The Case of the Christmas Star: A Review of S. F. Bennett

First off, a brief explanation about S.F. Bennett. Many people (though far too few in my opinion) know of Bennett’s work from the glory days of fanfiction.net, where it was quite possible to find rich, interesting, and grammatically correct short stories along the rules of traditional Canon. Bennett was one of the few, the proud, who knew those rules inside and out. Google this name and you may be pleasantly surprised to find it in The Sherlock Holmes Society of South West of England, as well as a few other lovely publications.

Bennett stood apart. We all checked FF.NET daily in hopes of a new story, and even as we read we thought, “But how will I read this again if the power goes out?” Some few of us were smart enough to save the stories for non-electric reading. I’ll say frankly that I was not one of them because organization happens to be one of the monsters that lives under my bed…under my sink…inside my garbage disposal.

In “The Case of the Christmas Star,” Bennett pulls together some of her richest and appealing elements: the humor that was an inherent portion of ACD’s creation; the inability of The Knight to create dull characters; crackling dialog that allows even a lazy student of the period to know a joke when they hear one, and the casual cruelty inherent in all societies. Consider yourself warned. Bennett isn’t going to call the remains of last night’s dinner a noble work of art. She will make you conscious of the moral failings in the system.

Watson’s loving marriage to Mary is fond and gentle. It also has its occasional frustrations (not unlike the frustrations of living with the equally strong-willed Sherlock Holmes) as Watson forgets that women just may have different priorities and aesthetics. In this story, Watson has purchased a very necessary bit of equipment (or vanity) for his medical office. Thanks to the gasps and wheezes of the Royal Mail and less-than-honorable purchasers, the good doctor finds himself in the middle of the Victorian version of “I bought it on eBay, honest, officer.”

And folks, if you have ever bought or known someone who bought on the Internet, you know where this is going.

Believe me, I am not doing this scenario justice. It doesn’t even fall under “spoiler” it is so under-justice.

But adding to the problem is the fact that Watson purchased the item with his old address with Baker Street attached to it. Co-incidentally or not, London is not so appreciative of the good doctor’s woes because they are all set for an upcoming honoring of the Queen, a regrettable lapse in stupidity within organized crime, and the local charity drive for Police Widows and Orphans is attacking all door-bells in their demands for human kindness. And who, pray tell, is imitating a Vicar? And during the Christmas season no less? No one is ever ‘perfect’ in Bennett’s London. We love the people because we understand their flaws as well as their admirable strengths.

One of my favorite bits about this story is the scene where Inspector Lestrade is clearly frightened for the safety of Holmes and Watson; he’s trying to protect them from a stone-cold murderer without openly letting them know their lives hang on a thread. Whilst he draws a full confession out of the iciest criminal we never hope to meet, Holmes quietly makes his own calculations from the sidelines. Of course knows just how much trouble they’re in but if he says the wrong thing it will all go quite badly.

But if you asked me, the crowning glory is Mrs. Hudson. Those of us who have relished Bennett’s stories from the very beginning know Mrs. Hudson is no light character to be dismissed upon a whim. She comes across as fantastically as ever, which is 30% mother hen and 60% dragon with just enough 10% inscrutable to keep you guessing. She is firm, she is compassionate; and she leaves a hard-bitten policeman in awe as she leaves her lodgers in cowed admiration.

Perhaps I’m jaded and speaking within the restrictions of my generation, but I am sick to death of lazy writers who are genderswapping Holmes and Watson, making them into beings they are not because they think it is better to take strong male protagonists and turn them into strong female protagonists. Why do you want to re-write feminist males and turn them into females? Don’t we need both? How can you do better than look at the already existing strong, female characters, with minds of their own and initiative and nerve? 

For those of us who like respect in our Holmes, Bennett’s work is the perfect remedy. Take this story and call me in the morning.

To read this–and other Christmassy treats–go here straight to the horse’s mouth (which not only supports the author and publisher, but also fails to give Amazon your support for their political bias: GO HERE.

and here:

Amazon.com (non-UK)

Amazon.uk (Great Britain)

 

 

You Buy Bones: AudioBook

You Buy Bones: Sherlock Holmes and his London Through the Eyes of Scotland Yard Audiobook

I have been a real dupe and failed to push this like I meant to.  Real Life is a fickle beast and likes to hide under the bed with my calendar.

At any rate, I’m pleased and happy about this latest offering.  I haven’t given up my intentions for Large Print books, as I’m a little obsessed in making books for those who need that extra umph in reading.

This book uses Whispersync for Voice, and all those pages translate into over 7 hours of listening, so if you like those long-term purchases, this should be right up your alley! I say very confidently that it wouldn’t be possible without Dominic Lopez, the voice actor willing to put up with 7.75 hours of the punishment required to do this!

Click on the title above or go here for the page to check out the audio deals!

And I have to say, I really enjoyed Kindle Customer’s review of the book! Which is right here!

 

 

Review: The Case of the Rondel Dagger by Mark Mower

It is always a joy when the reader gets to learn something (in a respectful way) about a chapter in history.  Mr. Mowers is an established historian of crime and we are treated to his original character, Mr. Mickleburgh who may possibly reflect an aspect of the author’s voice.  The Rondel Dagger of the title is the linchpin clue brought to this humble expert of ancient weapons by a young Sherlock Holmes. We enjoy his voice, which is markedly different from Watson, but equally good.  He simply sees things in a different way and traces of an avuncular admiration tinge this (sigh) short story.

