Tag Archives: Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock, series 3

mast-Sherlock-Benedict-Martin-COVE-hiresI have waited almost two years for the next season of this show.  It’s amazing how much you can anticipate something, and then you blink and it’s over.  Just like Christmas.  This season started on January 1st, and was over less than 2 weeks later.  Three episodes, even if they are 90 minutes each, doesn’t seem like it should qualify as a full series.

Past here, there be spoilers!  You have been warned!

In episode one, The Empty Hearse, we see Sherlock return to London, and admit to being alive.  We also see John’s terrible mustache.

imagesThankfully, it’s short-lived.  I’ve never been less attracted to Martin Freeman.

The mini-episode at Christmas gave us a taste of what has been happening to our characters since the last season. Anderson has grown a terrible beard, lost his job, and become a Sherlock conspiracy theorist.  John has moved out and is very sad and makes me feel all the feelings.

In The Empty Hearse, Sherlock comes back and assumes all will be the same, assumes nothing interesting can have happened since he wasn’t around. John’s reaction to seeing him again is pretty intense.  The more Sherlock explains who knew he had faked his death (Molly, his parents), the angrier John gets.  Who can blame him? My reaction would have been far more wrathful, but John has a soft spot for Sherlock, and I think his relief outweighs his anger pretty quickly.  That being said, Sherlock deserved a good punch in the face.

The most brilliant part of this episode were the various theories on how he faked his death.  The first one, the very first scene of the episode, had me going for a split second, and it made me very angry. It made no sense at all! But the second one? with Sherlock and Moriarty on the roof? Hilarious.  And a scenario that has no doubt already appeared in at least one fanfiction in a dark corner of the internet.

In episode 2, we see John and Mary’s wedding, with Sherlock as the best man…

sherlock-wedding-john-mary-sherlockJust looking at this picture makes me feel the need to improve my posture. I liked this episode, but in it, Sherlock seemed too normal. Too able to and willing to be charming.  One could argue that he was putting on his best behavior for John and Mary (who he obviously likes).  But he’s cultivated a personality that is callous and rude, because he truly thinks he is more important than the average riff raff he encounters. I find it hard to believe he could turn on the charm and flirt with the maid of honor and etc.  Of course, when I saw episode 3, his behavior toward her made more sense. And, I suppose he has been able to affect normalcy before–e.g. when he pretended to be a vicar who had been attacked outside Irene Adler’s building.

And episode 3? What the hell was that?!  Before it started, I was complaining to my boyfriend that we’d barely seen this supervillain Magnussen, and it wasn’t a very good way to build up the tension.  Moriarty had been discussed in every episode of the first two seasons, and had been like a shadow hanging over all of them.
And this Magnussen?  What did we know about him going into episode 3? Almost nothing.  Of course, turns out he only took about 3 seconds of screen time to completely repulse me in every conceivable way.  I was so disgusted I think some of my innards turned inside out…

lars-mikkelsen-charles-augustus-magnussen-600x398Gross, gross, gross. Why is he so plastic looking and terrifying? I had nightmares about him!

But was he a supervillain?! no.  He wasn’t even the most villainous person in this episode, despite being the human equivalent of the word ‘moist‘.  I feel like bleaching my skin just thinking about him. But the real shocker in this episode was not him, obviously.

I feel like (and I’m hesitant to criticize Sherlock as a whole, but) Mary seemed to earn her forgiveness extremely quickly.  Our acceptance of her is based on a-Sherlock saying she had ‘saved his life’ by not killing him and by calling the ambulance, and b-John being ‘attracted’ to sociopaths because he is an adrenaline junkie.

a- is hard to stomach.  Couldn’t she have just knocked him out?  Or shot him in the shoulder or something?  And why not just shoot Magnussen, instead of shooting Sherlock?  I just don’t buy it as some great act on her part to show she’s a good person.  Yes, calling the ambulance was good, but not shooting him would have been better. He almost died even though she was trying not to kill him, so not a great plan.

