An Entirely New Country - Review

Carrie Chandler of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London has given my book a four star review. Read it here.

Take up the challenge

I have decided to set a challenge for people to try something of Arthur Conan Doyle's that was not Sherlock Holmes. Details are here

Book review - Sherlock Holmes and the Irish Rebels

This is the second book by Kieran McMullen following Watson’s Afghan Adventure. His first book told the story of Watson’s experiences in Afghanistan before he met Sherlock Holmes. As a result it was very much Watson’s story with Holmes only briefly appearing at the beginning and end of the book.

On this occasion McMullen has jumped to the other end of the famous duo’s relationship. His story picks up from where Conan Doyle’s His Last Bow left off. Holmes has changed from a private detective into a fully fledged spy and, still in the guise of Altamont, he is now in Ireland and doing his best to disrupt the 1916 Easter uprising against British rule. Watson is sent to join Holmes by Mycroft and the two men infiltrate the rebel ranks in their attempt to upset the revolutionary plans.

As you may have guessed, this is very far from a traditional Holmes story. Although there is a conventional crime buried in all the revolutionary action, Holmes does not get the opportunity to spend time indulging in investigations or deductions. In fact this is really an out and out espionage thriller. As such it may not be for you if the traditional Holmes adventure is what you crave.

The action takes place in a surprisingly small number of locations. In the first two-thirds of the book the majority of scenes take place either at the government headquarters, the rebel headquarters or Holmes and Watson’s lodgings. Once the uprising begins the number of locations expands. This small number of locations might appear to make for a dull story but in fact it does not and actually aids you in keeping on top of how events are proceeding.

McMullen shows his grasp of history by filling his pages with many real figures from Irish history. Famous names like Michael Collins and Éamon de Valera are joined by other lesser known figures. Actually that’s not fair. To someone living in Ireland many of the names will probably be familiar but to someone, like me, who is only partly acquainted with those events, Collins and de Valera are naturally the ones who stand out.

The book moves at a good pace and I was certainly never bored. I cannot comment on the historical accuracy as I lack familiarity with this period in Irish history but it certainly feels authentic.

Away from the plot itself there are issues. As with his previous effort, McMullen’s book suffers from a number of typographical errors. The occasional spelling error rears its head and there are cases of the wrong word being used in a sentence. For example, on one occasion a character elects to keep his ‘council’ when it should, of course, be ‘counsel’. A competent editor would have easily sorted these out and I strongly advise McMullen to avail himself of an editor’s services when it comes to book three.

The odd Americanism rears its head too with McMullen referring to a “pant” leg. Bearing in mind that he is American you might think this acceptable but given that he is supposedly writing as Watson he really needs to use British terminology. In this case it really should have been “trouser” leg.

McMullen also makes use of a number of footnotes to explain terms during the story. In a good many cases I don’t think they were necessary. He could have avoided a lot of the terms that needed explanation by using more generic words. It comes across in places as if he is trying to prove a little too hard that he has done his research. I would also say that footnotes should really be confined to non-fiction works. In a novel they are just a distraction from the plot.

In summary, this is a good story that is easy to follow despite the complex historical events it is portraying and the sheer number of characters taking part. It flows better than Watson’s Afghan Adventure and a number of the former book’s cosmetic issues have been sorted out for this adventure.

While McMullen really should avail himself of an editor familiar with British English for his next outing his second adventure is well worth the read.

An Entirely New Country arrives on Kindle

Amazon UK and US have now made available the Kindle versions of my latest book.

Links can be found here.

An Entirely New Country receives a 4 star review on

Below is a review that recently appeared for my book on the website. Along with a 4/5 star rating the reviewer said:

A very interesting look at Doyle's life during his Hindhead years. Obviously well researched with a nice collection of photographs. It ended on a bit of a sour note which was a little sad (but no doubt appropriate) but that was really my only negative thought on it. I would certainly recommend it to fans of Doyle and to those who are wanting to support Undershaw (like myself!) and I will be checking out Mr. Duncan's previous books.

