First draft is away

I have today submitted the first draft of my article on biographies to the Sherlock Holmes Journal. I call it my first draft but it has been through several revisions before it was sent off.

In other news....

I am still working my way through Sherlock Holmes' Tibetan Adventure. I imagine it'll take me another few days to get through and then I shall get cracking on my review which will, regrettably, not appear on this blog but will be published in the Summer 2011 edition of the Sherlock Holmes Journal.

I have not forgotten my latest tome either. It is still being worked on as much as time permits and will be going off to editors in the next month or so.

Now reading

I am now reading:

At this stage I am only three chapters in but it is already proving rather interesting

Watson's Afghan Adventure - Review

The basic idea behind this book is that it covers Watson's life from the point he entered into the army and before he met Sherlock Holmes. It is a refreshing and brave angle to take as Holmes is usually what draws people to pastiche works.

I have always felt that Arthur Conan Doyle based Watson very much on himself and consequently Watson has always struck me as rather agnostic so it was interesting that the author made Watson a Catholic and a victim of a certain amount of anti-Catholic prejudice. I struggled to buy into the idea of Watson as a religious man but as this new aspect of his character is not constantly mentioned it is easy to put it to the back of your mind.

The main plot of the story tells how Watson makes two friends called Arty and Sturt at a race meeting just before all three of them are posted to Afghanistan. Sturt tells both Arty and Watson that while there he wants to search for a treasure which is hidden in the country according to a map that he has in his possession.

The villains of the piece are a Lieutenant Godard and Colonel Enderby who know of the map and intend to take the treasure once it has been discovered. Enderby only features in a few scenes and does not make too much of an impact. Godard is your typical sneaky henchman whose motivation becomes only becomes clear about half-way through the story.

The author is a former US Army officer and his military background and knowledge of the Afghan campaign shine through in the rich detail that he offers us in the story. The only problem I have is that the treasure hunting aspect of the plot is often seemingly mentioned as an afterthought. Roughly once in each chapter Sturt reminds the others (and by extension the reader) that soon they must go hunting for the treasure and then something (usually a skirmish or full battle) gets in the way. Then, in the next chapter, the routine is repeated. It is almost as if the author is trying to ensure that we don't forget about the treasure aspect even though he is not yet ready to tell us about it. Another interpretation would be that he is trying to make us share the frustration of the characters. If that was the aim then for me it was successful.

I suspect that I and most readers want to know about the treasure hunt more than the various battles but it is not until about half-way through the book that the friends finally get sight of the desired riches and then within about two chapters they have re-buried them and gone back to skirmishes and battles. At the risk of giving a little too much away the group of treasure hunters (which expands to include Murray, Watson's orderly) lose interest in the treasure - seeing it as a bit of a poisoned chalice. In this respect there is a great deal of similarity between this story and the Sherlock Holmes adventure The Sign of Four.

Although we are given a fair amount of detail about the three central characters, the others are left largely undefined. Goddard and Enderby are your classic villains of melodrama to the point where you can almost see them twirling their moustaches and laughing in a sinister way. I was left with the feeling that the author was deliberatly not adding too much dimension to the peripheral characters in order to avoid us becoming more interested in them than the central characters.

The author's grasp of detail really comes into its own when describing the scenes of battle and the battles themselves. The only downside for me (and this may be a personal thing) is that the battles are described in a very clinical way which, for me, failed to convey the horror of war and death. However I am prepared to concede that this may be just me.

Finally, I must turn to more cosmetic matters which I have noticed reviewers elsewhere have used as an excuse to damn the whole book.

The font used in the book does not do the story any justice. This font (which I believe is Arial) looks fine in a computer manual but is totally wrong for a historical story. A more 'ye-olde' font like Times New Roman or Baskerville Old Face would have been much better. The book also did not receive the attention of an editor. There are spelling and punctuation mistakes and occasions where a word is capitalised in some places and not others. The general layout could have done with attention also.

Some other reviewers have suggested that all this made reading the story impossible for them and used this as an excuse to mark low but I think that this is more indicative of laziness on their part. The mistakes do not overtly affect the experience of reading the book. They are like potholes in a road, when you go over them they affect your concentration but they don't prevent you getting to your destination.

I do recommend this book. If I were to give it an Amazon style rating it would be 4 stars out of 5. I deduct 1 star for the various spelling and cosmetic oversights and the relative lack of time devoted to the treasure hunt which, in the beginning, is made out to be the story's focus and subsequently takes second place behind the military campaign.

The Mystery of the Missing Plaque

Since October 7th 1985, when it was unveiled by the late Jeremy Brett, a commemorative plaque was sited on the front of Abbey House which occupied 221 Baker Street.