and b?  It’s true.  No matter what iteration of these two characters (Sherlock, Elementary, House, etc) you enjoy, you start out thinking ‘how does this Watson guy/girl put up with it all?  (S)he is so normal comparatively’.  But eventually, you realize that people get into these relationships because they want to. And they stay in the relationships because they get something out of it.  Probably a relief from boredom.  Much like what we get out of watching someone like Sherlock.  On the other hand, I think it’s a little ridiculous for everyone to say ‘Oh, of course you married a killer, John, you’re attracted to psychos’.  This is only the second unbalanced person we’ve seen John with, so it’s not exactly an established pattern.  He was clearly bored with his ‘normal’ girlfriends in the previous series, but this is  bit extreme.  I really liked Mary’s character, and I like the actress (Freeman’s real-life partner). I just find her deception and her actions unforgivable, and I can’t trust her as readily as John and Sherlock seem to.  Of course, it’s easy for Sherlock to trust people, because he usually knows more about them than they do.

And I have one major gripe about this episode.  One thing that makes no sense to me.  Magnussen apparently had no actual proof of anything he used to blackmail people?  So killing him (a pretty serious breach of protocol from our hero that is glazed over very very quickly) destroyed all the ‘evidence’ in his mind?  Even if you accept that he somehow saw/found enough proof to blackmail seriously powerful people, and that blackmail worked on them even though he didn’t keep any records, and that killing him would end his threat..there’s still a problem.  He showed the letters to Sherlock.  Had them in his pocket.  So he obviously had evidence of those in hard copy, not just in his mind palace.  I suppose you could surmise that they were just random scraps of paper bound together, rather than the actual letters.  That’s conceivable, but you have to let your audience know that, otherwise it just seems like a mistake.

My only other complaint about episode 3 is the serious lack of Lestrade! Give that man more to do, even if it is just to be humiliated and called ‘Graham’ or ‘Gavin’ by Sherlock.

But of course, there are only two big important moments in episode 3.  The moment we realize the truth about Mary, and…the bit after the credits.  I hope you watched until the end of the credits?

sherlock-his-last-vow-moriarty-miss-meCan I just say that I am so happy and terrified of this, all at once?  I don’t care why or how he’s back, I just want to see more of him.  Andrew Scott, you are the most terrifying and wonderful villain ever.

Gatiss and Moffat have confirmed that there will be a series 4, to start filming as soon as the actors have room in their schedule.  Some people are speculating a premiere as early as Christmas 2014.  I hope it’s that soon, but I don’t really care when it is.  Even when this show isn’t at its best, I would still wait years and years for the next episode.  Each episode has enough moments that are shocking, affecting, funny, and scary; each one is worth waiting for.

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The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes

The SomnambulistI’m having terrible luck with books lately.  The last four or five I’ve read were (at best) ‘meh’.  I’ve also read a few lately written by historians-turned-novelists.  I thought perhaps I might do better with someone who has an English degree.

I was wrong.  Despite earning a ‘first’ (British equivalent of Summa Cum Laude) in English Lit at Oxford, Barnes does not make a better novelist than the historians I’ve read of late.  In fact, this book was quite a bit worse.

I don’t like writing about books I dislike, or disliking books in the first place. I feel very ungenerous for being harsh on writers and their work, especially in a medium where they can see my bald criticisms (and several of them have).  I would vastly prefer to only find great books and be able to swoon and flail over them in private, and pontificate over them on this blog. But that is not my fate. And I feel like it’s better to put my thoughts out there and keep other people from wasting their time on books that aren’t worth the effort it takes to read them. So forgive my harshness, but this was not a good book. Not at all.

I picked it up because the cover very clearly says ’19th century England’, from the dark hat and cloak to the gas-lit facade of the Houses of Parliament.  That’s my place and my time period, so I was in.  I wasn’t really drawn in by the jacket copy, focusing on a conjurer/illusionist/magician figure (I dislike magic), or by the title. Somnambulist means sleepwalker, in case you didn’t know.  But the setting is enough for me when it comes to books–a policy I may have to change when I think about the last few books I’ve read.

