J A Garrett

Curiously nerdy posts.

Book Review: Two Hundred and Twenty One Baker Streets.

Happy Holidays, everybody!

I haven’t been blogging much, mostly because I spent Christmas in Colorado, with nary a computer to type on. However, I did have my trusty kindle and a few books with me, so I got a fair bit of reading in when I wasn’t hiking in snowy canyons.

The first of those books I read was something a little out of character for me: an Anthology. I usually avoid these, since I prefer to settle in with a consistently enjoyable story for 300ish pages rather than a batch of short stories. But I couldn’t resist this one when I spotted it at the bookstore. I mean, a Sherlock Holmes collection of short stories! Sign me up! It probably didn’t hurt that short stories are really where this character typically finds his home.

I hate to be a debbie downer, but this cover implied that there would be a lot of sci-fi takes in this book, but there really aren’t.

Much like anyone else who reads, I’m a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes. Everyone who reads for fun should be, in my estimation. It’s no exaggeration that he is one of the most famous characters ever created, and in the past few years, it’s easy to argue that he is as popular and accessible now as he has ever been. I’ve enjoyed them all, for the most part. I liked the Robert Downey Jr. movies. Like everyone else with a pulse, I love the BBC series. I’m not much of a fan of the Elementary show on CBS, but at the very least it’s not a bad show. It’s just vastly inferior to the show and movies it must be compared to.

This review will be a bit different from my normal review format. Instead of what I simply like and don’t like, I’ll rate every individual story. This should be fun.

 

A Scandal in Hobohemia: Brilliant title, brilliant concept. Here we meet facsimiles of Holmes, Watson, Lestrade, and Moriarity, though they appear far different from what we’ve been condition to expect. Sherlock, aka Sanford in this story, runs a travelling carnival that’s been plagued with a serial killer, and Watson (in the creative form of a black former civil war veteran missing a leg) and Lestrade (in the form of a Pinkerton PI) have come to investigate. Add a cameo by Mrs. Hudson (as a bearded lady, no less), and this story boasts perhaps the largest cast of classic Holmes characters in the anthology. Though there is a murder mystery that takes place, this story chooses to focus on how Sherlock and Watson gradually form their famous partnership. It’s well written, and bursting with creativity. My only issue with it is that it feels as if it ends too suddenly, and not much is actually resolved in the plot. I know anthologies often have strict word counts, so I’ll chalk it up to the author being forced to end it, rather than choosing to. I still quite liked it, though. ****.

Black Alice: This is easily the most “normal” Sherlock story in the book. Holmes and Watson travel to Worcestershire to solve a murder. The two travel back to John’s hometown to investigate whether or not his old benefactor’s housekeeper murdered her lover by way of Maleficium, aka witchcraft. Naturally, that word is all Holmes needs to hear in order to be interested. I won’t spoil the rest of the particulars with this story. While it feels sort of out of place in this anthology, this story feels almost like an actual story Arthur Conan Doyle might write himself, so needless to say, it’s quality. ****.

It was easy to picture these guys as the main characters in the second story.

The Adventure of the Speckled Bandana: This story, man. It might very well be my favorite in the entire anthology. It sets Holmes and Watson operating out of New York in the 1970s. Holmes, of course, is famous for solving such mysteries as who shot JFK, Watergate, etc. He is contacted by a wax museum operator in Las Vegas, who was recently robbed of ALL of his wax models. But strangely, the robbers left $20,000 cash in an envelope, which is much more than his models were actually worth. The story takes a few twists and turns, with a brilliant finish guaranteed to make you smile and laugh out loud. I dare not spoil it here. *****.

The Rich Man’s Hand: This one places our duo in South Africa, investigating a grisly murder where many parts of a man’s body have been cut off. It starts as a crime drama, and delves into the supernatural and even horror before it ends. I wasn’t really a fan of this one. It was an interesting story, but it felt like one where Holmes and Watson were slapped onto it, rather than an actual Holmes story. It also wasn’t really much of a mystery at all, and every Holmes story has at least a bit of intrigue to it. **.

The Lantern Men: This one places Holmes and Watson out of their element. Holmes is an architect, while Watson is a contractor with a crew of men who build and renovate buildings (he went to medical school in this universe, but had to drop out when his wife got unexpectedly preganant). It has an interesting dynamic where the two grew up in the same town together as boys, and investigate an old abandoned building with a tapping noise that’s haunted them ever since they were young rebels, staying there late at night to party. It has a very gothic horror story vibe to it. I wasn’t a fan of this one either, mostly because it was another story where it felt like it didn’t need a character like Sherlock Holmes to play out to its conclusion. Still, it was a great plot. ***.

A Woman’s Place: Now we’re talking. This is the kind of story I’d been expecting ever since I saw ray guns and Jetsons buildings on the cover. It’s really story within a story: you get to read along with Mrs. Hudson into Watson’s account of Holmes solving a mystery in one of her (yes, her. Watson is a lady in this one, and it works just fine) accounts of Holmes. This story is set far into the future, with a sci-fi setting not unlike something out of 1984, with surveillance system called DotGov that tracks everyone and everything. I won’t spoil the point of the story, but it has a very, VERY interesting take on the dynamic between Holmes and Moriarity, and makes Mrs. Hudson a much more important character in the process. Screw this short story: I wish there was a novel running with this idea. I loved it. *****.

