Bye bye 2011

I look back on 2011 with a smile. I won the 2011 Tony & Freda Howlett Award for The Norwood Author and saw the publication of An Entirely New Country. A pretty good year in my book (please excuse the pun). I hope for equal success in 2012 and wish you equal success in your Sherlockian journey.

Happy New Year

Merry Christmas everyone

I probably won't post before the end of the year so I shall take this opportunity to wish you (if you celebrate it) a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. If you don't mark Christmas I hope you have a good holiday.

Sherlock Holmes Journal and Diamond Jubilee Supplement

Much to my delight I found the December issue of the Sherlock Holmes Journal on my doormat last night. Accompanying it on this occasion was a supplement arranged specifically to mark the 60th year of the society's (re)founding.

Although I have written reviews for the journal in the past (and have been reviewed) this issue contains many items by me. In the main journal there is my review of Christopher Sandford's book on Houdini and Conan Doyle; my review of Barefoot on Baker Street by Charlotte Walters; and, finally, my reviews of the Old Court radio plays The Grace Chalice, The Long Man and Sherlock Holmes - A Drama in Four Acts.

In the supplement I provide an article on Conan Doyle biographies entitled A Case of Biographical Identity.


Review - Sherlock Holmes : A Game of Shadows

Well what to say? I stated in an earlier blog post that I expected the sequel to 2009’s film to be offering more of the same and in that prediction I was correct. I will however say that the sequel is much better than the original.

If you hated the first film I do not think its sequel will convert you. I think that is to hope for too much from it. However if you liked the first film on any level you will probably like its sequel for similar reasons.

The essential plot is pretty well summed up by the film’s second trailer. Moriarty has a plan to benefit from the manufacture of weapons and has enlisted Colonel Sebastian Moran to help him bring things about. Holmes, who has been monitoring Moriarty’s movements, drags a reluctant Watson away from his honeymoon to assist. On the way they make use of Holmes’s brother Mycroft and a gipsy called Madame Simza.

The film boasts the return of many of the characters from the first film although for many of them their appearance is little more than a cameo. RDJ and Law are in very much the same form as they were for the first outing. Law continues to give us a very good Watson and RDJ continues to give us something of a Holmes-lite that Arthur Conan Doyle would probably recognise more by the name than any other aspect of his screen characterisation.

So let’s look at the new characters:

Jared Harris as Moriarty - Despite my reservations about a younger and bearded Moriarty - Harris is a revelation. He exudes menace and is probably the finest Moriarty since Eric Porter in the Granada Television series. The scenes featuring Moriarty and Holmes are very charged and this is a credit to both actors. The film’s reworking of events at Reichenbach is not canonical but still manages to be quite moving.

Paul Anderson as Colonel Sebastian Moran - A truly sinister thug but a bit rough and ready for a former army officer. Moran may have strayed to the wrong side of the tracks but you would still expect there to be something of the Sandhurst officer about him. The character we get simply isn’t quite right. He is a perfectly good henchman but not a convincing army officer.

Stephen Fry as Mycroft Holmes – Mycroft started out well but was swiftly turned into little more than a source of comic relief. I think many people had high hopes for Fry in this role, some seeing it as a role he was almost born for but the character that was written for him was not quite right (no fault of his) and he did not get the screen time to do the role the justice it deserved.

Noomi Rapace as Madame Simza - I found her character rather unnecessary. Her whole existence in the plot seems to depend on the facts that she has a brother who is working for Moriarty and her local knowledge which is used to get Holmes and Watson out of the occasional hole. I feel her character could have been removed or downgraded without much impact.

Contrary to the opinion of some reviewers who thought the film too long I think it ran for the right amount of time and its pace never really lets up. Some films sag in parts but I don’t think that was the case here. This is once again an area where the sequel betters the original.

I rated the first film on two levels. Firstly as a cinema experience and secondly as a canonically accurate film. For the former I gave it seven and the latter five. I then averaged this out to six overall.