The story is about a magician, Edward Moon, who also is relatively famous for his skills as a part-time detective, a Sherlock Holmes or C. Auguste Dupin type character. His sidekick, both in his magical show and in his mystery-solving adventures is the Somnambulist, a mute giant with superhuman strength and an apparent immunity to being stabbed with multiple swords. The Somnamulist reminded me of the mythical Golem of Jewish Folklore.

Other characters include an albino who works for a government agency called the Directorate, his Tiny Tim-esque son on crutches, a bearded prostitute with a deformed third arm emerging from the middle of her chest, two aged men dressed as English schoolboys who happen to be supernatural assassins, fake ‘Chinamen’, the Human Fly, the sewn together and reanimated body of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and an all-powerful cult bent on destroying London. Oh, yes, and a Benjamin-Button character who travels through his life backwards, getting younger by the day. But he’s also living through time backwards and lives for thousands of years, eventually ‘founding’ London in pre-Roman times.

The sad thing is that in that description, I didn’t even include all of the different assassins or crackpots running through this story. I left out the Mongoose, Reverand Tan, the all-knowing Archivist, Moon’s ex-partner and now-nemesis Barabbas, the list goes on.  This book is a mess of absolutely unbelievable crap. And none of it is ever well explained.  Essentially, the plot revolves around Moon trying to solve a murder, and being led slowly into this large conspiracy to destroy London and start a new society in its place.  This is all based on a theory Coleridge actually had, called pantisocracy.  He and some mates were going to leave England and start an agrarian utopia on the banks of the Susquehanna River in middle-Pennsylvania.  They gave up the idea after only a few months, but Barnes has resurrected it for this novel.

In an attempt to summarize this story, I realize that I don’t truly understand it.  Part of the problem was that I had a hard time reading the book–it was not captivating, not exciting. I had to struggle to finish a few pages at a time.

Another problem is the story makes no sense, the narrator is totally unreliable and admits to telling lies in the story, and no one bothers to explain anything that’s going on.  The plot was a complete clusterfuck. I have no idea how this shit got published. I don’t say that often, but I mean it.

My other problems with the book revolved around character.  Moon is described as a great detective, but we never see any evidence.  Unlike the Holmes stories, where we see snippets of his abilities in deduction, Moon is just described as a great detective by others.There is talk of past cases, successful and not so much, but in this mystery he is shockingly passive.   He waits for others to tell him what is going on, give him clues and point him in the right direction. And they do, time and time again.  He even has a man on his side who has traveled from the future and knows how the story goes–and yet Moon bumbles from one place to another until he wanders into a trap and is nearly killed.  His one proactive moment is putting ads in the papers for someone who might have information he needs, but the gentleman who answers the ad is sent directly from Moon’s enemies.  It’s all a trap, and he has no capacity for seeing that.  He is an incredibly disappointing detective.  And a disappointing character all around, with very little depth or back story.

I should have put this book down when I read the first paragraph:

Be warned. This book has no literary value whatsoever. It is a lurid piece of nonsense, convoluted, implausible, peopled by unconvincing characters, written in drearily pedestrian prose, frequently ridiculous and willfully bizarre. 

This is the most truthful and realistic part of the novel. I had an intense and immediate dislike of the book and the author as soon as I read this.  I dislike narrative ‘tricks’ for the sake of trickery, and this one seemed to also be apologizing for sub-par writing which did not engender confidence in me as a reader.  Barnes continues with the narrative tricks with confusing lies by the narrator, and with the final reveal of the narrator’s identity.  I don’t want narrative tricks; I want an actual story.  There are a few books where these tricks work–because you’ve believed a story to a certain point, and you are thrown completely from the narrative saddle by a revelation halfway.  The example for me is Ian McEwan’s Atonement, which I both adore and hate. I absolutely detest that book for how horrible it made me feel, like a friend had walked beside me for a while, then turned around and stabbed me in the gut.  That is a narrative trick that works. It left me weeping for a good hour. These narrative tricks that Barnes employs are just annoying, a nuisance.

