s take on Mrs. Hudson, and a neat little twist near book’s end hints that she’s still keeping secrets.

londonrainNicola Upson has forged a nice career as a mystery writer with her series featuring real-life mystery writer and playwright Josephine Tey. Set in the 1930s and replete with period detail, they have the atmosphere of the Golden Age mysteries of Agatha Christie and Tey herself.

In London Rain (HarperCollins, digital galley), it’s the summer of 1937, and the capital city is readying for the coronation of King George VI. Tey is in London to sit in on rehearsals at Broadcast House for the BBC radio adaptation of one of her plays. She meets Vivienne Beresford, an editor at Radio Times, and soon witnesses her public humiliation when her husband, famed announcer Anthony Beresford, is revealed to be having an affair with a well-known actress. On air during the coronation, Beresford is felled by a gunshot, and his wife is the obvious suspect. Josephine’s friend, Scotland Yard detective Archie Penrose, is handling what appears to be an open-and-shut case. But then a jailed Vivienne asks to see Josephine, a second corpse is discovered and Josephine’s theatrical connections and detecting skills come into play. Throughout, too, Josephine’s private life is complicated by her lover, actress Marta Hallard.

Upson’s psychologically astute novels make me want to go back and reread my favorite Tey mysteries: The Daughter of Time, The Franchise Affair and Brat Farrar. Talk about some twists.

 

 

Read Full Post »

studyincharlotteOh, my. Holmes and Watson are being framed for murder. But it’s not elementary, my dears, but high school. In Brittany Cavallaro’s clever A Study in Charlotte (HarperCollins, digital galley), Charlotte Holmes, the great-great-great-granddaughter of the famous Sherlock Holmes, and Jamie Watson, the great-great-great grandson of John Watson, end up at the same New England prep school. Their initial run-in doesn’t portend a happy partnership, however.

Brilliant Charlotte, tutored in deductive skills since childhood, has been helping Scotland Yard since she was 10. Rumor has it that some unfortunate incident has landed her at Sherringford, where she keeps mostly to herself, plays the violin, conducts experiments in her own lab and has a bit of a drug habit. Narrator Jamie, a rugby player and aspiring writer, is nevertheless intrigued by Charlotte’s prickly persona. When a student they both disliked is killed a la speckled band — as in one of their ancestors’ most famous cases — Charlotte enlists Jamie’s help to solve the crime before the police put them in jail. But the wily killer isn’t finished yet, and an attack on another student again points to Holmes and Watson. Is there a member of the Moriarty crime family lurking nearby?

Cavallaro knows the Arthur Canon Doyle canon, and everything about this first novel — plot, pace, writing — is witty and assured. Charlotte and Jamie both have issues with their respective families, roommates and teachers, and they are credible teens with just the right amount of ambition, angst and attitude. A Study in Charlotte is the first in a trilogy, so expect to see more Holmes and Watson adventures before too long. Meanwhile, the publisher has put up a classy promotional trailer on YouTube. You can check it out here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SjIJFW8Uetw

 

Read Full Post »

bookaneerAhoy, my mateys, here’s a literary thriller worthy of  a bottle of rum. In the swashbuckling The Last Bookaneer (Penguin, digital galley), Matthew Pearl spins the tale of late 19th-century book pirates seeking unpublished manuscripts before worldwide copyright laws put them out of business. Operating in a flourishing literary underworld, Pen Davenport and his sidekick Edgar Fergins set off from England for Samoa, where a sickly Robert Louis Stevenson is penning his final manuscript, worth a fortune in America. Davenport, disguised as a travel writer so as to gain access to the famous author, finds himself pitted against rival bookaneer Belial, disguised as a missionary. He also contends with cannibals, German colonials, prison and an astounding betrayal. Pearl frames the digressive narrative, replete with flashbacks, as an “as told by” story, with Fergins, an aging bookseller in New York, recounting his adventures to a black railway porter, Clover. This makes for a slow beginning but a humdinger of an ending, with Clover sailing the high seas to solve the mystery of the last bookaneer.

fifthheartThe game’s afoot again in Dan Simmons’ lively The Fifth Heart (Little, Brown, library hardcover), in which writer Henry James plays Watson to Sherlock Holmes after the two meet in Paris in 1893. Both men are depressed; James after the death of his sister and a downbeat in sales of his books, and Holmes, on his Great Hiatus after his presumed death at Reichenbach Falls, has discovered he may be a fictional character. That’s just one of the head-spinning conceits that Simmons pulls off with aplomb as Holmes and James set off for Washington, D.C., to delve into the death of Clover Adams, wife of Henry Adams. Although the death was determined to be a suicide, Holmes thinks it might be a murder connected to the Adams’ literary salon known as the Five Hearts. Real-life figures of the Gilded Age, including President Grover Cleveland and Washington hostess Clara Hayes, mingle with characters from the Holmes canon such as Moriarty and Irene Adler in a case with international implications. Readers need to know their Arthur Conan Doyle and Gilded Age history to truly appreciate Simmons’ playful, tongue-in-cheek tale. Anything but elementary.