It’ll never happen, but Benedict Cumberbatch would be just as awesome as the cyborg Sherlock this story creates.

A Study in Scarborough: Yet another fabulous story. Here, we travel along with a writer (named Arthur Doyle, of course) who goes to interview an old, retired John Watson about his glory years as a team with Holmes. In this universe, Holmes and Watson aren’t real detectives: instead, they are two actors/performers who are famous for playing detectives in a series of stories that are equal parts mystery, and comedy. Bonus points to the author for giving us snippets in screenplay format. It’s already an interesting take on the mythos, but then it ups the ante, and gives us a stunning conclusion that you’re almost guaranteed to not see coming. This was a really unexpectedly great one. *****.

The Small World of 221B: This story starts off as a run of the mill Holmes story, but delves into the weirdly creative side relatively quickly. I can’t say much more about this one without spoiling the whole point of the story, but it’s another one where Holmes and Watson are self-aware fictional characters. I just wish this story had a bit more meat to it, as there aren’t many more tricks to be found here. ***.

The Final Conjuration: This story wins by a mile in terms of putting Holmes in a creative story. Holmes himself is straight up classic Holmes, but here, he is summoned by a sorceror from another dimension. No, I’m not making that up. This Sorceror lives in a world ruled by 7 Wizards, and the Blue wizard has been murdered. Bid by his lord to help solve who did it, the sorcerer summons “the Holmes”, a demon from another plane. Holmes scoffs at the concept of magic being real, and deems all of his solutions in this new world to be impossible, but the sorcerer uses his conclusions to solve the mystery of what happened to the Blue wizard. In the end, Holmes asks for one simple boon from the sorcerer that proves to be an amusing explanation for the ending of one of the most famous short stories (and the namesake of this one). Simply brilliant. *****.

The Innocent Icarus: This takes the form of a more conventional Holmes story, with one simple wrinkle added. In this world, most people are blessed with talents, named for Greek mythology. Watson, for example, is an Achilles, which lets him take considerable physical abuse without fear of being killed. Holmes, however, has none of these powers, save that of his powers of observation. The two are called upon to solve a murder of a famed businessman. This story works within the rules it set for itself, and proves one compelling point: even in a world where the extraordinary becomes ordinary, Holmes is still amazing. ****.

Half There/All There: This one takes place in the time of Andy Warhol’s famous factory, in the 60s-70s era. I wanted to like this story, I really did. However, in my opinion, it hurt itself considerably by going one route that does not work: making Holmes a sexual being. Not only does it take a bite into the Irene Adler mythos, but it also makes Holmes and Watson sexually attracted to each other. Just my opinion, but the character works because he is only attracted to his work, not so much other people. Everything else about this story works well enough. Another person reading this story might find it to be their favorite. But for me, it just tried way too hard in the wrong direction. **.

All the Single Ladies: I really, really liked this one. It’s set in Southern California. Watson is the campus doctor at an all girl’s school that is also the setting of a popular reality TV show, and Holmes is a consultant brought in by the local police to investigate a series of rapes and subsequent murders. Holmes is actually a woman in this story, which is an interesting twist, but has no actual bearing on how the story plays out. I loved how this was a classic murder mystery, but with enough modern flavor to make it feel fresh and new. I especially enjoyed how Holmes is evidently a reality TV junkie. Somehow, that worked really well for me. Loved this one. *****.

The Patchwork Killer: This is another story that is set in modern times, but with a bit of a horror twist. It’s a mystery, which I liked, and has twists, which are important. I just didn’t like it as much as some of the other stories in this anthology. ***.

Parallels: In contrast to what I had to say about Half There/All There, I enjoyed this one. It doesn’t have Holmes and Watson in classic form at all: instead, they take the form of two teenage girls, Charlotte and Jane. Jane has a crush on Charlotte, who is completely unaware, but enjoys solving problems. So Jane writes lots of alternate Holmes fan-fiction to play out her own fantasies… until an angry ex steals her notebook full of stories. It’s very meta, and very cleverly done. It’s a perfect finish to an anthology like this, and I actually thought the ‘shipping in this one made sense and worked, which is high praise coming from me. ****.

 

Whew! That’s a lot of words. Still with me? I tried to run through them quickly, but it’s a beast of a book. How do I rate a book with so many scores? Simple math.

After tallying up the stars, I got 54. Divide that by 14, and I got 3.85. I don’t do half stars, so round it up! It looks like this book earned a **** rating from me, which sounds just right. There were some brilliant alternate takes of a legendary character, and some missteps. Still, I greatly enjoyed this. I should read more anthologies than I do, apparently.

Anyhow, time to go get ready for tonight. Happy New Year’s Eve, everyone!

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