I’m afraid to say I don’t think anything was redeeming about this book.  None of the characters were particularly likeable or whole.  A lot of them seemed like rip-offs of other characters–Moon was meant to be like Holmes, The Prefects seemed to be Croup and Vandemar light, there was also Tiny Tim, the Golem, and Benjamin Button.  An original, or fully fleshed-out character would have been nice.

The plot was nonsensical and unsatisfying. The writing wasn’t engaging, nor was it stylistically pleasant.  I think the phrase ‘ersatz Chinaman’ was used at least 4 times. The narrator was annoying at best.  It was a really terrible book. Normally, when I don’t like a book very much I try to say ‘if you really like X time period, or X genre then this might be worth reading’. I cannot think of a single type of person who would enjoy this book. It’s not satisfying as a mystery, it’s not satisfying as a part of the time period, it’s useless if you value complicated characters or beautiful prose.  I guess if you enjoy being jerked around by a narrator and like to leave a book with less comprehension of the plot than during the first few pages, then this one’s for you!

Book Review: The Sherlockian by Graham Moore

I probably picked up this book because I am increasingly obsessed with anything Sherlock Holmes.  No idea why, since I don’t find the original texts to be that good, personally. They are very…masculine. I suppose I mean that there isn’t much in the way of character development or emotion. Masculine in the old-school, totally ridiculous definition. I think a lot of what we associate with Sherlock Holmes now has been added later, filled in by movie- and show-runners and writers. But what a character that Doyle managed to come up with. The idea of Holmes far outlives and outweighs Doyle’s lackluster storytelling.  The character is massively important to the history of mystery fiction, and has obviously been incredibly influential to everything from books to TV to movies. Anyone who’s been paying attention can name at least 5 characters that wouldn’t be possible without Holmes.
So this is an interesting idea for a mystery novel.  The book is split in two, each chapter alternating between present day characters who are Sherlock Holmes fans, and Arthur Conan Doyle, in the period between his killing Holmes off and Holmes’ resurrection 8 years later.  The timing is particularly interesting to me, since we are currently (in terms of the BBC series Sherlock) occupying that very depressing interregnum.

In the modern part of the story, we follow Harold White, a newly inducted member of the Baker Street Irregulars (a group of very intense Holmes fans), as he investigates the murder of one of his own, Alex Cale. Cale had recently discovered the long-lost diary of Doyle, covering that same period in the late 1890s, after Holmes is killed off and until he is resurrected. Then, he turns up dead (Cale) and the diary is m.i.a. Harold White, a speed-reader and slightly ridiculous (he wears a deerstalker. in public.) totally-amateur detective, takes it upon himself to solve the mystery.
In the 19th century part of the story, ACD is surprised by a letter bomb in his post one morning. Upon discovering how truly useless Scotland Yard is, he takes it upon himself to discover who is trying to kill him. His case gets wrapped up in one where young girls are being murdered, and of course he needs to solve that too.  His friend, Bram Stoker, accompanies him on his adventures, and ACD attempts to put Holmes’ theory of deductive reasoning to use in reality.

There are interesting ideas in this book. It’s obviously well researched. I found it particularly interesting to consider how ACD thought of his creation. After he killed off Holmes, readers were so upset and indignant that they wore black arm bands in his honor, and were none too happy with ACD.  Doyle felt that Holmes always overshadowed him (probably true), and that people thought Holmes was real and ACD was more of a Watson figure, documenting everything.

The title, The Sherlockian, refers to a group of people among Holmes fans that believe that Sherlock was real and that…I’m a little unclear on whether they think ACD was Watson or ACD was Sherlock.  Either way, it seems a bit loony.  Then again, anytime I call a theory loony (*cough*Shakespeare not writing his own plays*cough*), I have people hounding my blog for weeks on end trying to prove me wrong.  So, in that case, it seems like a totally solid theory but I’ll hold back judgment until there is more evidence.
The book, unfortunately, just didn’t have a big impact on me. I didn’t care much about Harold or his girl Friday. I found the bits with ACD and Bram Stoker far more interesting, but I don’t think they were burdened with over-accuracy. I found the ending totally ridiculous.  I found much of it totally ridiculous. It was borderline farcical, which meant that all of the serious scenes were missing any weight or depth.  At one point, Bram Stoker and ACD have to dress up in drag to infiltrate a suffragette meeting.  Really?

