Monday, December 31, 2012

A Brief Announcement

This is nothing monumental, however I feel like I should make something aware to those who frequent this blog. As I have made it clear in the past, in addition to Sherlock Holmes, I love "Doctor Who" I have already reviewed "The Talons of Weng-Chiang" ( and "The Snowmen" (

I just wanted to make it clear that I shall continue to review "Doctor Who" stories in the future (the Big Finish audio recordings as well as episodes from the show) in the future. While the main focus of this blog shall remain the great detective, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, there shall be ventures into the realm of science-fiction to enjoy the exploits of the Doctor!

Thank you.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Review - "Sherlock Holmes and the Element of Surprise"

Sherlock Holmes is faced with a very perplexing mystery. Two guards at the Wormwood Scrubs Prison have been discovered dead. Their headless bodies have been found lying in the middle of an open field, surrounded by snow which yields no footprints. An impossible mystery like this is one which the great detective can hardly refuse and soon he and Dr. Watson are off to investigate.

"Sherlock Holmes and the Element of Surprise" yields many surprises of its own. J. Andrew Taylor's pastiche is more of a novella than a novel, and I found that I could easily read this book in two sittings. Nevertheless, Taylor managed to capture the style of writing and story-teller that Doyle utilized which made this book seem more like an original.

Sherlock Holmes is presented as being a gung-ho character throughout the story. In the story's opening, he "kidnaps" Dr. Watson and his wife, Mary, by disguising himself as a coachman. What is perhaps somewhat lacking is Holmes' deductions throughout the story. What leads him to his solution of the crime is based mainly on intuition. Granted, things are wrapped up nicely come the story's conclusion, but it would have been nicer for Holmes to have made a series of astounding deductions much to the befuddlement of the local constabulary and Inspector Lestrade.

Speaking of Inspector Lestrade, I was quite surprised by his character. He is presented throughout as a comic character, though not bumbling. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson have fun at his expense during the story. While awaiting a train, Holmes suggests that they all go to the pub, much to the Inspector's chagrin. Only after making Lestrade wait on the platform for half-of-an-hour does the detective reveal that he knew their train was going to be delayed. The presentation of Dr. Watson is also well done. He is a competent medical man who is presented throughout as being a great help to the detective in the case.

With good presentations of the characters, it would have been made the story far greater if the actual plot had been better. The initial impossible crime scenario was intriguing, but by the half-way point of the novella, I already knew what the outcome was going to be. The criminals responsible for the two gruesome murders are characters who are presented throughout the story, and once more Holmes does make all the points in the mystery clear. Yes, Sherlock Holmes often kept the facts in a case from Watson and the others, but in this story I felt as though there were no suspects for me to narrow down.

In all, "Sherlock Holmes and the Element of Surprise", though well written is rather underwhelming. The story  begins very excitingly, but goes downhill afterward. By no means am I saying that this book is not good, but it could have been better. I give this book 3 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Review - "Doctor Who: The Snowmen"

Merry belated Christmas all who frequent this blog. I have been rather preoccupied these last few days with my new presents, some of which will find their way onto this blog. Anyhow, I promised my readers a review of this year's "Doctor Who" Christmas special. At first, I didn't think this review would have much to do with our old friend Sherlock Holmes, but I was fairly surprised at how much it was connected. So without further ado - let's begin, or as the Doctor might have said; "Allons-y."

Winter - 1892. The Eleventh incarnation of the Doctor (Matt Smith) is puzzled by what appears to be alien snow. Aided by Madame Vastra, a half-lizard, half-human alien, and Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman), a part-time barmaid and governess, the Doctor discovers that the alien snow may be originating from the laboratory of Dr. Simeon (Richard E. Grant). However, what the Doctor does not anticipate is that there is more to his current predicament than he expected.

Steven Moffatt's newest Christmas special is brilliant. Following the pattern he set with the previous two Christmas specials, the episode is in the style of a famous author's writing. Two years ago was Charles Dickens. Last year was C.S. Lewis. This year was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The setting was indicative of Doyle's writing as was the plot structure and even the characters. At one point, Dr. Simeon declares that readers of the Strand Magazine would be surprised if they learned that Dr. Doyle's stories were based on Madame Vastra's adventures. And later, the Doctor (calling himself Mr. Sherlock Holmes) is seen dressed in a Inverness cape and deerstalker hat.

