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The Cat of the Baskervilles (Book Review)

The Cat of the Baskervilles

by Vicki Delany
Crooked Lane Books (February 2018)
304 p. ISBN 9781683314714

Publisher’s Summary

When Jayne Wilson’s mother is accused of murder, Jayne and Gemma have to eliminate the impossible to reveal the true killer.

Legendary stage and movie star Sir Nigel Bellingham arrives on Cape Cod to star in a stage production of The Hound of the Baskervilles put on by the West London Theater Festival. When Sir Nigel, some of the cast, and the director visit the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop at 222 Baker Street, Gemma Doyle realizes that Sir Nigel is not at all suited to the role. He is long past his prime and an old drunk to boot.

The cast, in particular the much younger actor who previously had the role, are not happy, but the show must go on.

Before the play opens, Leslie Wilson, mother of Gemma’s best friend Jayne, arranges a fundraising afternoon tea to be catered by Mrs. Hudson’s Tea Room. The tea is a huge success, but when it’s time to leave, Sir Nigel has gone missing―only to be found at the bottom of the rocky cliff, dead. Along with the dead body, Gemma finds evidence incriminating Leslie Wilson. When the police, in the presence of handsome detective Ryan Ashburton and suspicious detective Louise Estrada, focus their attention on Leslie despite the numerous other suspects, the game is once again afoot and it’s again up to the highly perceptive Gemma and the ever-confused but loyal Jayne to clear Jayne’s mother’s name.

General Review

When Ms. Delany contacted the Society, offering an ARC of her third book, I jumped at the offer.  I reviewed her first book (review here), and enjoyed it quite a bit.  I didn’t review the second book for the Society, but I did read it, and though I thought there were some weaknesses, I still loved it, especially since it focused on pastiche writers.  This third book, however, I was incredibly eager to read.  As a person who works in theatre, how could I resist a book that brings Holmesian theatre to the center of the plot?

I wasn’t disappointed at all (well, perhaps a little- there was no stage manager character, and as a stage manager, I’m always on the look out for my people!).  I have always appreciated how each book in this series brings in a different aspect of Holmesiana.  The first looked at the original Strand magazines and collectors; the second book focused on pastiches and their writers.  Having the third book focus on theatre was excellent, as it forced Gemma and Jayne out of the book store more.  Although the Sherlock Holmes book store and tea room are still an important location, it no longer becomes the site of so much death, and it lets the reader see the wider community as well.

Gemma continues to be a fun twist on the Holmes character, self-aware enough to know that some people don’t appreciate her insights, and yet too straightforward to stop herself in time.  After the second book, where all the detective work was accomplished through conversations, I was pleased to see a return of footwork to Gemma’s investigations.  While I appreciate the fact that Holmes was, before Watson, largely an armchair detective, I like to see a little more movement in my pastiches.  Gemma got to do a spot of breaking and entering in this book, much to my delight, in addition to her gently (and occasionally not-so-gently) prying conversations.  I also loved how very concerned she was for Jayne, our Watson, throughout the entire book.  Too often Holmeses are portrayed as disinterested in their Watsons; I was pleased to see that this book did not go that route.

The mystery is light, and not terribly difficult for a reader to solve, but it’s enjoyable to watch how Gemma gets to the conclusion.  I was intrigued by the way the author decided to wrap up the mystery in this book.  It was not the traditional way at all, and while I solved the mystery itself, I still didn’t see the end coming.

This is a series where reading the previous books aren’t terribly necessary to understanding the plot, as the author does much recapping and explaining of who everyone is, so if the previous two books haven’t been of interest to you but this one sounds fun, I would recommend picking it up.  It’s a very fun read, and perfect for anyone snowed in who wants to just curl up with something light while they drink their cocoa.

What About Our Watson?

I love Jayne Wilson.  I think it’s fair to say that she isn’t a Watson in the most traditional sense (she is a somewhat reluctant partner during Gemma’s investigations), but there is something about her that makes me fiercely protective of her.  She can be a little bit Bruce-ian at times—she has never really tried to notice things the way Gemma does—but if I had to assign a screen Watson to her, for comparison, I’d actually say she’s a bit like Galina Shchepetnova, the Watson in My Dearly Beloved Detective.  Sweet, a little bit ditzy, but incredibly fierce when provoked.

One of the reasons I chose not to review Delany’s second book, Body on Baker Street, for the Society was that Jayne had a somewhat reduced role as compared to the first book.  Much to my relief, Jayne returned to her role more fully in Cat of the Baskervilles.  Given that her mother is the prime suspect in the mystery, we got to see Jayne through a full range of emotions, deepening her character quite a bit.

I also enjoyed seeing Jayne in a “military” mode—while catering for an afternoon tea event.  She is very much in charge during the tea, and it was lovely seeing her as strong, capable, and the boss of Gemma.  I also was very fond of the part where Jayne sets Gemma straight about her dating life.  Gemma being protective of Jayne is something I enjoyed about this book, but I appreciated that Jayne is perfectly able to take care of herself, without Gemma “handling” things for her.