Goodreads page can be seen here. You can buy a copy of the book via various links to be found here.

Conan Doyle Weekend in Haslemere 2012

From the 15th-17th June this year Haslemere in Surrey is holding a Conan Doyle Weekend. This is but a part of its larger Haslemere Festival that takes place during the week.

A website dedicated to the Conan Doyle events has recently been launched. It is a little rough and ready at this stage and further information will be added to it (I'm told). It can be found here.

Speakers over the course of the weekend will include Andrew Lane - author of the Young Sherlock Holmes book series, Andrew Lycett - biographer and author of Conan Doyle: The man who created Sherlock Holmes and your humble blog author who will be introducing a special screening of Hammer's version of The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Precise details are yet to be completely finalised but I hope anyone in the are will be able to attend. I will be happy to sign copies of my books at my event but will not be bringing any for purchase.

CBS Sherlock Holmes programme

We have heard increasing amounts about an American Sherlock Holmes style drama entitled Elementary that has been commissioned by CBS. The news has certainly polarised opinion, whilst some people seem interested in the idea a larger number seem repulsed. The amusing thing is that a large number of the repulsed appear to be American themselves.

To add insult to injury this detective will be a resident of New York (apparently almost the only part of America where anything happens if you believe their programming).

Why oh why do American TV stations and film studios appear to be obsessed with taking British stories (and those from elsewhere too) and moving them to the U.S.? Do they really believe, even when their own audience says otherwise, that Americans can only cope with stories and dramas that are set in the U.S.? If I was an American I think I'd feel insulted.

You can more easily see how daft this all is if you imagine it reversed. How daft would it be if the BBC produced a version of the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and had the characters travelling the Thames rather than the Mississippi. Perhaps Spider-man and Batman need to be fighting crime on the streets of Birmingham or Glasgow.

Sherlock Holmes is as British as the red bus and the cup of afternoon tea. Please leave him where he belongs - in London and in the hands of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss.

Current reading

I have started reading this today and will post a review as soon as I have finished it.

Baskervilles and BBC Wales

Yesterday afternoon I received a call from a chap at BBC Wales who wanted my assistance for an on-line article he was writing regarding connections between Wales and The Hound of the Baskervilles. I was happy to help out. I hope the article will appear over the weekend. When it does I shall post the link.

UPDATED - Link to BBC story.

Amongst other things we discussed a book on these supposed connections that came out in 2010. I reviewed said book on my blog and my 2010 review can be found here.

Sherlock Series 3 Speculation

Now that the dust has settled I think we can safely start speculating about the stories that could be adapted for Sherlock series 3.

Episode 1 – The Empty House

Rather a given under the circumstances but as we have no Colonel Moran (that we know of) it does beg the question who will be hunting Sherlock and why? Will we still have the murder of Ronald Adair? infinite variety.

Episode 2 – The Sign of Four

My personal favourite from all the stories, I can think of an excellent way in which this story could be adapted for the modern day (which of course I won’t reveal here).

The great Jeremy Brett in Granada's first class adaptation of SIGN

Episode 3 – Charles Augustus Milverton

I know this to be an idea that has much support. It would not take much effort to bring this story up to date. In essence you could leave the story largely as Conan Doyle wrote it and just change it to today. Milverton is one of the heavyweight villains in the canon and I have given some thought to casting.

I assure you that I am armed to the teeth
In my opinion Richard E. Grant would make a wonderful Milverton. If not him then I would not hesitate to cast Anthony Andrews.

Backup episode – The Illustrious Client

Baron Gruner is one of the other big villains of the canon. There are parallels between this story and that of Milverton so whichever of the two actors above did not play Milverton I would cast them as Gruner.

 My last word to you is, go your own way and let me go mine.

So there you have my thoughts….