The Doctor showing off the new Tardis interior
At the end of the first part of Season 7, the Eleventh Doctor's companions, Amy Pond and Rory Williams left the show. Therefore, the Doctor  began as a depressed man, having changed not only his costume but Tardis interior. The cosmetic changes made to the show were brilliant. I loved the Doctor's new costume and Tardis design - and even the title sequence was different. I have included the link below:

"The Snowmen" was a wonderful Christmas special. The new companion, Jenna-Louise Coleman, promises to be a perfect traveling companion for the Doctor in the coming episodes. Sadly, we Whovians have to wait until April for the show's return. I give "The Snowmen" a 4 out of 5 stars.

Oh, and for Whovians who cannot wait for the show's return - I have included another video for you all.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Review - "Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking"

Rupert Everett (left) and Ian Hart (right) as Holmes and Watson
in 2004's "Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking"
After a second transmission of 2002's "The Hound of the Baskervilles," the BBC showed interest in bringing the detective back to the television screen. Richard Roxburgh, who'd starred as Holmes in "Hound" was not interested in returning to the role and so Rupert Everett stepped into the shoes of the world's greatest detective for "Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking," a pastiche made-for-television movie released in 2004.

Dr. John Watson (Ian Hart) is worried for his friend Sherlock Holmes (Rupert Everett) who has disappeared into an opium den for days and has no returned. To take his friend's mind off his drug addiction, Watson suggests a case to the detective. A young woman has been discovered on the banks of the Thames, a silk stocking tied around her throat. At the mortuary, Holmes discovers that the young woman is in fact an aristocrat's daughter. When the daughter of George Pentney (Jonathon Hyde), another aristocrat, is abducted, Holmes is certain that this is the work of the same man. Together with the aid of Scotland Yard, his friend Watson and Watson's fiance, the great detective will track down this multiple-murderer.

To anyone who read my post about 2002's "Hound of the Baskervilles," they will know that I was not entirely keen on that production. ( While there were some redeeming qualities to this production, it was by no means the epitome of Sherlockian entertainment. However, I still wanted to track down the follow-up film made two years later and found that "Silk Stocking" had some very interesting surprises.

Rupert Everett as Holmes
As noted above, the plot line for "Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking" was an entirely new pastiche. However this plot sounds more like a story from an episode of "CSI" rather than a Sherlockian mystery. The biggest problem is that the story is not a traditional mystery. Holmes has no suspects to question or clues to sift through. The detectives must rely entirely on psychoanalysis and intuition to solve the mystery. This plot is so far removed from anything even remotely connected with Arthur Conan Doyle. In a disjointed and different setting for a Sherlock Holmes mystery as this, an actor who could pull off the role was needed. Sadly, Rupert Everett acts as both the film's greatest asset and hindrance.

Looking much more like the detective than his predecessor, Richard Roxburgh, Rupert Everett at least has that to his advantage. However, Everett is so underwhelming as the detective, he hardly makes an impression on the viewer. Everett whispers every line as those the movie were filmed at a library, and he comes off as being cold and unlikable. Once more, Holmes' relationship with Watson is presented as a strained one. Again, Ian Hart does come across as a likable Watson, and one wishes that he could have been partnered with an actor the caliber of Jeremy Brett or Basil Rathbone. Other actors like Jonathon Hyde and Michael Fassbender turn in good performances, but nothing out of the ordinary.

What is perhaps the greatest injustice towards Doyle is the direct contradictions made to Doyle's work. Sherlock Holmes is presented as an opium addict, something the original Holmes never was. Doyle's Holmes agreed with Dr. Watson stating that opium was a dangerous drug not to reckoned with. Furthermore, Holmes also ends up using his seven-per-cent solution of cocaine during a case. Furthermore, Dr. Watson is presented as being on the brink of marriage to an American psychologist - not, I repeat not a canonical fact.

It made sound as though all I have done is drag this movie through the mud during this review. Once more, the production values are beautiful, with a fog-drenched Victorian London looking very impressive. Rupert Everett, though an underwhelming and unlikable Holmes, does the best he can with the script provided and Ian Hart makes for an enjoyable Watson. I give "Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking" a 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Short Apology and a Look Forward

I'd just like to take a moment to say that in these few weeks leading up to the Christmas season, I have been very busy. Therefore, I have not been posting as much as usual on this blog. In the coming few days, I hope to return to cyberspace with my usual analysis and reviews.

So, what can you expect on The Consulting Detective in the near future? For starters I will take a look at the BBC 2004 film, "Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking" starring Rupert Everett as Holmes and Ian Hart as Watson. In addition to this television film, I will look three of the films from Universal Studio's series of 14 Holmes films. I will examine what are commonly believed to be the best of the 14 films - "The Spider Woman," "The Scarlet Claw" and "The Pearl of Death."

After Christmas, I will be post my review of the "Doctor Who" Christmas special, "The Snowmen."