I truly love Jayne Wilson; she’s one of my favourite parts of this series, and I hope the author continues to expand her role.

You Might Like This Book If You Like:

Theatre; cozy mysteries; actor drama; romance

Is there a book you want Lucy to review?  Let her know! Contact the Society today!

Call for Submissions: Watsonian Deadline Approaching!

Calling all Writers and Illustrators!

This is a reminder that the deadline for the Spring 2017 issue of The Watsonian is February 15th, which is coming up soon.

The Society welcomes scholarly papers, articles, original fiction, miscellanea or other submissions. One need not be an experienced or academic writer; some of our most engaging articles come from individuals with a love for the writing and appreciation for the pleasures gained over the years.There is always room for your research, thoughts, ideas and creativity. The Society is an inclusive group; we desire interested Watsonians to take part and to approach the Society with innovative projects. Whether you are a first time author is not important; that you try is what counts.

Submissions should be up-to-date Word documents and sent via email attachment to: publisher@johnhwatsonsociety.com.

TH6: A Little Game Results & Answers

Hi Watsonians–

The first warm up game for TH6:EveryLinkRingsTrue is over and the results are in.  The first Watsonian to correctly answer all five questions is none other than our amazing leader ‘Selena Buttons’ (Beth Gallego).   Several other Watsonians gave it a go and most succeeded in answering all questions correctly.

Congratulations to Beth and all our participants: Ron Lies/ ‘Chips’, Richard Olken/ ‘Palmer’,  Paul Hartnett/ ‘Scout’, Sheila Holtgrieve/ ‘Daisy’, and Michele Lopez/ ‘Reggie’.

We will have a few more short games to practice this quiz style prior to the start of the Treasure Hunt.  The answers are posted below.

Many thanks to all of you that played the game!

Margie/ JHWS ‘Mopsy’

  1. In ten minutes or less, accept a child. With the child in mind, choose 4 brief letters

Answer:  YELL

‘It was a long two minutes before Grant Munro broke the silence, and when his answer came it was one of which I love to think. He lifted the little child, kissed her, and then, still carrying her, he held his other hand out to his wife, and turned towards the door.’ (YELL)

‘The Yellow Face’ = YELL

In some editions, two minutes is changed to ten minutes.  See Klinger Annotated, VOL 1, p. 472, note 25.

  1. Turn your four letters into a verb, send it across the moor, and confirm who it is not. Who

Answer: Sir Henry Baskerville

‘A terrible scream – a prolonged yell of horror and anguish burst out of the silence of the moor.  That frightful cry turned the blood to ice in my veins. ‘Oh, my God!’ I gasped. ‘What is it? What does it mean?’…Blindly we ran through the gloom, blundering against boulders, forcing our way through gorse bushes, panting up hills and rushing down slopes, heading always in the direction whence those dreadful sounds had come. At every rise Holmes looked eagerly round him, but the shadows were thick upon the moor and nothing moved upon its dreary face. And it shone upon something else which turned our hearts sick and faint within us – the body of Sir Henry Baskerville!….Good heavens, are you mad?’ He had uttered a cry and bent over the body. Now he was dancing and laughing and wringing my hand. Could this be my stem, self-contained friend? These were hidden fires, indeed! ‘A beard?”It is not the Baronet – it is – why, it is my neighbour, the convict!’ (HOUN)

  1. Find a restorative for [the answer to #2], and then find the soldier who supposedly took an expanded version of the same. What expanded restorative?

Answer: Voyage round the world

‘Sir Henry and Dr Mortimer were, however, in London, on their way to that long voyage which had been recommended for the restoration of his shattered nerves.’ (HOUN)

‘I waited a bit and then I wrote again. This time I had a reply, short and gruff.  Godfrey had gone on a voyage round the world, and it was not likely that he would be back for a year. That was all.  ‘I wasn’t satisfied, Mr Holmes…Is it not natural that I should wonder at his sudden silence and should wish to know what has become of him?”… I spoke to the station-master and also to the innkeeper in the village. I simply asked if they knew anything of my old comrade, Godfrey Emsworth. Both of them assured me that he had gone for a voyage round the world. He had come home and then had almost at once started off again. The story was evidently universally accepted.’ (BLAN)

  1. Compound the cost for a lady to have a similar restorative. How much?

Answer: Five thousand pounds

‘Well, well,’ said he, ‘I suppose I shall have to compound a felony as usual. How much does it cost to go round the world in first-class style?’ The lady stared in amazement. ‘Could it be done on five thousand pounds?’  ‘Well, I should think so, indeed!’ ‘Very good. I think you will sign me a cheque for that, and I will see that it comes to Mrs Maberley. You owe her a little change of air. Meantime, lady’ – he wagged a cautionary forefinger – ‘have a care! Have a care! You can’t play with edged tools for ever without cutting those dainty hands.’ (3GAB)