Mr Gatiss and Mr Moffat - get in touch if you want to hear my thoughts on SIGN :-)

The Reichenbach Fall - Further thoughts.

I have been asked by a few people to expand on my last post re The Reichenbach Fall. So here we go.

I imagine many of us felt quite nervous about this episode. Not only because we all knew how it was destined to conclude but also because the script was handled by Steve Thompson. Thompson was, as most people know, responsible for the episode in series one called The Blind Banker. This episode was widely seen as the weakest of the series descending as it did into borderline Fu Manchu territory. So badly was it regarded in some quarters that the American Baker Street Journal, in an article discussing series one, covered it in about two sentences whereas the other episodes got several paragraphs each.

Therefore the idea that so important an episode was in these same hands certainly gave me (and others I’m sure) some concern. I/we needn’t have worried.

Thompson gave us an amazing finale. In the original story, The Final Problem, we learn that Holmes has been engaged in an on-going battle of wits with Professor Moriarty. This adaptation gave us that battle with Moriarty pulling off a series of impossible breaches of security at important sites and then, mysteriously, giving himself up.

When he, against all expectations, walks free he sets about destroying Sherlock’s reputation. This is amazingly done and I felt at times that he was going to win and, in many respects, you could argue that he does.

You must stand clear Mr Holmes

The famous scene in Baker Street between the two men was recreated in chilling fashion and we learn later that Mycroft has a lot to answer for as well.

All the actors give amazing performances. Most outstanding is Cumberbatch who goes through a whole spectrum of emotions as some of those closest to him turn against him. Freeman’s loyal Watson is a tour-de-force and really shines in his final scenes which bring a tear dangerously close to the eye even on repeat viewing.

But special mention has to go to Louise Brealey as Molly and Andrew Scott as Moriarty. The former really gets to shine especially in the scene where she and Holmes talk and she proves to have a much greater insight into him than he ever gave her credit for.

I do understand you Sherlock
Scott’s Moriarty was chilling at the end of series one but that performance pales into near insignificance against his performance in this episode. At all times he clearly comes across as a man who could seriously destroy Holmes. With many villains you just know they’re destined to lose. That is most definitely not the case here.

The Fall (or is it?)
The series has gone out on a high.

Post-Reichenbach - Thoughts.

If you've not been on any social media in the last 12 hours or so this may well contain unwanted surprises. You have been warned.

Well last night’s Sherlock was good wasn’t it folks? I don’t think any of us were really in any doubt that Holmes would survive, after all we all know of The Empty House. It was never likely that such a critical and commercial hit would come to an end after two series. That would have been to take the showbiz maxim of always leave them wanting more just a little too far.

Poor John. How angry will he be in 2013(ish)?
I expressed the belief, before broadcast, that we may be left feeling emotions akin to those felt by readers worldwide in December 1893 when The Final Problem was published in The Strand magazine. However that was not quite the case. We all felt it yes, but mercifully we were not made to feel it for ten years (if you choose to briefly discount the pre-Reichenbach The Hound of the Baskervilles). In fact we only had to feel it for roughly five to ten minutes.

So, yes, we know that Sherlock is alive. Before anyone screams “spoiler” I don’t think it is given that Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat and others tweeted within a few minutes of the conclusion that series three had been commissioned. Not only that but it had been commissioned at the same time as series two. Those tweets would have gone, as they say, viral by now so I’m hardly giving the game away.

The shock wave is still working its way through Twitter and other media as I write. We are led to believe that filming on series three will not begin until towards the end of this year at the earliest. This is due to the two leads having commitments elsewhere. So we have to hold our collective breath until 2013 or so.

It’ll be worth it though… know it will.

If you are in a Reichenbach panic - read this it may help

Up and down the land (UK) people are waiting with a mixture of excitement and dread for the final Sherlock episode. This episode is entitled The Reichenbach Fall and is of course based, to some extent, on The Final Problem – Arthur Conan Doyle’s story of 1893 - in which Sherlock Holmes supposedly met his end.