Also, as often happens with these novels, it seems sort of homeless. Harold is from LA, but we never see him there.  The bulk of the action takes place in NYC, London, and then Switzerland.  But it doesn’t feel like we’re anywhere. You can’t picture the places in your head, and even when I came across places in the book that I’ve seen in real life, they didn’t have any familiarity.  Doesn’t anyone care about setting anymore?

I like the idea of this novel, I like the setup. The flipping back between stories didn’t bother me.  In the end, it just wasn’t very well written. It’s hard for me to say very disparaging things about books, because I’m a writer and I know how sensitive I am.  But, I don’t recommend this one. I kind of it enjoyed it while reading, but my enjoyment went down as I got to the end of the book. I let it sit in my brain for a few days afterward, and all of the details sluiced out. I was left with something of a distaste for it.  Now I’m kind of irritated by it.
On the other hand, if you ever do have an interest in reading about ACD and his life, I can recommend one book whole-heartedly.

Arthur and George is adapted from a true story. A man named George Edalji is accused of a really terrible crime that I would not like to think about right now.  Anyway, he’s essentially accused because he’s an odd guy, and he’s a little antisocial (Asperger’s comes to mind, from a modern perspective), and (this is probably most of the problem) he’s half-Indian. Arthur Conan Doyle hears about what’s happening to him and personally helps him to beat the charges against him.  It’s a really interesting portrayal of a totally weird friendship and alliance. And it also, if I remember correctly, deals with the period between the two Holmes timelines.

Most importantly, it’s written by Julian Barnes, who I have discussed multiple times, whose book The Sense of an Ending, I raved about earlier this year.  He’s a great writer, and it’s a really interesting, far more believable, far more satisfying read.

 

Book Review(s) – Enola Holmes Series Books 4-6

I really enjoyed reading the first three books in this series.  Yes, they’re for kids, and not exactly the most challenging reading. But what they are is well-written, engaging, quick, and fun to read. I had high hopes for the remaining three books of the series.

Unfortunately, these last books didn’t quite meet my expectations. They followed the same pattern as the first three books, which started to wear on me for a while.  The first book deals with a young woman being forced to marry against her will, the second deals with a kidnapping, the third with another missing person.  I’m sure there were a great deal of mysteries in 1880s England, but these books all seem to focus on a missing person. I suppose having your 14-year-old protagonist in a book for kids investigate murders is a little untenable. Still, it’s always a missing person, in some form or another.  And the answer almost always seems to involve breaking or sending messages in code.

I like the Victorian era setting, and love all the period details and historical facts thrown in. I even enjoy the fact that the books are set in the world of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, who Enola spends the first four books outsmarting and avoiding, and the fifth and sixth books attempting to forge bonds with.  It all gets wrapped up a little too neatly and easily in the final book.  This is a problem with reading material for children, and I’m not sure it should be.  It’s a thin line for adult fiction to walk — a concise and neat ending is unbelievable to anyone with real experience in life, whereas a non-concise ending that leaves all the ends loose is about the most annoying thing in the world.  Children find it easier to believe in the happy ending, I’m sure, but that doesn’t mean we should always give it to them.  Not that the end of this series was all sunshine and daisies, but it was neat and clean and hopeful in a way that I wasn’t sure the characters had earned. Not for the books to be considered realistic, anyway.  But, they’re for kids.  I am looking at them with my adult eye, but that’s not what they were made for.

I’m glad I read them, but I was unsatisfied by the end.  Also, can we marvel at how great the covers for these books are? I love the design.  I found some other covers, which I think might have been the UK covers. They are much less cool, and feature a rather ugly pug-nosed girl reminiscent of Pansy Parkinson. She also looks more like 12 than 14, especially considering the fact that Enola passes for an adult for the majority of the books.