For this sequel I take every mark up one. Eight for a cinema experience, six for canonical fidelity and seven overall. I think the improvement, particularly on the canonical front, can be put down to the input of Leslie Klinger the well known American Sherlockian expert.

In short, if you didn’t hate the first film go and see its sequel. You already know what to expect and if you can close your eyes to the canonical issues you will enjoy the ride.

Initial reports suggest...

...that An Entirely New Country is selling more copies in the US than the UK. Come on UK get shopping:

Click here for links to purchase.

The Shadows are nearly upon us...

Well we have only two days to go to the UK release of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and I plan to see it on the 18th.

Some of you may wonder, given my lukewarm response to the first instalment, why I am going to see it. Well I guess that it is for two reasons - one perhaps more optimistic than the other.

Firstly I want to see it because it is a Holmes film (no matter how fast and loose it plays with the source material) and I really want it to improve upon the first. Those of you who hated the first outing will probably be saying that won’t be difficult how could it be any worse?

It has to be said that there were, as with almost any Holmes film, good bits as well as bad. I have, in the past, singled out the depiction of Watson by Jude Law as one such positive. The more I think about his performance the more I regard it as combining the best elements of those given by David Burke and Ian Hart (minus the latter’s overt aggression).

However there was more that was good in the film than Law’s Watson. An interesting perspective was taken on the relationship between Watson and Holmes that really showed Watson as the man that humanised Holmes. Holmes without Watson was shown to be somewhat adrift and socially awkward. Holmes’s issues with what he saw as the intrusion of Mary Morstan were also very well conveyed. Small points perhaps but important ones I feel. It was also, it has to be said, a good time in the cinema. I cannot say that I was ever bored even though I was occasionally irritated by the liberties that were taken.

The second reason for wanting to see it is that I simply must in the interests of completeness. In order to make my assessment of what is good and bad in the world of screen Holmes I must see as much as possible. When I was a child I strongly suspected that I would not like broccoli however until I actually tried it I did not know for sure (I hate it by the way). It is very much the same for this film.

As last time I shall evaluate it from two perspectives. Its faithfulness (or not) to the source material and how it works as a fun time in the cinema.

It looks like it is going well

At the time of writing are down to their last ten copies of An Entirely New Country and Amazon UK are down to their last three. There have been a few issues with stock (so I gather) but it looks good now. Links to buy from them and others can be found here.

Please remember that 50% of net royalties will be placed at the disposal of The Undershaw Preservation Trust.

Undershaw media feature cancelled

I understand that a UK feature on the plight of Undershaw has been cancelled on the grounds that the programme makers could not get access to the inside of the house.

Attention all media companies. You are almost certainly never going to get access to the inside of Undershaw. Stop using this as an excuse not to run the story. If you want to see exactly how shocking the inside has been allowed to become go and ask The Undershaw Preservation Trust who can supply images.

Your humble blog author outside Undershaw in 2010

Review - The Sherlock Holmes Companion

Daniel Smith’s book appears to polarise opinion. A quick glance on Amazon UK reveals a one-star rating with the reviewer complaining that the plot summaries give away too much and that the illustrations are the best thing. Then there are a couple of five-star reviews that praise the book to the rafters.

It is true that if you are a person who is knowledgeable about the canon this book contains little that you are likely to be unaware of before picking it up. However, this same criticism can be levelled at a great many books in the field (including mine). I also think that the comments about the plot summaries being too detailed are not quite fair. It’s easy, if you’ve already read the stories, to say that the book gives away too much. However you have the advantage of knowing how the stories go. I strongly suspect that if you bought this book before reading the canon – the majority of the story endings would still surprise you.

The illustrations are indeed very good. The wide ranging selection chosen really gives you an idea of how Holmes was perceived around the world. The non-English language illustrations in particular are very interesting. Also interesting are the interviews with Sherlockian personalities such as Douglas Wilmer, David Burke and Catherine Cooke.

