Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Does It stand the Test of Time?

I have remarked on this blog before about how much I loved David Stuart Davies' "The Tangled Skein." I gave it very, very high praise when I reviewed Big Finish's audio recording version which I gave a 5 out of 5 stars, something which is extremely rare in my reviews. But, what is somewhat surprising is that despite the fact that I liked the book so much, I had only read it once (and that was three years ago). Sure, I'd listened to the Big Finish version a number of times, but that is rather different. So, I asked myself - would "The Tangled Skein" stand the test of time?

I'll save you the suspense - it did, but perhaps not as much as it used to. Now, don't get me wrong, the novel was still splendid, but it perhaps didn't thrill me the way it did years ago. But, I'll get to that later. Overall, "The Tangled Skein" is a great read, and features grand suspense and thrills, and of course a few chills which are liable to run up and down your spine.

Well first of all, the style of writing is very evocative of Doyle's. Despite, the nature of the story, Davies managed to keep the style akin to the original. The portrayal of the characters is wonderful. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson begin as rather mellow portrayals, but as they wrapped up in the titular tangled skein, they become more and more involved in putting an end to Dracula's reign of terror. What is perhaps best about the writing though is the tight plotting. We quickly become enveloped in the story's plot and it flows beautifully. Tension mounts as Holmes and Watson venture out onto Dartmoor in search of Dracula. Furthermore, the inclusion of characters from Doyle's stories make the story fit well into the canon. Jack Stapleton is a major character during the novel's first half, and he is portrayed brilliantly as he seeks his revenge on Sherlock Holmes.

Count Dracula is also presented wonderfully. Despite the fact that the novel does not fit into the plot of Bram Stoker's book, the character of Dracula feels like the original. It is obvious that Davis drew upon the films made by Hammer Studios in which Christopher Lee portrayed the Count. Dracula is a real bad guy, and a thoroughly creepy one. Dracula does not make his first appearance in the book until the book is half over, but his menacing presence is felt throughout, and it is this feeling of overwhelming evil and dread which pervades the book. The mystery of the unexplained and the unknown is what makes this book so terrifying.

Sadly, the novel is not perfect. While the plotting for the most part is fantastic, there are times when it seems as though scenes are not going anywhere or don;t add much to the plot. Richard Dinnick's adaptation of the book for Big Finish corrected these problems by streamlining some of these scenes and omitting some which do not add to the story. For example, a scene in the novel finds Holmes and Watson dealing with a great owl sent as a envoy from the vampire camp. This scene does not add anything to the plot, and was wisely cut from the audio recording.

Nonetheless David Stuart Davies' book stands out as one of the best Holmes vs. Dracula books every written and surely one of the best Sherlock Holmes pastiches I have come across. It is highly recommended from me, as is the Big Finish adaptation. I would award "The Tangled Skein" novel 4 out of 5 stars.

Notes: As I mentioned above, Davies drew heavily upon the horror films of Hammer Studios. Beginning in the late 1950's, Hammer made colour remakes of some of the most famous horror films released by Universal some twenty years earlier. I will be perfectly frank and say that I am not the biggest fan of Hammer's work, however two films (which surely greatly contributed to this novel) I do find to be wonderful. 1958's "Horror of Dracula" and 1959's "The Hound of the Baskervilles" united Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Cushing took the parts of Van Helsing and Holmes while Lee was Dracula and Sir Henry Baskerville. if you are unfamiliar with either of these two films, they also come highly recommended.

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