emmaEmma is still clueless in Alexander McCall Smith’s witty Emma: A Modern Retelling (Knopf/Doubleday, digital galley), which is both the charm and the problem with the third entry in the Austen Project. McCall Smith moves the setting to Scotland (as did Val McDermid in her recent Northanger Abbey) and reimagines Jane Austen’s Regency heroine as a 21st-century recent college grad who fancies herself as matchmaker/ms. fix-it. He updates the plot with cell phones and Mini-Coopers, and appropriately modernizes the original characters. Emma’s poor and pretty friend Harriet is  no longer a love child but the product of a single mother and a sperm donor. Vicar Philip Elton’s new bride is a TV talent show contestant. George Knightley is still the neighbor and family friend who dares to call out bossy Emma when she’s behaving badly. McCall Smith’s social commentary is on point, and his droll humor a good match for Austen’s. Still, his Emma seems overly familiar, not so much from Austen’s tale as Amy Heckerling’s 1995 movie Clueless. Actress Alicia Silverstone set the bar high as a contemporary Emma,  Beverly Hills teen queen Cher Horowitz, and I keep picturing her as McCall Smith’s Emma. Not a bad thing, just been there, done that.

booksellerWith its “what if’?” premise, Cynthia Swanson’s engaging first novel The Bookseller HarperCollins, review copy) reminds me of another movie, the 1998 romantic comedy Sliding Doors. In 1962 Denver, Kitty Miller goes to sleep in her apartment as a 38-year-old single woman who runs a bookstore with her longtime friend Frieda. But when Kitty wakes up, she’s living in a suburban Denver split level as Kathryn Andersson, married to Lars and mother of three. When she wakes up again in her apartment, Kitty is perplexed by her realistic dream of Kathryn’s life, especially when she dreams it again, with more detail, the next night, and the next. Even as Kitty increasingly looks forward to her alternate life as Kathryn, she investigates the intersection with her own — a personal ad she placed several years ago and Lars’ reply. But Lars never showed up for their first date. Visiting the neighborhood where Kathryn lives, Kitty finds only an empty lot, but her life as Kathryn continues to take on a more solid and complicated reality. Swanson makes both lives perfectly plausible with attention to period detail. Books, clothes and hairstyles serve as touchstones in both lives, and their overlap helps Kitty/Kathryn resolve the mystery.

 

Read Full Post »

An isolated monastery in northern Quebec, a shabby West Virginia mining town, the ancient city of Fez. Setting plays an integral part in three new crime novels.

In Louise Penny’s The Beautiful Mystery (St. Martin’s press, library hardcover), Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and sidekick Jean-Guy Beauvoir travel north to the wilderness outpost of two dozen cloistered Gilbertine monks, whose amateur CD of Gregorian chants brought them world-wide fame. The CD also has divided the brothers between those who side with the choirmaster in wanting to further capitalize on their divine musical gift, and those who agree with the abbott that preserving their isolation is essential to their tiny order’s preservation. But now the choirmaster is dead in the abbott’s walled garden, presenting a no-exit puzzle for the two detectives, whose investigation is further hampered by the unwelcome arrival of Gamache’s dodgy boss.

In her last novel, A Trick of the Light, Penny explored ambition,  pride and jealousy in the art world; here, the same motives for murder emerge among the monks, all of whom have been recruited for their musical gifts that combine for “the beautiful mystery” of the title. Penny smoothly orchestrates the ensemble cast, detailing the history of plainsong and musical notation, along with asides on chocolate-making and monastic life. Gamache is quietly astute, as usual, but troubled Beauvoir keeps second-guessing his mentor’s methods. A murderer is revealed but not without cost to the Gilbertines — and the detectives. The ninth book in this favorite series can’t come soon enough.