However there are downsides. There are some careless editing errors. A paragraph ends mid-sentence and a photograph of New Scotland Yard is inexplicably printed in reverse which is painfully obvious thanks to a sign for Westminster Pier which is as it would be in a mirror.

Smith’s interest clearly lies more with Holmes than Conan Doyle as the sections on Conan Doyle are sometimes misleading / inaccurate. Smith implies that it was only after 1895 and his move to Surrey that Conan Doyle seriously started looking at theatre as a medium. He even singles out the one act play Waterloo as an example. Regrettably Conan Doyle had penned this several years earlier when living in South Norwood and it had even been performed before Conan Doyle had moved to Surrey (which was more 1896 than 1895). Part of me feels that Smith could have used a visit to the British Library to look at Conan Doyle’s diaries and avoid this error.

Smith also tries to hedge his bets in relation to Conan Doyle’s date of entry into the Society for Psychical Research. He repeats the all too common mistake of saying it happened after his father’s death and then mentions that it may have happened before as stated in Andrew Lycett’s biography. A simple communication to the SPR would have cleared this up (as I did for my book The Norwood Author) and told Smith that it was indeed the January date as Lycett and I have stated. The fact that Smith did not undertake this simple check shows, in my opinion, that Doyle does not come too high up his list of priorities. You could argue that this is fair enough in a book called The Sherlock Holmes Companion but I still think the effort should have been made.

In summary, despite the minor irritations mentioned above, this is a good guide to the Holmes stories. It doesn’t give too much away and contains some fascinating illustrations. It won’t teach you much if you already own similar books but it will serve you well if this is the first book in your Sherlockian library.

In stock at the Mysterious Bookshop

Thanks to @always1895 we have pics of my latest book at the Mysterious Bookshop in New York. Click here to get your copy.

New book and Amazon UK

Amazon UK are quoting a rather long wait for delivery of my latest book. If you wish to get hold of it quicker I suggest you use Book Depository.

Launch Day

Today is the official worldwide launch date for An Entirely New Country. However Amazon (both UK and US) don't seem to have got their act together yet. Don't let their websites put you off. Place those orders now. You can also go to Book Depository.

Options for purchase are here.

No such thing as a free lunch (dinner)

My wife and I went for a lovely dinner at the Criterion Restaurant with Steve and Sharon Emecz last night.

However I seem to have come away with a pile of books to work my way through.

What if?

A thought just occurred to me. How would it affect Doylean scholarship if Conan Doyle's original script for the Sherlock Holmes play were to resurface?

It is generally believed to have burned, along with William Gillette's rewrite, in the Baldwin Hotel in San Francisco. This event forced Gillette to rewrite the play from memory.

A question that has been asked more than once is how much of Conan Doyle's script was retained for the play that was ultimately performed to much acclaim worldwide. Gillette never said anything on this matter which has left historians to make up their own minds. Despite the fact that the play was credited to both men with Conan Doyle's name at the top it has been widely assumed that little of Conan Doyle's material remained.

How interesting would it be if it surfaced after all this time?

A good "what if?"

2011 Recommendations for the season.

Here is a list of my 2011 highlights (in no particular order):

Some basic (but not too important) errors. Otherwise an excellent account of the relationship between the arch-sceptic and the arch-believer. Sandford deserves credit for not painting Conan Doyle as quite the gullible fool that some writers have been inclined to do (although it seems pretty clear that he is on Houdini's side).

Conan Doyle's previously unpublished first work that he wished to remain unpublished.

Charlotte Walters' different take on the Sherlockian pastiche. People seem to be polarised in their opinions but I thought that, apart from some issues over characterisation, it was a brave and novel angle to pursue.

One of the better collections of short-story pastiche to come out for a few years.

Henry Zecher's definitive(?) biography on America's Sherlock Holmes.