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)

 

 

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Associates of Sherlock Holmes: A review

George Mann Edits

Click on the image above to see the Amazon Books Page, or go to this link for the direct Titan Books source (remember folks, the author gets more appreciation when you buy from the source!)

…a collection of coolly polished short stories in which Sherlock Holmes is seen through the eyes of other characters in the Holmesian canon. Many of these are former clients; the rest are those who simply have the cause and means to have crossed paths with the Great Detective or know him from their personal circles. Not only do these Associates have their own story to tell with Mr. Holmes involved in it in some way, they are all people who  can no longer claim to live outside the limelight: knowing Mr. Holmes has changed their lives forever. A few will tell you their lives were changed for the worse, but the reader can make that call for themselves.  This is their chance, and these are the stories they choose to tell us.

I’m reviewing this partially because this book qualifies for the “what ho, geekery” and “poke your librarian” categories. Having lived as a library minion in a previous job incarnation, the search to find actually good tribute fiction for ACD’s characters was at times…deeply unsatisfying. My old boss at NRCTC would approve of this, as well as give a few choice passages some satisfied snickers. Are you reading this, Bob Coston?

(more…)

The Grape Harvest

 

Today is Colin Jeavons’ birthday. Now while I could have made up another Lestrade-fic, I chose instead to take on his other, less-known role as one of the most alarming Professors ever to grace the screen. Played with “chilling authority” by Davies, Jeavons made a Moriarty on the little-known show, The Baker Street Boys. While Moriarty never encountered Sherlock Holmes in front of the children, he did confront Dr. Watson and it was quite the showdown of wills. Perhaps someday I’ll get to see it the full episode.

I answered a meme-monster by going to the French Republican Calendar on wikipedia and looked up the meme prompts for October 20:

  • Season: Vendémiaire (Grape Harvest)
  • Day: Orge (barley)
  • Numerical day of the calendar: 29

 

One really needed to pay for the experts.

The professor toyed with the notion of just turning his back on the window and not looking out, but everyone else was watching the divers at work and he knew the arithmetic of standing apart.

Amateurs.

Below them the Thames swirled, filthy from the recent sewage and whatever the autumn rains at the headwaters had pulled down.

He shook his head as the brokers murmured and flowed about him. He was a small man, but the set of his shoulders and the glimmer in his eyes discouraged one from coming too close.

The water stirred and the river-police began shouting. They swarmed like ants with less the efficiency and clustered about the pumping-station.

The body emerged in sections, like the raising of a boat.

“Terrible thing.” Someone was saying. He looked; it was the old book-seller, here to ply his trade among the merchants’ elite. A barely-read copy of CROMWELL’S ECONOMICS hovered in a spidery claw. The book was cleaner than its vendor.

“That it is.” His beefy customer agreed. “Vamberry was a good sort. The best wine-merchant you’d ever think to see.”

He was a drooling fool, the professor thought. And he sold you all that wine at a loss because he needed those barrels to hide other things. The world’s better off without him and you think he’s a good man because he was cheap to your pockets.

But he remained silent, as always. Here was a place of business, and here it was sensible to mingle with the masses even if they hadn’t the collective sense of a flock of geese. At least the geese knew where and how to fly for the winter.

They stepped aside as he passed; the sharp grey eyes of the bookseller seeming to linger on him. Well he would have to find another customer for his wares.

The professor was a spare man, and not obtrusive in the room. He threaded obediently closer to the window like everyone else, a cool-faced overly calm man with measured speech and an even more measuring gaze. Outside of his tutoring room he was far from the warm, friendly numerical adviser his students recognized. The reason for this was simple: numbers were his humanity. He loved them with a passion few could fathom, and he learned early on that no one else cared about them the way he did.

No one else, not even Moran, could understand him. If he told anyone that numbers had their own personality, that the number nine made a perfect square or that the recitation of the Fibonacci Sequence never went far because the hilarity of the numbers made him laugh helplessly…they wouldn’t understand and they would at best nod without comprehension. Between himself and the comforting world of numbers, he built a sheltering wall.

The wall was imperfect in his youth; the slight fog of apartness and his business dealings had cost him his educational post but he was older now, less prone to mistakes and certainly less innocent.

“Excuse me, sir.”

Below them Vamberry’s soggy remains were being stretched out on the wet cobbles; a police surgeon waited nearby. He thought he recognized a few of the faces among the police although he rarely encountered that particular branch.

He turned his head from the monotonous scene and looked upon his broker. “Yes, Mr. Higgens?”

Higgens touched a gloved hand to his waxed mustache. “The shares have been finalized. Are you certain you wish to trade?”

The professor wished brokers looked to the numbers behind the numbers; the stories they would find would be illuminating. And they would at least reduce his need to answer questions.

“I do, Mr. Higgens.”

“Then all we need is your signature.”

They crossed the carpet together, with the space opening up as more people realised they could see more of Vamberry’s corpse.

A shame it hadn’t been Moran in charge, he thought. Vamberry wouldn’t have been found within a hundred miles of London.

Higgens produced a full quire of paper; multiple copies of each and the waiting document to seal. His secretary pulled out a chair for the professor first and then his superior.