When the former Abbey National vacated the building its management was taken over and, at some point on or before 2009, a refurbishment programme clearly began. Part of this involved repainting the outside of the building. At this point the plaque was clearly removed to avoid it being damaged in the process (as you can see in the picture below).

Back in February I was in Baker Street in connection with my latest book when I noticed that there was a new plaque in position at Abbey House. This plaque simply denotes the building's number.

So the pressing question is - where is the plaque that Jeremy Brett unveiled?

It is an important piece of Sherlockian memorabilia unveiled by arguably the best screen Holmes we are likely to see. Its whereabouts needs to be determined and it must be secured.

I'm getting there

A short while ago I said that I would be reviewing Watson's Afghan Adventure. Rest assured I am reading it and writing my review as I go. I hope to have my review up in the next week or so - workload permitting.


Just a quick note to all my readers. I moderate all blog comments. I have noticed that some people have commented multiple times on the same post. I assume this is because you think the comment didn't work. Rest assured that they do but I only get round to checking once every few days. If it doesn't appear in a week then chase.



Screen Chemistry and Canonical Fidelity

Here's a question. How many of the screen 'Holmes and Watson's have really been a success from the perspective of both screen chemistry and canonical fidelity?

Much is said of the great chemistry between Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce but I don't think anyone will pretend that Bruce's Watson was even close to Conan Doyle's character.

It tends to be very much the case that more effort is spent on making the Holmes of the screen authentic than is the case for Watson.

The earliest screen Holmes that I tend to focus on is Arthur Wontner. During his films he had two Watsons. The first, who was in all Wontner's films apart from The Sign of Four, was Ian Fleming (no not
that Ian Fleming). He was no literary Watson but nor was he he a Bruce and he did have a good on-screen rapport with Wontner. For the one exception in Wontner's films Watson was played by Ian Hunter.

Given that Hunter's appearance was mid-way through Wontner's film series it seems pretty clear that he was chosen because he was more of a plausible romantic interest for Mary Morstan. As an aside, Wontner's version of SIGN remains the only one to lay proper emphasis on the romance between Watson and Mary. This was only repeated in the recent Warner Bros. movie which depicted the same romance although not as part of a canonical story.

Hunter's Watson was an improvement on that of Flemings in character terms but the huge age difference between him and Wontner made them appear more like uncle and nephew and the screen chemistry simply wasn't right.

Rathbone and Bruce came next and after them came Ronald Howard and H. Marion Crawford. Howard was, in my opinion, a less plausible Holmes than Rathbone but Crawford was more a plausible Watson than Bruce had been. There was still the touch of the comedic about him but in that particular series' context it seemed to work.

Following them came Douglas Wilmer and Nigel Stock and then Peter Cushing and Stock. Wilmer and Cushing were far more canonical in their approaches to Holmes and Stock tried to give us a better Watson who still tended to lean a bit too much at times towards Bruce's style.

We then come to Jeremy Brett and his Watsons. Brett is seen by many as one of the best ever screen Holmeses and he was blessed with two totally non-Bruce Watsons in the persons of David Burke and Edward Hardwicke. Of the two I always preferred Burke who fitted my idea of Watson slightly better than Hardwicke. For me it was easier to buy into Burke as being a war veteran.

Then we have Matt Frewer and Kenneth Welsh. In this pairing we have the great exception. A case where more effort was clearly put into getting Watson right than it was into getting Holmes correct. Welsh had his occasional Bruce mannerisms but gave us a Watson a lot more in the Burke/Hardwicke mould. Frewer's Holmes on the other hand was more like Noel Coward.

We then have Richard Roxburgh and Ian Hart. Roxburgh played the part of Holmes quite well but his look just didn't have something it needed. In addition, there was no real feeling that these two men (or their characters) really got on together. Aside from that Hart's Watson was good but just a little too angry.

This must have been noted because when he reprised the role, this time opposite Rupert Everett as Holmes, his Watson was considerably less confrontational. Everett certainly gave us a more canonical Holmes than Roxburgh (in appearance as much as anything else).

Coming bang up to date we have Downey Jr and Law and Cumberbatch and Freeman. Both pairings have good chemistry but the latter pairing, despite the modern setting of their series, has the more canonical feel.

On the whole it seems that we are improving on our dramatisations of literature's most famous double-act. I only hope it continues.

Where my blog is most read

It seems my blog is currently most popular in the UK, US and Germany. My thanks for your continued interest.

Busy busy busy

It's only March and my Sherlockian workload is already starting to mount. In addition to my book I have been asked to review Sherlock Holmes' Tibetan Adventure for (I think) the Summer SHSL Journal.