These books aren’t life-changing, or instant classics. But they do feature a strong, smart female heroine who is continuously underestimated by her male-dominated acquaintances. If that’s not a good example for girls, I don’t know what is. They are also quick, clever, and entertaining. If you have a little girl, buy them for her.

The Yard by Alex Grecian

I bought this book based entirely on the fact that it was clearly set in the 19th century, in London. What more do I need in a book?

I have since discovered that the author is from the Midwest, and has never been to London.  Sigh.  Listen, I’m writing a historical fiction set in a similar time period in a similar place, so I’m not going to disparage the guy for his choice of setting. But he could have gone on a research trip, yes? I mean it’s not like you can step back in time and see the London you’re writing about, but you can see a lot of the same buildings. And there’s a feeling of the UK that you sort of have to see and sense, rather than read about or imagine.  Maybe that’s just me.

Anyway! I will start this review by humiliating myself and admitting that I didn’t get for the first 10 pages or so that this was about Scotland Yard. I knew it was a detective story, but for some reason I didn’t put the two together until it was explicitly stated in the text.  I was thinking the eponymous Yard was a prison or a particular place.  I don’t know why I thought that.  Oh well.  The plot of the book is your sort of classic detective story. It centers around 4 or 5 characters, all of whom work for the Yard, on the newly formed Murder Squad.  In response to the Jack the Ripper killings, the Metropolitan Police formed what was probably the first homicide department in the world.  This book takes place only a few years after the Ripper disappeared, in a London still very much preoccupied with his presence and what his existence might mean about the future of the (then) largest city in the world.  Much is made of the diminished public opinion of the police force, of their constantly being overworked and lacking necessary resources. We focus on Inspector Walter Day, new to the Yard from the country, as well as Dr. Kingsley, a self-appointed city medical examiner and forensics expert.  Since Kingsley was based on a true character, I won’t bring up any Sherlock Holmes similarities.  There’s also descent, hardworking Constable Hammersmith, raised in Collier, Wales to a mining family and escaping to the city to spend his life above ground. Look, the characters aren’t subtle.  Nothing in particular about the book is subtle.

The action opens when one of the Investigators of the Murder Squad is found murdered, his eyes and mouth sewn shut with thread, and stuffed inside a steamer trunk.  By the end of the action, there is one more officer dead, a small boy killed, a series of men shaved and then slit at the throat (or possibly the other way round), and a very disturbing kidnapping. Narrative shifts between the characters of the detectives, and even to the killer. It’s never confusing, however, as I suspect making it very readable was a priority more than making it particularly deep or thought-provoking.  And it is incredibly readable. I finished it in about 4 days time, and thoroughly enjoyed every minute, despite the flaws.

This is a book that purports to take place in the 19th century, but it doesn’t really.  Well, it’s as if modern characters are transplanted there and made to speak in British colloquialisms.  None of them belong to their time, and it’s not very believable in that sense. They seem to have sprung up there, but they are not of the 19th century, if that makes sense. And even the British colloquialisms they speak are mostly anachronistic and some utterly ridiculous–someone, a police officer, actually says ‘What’s all this then?’, like a bad Simpsons parody.  It’s not a well-done historical fiction. It could never pass for something that would have come of the period.  But that doesn’t make it a bad book.

It’s a quick, engrossing read. It’s a lot of fun to read, even though the killer’s identity and reasons are given to us fairly early on.  There is a lot of action, and it’s sort of the equivalent of the last few episodes of the season on 24. The action is pretty nonstop, so much so that it all sort of congregates and overlaps into a truly ridiculously fortuitous climax that is frankly unbelievable.  The resolution wraps every character into a nice tidy little bow. This is, I think, the sort of book other people read most often. Not challenging, not difficult, but fun and easy. It’s not the sort of thing I usually read, and if it weren’t set in 19th century London, I’m certain I never would have read it.  That being said, I enjoyed it. It felt a bit like junk food. You know you’re not getting nutrients, but you are enjoying the taste. And that’s okay! Junk food is okay every once in a while.

