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33. Sherlock Holmes: The Patchwork Devil by Cavan Scott

I am fascinated by Sherlock Holmes as a cultural phenomenon, so have been vaguely intending to read one of the current run being put out by Titan for a while. Cavan Scott is a local writer and had a signing event for this at the local Forbidden Planet, so I decided this was as as good a time as any.

Despite the story having a good hook right from the start, it took me a while to get into it. It's set in 1919 so Holmes and Watson are older. The narrative is more self-aware and knowing than Conan Doyle, but not mean-spirited or sarcastic. It didn't quite work for me until about 1/3 of the way in, when it clicked.

It is based around an engaging mystery and throws in another enduring mythos in popular culture, the Frankenstein's monster. My main criticism is that it throws in too many elements from the original Holmes Canon so that it becomes a bit messy in places.

Nothing profound but it was an entertaining public transit read. My 12 year old self, however, would have loved this to death.
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22. The Origins of European Dissent by RI Moore

I've been putting this off till I am un-brain-fogged enough to discuss the ideas within. Not going to happen.

A foundational text about heresy in the 11th and 12th centuries. Moore is interested less in what heretics believed than what their heresy was in reaction to. This was a period when the church was expanding rapidly, and this brought changes both to the church hierarchy and ordinary people's lives.

Moore's thesis is that for the most part, heresy was a reaction to the failure of the Catholic church to live up to the apostolic ideals of the early church, and was most prevalent where the apparatus of secular government was lacking, not where the church was weak. Absolutely packed full of fascinating stuff - definitely recommended.

23. and 27. Brass in Pocket and Worse Than Dead by Stephen Puleston

I downloaded these to the Kindle in a moment of weakness - Amazon was telling me I'd like them and were selling the trilogy for £4.

The gimmick is that they are set in north Wales, and I was about to head there for the weekend. The other gimmick is that the detective, DI Drake, has OCD. His real problem is that he's a jerk, though. It is unclear to me whether the author grasps the difference.

Anyway, they're pretty average thrillers - the prose is pretty pedestrian and the pacing occasionally odd, especially in the first book, but the action starts on the first page and the mystery is engaging enough that I wanted to know what happened next.

24. Here Lies Arthur by Phillip Reeve

A re-read for the book club. I loved it when I first read it when it came out, and it holds up to a re-reading. It's a re-telling of the King Arthur myth for a young adult audience. It's about how myths are made and where they sit in relation to truth. There are strong female characters and some gender swapping. The parts set in the ruins of the Roman baths in Bath are creepy. Still highly recommended.

25. The Hanged Man: A Story of Miracle, Memory, and Colonialism in the Middle Ages by Robert Bartlett

In the late 13th century, a man named William Cragh was hanged for rebellion in Wales. We know about this mainly because he miraculously came back to life, and was the subject of a Papal enquiry some (probably) 15 years later and there are nine surviving eyewitness accounts.

This is a short volume, but packed with interesting stuff. It would be suitable for beginners but I learned a lot from it. Bartlett talks about how medieval people perceived time, about how the process of canonisation worked, and the complicated social and political systems of medieval South Wales.

Not important in the history of ideas the way the RI Moore volume is, but a good read full of interesting bits nonetheless.

26. The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle

I actually hadn't read this one before - I would certainly have remembered the end if I had! It's one of the novella-length Holmes tales. All of the usual elements you expect from a Holmes story - hard to put down.

I read it because I'd just bought one of the modern reboots, as well as in anticipation of thew new Paul Cornell book - thought I should immerse myself in the real thing first.

I really do need to get my hands on the annotated version.

27. See above
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12. The Final Problem and Other Stories by Arthur Conan Doyle

Once again I was blown away by the loveliness of Doyle's prose. A great deal of fun.

The Final Problem features one of the least convincing killings-off of a protagonist imaginable. A possible comeback has to have been considered from the outset.

The Radio Times did another collection of paperback Holmes tales to coincide with the latest series of Sherlock which arrived recently. I will get to them sooner rather than later, but as I'm currently sucked into the Game of Thrones series, that might be later.
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33. The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman by Nancy Marie Brown

The woman in the title is Gudrid, who appears in the Greenland and Vinland sagas, who travelled from Iceland to Greenland and Vinland, and later in life made a pilgrimage to Rome.