The narrator of Laurie R. King’s A Garment of Shadows (Random House, digital galley via NetGalley) awakes with a headache, not knowing where or who she is. A victim of amnesia, our intrepid heroine will figure out where she is — Fez, in 1924 Morocco — long before she reclaims her identity as Mary Russell, the much-younger wife of Sherlock Holmes, something series readers have known since the get-go. But before the two can be reunited and embark on a daring ride through the desert, Mary will use her wits and fierce intelligence as she dons male Arab garb and seeks her name in the twisting marketplace. Warplanes fly overhead as Britain, France and local political factions tussle over Morocco’s future, and Holmes, in a parallel narrative, is drawn into the intrigue even as he learns Mary is missing. King evokes the period and Arab culture with her vivid writing, and the plot unfolds at  a relentessly suspenseful pace.

The impoverished West Virginia town of Acker’s Gap springs to life in journalist Julia Keller’s first mystery, A Killing in the Hills (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley via NetGalley) when three old men are gunned down in a fast-food restaurant. County prosecutor Bell Elkins’ teenage daughter Clare was a witness to the shooting, but her failure to tell her mother about the figure she glimpsed in the doorway will put both their lives in danger as they pursue separate investigations.

Bell, who has returned to her hometown from Washington, D.C., to crusade against the prescription drug trade that is ravaging the rural county, is a strong and prickly protagonist. As she tries to figure out the perplexing shooting with the sheriff, she also deals with a mentally handicapped man accused of killing a child, the scars of her horrific childhood and the difficulties of being a single mother. Keller builds suspense by moving among the perspectives of Bell, Clare and the hired killer, and then ups the ante with a devastating betrayal. My only quibble is the overuse of similies that mar Keller’s otherwise fine writing.

Read Full Post »

January 6 has long been considered the birthday of the great detective Sherlock Holmes by members of the Baker Street Irregulars, the foremost society of Holmes’ scholars and enthusiasts. That Holmes is the fictional creation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle matters not. As T.S. Eliot wrote in a 1929 review of  The Complete Sherlock Holmes Short Stories, “Perhaps the greatest of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries is this: that when we talk of him we invariably fall into the fancy of his existence.”

This apt quotation appears at the beginning of Chapter 22, “The Great Hiatus,” of Graham Moore’s entertaining novel, The Sherlockian, in which several games are afoot. Additional quotations, many of them from the canon itself, introduce the other chapters, which briskly alternate between January of 2010 and the time when Doyle was writing the Holmes stories — or rather not writing them.

 As even the most amateur Sherlockians know, Doyle killed off Holmes in December of 1893 in “The Final Problem,” a showdown with Moriarty at Reichenbech Falls. The author refused to comment as the world mourned. Then, eight years later, Doyle resurrected Holmes in “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” again without explanation.

What may have occured in this hiatus is the key fictional mystery of The Sherlockian, as it is the real-life question that still perplexes Holmes scholars. As Moore explains in his Author’s Note, his book is a “a collage of the verifiably real, the probably real, the possibly real, and the demonstrably false.” And it’s fact that a collection of Doyle’s papers vanished, including a volume of his diaries, after his death in 1930. Sherlockians’ search for it became tantamount to that of the holy grail for the next 70 years, and a famous scholar in pursuit of the missing papers died under mysterious circumstances in 2004.

In Moore’s The Sherlockian, the world’s leading Holmes/Doyle scholar declares that he has discovered the lost diary, but he is murdered in his hotel room during the annual gathering of the Baker Street Irregulars. Its newest inductee, Harold White, is our intrepid hero who determines to solve the murder and locate the still-missing diary. Other members are also testing their deductive skills, but it is Harold and a reporter named Sarah who set off for London at the behest of one of Doyle’s heirs.

Meanwhile, in the foggy London autumn of 1900 — the period covered by the missing diary — Doyle and his friend Bram Stoker (not yet famous for Dracula) become embroiled in the case of a serial killer of young brides and attempt to assist Scotland Yard in its investigations.

There’s all sorts of hugger-mugger involving Harold and Sarah, and Doyle and Stoker. The latter pair are more interesting, and Moore skillfully evokes the Victorian era giving way to the new century, symbolized by the introduction of electric lights to gloomy city streets. Doyle misses the old gaslights and their shadows. Harold even admits at one point that he feels more at home in 1895 London than in the modern city.

That all Sherlockians are romantics is elementary. It’s Moore’s aplomb at tapping into their desire to seek a puzzle’s solution, with the perfect quotation ever at the ready, that makes this tale such an engaging fusion of history and mystery. Maybe not the great game but a fun one.

Open Book: My copy of  The Sherlockian by Graham Moore (Twelve/Hachette Book Group) was a gift from Santa. I rather think that my first copies of the Sherlock Holmes adventures were, too, and read by flashlight under the covers. Or maybe I got them for my birthday.

Read Full Post »