Also, as a side note, I do not for one second believe that Alex Grecian is his real name.

Enola Holmes series

I came across these books while searching for some new historical fiction to read.  They are middle grade level, which can sometimes be quite tiresome as the characters are oversimplified for the children that read them.  I was pleasantly surprised by these books however.  It’s not Proust or anything, but I enjoyed reading them and they fed my current obsession with Sherlock Holmes.  Nancy Springer, the author, has been nominated for a few Edgar Awards, so that is always a good sign!

First, let me say to anyone who thinks it’s ridiculous for a grown woman to read books for children: 1-I don’t think there’s anything wrong with reading ‘children’s’ books. 2-Many of the classics of English literature have teen/tween protagonists–David Copperfield, Huck Finn, Scout Finch, Holden Caulfield. 3-I think to keep your interest and imagination as a reader (and as a writer), it’s vital to embrace variety.  Last month, I reread Slaughterhouse Five and finished two modern classics that were challenging and rewarding intellectually.  But it’s also important to view reading as entertainment.  I went through a period in my life where I only read things that were intellectually challenging, and in the end you are burnt out and you don’t want to read anymore.  I like to switch between challenging works and works that are rewarding and entertaining.  These books fall, as do most of the YA I read, into the latter category.

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, on to my review!

I was a bit skeptical of these books when I heard the premise: Enola Holmes is the younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft.  In the first book, The Case of the Missing Marquis, Enola’s mother walks out of the house on her birthday and doesn’t come back.  Mycroft tries to enroll Enola in a restrictive boarding school, a harsh change after a carefree youth spent in the country, so Enola runs away.

The thing that I ended up really loving about these books–besides the kickass covers–is Enola herself.  She’s 14 when the first book starts, but she is incredibly smart, brave, and honest about her feelings.  She’s a really rare type of heroine and I liked her immediately.  She has the fragility of every 14-year old girl, but she is incredibly self-aware for her age.

She spends the next three books trying to evade her brothers as they search for her, and also trying to fulfill her dream of becoming a ‘scientific perditorian’ or a seeker of things lost. She solves a mystery in each book, though I have to say that her mystery solving is less exciting to me than the fun/challenge of outwitting her brothers. She idolizes Sherlock, but she refuses to fit into the restrictive feminine life that would be her fate if she turned herself over to her brothers.  Because of Victorian law, she cannot control her own destiny until she is 21 years old, so they could do anything they want with her, regardless of her feelings.

Enola has two huge advantages that her brothers don’t really get.  One-she is a female.  She understands things about female life that they would never know.  For example, when she is preparing to run away, she stocks ‘bust enhancers’ and other corset accessories meant to augment a lady’s shape with things like money and food, extra clothes, etc. Ladies of the time had a lot more hiding and pretense in their lives than men did, nor did most men (particularly her bachelor brothers) know how much artifice goes into making a woman beautiful.  She uses that to her advantage.  Two-she is habitually underestimated.  Her brothers always see that she must be desperately in trouble because she is a young girl in the big bad world.  An example: Sherlock attempts to lure her to meet him at one point by sending her a message supposedly from their mother.  She sees through his ploy, and takes the opportunity of breaking into 221B Baker Street while she knows he is off trying to catch her.  She is able to repeatedly slip out from the fingers of both her brothers because she knows how to disguise herself, and because she devotes a lot of time to thinking about what they might be thinking about her.  As I said, she is very self-aware.  She knows they think her an unattractive young girl with a beaky nose, so she disguises herself as a beautiful woman at one point, and fools them both utterly.  It’s a rare 14-year-old that can think of herself so objectively.

Obviously, these books are not for everyone.  But as someone obsessed with Victorian London, going through an extreme Sherlock Holmes phase, and always in the mood for YA Historical Fiction, they were perfect for me.  They are short, quick, and give you a really good perspective on some aspects of Victorian England not usually seen in more straightforward novels.  A lot of fiction from that time was made by men or does not include some ubiquitous parts of society, like the different colors of sealing wax women used to seal letters–each had a meaning, apparently.  I liked the attention to detail, the quick format, and I really loved the heroine.

