Thursday, 29 May 2014

Fiver's Dream

Due to inevitable health issues this is probably the last year for me at my Bunker Hill abode. All that's holding me here now are a bunch of those invisible bureaucratic legal tangles we humans love to cast about ourselves. Anyhow it gives me a bit of time to say farewell to all the neighbours that have made the place such a fine retreat. Remember that Summer you came to stay for a few days - the garden never forgot, that's for sure. So good-bye buns. Keep on filling that hill with life and long may your afternoons be sunny and predator free. Keep a good eye, and twitch that nose, and always have one ear to the ground. Stay safe folks. I hope Fiver's dream never comes this way but I fear that one day they'll run out of green bits to paint white and even Bunker Hill will fall. Until then..... stop chewing your toes while I'm speechifying... bye buns.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Sherlock Holmes had a sister?

Having decided to hoard the latest escapades of Flavia De Luce for hopefully better days ahead I cast my nets and twitched my literary feelers seeking a palatable substitute. It's never been totally dismissed that Sherlock had a canonical sister. He mentions a possibly hypothetical sister several times in The Copper Beeches. The debates go on. It's been a while since I dipped my toes in the YA sea. I've had lots of fun in the past when I have dived in but these days there does seem to be rather more fish than sea. Enola is certainly no match for Flavia (she doesn't even give her bicycle a name for heaven's sake) and Nancy Springer's Victorian England doesn't convince as seamlessly as Pullman's Sally Lockhart books. The author does have great fun with various Victorian minutiae, most notably with Enola's clothing in her various disguises. Enola turns her lack of womanly curves to her advantage by taking advantage of all the vacant storage space with her 'improvised wearable baggage' compartments. The main push of the storyline is taken up by the disappearance of our girl's mother, who vanishes so completely even Sherlock is at a loss. Enola decides to track her down with the aid of her mother's cyphers and a skill for caricature sketching, as much to prove to her disparaging brothers her true cranial capacity. Boarding school and learning to be a proper lady certainly doesn't appeal so she stuffs her baggage compartments full of loot and survival items and sets out on her un-named bicycle in pursuit. It's a short read but entertaining with enough chuckles and even a few Holmsian tingles when Enola and Sherlock collide for me to come back looking for book 2.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Junkyard Dogs

The last two Walt Longmire books were both really disappointing. The series featuring the aging Sheriff seemed to be stalling with two books pretty much self sabotaged by Craig Johnson. At least I assume it was him and not the result of some very poor editorial advice probably connected to pacing. Both books were completely ruined by being told in flashback and featured only minimal appearances of the regular cast of characters. But Junkyard Dogs sees a welcome return of the old, slow burn style that hooked me in the first place. The humour is turned up a notch with Walt's tendency to get injured getting a bit of a sending up. All the cast are here, with only some of the minor characters left out. It all kicks off with an old guy getting dragged along on a tow rope for several miles by his nearest and dearest, waving at bystanders as he clatters by. Following on from a sub plot line begun several books ago, Walt's newest deputy is having psychological issues after getting severely injured in the line of duty and plans to quit. Walt has other ideas. Dog gets to do his heroic hound thing again. Walt's on/off romance with feisty deputy Vic is mostly off. Henry does his tracking thing. And it's cold and the snow is coming in again. And it's all so very cosy and as far as I'm concerned.... just what the doctor ordered.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes

This was probably the first anthology of Sherlock Holmes pastiches that I ever read back in the dim and murky past when dinosaurs walked the Earth in mortal terror of Doug McClure. Basil Rathbone was still my main source of Holmes with most of Conan Doyle senior's stories still not having a place on my bookshelves. So now that all those brilliant works by dear Arthur are all indelible features of my memory, perhaps it's time I revisited his son's attempts to recreate his father's style with the help of his dad's old desk and of collaborator John Dickson Carr. Only the first two are full on collaborations with perhaps one of them, The Seven Clocks, being the best story in the collection. It's got a suitably bizarre fellow in it who goes in for some full on random clock smashing but it's the spot on atmosphere that makes the tale. The other being the rather poor The Gold Hunter. Carr's The Wax Gamblers is like one of those old school friends you bump into every five years or so, turning up in various anthologies. It has a very humorous tone and features boxing, an injured Holmes and Watson getting the butt of the jokes but saving the day anyway. Good story. Unfortunately Carr steps over the line too much in the farcical Highgate Miracle. Carr has almost no involvement in the very forgettable Black Baronet but must surely have loaned Conan Doyle some expertise to craft The Sealed Room. Carr is regarded as one of the greatest to pen the sub-genre of the locked room and one of his stories was voted the all time best by his peers. Conan Doyle's father also penned a story of the same name. What results is also quite a good story and another that pops up from time to time.
From here on in Conan Doyle junior is left to his own devices as illness took a toll on Carr. What follows are six very derivative stories, mostly dull, with many of the right elements but no finished shine. The pick of them is The Debtford Horror, deeply derivative of The Speckled Band, but quite atmospheric with a nice frisson of creepiness to accompany one of the most creative methods of bumping off unwanted family members ever seen. Though thanks to Conan Doyle senior for sewing the seed by first mentioning in Black Peter the arrest of Wilson the notorious canary-trainer. Although Wilson is not arrested in the story Conan Doyle junior lays the blame at Watson's feet calling it 'a typical Watson error.' Holmes quite uncharacteristically spouts proverbs throughout. Fun though.
What always occurs to me after reading a Sherlock Holmes anthology, and the number is legion, is that no matter how closely the writers mimic Cona Doyle senior's style, or how many Holmsian elements are included, none of them come close to performing the alchemy that Arthur Conan Doyle did. In many ways the formula to the literary alchemy of the perfect Victorian Sherlock Holmes story is lost to time because no one has first hand experience of the Victorian era nor the acquaintance of the men the great detective was based upon.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Edwin of the Iron Shoes

I really wanted to give this one up at the half way stage. But there were a few reasons I wanted to finish it poking me along. One being the shortness of the thing, and it features an early female P.I., predating Sue Grafton's 1980s creation, but the main and most persistent pokey thing was the knowledge that Marcia Muller is married to Bill Pronzini, author of the superb Nameless Detective series. Muller's P.I. also haunts the same San Francisco streets and eventually the two will come together in a cross-over or two. But man it was hard work. The first two thirds of the book are basically our heroine, Sharon McCone, wading through a stock check of the contents of an antique shop that provided the location of a murder. Muller has a straight forward writing style, devoid of anything resembling poetic colour, that would grace the incident report for most insurance claim forms but does little to generate atmosphere. The less said about the hate-hate-love-hate proto-romance between McCone and the local cop, Greg Marcus, the better. Marcus is somewhat confusingly labelled 'a wolf in misogynist's clothing', an idiom corrupted by McCone's employer & friend Hank Zahn.
Thankfully things pick up in the final third when McCone starts to get close to solving the case and things get tough. And as we all know, when the going gets tough, the tough slip a .38 Special into their purse. In the end though there just wasn't enough potential to bring me back for more.