  1. With a like amount, buy a thief. Who?

Answer: Colonel Valentine Walter

With the shock, his broad-brimmed hat flew from his head, his cravat slipped down from his lips, and there was the long light beard and the soft, handsome, delicate features of Colonel Valentine Walter. Holmes gave a whistle of surprise.  ‘You can write me down an ass this time, Watson,’ said he. ‘This was not the bird that I was looking for.’  ‘Who is he?’ asked Mycroft, eagerly. ‘The younger brother of the late Sir James Walter, the head of the Submarine Department….’ I confess it. It was just as you say.  A Stock Exchange debt had to be paid. I needed the money badly. Oberstein offered me five thousand.  It was to save myself from ruin. But as to murder, I am as innocent as you.’ (BRUC)

Helpful Hint:  Your final answer should be appropriate for the times with February right around the corner.

February 14,  Valentine’s Day

 

 

TH6: A Little Game reminder & a helpful hint

Hello Watsonians–

Popping in to remind you that five days remain to play along with our TH6:EveryLinkRingsTrue warm up game.  Responses to the quiz are welcomed through January 29th.  Several very good, almost-100%-correct attempts have been submitted. Up to this point, however, only one of our Watsonians has managed to solve all five questions correctly on the first try.  (Change-of-heart-do-overs are also welcome through the 29th.)

Almost invariably question #3 is proving to the problem.  After correctly solving question #2, our quiz takers are making an assumption as to the first part of #3 which does not make sense when linked to the remaining questions because the assumption is incorrect.  If you are willing to give it a try (or a re-do), I recommend you think about Holmes’s good advice:

“There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.”

Question #3 requires you to look beyond the most obvious.

I have re-posted the questions below if you would like to give them a try. Since all the questions link, it is certainly possible to work from the bottom up.

Many thanks to all of you that have taken the time to play the game,

Margie/ JHWS ‘Mopsy’

  1. In ten minutes or less, accept a child. With the child in mind, choose 4 brief letters.
  1. Turn your four letters into a verb, send it across the moor, and confirm who it is not. Who?
  1. Find a restorative for [the answer to #2], and then find the soldier who supposedly took an expanded version of the same. What expanded restorative?
  1. Compound the cost for a lady to have a similar restorative. How much?
  1. With a like amount, buy a thief. Who?

Helpful Hint:  Your final answer should be appropriate for the times with February right around the corner.

On January 24th… “Barcarolle”

‘I think I can promise you that you will feel even less humorous as the evening advances. Now, look here, Count Sylvius. I’m a busy man and I can’t waste time. I’m going into that bedroom. Pray make yourselves quite at home in my absence. You can explain to your friend how the matter lies without the restraint of my presence. I shall try over the Hoffmann Barcarolle upon my violin. In five minutes I shall return for your final answer. You quite grasp the alternative, do you not? Shall we take you, or shall we have the stone?’

Holmes withdrew, picking up his violin from the corner as he passed. A few moments later the long-drawn, wailing notes of that most haunting of tunes came faintly through the closed door of the bedroom.

Portrait of Hoffmann by an unidentified painter ca. 1800 (University of Adelaide), via Wikimedia Commons

Ernst Theodor Amadeus (E. T. A.) Hoffmann was born Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffmann on January 24th, 1776, in Königsberg, East Prussia (now Kaliningrad, Russia).

He was a painter, a composer, and a writer. Three of his stories – “Der Sandmann” (The Sandman), Rath Krespel (Councillor Krespel; published in English translation as The Cremona Violin), and Die Geschichte vom verlorenen Spiegelbilde (The Story of the Lost Reflection) – formed the basis of Offenbach’s final opera, “The Tales of Hoffmann”. The soprano/mezzo-soprano duet, “Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amour”, is considered the most famous barcarolle ever written and often referred to as simply “The Barcarolle”.

[Hat-tip to Leah Guinn and Jaime N Mahoney and their fantastic A Curious Collection of Dates: Through the Year with Sherlock Holmes”]

On January 23rd…

January 23, 1891: Holmes “incommoded” Moriarty. [FINA]

Illustration by Sidney Paget for The Strand Magazine (December, 1893)

“You evidently don’t know me,” said he.

“On the contrary,” I answered, “I think it is fairly evident that I do. Pray take a chair. I can spare you five minutes if you have anything to say.”

“All that I have to say has already crossed your mind,” said he.

“Then possibly my answer has crossed yours,” I replied.

“You stand fast?”

“Absolutely.”

He clapped his hand into his pocket, and I raised the pistol from the table. But he merely drew out a memorandum-book in which he had scribbled some dates.

“You crossed my path on the 4th of January,” said he. “On the 23rd you incommoded me; by the middle of February I was seriously inconvenienced by you; at the end of March I was absolutely hampered in my plans; and now, at the close of April, I find myself placed in such a position through your continual persecution that I am in positive danger of losing my liberty. The situation is becoming an impossible one.”