And on the book review front, I will take a look at Paul D. Gilbert's "The Giant Rat of Sumatra." It sounds like we're in for some interesting reviews in the coming days, and I can only imagine what January of 2013 shall bring - that's because we survived 2012. Sorry Mayans, you were wrong.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Review - "Sherlock Holmes in New York" (1976)

Opinions rage over this 1976 made-for-television Sherlock Holmes film. Some find it cheekily enjoyable. Others find it abysmal - the concept of Roger Moore putting on the deerstalker hat and Inverness cape a travesty to Arthur Conan Doyle's character. So, what's my opinion? Well, today I will look into "Sherlock Holmes in New York."

1903 - Sherlock Holmes (Roger Moore) has foiled the nefarious plots of Professor Moriarty (John Houston) once more. Before escaping justice, Moriarty threatens to destroy the great detective. A short while later, Holmes receives a warning message from Irene Adler (Charlotte Rampling), who is currently working in New York City. Holmes and Watson (Patrick Macnee) travel to the Big Apple where they learn that Irene's son, Scott, has been kidnapped. Meanwhile, the great detective is contacted by the local authorities when the entire New York Gold Depository is robbed. Surely, both the kidnapping and the theft are the crimes of the Napoleon of Crime, Professor Moriarty, exacting his revenge on the great detective?

Roger Moore as Sherlock Holmes
"Sherlock Holmes in New York" was filmed between an unusually long gap between two of Roger Moore's James Bond films. Moore was not interested in playing the role of the detective, but after reading the script for the film, he changed his mind. Moore was determined to create his own interpretation of the detective, and not to be influenced by any other actors.

What upsets most fans about "Sherlock Holmes in New York" is the semi-controversial plot line. It is hinted throughout most of the story that Holmes and Irene had in fact been lovers and that Scott is their child. This had not been a new concept (having first been suggested in the 1962 'biography' of Sherlock Holmes, "Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street). More recently, theories have drifted about that Rex Stout's detective, Nero Wolfe, was in fact the great detective's son.

In the eyes of many, such a controversial plot could perhaps have been carried off if the actor playing Holmes was better. In all honesty, Roger Moore as a debonair, suave detective is not all that bad. He essentially plays the role as if he were playing James Bond, or television's Simon Templar, 'The Saint.' Moore's smug detective does embody certain qualities of the original, but on a whole he is not the perfect actor suited for the part. Other actors in the film are a mixed bunch. The usually likable Patrick Macnee is very upsetting as Dr. Watson (adopting a cockney accent, which is even more annoying than Nigel Bruce's bumbling), and John Houston accentuates a Scottish accent which gets quite tiresome.

On a whole, "Sherlock Holmes in New York" may have some redeeming qualities though. The plot involving the stolen gold is enjoyable, and in these segments when Moore's Holmes has some detective work to do, he seems like a worthy successor to the deerstalker hat. While the film is by no means the epitome of Sherlockian entertainment, the redeeming qualities are there nonetheless. I give "Sherlock Holmes in New York," 2.5 out 5 stars. An enjoyable, but by no means excellent, Sherlockian effort from all involved.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Review - "The Veiled Detective"

Professor James Moriarty, Napoleon of Crime and organizer of nearly half that is evil in the city of London, is prepared to do anything to remove a thorn from his side. A brilliant young man, calling himself a detective has persistently interfered in the Professor's business. What is worse for Professor Moriarty is the fact that that man is none other than Sherlock Holmes.

To rid himself of his problem, the Professor hires an alcoholic doctor recently returned home from the war in Afghan War. His name is John Walker. Walker is hired to take on the alias Dr. John Watson and learn as much as he can about Sherlock Holmes. What follows is a brilliant character study which makes David Stuart Davies' "The Veiled Detective" such a pleasure to read.

While the concept may be off-putting to some, "The Veiled Detective," is by far one of the best, and one of the most original Sherlock Holmes pastiches I have ever read. The book tells the story of the true events surrounding "A Study in Scarlet," "The Final Problem" and more. However, it is not the plot of the book which is the novel's greatest asset it is the wonderful characterizations therein. David Stuart Davies is not afraid to paint a picture of the world's greatest detective which may be different than that seen in other pastiches, or even Arthur Conan Doyle's canon.

Davies portrays Holmes as a deeply flawed individual. The book examines the great detective's addiction to cocaine, as well as new all-together new traits and there are reasons given to the detective's misogynist views. Featuring two such broken and battered characters as Sherlock Holmes and John Walker makes for interesting reading, as the two discover they are in fact kindred spirits. Seeing this darker, flawed, anti-hero-like detective is a dramatic change from the normal, but it is presented in such a way that the characters seem fresh and new at the same time as being familiar.