There are 6 books total, but I have only read the first three so far: The Case(s) of the Missing Marquess, Left-Handed Lady, and the Bizarre Bouquets. The first book mostly revolves around Enola’s escape from her brother’s plans for her, though she is also looking for the eponymous Marquess.  The second book involves another missing noble, a lady who secretly drew portraits of London’s poorest occupants.  The third book revolves around John Watson going missing, and Enola’s attempts to help find him. In each book, she also has to avoid her brothers, always searching for her. I’m looking forward to reading the next three once I order them from Amazon–I haven’t been able to find them in local bookstores.

Surfing the Channels: Sherlock Season Two

I had high hopes for season two of Sherlock, since I absolutely adored the first season and the wait was just long enough to make me want it all the more. This season, the writers tackled the stories “A scandal in Bohemia” (renamed a Scandal in Belgravia), “the Hound of the Baskervilles”, and “The Final Problem” (renamed the Reichenbach Fall).  These are perhaps the most famous Holmes stories.

Belgravia tackles “the woman” as she is known. Irene Adler.  For the first time, we see a Sherlock Holmes who might actually be interested in a woman. And she is more than interested in him. If anything, I think this episode improved upon the first season. I loved the pacing, the action, the wit. I loved the last 2 minutes. I loved the first ten minutes. I’ll be honest and say I thought the answer to the passcode riddle was corny. But, I can forgive any episode that provides a moment as ridiculous as this one:

I also found this episode particularly lovely in terms of the relationship between Sherlock, Watson, and Mrs. Hudson.  They do care for each other and we really start to see the human side of Sherlock in this episode, even as he pushes people away who care for him. There’s plenty of Watson and Sherlock banter, and Martin Freeman is somehow even better as Watson in this season than he was in the last.

Also, I must take a moment to point out something I forgot to mention in my first review. The music! I adore the music from this show, and I’m not someone who particularly notices peripheral things like music or set design, but I notice, connect with, and appreciate all of the little things that go into making this show wonderful.

The “Hound of the Baskervilles” is, I would guess, the most famous Holmes story in the original canon. With such large expectations, and such a strange story (more ghost story than typical detective fodder), I wasn’t surprised to find myself a bit disappointed in it.  There are good moments, particularly with Watson, and the awkward men on holiday together feeling of it, but overall it was my least favorite episode of the show so far. The resolution was a bit far-fetched for my liking. What I did enjoy about it thought was seeing a Sherlock that was actually fearful.  It is refreshing when someone so seemingly all-knowing is confronted with something simultaneously unbelievable and terrifying. It is good to see him humbled, and I think it is necessary to prepare him and us for the next episode.

Also, I have to say…I know a lot of people love Russell Tovey, who has had roles in Being Human, Dr. Who, Little Dorrit, and loads of other British stuff, but I dislike him for whatever reason.  He’s very odd looking, but then again so is Benedict Cumberbatch and I adore him.  So that can’t be it.  Perhaps it is that in absolutely everything he seems to play a whiny complaining incompetent. Could he ever just be happy in a role? If so, maybe I wouldn’t dislike him so severely.

Finally, we have “The Reichenbach Fall”.  I’m not sure I can talk about this episode, to be honest.  I might need a few months of therapy before I get over it.  No, I don’t think I can discuss it in full.  Needless to say, it is a beautiful and tragic and horrible and wonderful episode and truly brilliant work on the part of everyone involved. I won’t go into details, but I will say that we see relationships truly tested, and Sherlock truly tested. And he proves to be not just a great man, but also a good man.  And, oh god, Watson. Martin Freeman does an amazing job and made me cry repeatedly. And that’s all I think I can say, because I’m just too emotional about the whole thing. Plus, I don’t want to give anything away.

I think that series two is actually far better than series one, and that’s pretty remarkable considering how much I loved that first season. Thank the lord they are making a 3rd series, and it shouldn’t be too long before it’s on TV. This is my favorite show on TV right now, and the best thing I’ve seen on TV for years.