In addition I have been asked to write an article for the Diamond Anniversary supplement that will be accompanying the Winter SHSL Journal this year.

Anyone figured out how to stretch a day to 25 hours yet?

Only kidding - I love it really.

Haslemere Festival 2012

The organisers of the Haslemere Festival are planning to hold a Conan Doyle event in their 2012 festival. This event is the one that there were originally hoping to hold this year but decided that they could not.

It appears that they are keen to have yours truly take part but this all depends on the progress I make with my current book.

I am hoping to speak to them about it very soon.

Undershaw Preservation Trust Pin Bages on eBay

Lovely pin badges. The Trust will post worldwide.

Cover tweaking

I've decided on some further changes to the cover for my next book. Hopefully these will be worked on over the next day or so. I'll report back on how they look.

Undershaw ebay auction

The Undershaw Preservation Trust are auctioning some postcards. One of them has been signed by patron Mark Gatiss.

Go on have a bid. It's a good cause.

William Gillette - The American Sherlock Holmes

When Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes film began shooting the casting of Robert Downey Jr excited a lot of debate (which included yours truly). The idea of an American taking on one of Britain's most iconic characters scared people whose memories probably drifted back to a certain Robin Hood film (or indeed films).

Regardless of your opinion of the merits of RDJ in the role it is worth remembering that the first man to make a real success of portraying Sherlock Holmes was the American William Gillette.

Gilllette was not the first man to portray Sherlock Holmes on stage. That honour had gone to the English actor Charles Brookfield but Brookfield had been part of a Sherlock Holmes parody. The play, entitled Under the Clock, had a limited run and made little historical impact.

Gillette's play (based to some degree or other on an original play by Arthur Conan Doyle) was the first to take the subject seriously. He originally believed the stories could not be dramatised but changed his mind once he was given a free hand.

My next book An Entirely New Country will be covering this play (amongst other events) but you can also find out a lot about William Gillette on-line.

His is a story that demonstrates that having an American play a Brit can be a success.

A previously unseen review of 'The Norwood Author'

In their Autumn 2010 newsletter, the Norwood Society reviewed The Norwood Author. It can be read on line between pages 10-13 of the following PDF

New book for review

I shall now be moving onto the following book which I shall start reading today:

As far as I know this one stays away from the spirit world. I hope to report back in about a week.

Shadowfall - Book Review

Do you like pastiches that bring Sherlock Holmes into contact with the supernatural? Do you like the idea of Holmes actually being a wizard?

If the answer to these two questions is yes then Shadowfall is a book that may interest you.

In this book the Holmes of the original stories is replaced with a Merlin-like figure who is half-human and half-fairy and has chosen to reside in the world of the Sun (as the normal world is termed).

The book opens with Holmes refusing to help the queen of the fairies to recover her crown before being called out to Highgate cemetary where bodies have started to disappear. As if this wasn't enough to deal with Holmes is also forced to investigate the gradual theft of Britain's relics and other items of national importance. These include the Ravens at the Tower of London and the heart of St George.

The story moves at a fast pace with chapters that are neither too long nor too short and the author is clearly capable of weaving a story and of keeping you interested in how events will turn out.

The only canonical character to come across as Conan Doyle intended is the long-suffering Watson who is, understandably, almost permanently dazed by the sudden upset of his entire world. This leads to, in my opinion, a rather large percentage of the book being taken up with Holmes's explanations of everything Watson doesn't understand. This does have an occasional tendency to get in the way of the main plot. The other character issue I have is with Holmes who displays next to nothing of the deductive abilities we associate with him. However perhaps they would have seemed out of place in a supernatural Holmes.

If you haven't already guessed, I now admit to having a difficulty with reviewing this book. I am on record as not liking anything that removes Holmes from his normal environment. For me, Holmes pastiches must stay true to the spirit (no pun intended) of the original stories. It is quite safe for me to say that this book almost strays as far away as it is possible to get. Consequently it is not a book I would choose for myself.

That said, as a reviewer I need to try and see things from as many angles as possible and would refer you again to my opening questions. If you like a supernatural Holmes story then I would very much suggest that you give Shadowfall a go.

My final remark is that I would dearly like to see Tracy Revels try her hand at a more conventional pastiche. If she were to do so I have a feeling it would turn out rather well.

Getting ahead of myself a little but...

I have discussed this topic before but I feel it is perhaps time to put it out for discussion.

My first book Eliminate the Impossible was published in 2008 and is now more than a little behind with respect to the film and TV section. Since its publication we have had the Warner Bros Sherlock Holmes film, the BBC's Sherlock and the odd Mockbuster.

Do you consider this enough material to warrant an updated edition of my first book?