“Not many people are seeking to trade in the corn shares now.” Higgens noted. It was his way of confessing the curiosity was about to expire him. “They’re all caught up in the grape harvests.”

He thought of telling the man the truth. That with Krakatoa bursting the volcanic ash into the atmosphere would affect the climate and pinch the crops. Long-season corn would be rendered obsolete save in a few isolated pockets of the world. Only cool-season corn like barley, rye, and spelt would remain stable.

But then, if the man only knew his history, he would already know from the examples of the world.

From small events come large changes.

He once calculated the necessary drop in temperature to bring about the next Ice Age.

Seven degrees.

That was all.

If the world cooled off by seven degrees they would be back to the wintry wastes.

He chose to say nothing again. The man didn’t understand…couldn’t understand. There was no equal among him that would fathom his thoughts. Another stone within the wall.

“Excellent, sir.” Higgens was useful in his lack of imagination. He even believed the story that his client had been given the bulk of his shares by a considerate relative. He gestured and the secretary briefly vanished; with a flourish he opened a locked drawer and pulled out his japanned tin of sealing-wax.

He had to admit, he enjoyed this part of business. Higgens was so punctual in his movements, and if they shared something besides the client-broker relationship, it was the satisfaction of a job well done. Higgens folded the papers over in the appropriate dimensions, and held out a neatly trimmed stick of wax. Not a speck of candle-soot marred the bright red wax. It melted in the heat of the lamp-light by drops, and he swiftly transferred the drops to a cooling puddle. One press of the seal and the job was finished.

“I sincerely wish you well, Professor.” Higgens informed him gracefully. “Just as I am certain the Crown is appreciative of your support.”

He smiled at that. “No doubt, Mr. Higgens.” He agreed softly.

“Truly, sir. We do not have as many purchased shares in the Company interests like we used to. I suppose the new generation is too caught up in the temptations of striking out solitary into the world.” He sighed and grew momentarily regretful. “Now that Mr. Vamberry is gone, you are my last such farseeing client.”

“Then I hope you find more.”

Higgens nodded mournfully, and they looked up at the arrival of the secretary. He bore a tray and two glasses with a bottle. It was the last part of Higgens’ ritual, the conclusion of it all.

“It would have been more fitting if this had been one of Mr. Vamberry’s bottles.” Higgens regretted as the wine was poured. “But a Chenin from 1829 can hardly be rejected.”

Moriarty felt a moment of relief and quashed it. “I’m sure he would appreciate your thoughtfulness.” He was determined to never, ever touch his lips to anything with Vamberry’s name to it ever again. For the sake of his own sanity and acumen.

Higgens sighed and they swirled the pale liquid against the thin glass. The wine painted the sides a delicate yellow; grapes from the south. The vintage reminded him of a field of barley-straw under the sun. Assuming there would be much sun this year. His calculations were against it. “The man had a hand with the wine.”

“That he most certainly did.” His client agreed evenly.

“I still cannot believe he is dead.” Higgens sipped at the same time as Moriarty; the flavours mingled dry as chalk with a hint of spiciness. “Who would wish to kill Vamberry?”

“Perhaps a business venture gone wrong.” Moriarty offered evenly. “A wine-merchant’s clientele can be a…temperamental lot.” He took a second sip, appreciating the second rush of flavours. “A client might have found disagreement with the quality of one of his barrels…that might be all it took for all we know.”

“That is true. Wine-merchants are a flighty lot.” Higgens agreed.

.”But they do have their uses.”  Across the table, Professor Moriarty smiled.

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 Tale of the First Adventure by Derrick Belanger

This is the fourth book of David Marcum’s editorial masterpiece, The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories, Part IV: 2016 Annual.  You may purchase your copy directly from MX (which increases your charity donation to the Undershaw Preservation Trust), or find it on Amazon.com.

Derrick Belanger is a relative newcomer to the pastiche and his energy is compensating for lost time.  What we have here is one of the rarer types of tale: a blend of personal recollection into Holmes’ past (such as in MUSG), and Watson encountering this unexpected part of Holmes’ history in his professional field.

And this makes sense.  London is a big city, but as they say of Grand Central Station in New York:  “If you stay here long enough, you’ll see everyone you’ve ever known.”  We just don’t see many examples of Holmes and Watson’s lives professionally criss-crossing as they must have done.

Avoiding spoilers means I have to be restrained in details, but the plot is a realistically-conceived case of hidden identity, and a young Holmes learns a never-forgotten lesson on how much to tell one’s client…and how much to keep to oneself.  It ends on an “open note” so we make hope Mr. Belanger will have a second story where Holmes can meet resolution with the other parties of his case…and Watson segues it all into writing one of the most famous cases in the canon.

Want to read more  Derrick Belanger’s work can be found HERE! Do check out his freshly-funded Kickstarter project, BEYOND WATSON.

 

 

Review: Sherlock Holmes and a Quantity of Debt

Soon to be in softcover!