As with most books on the early medieval period aimed the general reader, I came to it wondering how the author has padded out the source material to make a book.

The answer here is with lots of archaeology, experimental archaeology and travelogues. The result is an entertaining and really informative read about daily life in early Iceland, Greenland and Vinland. It brought home to me the immense hardhships of life in those places in a way that none of the previous (numerous) books I've read on the subject have managed.

There are interviews with many of the experts who are researching the settlement age in Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland, and Brown spends a summer working on a dig in the far north of Iceland.

Brown is mainly interested in recreating women's lives - but this is extremely relevant, as the only export that the Icelanders had to trade for much-needed materials they couldn't get in Iceland, was wool cloth. Which was made by women.

Sometimes she waxes lyrical about imagining Gudrid in certain situations, but always makes it clear where she is letting her imagination go, then presents the evidence for why she started thinking this way.

I do recommend this book, even though her American inability to cope with the metric system (and assumption that all her readers are also thus limited) is annoying at times.

34. A Scandal in Bohemia and Other Stories by Arthur Conan Doyle

Prior to starting this round of re-reads (I read The Hound of the Baskervilles not too long ago), I last read the original Holmes stories at about the age of 12. As a result, they're a lot easier to read than I recalled!

The stories in this collection are simultaneously more and less engaging than I remembered. The writing is more interesting, as are the plots, but it's basically all about Holmes being all superior and talking down to everyone - not much to get to grips with at all.

I've got one more of these small collections left (the ones the Radio Times put out to coincide with the BBC's Sherlock reboot).
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3. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Radio Times was giving these away to go with the BBC's rebooted Sherlock. 

I used to re-read this book constantly when I was about 12, maybe younger, but not since.  Because I don't get on terribly well with the short story format, it's the only Sherlock Holmes story I have a real attachment to.

It's a lot easier going than I remembered!  (one would hope).  

Despite my 6-second memory, this is a story I know in and out so there were no surprises, even after all these years.  Overall, it's held up well. 
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52. Professor Moriarty: The Hound of the D'Urbervilles by Kim Newman

I've been looking forward to this since it came out. It's more or less the Sherlock Holmes universe from the point of view of Watson's opposite number in the Professor Moriarty enterprise, Colonel Moran, with a whole lot of other elements from early genre fiction thrown in. And Thomas Hardy's Wessex. Moriarty and Moran are evil mirror images of Holmes and Watson in sometimes quite intricate ways.

It's freaking hilarious and has quite a lot going on. Too bad I never have time to re-read anything, because I think there's a whole lot I'm sure I missed.

For me, it suffered (as does most of the original Conan Doyle stuff) from the episodicness of the short story format, even though there's a story arc. It's not a coincidence that the only original Sherlock Holmes story I'm particularly attached to is the only novel length outing.

And there are times when the odiousness of the narrator (completely intentional, I assume, plus I think Newman is slipping in the point that by our standards, *all* Victorians were racist, sexist bigots) gets really tiring. One of the things I remember disliking about the original stories were how anti-foreigner they all were.

Holmes ("The Thin Man") doesn't come in till the very end. Something I hadn't appreciated until I read Newman's Afterword is that is because Moriarty doesn't come in to the original canon until right at the very end. Popular culture has made us think that he's a recurring element.

Although it's flawed, I greatly enjoyed putting together where it all came from. I love things that play with the development of genre, and Newman himself points out that people were borrowing Sherlock Holmes to put into their own stories more or less right from the start. I haven't read any of Conan Doyle's stuff since high school, but last year I bought the editions the Radio Times put out to coincide with the Benedict Cumberbatch dramatisations, and now they've moved way up my priority list.

I also found out from the Afterword that there is such a thing as "The Annotated Sherlock Holmes", "The Annotated Dracula" and "The New Annotated Dracula". My book budget is spoken for until the end of November, but I shall have to get them at some point. Would also love to sit around with Newman and talk about this stuff some time.


Jan. 10th, 2012 01:46 pm
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While I'm thinking about it, this week's Sherlock is the first I've not enjoyed that much.  I'm sure it was of similar quality to the rest of the series, but the only Sherlock Holmes story I really enjoyed as a child and read lots of times was The Hound of the Baskervilles.  I do understand that Gatiss & co. are only loosely basing this series on the original books, but I was really looking forward to something that didn't materialise.


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