“Have you any suggestion to make?” I asked.

“You must drop it, Mr Holmes,” said he, swaying his face about. “You really must, you know.”

A Case of Domestic Pilfering (Book Review)

A Case of Domestic Pilfering

by Rohase Piercy with Charlie Raven
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (April 2017)
192 p. ISBN 9781539782209

Publisher’s Summary

Summer 1890. Guy Clements, spoilt, rich and charming, has invited his friend Max Fareham to spend a month of hedonistic leisure at his London residence. Meanwhile below stairs, clever, streetwise Madeleine Peterson is hatching a scheme to lift herself out of domestic service and her brother Michael out of prostitution. A few streets away, amateur spy Louis la Rothiere is gloating over his latest cache which may, just may, turn out to be the scoop of a lifetime.

An apparently straightforward case of domestic pilfering is about to take an unexpected turn involving blackmail, mistaken identity, War Office documents and the love that dare not speak its name – and for once, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson find themselves repeatedly and hilariously wrong-footed.

General Review

A Case of Domestic Pilfering strikes me as a comedy of manners rather than the most traditional of pastiches—and I don’t mean that as a critique because having the comedy of manners style applied to a Holmesian narrative was immensely satisfying.  Throughout the story I was reminded of Wilde and his characters, particularly those found in The Importance of Being Earnest or Lady Windermere’s Fan.

The comedy of manners aspect comes through most strongly with the two central characters of the book, Guy and Max.  Guy and Max are immensely enjoyable to watch; Guy is dramatic and a bit overblown, while Max is the quieter, more practical of the two.  They have a fascinating relationship dynamic, simultaneously sweet (you root for their romance!) and exasperating (oh, Guy…).  Having such characters encounter Holmes and Watson is endlessly entertaining, to the point where I laughed out loud throughout the entire story.

With Guy and Max as our central characters, we get to see an investigation by Holmes and Watson from a different angle.  The story switches points of view quite a bit, so we do get to see the investigation from our normal perspective as well, but it’s fun to see how two suspects- one of whom hero worships Holmes- cope with interacting with our dynamic duo, especially when they’re not entirely sure what’s happening.

Because of the rotating points of view, we also get to see the investigation from the perspective of the actual criminals, which is just fantastic.  Knowing what they think of being investigated by Holmes helps bring home just what an excellent detective he really is.  One of the criminals any Holmesian will recognize, and I appreciated them being given a little more page space.  And I adored the main criminal; they were sympathetic and understandable, while still also still doing something illegal, quite willingly.  That ending, too!  I clapped my hands with joy at the way it all comes together in the end.

This book is a short one, and the prose very simple.  I was able to read it just over an hour, and longed for more.  I would love to see another adventure involving Guy, Max, Holmes, and Watson, who play off of each other in the most spectacular ways.  Watching Holmes react to Guy at his most outlandish was so, so satisfying; Max’s awe and bumbling around his hero/crush was sweetly hilarious.  And of course, Watson helped guide them throughout their interactions.

The queer themes in the book are lovingly and subtly handled.  The few kisses that we see Guy and Max share are a mix of sweet and passionate, depending, and their banter helps us get a grip on how much history they have between them, even though we never hear their full backstory.  The presence of Michael in the story serves to highlight a potential avenue for our queer protagonists, as well as draw attention to a well-known, but less talked about, part of Victorian history (as well as far more modern history).  I also enjoyed the small hints towards queerness in Holmes and Watson, though it’s never stated explicitly in the text if they ARE queer or not.  This will probably appeal to readers who don’t particularly want Holmes or Watson to be read as queer; you can choose to do so or not as you please.

I’m quite thankful that the author sent me this book to review; it’s definitely one I’ll be returning to for a re-read whenever I want something that has that touch of humor to it, while still remaining faithful to who Holmes and Watson are in canon.

What About Our Watson?

What an excellent Watson!  The canon Watson shines through in this book in every way.  We get to see Watson from the perspective of other characters throughout the story, and he’s consistently described as warm and kind and generous.  It was so good to see other characters appreciating Watson.

From his very first appearance, Watson is depicted as compassionate.  His part in the book begins with an average day in Baker Street, working on his writing and fretting about Holmes, and doing what he can to keep Holmes from turning to the cocaine/morphine.  In the very same scene he’s shown to be clever enough to outwit Holmes at times, which instantly warmed me to this author and the story.

His acquaintanceship with Guy and Max is beautifully drawn, from his wry amusement at their antics to his genuine pleasure at being in their company.  We almost never get to see Watson interact with his own group of friends or acquaintances, as attached as he is to Holmes, and I really enjoyed seeing who Watson is when he isn’t part of the Holmes-and-Watson package.  It isn’t that he is so radically a different person or anything; but people are subtly different depending on the company they’re in, and this author reflected that well.