My only complaints would be in two of the more minor characters. Mycroft Holmes, whose involvement in the story is minimal, is presented here as being in league with the villains, which was a rather surprising and rather unnecessary twist. The other problem was the way that Professor Moriarty was presented. He was made out to be quite young, which went against Doyle's writing completely. This seemed like another change which was made without any real good reason.

Nevertheless, "The Veiled Detective" is by far one of the most original and best pastiches I have ever come across. Not only does it odd new depth to the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, but is a beautiful tribute to the characters of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who are beloved the world over. I award "The Veiled Detective" a 4/5 stars.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Sherlockian Guilty Pleasure

You would be hard-pressed to find someone who is more devoted to Arthur Conan Doyle's original Sherlock Holmes canon than my humble self. I do not take kindly to major deviations and changes to Doyle's works, however for all of us we have our guilty pleasure. For me, it is the 2002 BBC version of "The Hound of the Baskervilles" featuring Richard Roxburgh as Holmes and Ian Hart as Watson. The made-for-television movie makes a number of dramatic changes with Doyle's masterpiece, but the whole film is so stylishly done that one can almost forgive the BBC.

So, what is wrong with the 2002 "Hound?" Well, the characterizations are wrong for a number of the central characters and major plot-points are changed (a few for the better). I should warn you now - this post will have multiple spoilers for this 2002 adaptation, so if you have not yet seen the film and want to, I suggest you stop reading here. Otherwise, let's look at this movie a bit more closely.

First, we tackle the character of Sherlock Holmes. To begin with, Richard Roxburgh certainly does not look the part as the great detective. He has very little resemblance to the original Sidney Paget illustrations of the detective. Beyond that, the way that Holmes is written makes him such a condescending and unlikable character. The original Sherlock Holmes may not have been the most friendly of individuals, but Roxburgh's Holmes is such a prickly character he garners little sympathy and exude very little amiability. Another mark against him is his relationship with Dr. Watson. The two men are constantly arguing throughout the film. At one point, Holmes quite calmly calls Watson "an idiot" as though this were an everyday occurrence.

What's more, this Sherlock Holmes is presented here is in the thralls of his cocaine addiction. As a rule, Holmes would never be using his seven-per-cent solution of cocaine during a case, so this is a direct contradiction of Doyle's writings. Furthermore, it adds nothing to the story, so there is no real reason why scenes of Holmes indulging in the drug are needed, and they only cause more dislike to mount on the detective.

Ian Hart (left) and Richard Roxburgh (left) as a constantly
feuding Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson
Luckily, most of the other main performers do a great job. Most notably, Richard E. Grant is fantastic as the villainous Jack Stapleton. Ian Hart makes for a Watson who is quite close to the original Arthur Conan Doyle conception.

Most of the scenes which play out on the moor are fantastic (including a seance scene which copies off of the 1939 "Hound" adaptation). But it is in the film's closing stages where the story is dramatically altered. The plot is so drastically, it hardly feels as though the story is Arthur Conan Doyle's anymore. What's more, our lasting impression of the detective duo is a bad one - Dr. Watson telling Holmes that he does not trust him.

So, what could possibly redeem a story like this? The 2002 adaptation's production values are by far the best of any "Hound" adaptation. Furthermore, it creates a feeling of unrelenting evil and mystery, which is so often lost in other films. That in itself does justice to Doyle's classic. It is for that reason that "The Hound of the Baskervilles," though changed considerably does keep the spirit of the original alive.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Not so Elementary

Sherlock Holmes in usual city attire
from "The Hound of the Baskervilles"
Even to the most devout Sherlock Holmes enthusiast, they be unaware of some of the very common misconceptions associated with the character. In today's post, I will examine the top three - Sherlock Holmes never wore the deerstalker hat in London, he never smoked a calabash-style pipe and he never said "Elementary my dear Watson."

Perhaps the most surprising misconception associated with Holmes is the fact that he never wore the deerstalker hat in London. Sherlock Holmes would never have worn such a hat in the heart of the city. Holmes was often described as being up-to-date with the latest fashion trends for men in the Victorian Era. A cloth cap and tweed jacket was relegated only for the county side. What is perhaps even more surprising is how few times Holmes actually wore the hat.

Even when he was not in the country, Holmes did not wear such a noticeable piece of headgear. For example, in "The Speckled Band" and "The Hound of the Baskervilles," Holmes is seen sporting a bowler hat and homburg respectively. Why, you may ask. In both stories, the great detective wishes to move about the countryside in secret to conduct his detective work. When Holmes is doing his detective work in the metropolis however, he oftentimes sports a top hat and fashionable frock coat.