This is one of the best pastiches to come out in the past few years. David Marcum is a rising star in the Canon-centric field of Sherlock Holmes mysteries and this proves why he should be watched. The only real difference between his and ACD’s sleuthing pairs is that David’s Watson has more time in writing things down; he can explain and add depth to the plot whilst ACD’s Watson had to work to keep his words under limit. I like to think of them as Watson’s “original” version of events, and ACD’s writing is the streamlined, swifter-paced version that follows.

We know that Holmes is smart, but we rarely get to see him demonstrate his intellect and memory recall in a murkier case! The Dickens tributes are all homages that lead the reader home to a final, fateful conclusion. We have a body where it oughten’t to be…or is it a case of a body that doesn’t exist? A near-perfect crime’s nerve and ingenuity is laid low by the patient forces of nature.

If you love good technical details this is a treat. Everything from the era’s hydroengineering and a painfully realistic description of the hunchweather that is England. It doesn’t just rain in this book; it rains pikels!

Continuity nods galore here, especially with some familiar faces among the Yard, and a significant tip of the hat to one of ACD’s excellent novels. Put this one on your shelf.

The reader was given a copy of this book for review.

Amazon USA: Buy here.

Amazon UK:  Buy here.

Show your real love for writers and their hard-working publishers:  Go Here for USA

 and Here if you want to go straight to the UK website.

Review: A Few Lessons from Sherlock Holmes

Peter Bevelin’s small book (81 pages) is every argument you ever wanted to win against another Holmesian–or every defense you needed to backup someone you felt was right.  Period.

Imagine what a book would be like if Watson had simply lifted out all examples of his friend’s reasonings and philosophies and placed them in a separate volume.  Here it is.

In these trying times, where students are re-learning the art of debate in wangling grades or proving classroom participation, their jobs counselor would be advised to recommend this book–or the instructor place this on the reading list.  You’re getting more than the most famous quotes of Sherlock Holmes–you are getting the context of these statements and why they act as linchpins upon the plots and intrigues that fuel human nature.

Part reference, part Sun Tzu, part history lesson and part social science with a smattering of Heraclitian Logos, A Few Lessons from Sherlock Holmes are small examples of a large macrocosm lifted to the light for a closer examination.  The subject matter is easily found, but the definitions are pithy and full of meaning and require contemplation.

Easily accessible, one can page to a statement made in bold black:  ‘Distance Gives us Perspective’, Patience’, or ‘Check for other possibilities’ and so on.  beneath the statements are the backup data that includes direct quotes from the Canon, and/or relevant parallel examples such as from Poe or Bell or ACD himself. A nice touch are the examples where you can see Holmes is paying hommage to his peers and elders in the mental field; this is an extra boost when we may confess to being less than expert in the Era in which Holmes lived.

Bevelin helps us focus on what makes the Philosopher Holmes tick; this compilation of statements are proven true and valid by action or example. Buy this book for the friend who has everything; for the frenemy who likes to taunt you with choice quotes from the Canon, or add it to your shelf of koans. This is truly The Art of Holmes in the way that The Art of War was for the mental approach of a physical problem.

MX Publishing in the UK: http://www.mxpublishing.com/brand/Peter+Bevelin

MX Publishing in the USA: http://www.mxpublishing.com/search?ssv=bevelin

 

Toast to Mrs. Hudson

Arlene Mantin Levy wrote a delightful poem that sounds like it should be in a live theatre skit somewhere under the sweaty key lights, surrounded by the background rattle of pots and pans, the steam off a teakettle, and (very) muffled explosions of a chemical nature from far, far upstairs as two men exclaim in some sort of bachelors’ foolishness.  I read this poem grinning with this in my head–much as an episode of THE RED GREEN SHOW is never without the sound of a grinding chainsaw somewhere in the Canadian backdrop.

Levy is the first of the writers in the fourth volume of the MX book of new Sherlock Holmes Stories, and she was the perfect choice to go first–she does it with a bang, and, wishes us wanting more…which of course inspires us to turn the page.

You may find The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories Part IV: 2016 Annual

at the official MX Publishing website HERE

Or at Amazon.com (America) HERE

And at Amazon UK HERE.

 

 

 

Lives Beyond Baker Street: A Biographical Dictionary of Sherlock Holmes’s Contemporaries My Review of Christopher Redmond’s latest book

Essential for the shelf. Holmes’ world was matter-of-factual in its use of world players and there were some amazing pseudonyms created by ACD’s pen; Many of them are in here (I did not see the inspiration for Dixie, but that’s ok! I’m sure Mr. Redmond needed to pick and choose!).

The really interesting thing that makes this book stand apart is how when you comb through the pages you often come to an “aha” moment, wherein a subtle thread will suddenly tie in with another. I lost count of the number of “so there they ares” as I paged through. Imagine reading a society paper’s pages for the first time and finally seeing celebrities you’d heard of but not seen until this point.

Buy this for your research shelf…or if you are feeling particularly thoughtful, your friend who loves the genre and has limited time for research. Neither of you will be sorry, but be warned. The mystery-writer may suddenly find an unexpected side effect of reading: ideas!

You can pre-order this book here (will open in a new tab):

and directly from the Publisher itself: (again, will open in a new tab).