Of course, I also like this Watson because his instincts and insights prove vital to the case.  He may not be portrayed as a deductive genius like Holmes, but he certainly is shown to contribute, vitally, to their partnership.

You Might Like This Book If You Like:

Oscar Wilde; romance; the canon stories SECO, NAVA, and BRUC; outsider perspectives

Is there a book you want Lucy to review? Let her know!  Contact the Society and they’ll pass your request along.

TH6: An announcement and a little game

Hello Watsonians!

With the New Year underway, it is time to begin thinking about that annual event our ‘Calder’ (Brad Keefauver) once dubbed “Treasure or Torture”–the annual John H Watson Society Treasure Hunt.   With ‘Selena Buttons’ approval, I am pleased to serve as Treasure Hunt Master for 2018.  I hope to concoct a hunt you will find challenging and fun.  We are taking a somewhat different approach this year. ‘TH6: Every Link Rings True’ will be a 50-question quiz rather than our usual 100 questions, and all the questions will link.   Three of our previous hunts have featured some linking sections that were popular with our competitors.

To get you thinking about the possibility of participating this year, I have a small, five-question quiz below for you to think about over the next two weeks. Please do not post your answers here; your answers should be emailed to: treasurehunt@johnhwatsonsociety.com.  Answers will be accepted through January 29th.

Won’t you play along?  As Holmes told Watson: “’Yes, you can, Watson. And you will, for you have never failed to play the game. I am sure you will play it to the end.”

Margie/JHWS ‘Mopsy’

TH6: Every Link Rings True Introduction Quiz

  1. In ten minutes or less, accept a child. With the child in mind, choose 4 brief letters. What four letters?
  2. Turn your four letters into a verb, send it across the moor, and confirm who it is not. Who?
  3. Find a restorative for [the answer to #2], and then find the soldier who supposedly took an expanded version of the same. What expanded restorative?
  4. Compound the cost for a lady to have a similar restorative. How much?
  5. With a like amount, buy a thief. Who?

Helpful Hint:  Your final answer should be appropriate for the times with February right around the corner.

‘It is so long a chain, and yet every link rings true.’

 

On January 12th…

January 12 (or thereabouts), 1903: Sir James Saunders diagnosed Godfrey Emsworth’s disease as pseudo-leprosy. [BLAN]

Illustration by Howard K. Elcock for The Strand Magazine (November, 1926)

I was finishing this little analysis of the case when the door was opened and the austere figure of the great dermatologist was ushered in. But for once his sphinx-like features had relaxed and there was a warm humanity in his eyes. He strode up to Colonel Emsworth and shook him by the hand.

‘It is often my lot to bring ill-tidings, and seldom good,’ said he. ‘This occasion is the more welcome. It is not leprosy.’

‘What?’

‘A well-marked case of pseudo-leprosy or ichthyosis, a scale-like affection of the skin, unsightly, obstinate, but possibly curable, and certainly non-infective. Yes, Mr Holmes, the coincidence is a remarkable one. But is it coincidence? Are there not subtle forces at work of which we know little? Are we assured that the apprehension, from which this young man has no doubt suffered terribly since his exposure to its contagion, may not produce a physical effect which simulates that which it fears? At any rate, I pledge my professional reputation – But the lady has fainted! I think that Mr Kent had better be with her until she recovers from this joyous shock.’

On January 10th… The Metropolitan Railway

By Unknown (illegible) (The Illustrated London News, Issue 1181, page 692) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“The trains which traverse the lines of rail beside which the body was found are those which run from west to east, some being purely Metropolitan, and some from Willesden and outlying junctions. It can be stated for certain that this young man, when he met his death, was travelling in this direction at some late hour of the night, but at what point he entered the train it is impossible to state.”

“His ticket, of course, would show that.”

“There was no ticket in his pockets.”

“No ticket! Dear me, Watson, this is really very singular. According to my experience it is not possible to reach the platform of a Metropolitan train without exhibiting one’s ticket. Presumably, then, the young man had one. Was it taken from him in order to conceal the station from which he came? It is possible. Or did he drop it in the carriage? That is also possible. But the point is of curious interest. I understand that there was no sign of robbery?” [BRUC]

The Metropolitan Railway opened its first line to the public on January 10, 1863 (just after Holmes’s own 9th birthday, per Baring-Gould). Of course, by the time we join Holmes and Watson in London, the Underground is already well-established.

My friend rose lazily from his armchair and stood with his hands in the pockets of his dressing-gown, looking over my shoulder. It was a bright, crisp February morning, and the snow of the day before still lay deep upon the ground, shimmering brightly in the wintry sun. Down the centre of Baker Street it had been ploughed into a brown crumbly band by the traffic, but at either side and on the heaped-up edges of the foot-paths it still lay as white as when it fell. The grey pavement had been cleaned and scraped, but was still dangerously slippery, so that there were fewer passengers than usual. Indeed, from the direction of the Metropolitan Station no one was coming save the single gentleman whose eccentric conduct had drawn my attention. [BERY]

[Hat-tip to Leah Guinn and Jaime N Mahoney and their fantastic book, A Curious Collection of Dates: Through the Year with Sherlock Holmes.]