People seem seriously worried that our new Sherlock will not return. My thought on this is that people should not panic. I’m not saying that watching this episode will not be difficult or emotional but if you look at it more clinically it seems unlikely that it is the end.

When Conan Doyle wrote The Final Problem he was desperate to see an end to Holmes. He was tired of him and wanted to focus on other things. Despite this he did not close the door on Holmes. No body was found and the person to conclude that Holmes was dead was Watson who, as we know, was famous for seeing but not observing.

Thus, in 1903, Conan Doyle was able to bring Holmes back without any real difficulty.

Now look at the new series. To my knowledge, not one of the writers or actors has made a statement to the effect that they definitely won’t do any more. None have expressed any desire to be rid of Holmes. On a commercial basis the series must be raking it in. Worldwide broadcast rights, DVD sales, soundtrack sales. Does anyone really think that they’ll just stop?

Yes Martin Freeman’s Hobbit commitments and Benedict Cumberbatch’s involvement in the new Star Trek film are bound to cause a long delay but I feel pretty confident at this stage that Sherlock Holmes will return.

Take heart citizens of Britain.

The Shadow of Sherlock Holmes

Cumberbatch and Freeman in Sherlock
Now that the end of the second series of BBC’s Sherlock is coming into view (for the UK) the inevitable debates as to whether or not there will be a third series have commenced. This would have been the case in any event but it is even more so when the concluding episode of the second series is to be based, at least in part, on The Final Problem.

Some on-line articles have been suggesting that Benedict Cumberbatch may not wish to return to the role. To what extent this is true or not is really only known to him but it made me think about many of the past actors to take on this iconic role and how they fared.

I don’t think any actor truly appreciates how this role can define you (and take you over) until such time as they find themselves playing it. It doesn’t matter what you read about your predecessors you will not truly know until you, as it were, don the deerstalker.

One of the earliest (but not first by a long way) Holmes actors was Arthur Wontner who starred in five films in the early 1930s. Perhaps as a result of only doing five films he avoided being forever associated with the role although he was pretty much typecast in aristocratic/patrician roles. The same was not true for the man who followed. Basil Rathbone became defined by the role, playing him in 14 films and countless radio plays. He eventually put Holmes behind him but by then it was too late and he found other work harder to come by. He ultimately returned to 221B in a play written by his wife – which flopped.

Arthur Wontner
Douglas Wilmer, the notable character actor, is one of the few people who successfully played Holmes on screen more than ten times without being consumed by the part. His series (after a 1964 pilot) aired in 1965 but when he was asked to return to the role he declined highlighting production issues. Although he did go on to make many radio appearances as Holmes his lack of screen outings, helped him to shed the Holmes image with the public.

Wilmer’s replacement, Peter Cushing, possibly escaped being defined as Holmes because he was already largely identified with the role of Van Helsing in the Hammer Dracula film series. He too only made one series for the BBC. However both he and Wilmer returned to the role in one-off appearances. Wilmer in The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother and Cushing in The Masks of Death.

Jeremy Brett
Jeremy Brett was the next notable actor to take on the role and he very much made it his own. With hindsight it is quite clear that the role more or less consumed him with negative consequences. He appeared to go from loving the part to loathing it and finally to being determined to film the entire canon regardless of the cost to himself. In the end his death brought about the end of his mission.

It is perhaps Brett’s experience more than any other that has shaped the attitude of actors to the role since then. Within the UK most actors have taken on the role for only one film - Richard Roxburgh and Rupert Everett making one film each for the BBC. When Jonathan Pryce took on the role in a Holmes drama for children he too confined himself to one appearance (although that might have been due to the fact that it was a pretty poor drama).

So now we have Mr Cumberbatch with six films under his belt. Does he fear the Holmes curse? Perhaps, but I like to think he will stick with the role as long as he gets to do plenty of other contrasting roles elsewhere. For us viewers it could mean that the price of retaining our leading man is longer gaps between each series. Can we cope with that? Probably not. Will we cope with that? We’ll do our best.