1880 shows us the meeting of these two men, both masters at their field regardless of the disparity in ages. Mr. Mickleburgh is entrenched, respected, and largely invisible to the world but Holmes is already rising in what he calls his “financially precarious vocation.” The conversation between the men flows easily; they both like each others’ company and we enjoy watching them puzzle out the matter of a brutal murder in which a rondel dagger is significant piece.

Without giving away the plot (sometimes avoiding spoilers is just agony), the two men discover that the Dagger is a relic of a personal piece of history for a group of “gay blades” and one fond story leads to less fond one; the deeper the men go the darker the stories until a well-concealed fact is finally brought to light.

I rate this one of the best of the book!

 

Review: The Adventure of the Missing Necklace by Daniel D. Victor

The fourth offering to the MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories, Vol. IV: 2016 Annual. One of my favorites and you are about to see why.

When I was much, much younger, I shared a love of reading with a dear friend who sadly passed away a few years ago.

I am convinced that from beyond the grave that Ree is dancing with glee, clapping her hands, and chortling with the joy Mr. Victor brought us for this adventure, and–icing on the cake–used Sherlock Holmes, one of her heroes–to do it.

Because this Adventure yanks out Guy de Maupassant’s infamous tale of “the Diamond Necklace,” and throws it to the ground, and gives us a much better story.

I can’t stress this enough.  “The Diamond Necklace” gave a lot of high schoolers (all girls) flipping nightmares.  It really did.  It upset us, scared us, made us furious and worst of all, made us feel impotent against society and injustice.  It made us feel like we belonged to a different subspecies, that women and their vanities made things worse instead of better.  It didn’t matter that I was a child of a comfortable middle class and Ree often went hungry. She knew what the wages of poverty and politics meant more than most adults. It didn’t break her, but it gave her an almost supernatural ability to see past the false fronts people erected in order to look “good” whatever that meant.

(Or as we sourly wondered, Did Mrs. Forrester never notice her glass necklace was replaced by diamonds? Wouldn’t it be cheaper to hire a detective to find the necklace? Did no one notice the couple dropped out of sight to work this thing off?)

We spoke of this story once, and never again.  It was too hard to talk about. But we remembered it.

Mr. Victor gives us the true story from the thoughtful eye of Sherlock Holmes, who makes no bones about his feelings for  de Maupassant.  Worse than being a mere ‘scrivener’ is the fellow’s willingness to bend and twist truthful events into something more ‘appropriate’ to his tastes.

We can relish Watson in his absence, for it is clear that Watson finds all of Holmes’ mental workings fascinating and worthy; with de Maupassant Holmes has to find an experience worthy of his attention–and Holmes has it: A dull grey bowler left in a peculiar place.  Noting the clues and the out-of-placeness of the hat, Holmes follows a thin trail to a surprising story and helps a young couple in unexpected ways.  The slow twists of this short story are a delight because we can “see” Holmes in his quiet narration with an interesting little story. Tracking a man from his hat-size is a fresh and delightful method of crime-solving, and his patient work shows just how much Holmes loves to learn about the world around him–and because he does, we appreciate the complexities of the world around us.  And with a hard-edged anger we understand his gun-shy distaste for fictionalizing the clean, cool workings of his mind.  Such workings have invaded his privacy and betrayed his ethics in ways that are difficult to express.

In a book of gems this one stands out–no glass, no paste.  This is a real treasure. Reading it lifted a terrible weight off my shoulders–a weight that has been there since 1989. I can only think that Ree and I weren’t the only ones bitterly affected by that story.  Thank you, Mr. Victor. What a satisfying conclusion!

 

 

Review: The Mystery of the Turkish Cipher by Deanna Baran

Deanna Baran has beaten me to the punch.

I’m a fanatic about honey, and quietly stockpile single-cut honey from all over the world because I too, believe in medicinal properties of honey taken from specific plants (and the flavors?  Don’t get me started on the flavors!!).  My official state’s flower is known for its infamous properties for specific effects which makes me leery of assuming anyone else’s honey is “a-ok.”

But it was only a temporary disappointment that Ms. Baran has written something I’ve toyed with; she does an incredible job of bringing out a lovely story.  The trick to a straightforward mystery is keeping its identity a secret until the very end.

In an era where open lines of communication were the norm, ciphered messages, letters and telegraph wires were rampant. Holmes enjoys ciphers and the way they hide the obvious.  His method of walking Watson through his demonstration of how he cracked the code of his client’s correspondence is true to form, for Holmes can be his most charming and reachable when he is showing another a new method of problem-solving. He loves learning, and we suspect he likes to give others the tools they need to learn for themselves.

Geeks can enjoy the long, gnarled threads of history, science, social politics, society’s norms, botany, and even aggravating family bonds in this smoothly written and all-too short short story.  I enjoyed every word.

We are quite lucky that David Marcum managed to pull this writer into the MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes stories.  I will be watching for this name in the future.