On January 8th…

Chalk pit off Silkstead Lane near Silkstead Manor Farm. Photo by Pierre Terre [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

January 8, 1885: Joseph Openshaw was killed by a fall into a chalk pit. [FIVE]

On the third day after the coming of the letter my father went from home to visit an old friend of his, Major Freebody, who is in command of one of the forts upon Portsdown Hill. I was glad that he should go, for it seemed to me that he was further from danger when he was away from home. In that, however, I was in error. Upon the second day of his absence I received a telegram from the Major, imploring me to come at once. My father had fallen over one of the deep chalk-pits which abound in the neighbourhood, and was lying senseless, with a shattered skull. I hurried to him, but he passed away without having ever recovered his consciousness. He had, as it appears, been returning from Fareham in the twilight, and as the country was unknown to him, and the chalk-pit unfenced, the jury had no hesitation in bringing in a verdict of “Death from accidental causes”. Carefully as I examined every fact connected with his death, I was unable to find anything which could suggest the idea of murder. There were no signs of violence, no footmarks, no robbery, no record of strangers having been seen upon the roads. And yet I need not tell you that my mind was far from at ease, and that I was well-nigh certain that some foul plot had been woven round him.

January 8, 1888 (or maybe 1889): Jack Douglas confessed to killing Ted Baldwin. [VALL]

I was on my guard all that next day and never went out into the park. It’s as well, or he’d have had the drop on me with that buck-shot gun of his before ever I could draw on him. After the bridge was up – my mind was always more restful when that bridge was up in the evenings – I put the thing clear out of my head. I never figured on his getting into the house and waiting for me. But when I made my round in my dressing-gown, as my habit was, I had no sooner entered the study than I scented danger. I guess when a man has had dangers in his life – and I’ve had more than most in my time – there is a kind of sixth sense that waves the red flag. I saw the signal clear enough, and yet I couldn’t tell you why. Next instant I spotted a boot under the window curtain, and then I saw why plain enough.

Illustration by Frank Wiles for The Strand Magazine, (January, 1915)

I’d just the one candle that was in my hand, but there was a good light from the hall lamp through the open door. I put down the candle and jumped for a hammer that I’d left on the mantel. At the same moment he sprang at me. I saw the glint of a knife and I lashed at him with the hammer. I got him somewhere, for the knife tinkled down on the floor. He dodged round the table as quick as an eel, and a moment later he’d got his gun from under his coat. I heard him cock it, but I had got hold of it before he could fire. I had it by the barrel, and we wrestled for it all ends up for a minute or more. It was death to the man that lost his grip. He never lost his grip, but he got it butt downwards for a moment too long. Maybe it was I that pulled the trigger. Maybe we just jolted it off between us. Anyhow, he got both barrels in the face, and there I was, staring down at all that was left of Ted Baldwin.

IQ (Book Review)

IQ

by Joe Ide
Mulholland Books (October 2016)
336 p. ISBN 9780316267724

Publisher’s Summary

East Long Beach. The LAPD is barely keeping up with the neighborhood’s high crime rate. Murders go unsolved, lost children unrecovered. But someone from the neighborhood has taken it upon himself to help solve the cases the police can’t or won’t touch.

They call him IQ. He’s a loner and a high school dropout, his unassuming nature disguising a relentless determination and a fierce intelligence. He charges his clients whatever they can afford, which might be a set of tires or a homemade casserole. To get by, he’s forced to take on clients that can pay.

This time, it’s a rap mogul whose life is in danger. As Isaiah investigates, he encounters a vengeful ex-wife, a crew of notorious cutthroats, a monstrous attack dog, and a hit man who even other hit men say is a lunatic. The deeper Isaiah digs, the more far reaching and dangerous the case becomes.

General Review

Another step-to-the-left pastiche, this one imagines if Holmes and Watson were young black men in inner city LA.  I was curious how it would work, and I’m pleased to say that I couldn’t put the book down. Joe Ide created a truly interesting set of characters.  There are subtle nods to canon throughout (my favourite: Harry!), but if someone unfamiliar with Holmesiana were to pick this up, they’d be able to follow along easily.

The story alternates between two timelines.  The first is the main mystery, wherein a rap icon (along the lines of Biggie or Ice Cube) who has an album deadline coming up will no longer leave his house, due to a near-death experience with a gigantic houn- er, big dog.  Though his entourage is interested in getting him into the studio, the rapper is more interested in staying alive, and so hires Isaiah to find out who is trying to kill him.  The second timeline looks at how Isaiah became a detective, and how he met Dodson, our Watson in this tale.  Ide does a phenomenal job here for weaving in canon references, while making the relationship between Isaiah and Dodson far more fraught than the relationship between Holmes and Watson ever was.