Sherlockology post is now available

My article on the 2012 Sherlock Holmes Society of London dinner (featuring Steven Moffat as guest speaker) can be found here.

Sherlock Holmes Society - Annual Dinner 2012

On Saturday January 7th I attended the Sherlock Holmes Society of London's Annual Dinner at the House of Commons. The guest speaker was Steven Moffat and other guests included Sue Vertue, Mark Gatiss and members of the Doyle family.

I have written a short summary of the evening but it will be posted hopefully on the Sherlockology fan site for the BBC Sherlock series. As soon as it appears I shall place the link here.

The Hounds of Baskerville - Some thoughts

I'm pretty confident that this is spoiler free.

The Hound of the Baskervilles is, I feel, more rooted than most Sherlock Holmes stories in the Victorian era. Its central premise – the idea of a phantom hound stalking a family through the generations - works really well in its normal Victorian setting.

Naturally, for a 21st century audience with a more scientific and less superstitious outlook, that was never going to work. Consequently the legend aspect was removed by Mark Gatiss in his retelling The Hounds of Baskerville.

I can only admire the way that Gatiss reworked the story so that many of the characters from the original were able to make their way into his version. Barrymore, Stapleton, Mortimer and Frankland were all woven into the story in very suitable parts. However be warned that the characters do not have the same motives and, consequently, those versed in the original story are likely to be very surprised about who is friend and who is foe.

For those of us versed in the origins of the story there was also a very welcome, and some might say overdue, nod to Bertram Fletcher Robinson – who gave Conan Doyle the inspiration for the original story – in the Dartmoor tour guide Fletcher.

The effects and music do a first class job of creating tension especially in the moments featuring Henry Knight struggling with his internal (and external) demons.

We also see excellent acting (as we have come to expect) from Cumberbatch and Freeman. The former, in particular, shines when we see Holmes struggling with his scientific and logical world falling down around him.

I was in the dark (in every sense) as to how the conclusion would play out and it is well done indeed given the constraints imposed by its new chronological setting and its more sceptical audience.

However, and this is no criticism of Mark Gatiss, while this episode was excellent and easily on a par with its predecessor, I cannot help but feel that this story, perhaps more than any other in the canon, works best in its original setting with its original ghostly canine.

If you are interested in how the original story came about it is covered in my latest book. Online links can be found here.

A Scandal in Belgravia - A few comments

Possible spoilers - if in any doubt do not read. You have been warned.

I have been hesitant to post any comments re A Scandal in Belgravia for fear of incurring the ire of people outside of the UK who are yet to see the episode. However I have been asked to comment now by a few people so I will do so.

I have tried to avoid spoilers but some may have made it into my comments so you read this at your own risk if you are yet to see the episode.

Once again Steven Moffat has shown his strong grasp of the original source material. The early scenes that illustrate how famous Sherlock has become through John’s blog are really well done as are the names of the cases they mention - all of which are plays on original cases from the canon.

Turning to Irene Adler – I think the portrayal of the character was fantastic. I’m sure the idea of her as a dominatrix sounds funny on paper but it seems to work on screen. The link between Adler and Moriarty was predictable but I suppose unavoidable given the way the episode opened.

A problem highlighted by others is that in this film Adler ultimately loses which is different from the original story upon which the film is based. I would contend that she both loses and wins. Yes she loses her hold over the government but she succeeds in gaining a much stronger hold over Sherlock than the character ever managed in the book. I won’t say more as that would be a definite spoiler. I would argue though that this is her victory – she makes Sherlock Holmes care, she makes him feel.

I apologise for the concise comments but I don’t wish to give away anything inadvertently. I am looking forward to The Hounds of Baskerville immensely.

I will be writing a guest post for Sherlockology following the annual dinner of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London. Keep an eye on their website for it.