Both timelines are deeply compelling.  The mystery is intriguing, although fairly surface level.  Ide focuses more time on us meeting and getting to know all the characters, villains included, than he does in crafting an in-depth mystery.  We know who the hitman is early on; the matter of who hired him is wrapped up in an afterward fashion.  If you care more about complex mysteries in your Holmesian pastiche, this is certainly a drawback.  There’s very little meat here for you to really dig into.  However, the character depth makes up for it, in my mind.  We get an internal view of the hitman, the rapper, all the members of his entourage, the rapper’s ex-wife… we get to understand everyone as individuals.  Even if they’re sometimes distasteful individuals that we hope we never meet in real life.

The second timeline, however, was by far my favourite.  I enjoyed seeing Isaiah travel from a somewhat naïve, sweet teenage boy into the world-weary, yet still fighting, man he grew up to be.  The introduction of Dodson into his orbit, and just how Dodson impacted him and who he is, was excellent.  It is easy to read parts of the second timeline and see, despite the distance of years, just how the two of them still have hooks in each other, even if they wish it were otherwise.

The style of writing is more noir and thriller than your traditional pastiche, an aspect that may disinterest some people.  This is no classic or cozy mystery; there is a great deal of language, sex, and violence.  The sex and violence are more peripheral, and not at all a focus of the story, but they are still there, which may make some people uncomfortable.  However, I felt that those aspects added to the atmosphere of the story, and weren’t gratuitous.  I don’t typically like noir, but again, I couldn’t put down this book.  The heart of it was very much in keeping with Sherlock Holmes canon.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  I loved how different it was from most reimaginings, while still remaining true to the core of who Holmes and Watson are.  Ide clearly loves canon, even as he’s willing to play with it.  I am already working on getting my hands on the sequel, which came out just a few months ago.

What About Our Watson?

 This is not the first pastiche to reimagine Holmes and Watson as young black men.  Probably the most well-known of these is Watson and Holmes, a graphic novel series.  Despite a similar opening premise, though, this book is radically different, in part because of their Watson.

Our Watson is a former drug-dealer, former gangbanger, present day entrepreneur.  He isn’t a “former” because of any noble reasons—he survived a gang war and saw a new way to make money, and he took it.  He’s a bit of a womanizer, and his relationship with Isaiah is… contentious, at best.  Isaiah doesn’t really like him half of the time, yet they find themselves drawn together time and again.

Despite these external trappings, Dodson is very much a Watson.  A womanizer, yes, but he cherishes the women he’s with and treats them well.  A gangbanger he may have been, but he also loves to cook, a skill he was taught by one of his girlfriends.  A former drug-dealer, but incredibly brave, and he basically saves Isaiah from himself on multiple occasions.  He’s charming, and good with people.  He often helps interpret Isaiah for his clients, since Isaiah has no patience for such things.  He’s funny, and finds the humor in things, and is incredibly smart himself.  And despite his tough exterior and loud bravado, he has a heart of… maybe not gold, but at least of slightly tarnished silver.

Dodson is a meaty character, incredibly complex in that he’s not likeable in one moment, and incredibly so in the next.  I am also deeply in love with how the author decided to treat the “Watson always asks Holmes how he did things” issue that arises in more pastiches than one would care to admit; Dodson keeps asking questions to try and get a rise out of Isaiah, to annoy him.  It’s a unique take, and it works well.  It’s also a remarkably brotherly thing to do; Isaiah and Dodson may not be the best of friends, but they certainly have the brotherly part of the relationship down well.

This isn’t a Watson for everyone, I will freely admit it.  But it’s a NEW Watson, and I ended up loving him far more than I thought I would.  I admire the author’s courage to try something different with such a beloved character, and for pulling it off.

You Might Like This Book If You Like:

Noir; urban settings; LA; rap music; new interpretations on canon

Is there a book you want Lucy to review? Let her know!  Contact the Society and they’ll pass your request along.

A Mystery Tid Bit Answer

Robert Perret (JHWS “Sampson”) writes in response to our Mystery Tid Bit Post:

I can only find the USH citation online, and a brief wiki mention of Calabash. It appears to be neither the first nor the last Sherlockian writing from Asimov and I don’t have anything else to go on, so submitted as is for partial credit, I guess?​

C13593. Asimov, Isaac. “Those Endearing Old Charms,” Calabash, No. 1 (March 1982), 13.
“Let me tell you of all those endearing old charms / That we’ve loved and enjoyed so for years, / Will stay constant despite Moriarty’s alarms / For while Holmes is alive we’ve no fears…”

Chips answers: Asimov’s song is based on “Believe Me, if All Those Endearing Young Charms“, a popular song written in 1808 by Irish poet Thomas Moore using a traditional Irish air.

In the comments to that post, Roger Johnson (JHWS “Count”) correctly identified the piece, writing:

Asimov, a very accomplished versifier, here writes a variant on Thomas Moore’s 1808 poem:

I.
BELIEVE me, if all those endearing young charms,
Which I gaze on so fondly to-day,
Were to change by to-morrow, and fleet in my arms,
Like fairy-gifts, fading away!
Thou wouldst still be ador’d as this moment thou art,
Let thy loveliness fade as it will;
And, around the dear ruin, each wish of my heart
Would entwine itself verdantly still!

II.
It is not while beauty and youth are thine own,
And thy cheeks unprofan’d by a tear,
That the fervour and faith of a soul can be known,
To which time will but make thee more dear!
Oh! the heart, that has truly lov’d, never forgets,
But as truly loves on to the close;
As the sun-flower turns on her god, when he sets,
The same look which she turn’d when he rose!

Asimov followed the example of 1946 James Montgomery’s “Irregular Song”, written in the mid-1940s:

I
Believe me, if all those endearing old yarns
Which we cherish so fondly today
Were to vanish ‘neath Boscombe’s or Hurlstone’s dark tarns,
Like fairy gifts fading away,
There would still be those papers well guarded by Cox,
Watson-data as yet unrevealed,
And the records contained in that battered old box
New Conanical treasure would yield.

II
Oh dear Sherlock, to share thy adventures we long,
As you crush London’s crime under heel,
And we sing in thy praise an Irregular Song,
Though it ne’er can express all we feel.
Let grim warfare and pestilence rage as they can,
You will still give long hours of joy
To the boy who, adoring, is now half a man –
Or the man who is yet half a boy.

Moore’s poem became famous when set to a traditional Irish tune, and Montgomery applied his fine tenor voice to singing his own words to that same tune. I’m not aware that Isaac Asimov regaled the BSI with a musical rendition of “Those Endearing Old Charms” – but I wouldn’t put it past him.

Richard Olken (JHWS “Palmer”) added:

The tune is also that of Harvard’s anthem, Fair Harvard

I
Fair Harvard! we join in thy Jubilee throng,
And with blessings surrender thee o’er
By these Festival-rites, from the Age that is past,
To the Age that is waiting before.
O Relic and Type of our ancestors’ worth,
That hast long kept their memory warm,
First flow’r of their wilderness! Star of their night!
Calm rising thro’ change and thro’ storm.

II
Farewell! be thy destinies onward and bright!
To thy children the lesson still give,
With freedom to think, and with patience to bear,
And for Right ever bravely to live.
Let not moss-covered Error moor thee at its side,
As the world on Truth’s current glides by,
Be the herald of Light, and the bearer of Love,
Till the stock of the Puritans die.
Samuel Gilman, Class of 1811

Asimov did sing to the tune of O Danny Boy, as noted in the March, 1984 issue of the Baker Street Journal (Vol 34, #1, Page 7)

O, SHERLOCK HOLMES
by Isaac Asimov
(Sung to the tune of “Danny Boy)

O, Sherlock Holmes, the Baker Street Irregulars
Are gathered here to honour you today,
For in their hearts, you glitter like a thousand stars
And like the stars, you’ll never pass away.
This year that’s new, must tick away its months and die,
For Father Time moves on remorselessly,
But even he can’t tarnish, as he passes by,
O, Sherlock Holmes, O, Holmes, your immortality.

O, Sherlock Holmes, the world is filled with evil still
And Moriarty rages everywhere.
The terror waits to strike and by the billions kill.
The mushroom cloud is more than we can bear.
But still there’s hope in what you’ve come to symbolise,
In that great principle you’ve made us see.
We may yet live if only we can improvise,
O, Sherlock Holmes, O, Holmes, your rationality.

Heading to New York

Next week, Sherlockians from across the country and around the world will gather in New York City to celebrate the Master’s birthday in grand style. Scheduled events include the BSI Annual Dinner, the Gaslight Gala, the Baker Street Babes Daintiest Scream on the Moor charity ball, a Distinguished Speaker Lecture presented by Martin Edwards, an informal brunch hosted by ASH, a vendor’s room, and more.

I’m very excited to be attending for the very first time. Will I see you there? Let me know in the comments! (If you’re following along from home, be sure to check our twitter feed during the Weekend!)

Watsonian badge ribbons

I’ll have some badge ribbons on hand, just for fun!

On January 2nd…

January 2, 1881: Watson moved into 221B Baker Street. [STUD]

We met next day as he had arranged, and inspected the rooms at No. 221B, Baker Street, of which he had spoken at our meeting. They consisted of a couple of comfortable bedrooms and a single large airy sitting-room, cheerfully furnished, and illuminated by two broad windows. So desirable in every way were the apartments, and so moderate did the terms seem when divided between us, that the bargain was concluded upon the spot, and we at once entered into possession. That very evening I moved my things round from the hotel, and on the following morning Sherlock Holmes followed me with several boxes and portmanteaus.