In addition to his detective work in the field, Holmes did most of his work from his armchair. Aside from his convex lens, Holmes' other tool of detection could perhaps be his pipe. Sherlock Holmes is known for having three types of pipes - a briar, a long cherry-wood and "oily clay." But what Holmes never smoked was a calabash-style pipe pictured on the left. The first time that the pipe was used in association with Holmes was during the original stage play starring William Gillette. Gillette chose the pipe because he could easily rest the pipe on his chest during his monologues.

One of the more widely-known facts associated with Holmes is that he never used the phrase, "Elementary my dear Watson." While the great detective used the phrases "elementary" and "my dear Watson" quite often throughout the canon, he never used the two together. The honour of getting to say the two together goes to Mr. Clive Brook who starred as Sherlock Holmes in 1929's "The Return of Sherlock Holmes," the first Sherlock Holmes-talkie. However, it was Basil Rathbone who so-often used the phrase during his fourteen films where he stared as the detective.

The fact that there is more in store with Sherlock Holmes makes things perhaps a bit more not so "elementary."

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Snowmen are Coming...

The countdown to Christmas has begun for many - perhaps for more reason than one. Christmas day marks the return of "Doctor Who" to the BBC for the sixth Christmas special - this time penned by Steven Moffat.

So, why I am blogging about "Doctor Who" again on this Sherlock Holmes blog? Well, Moffat's next special entitled "The Snowmen" will take place in Victorian London and shall deal with alien snow. Besides that, little information has actually been gained about the episode, so fans of the show are preparing themselves around the globe. Recently, the three-minute long prequel to the episode was released, showcasing Moffat's cheeky sense of humour. The Doctor, now taking up residence in Victorian London, is being dubbed The Great Detective (hmm...sound familiar?).

So, the countdown to the next episode is on. Rest assured, a review of "The Snowmen" will be on this site after the episode airs.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Going on a Diet Mr. Mycroft?

"Mycroft Holmes was a much larger and stouter man than Sherlock. His body was absolutely corpulent, but his face, though massive, had preserved something of the sharpness of expression which was so remarkable in that of his brother. His eyes, which were of a peculiarly light, watery gray, seemed to always retain that far-away, introspective look which I had only observed in Sherlock’s when he was exerting his full powers." - The Greek Interpretar

It would be putting it mildly that Sherlock Holmes' brother, Mycroft is big. Mycroft Holmes was portrayed as being quite immense and fairly lazy, lounging around the Diogenes Club (when he was not working for Her Majesty's Government). But, what is quite unusual is that in many adaptations of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Mycroft Holmes is not depicted as being the large gentleman he is described as.

The first time that a lean Mycroft was seen in films was Christopher Lee's characterization in Billy Wilder's, "The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes." Lee's Mycroft is a crafty and devious spy who cannot help but interfere in his younger brother's affairs. Lee's Mycroft Holmes is one of the most enjoyable depictions of the character - his pompous charisma simply oozing in his scenes with Robert Stephens' detective. It is very possible then that Christopher Lee's portrayal of the great detective's elder brother influenced Mark Gatiss' equally fantastic portrayal in BBC's "Sherlock."

Mark Gatiss as Mycroft Holmes
One cannot help but like Mark Gatiss as Mycroft Holmes. First glimpsed in "A Study in Pink," Mycroft introduces himself to John Watson as Sherlock's "arch-enemy." It is not revealed until the end of the episode that this mysterious umbrella-toting figure is not James Moriarty, but Mycroft. In "The Great Game," Mycroft returns and it is revealed that Mycroft is in fact going on a diet, explaining his thin appearance.

Gatiss is a pleasure to watch. He plays the part of Mycroft as though his childhood feuds with his brother are in full-swing and any altercations between Mycroft and Sherlock are very funny indeed. "I'll be mother." Mycroft says as he pours tea in Buckingham Palace in "A Scandal in Belgravia." Sherlock sourly replies: "And there's our childhood in a nutshell."

This begs the question - if the actor is good enough, does Mycroft Holmes really have to be described exactly as he is in the canon? I am as much a stickler for canonical accuracy as any other Sherlockian, however with such gifted actors as Christopher Lee and Mark Gatiss taking on the part, Mycroft Holmes is just as remembered as he ever was - even if he is on a diet.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Study in Ink - The Illustrators of Sherlock Holmes

A point which makes the original Sherlock Holmes stories quite unique are the original illustrations which accompanied the stories. Whether they were published in The Strand Magazine or Collier's Weekly, illustrators lent their talents to giving the public its first real look at Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Today, I want to peruse some of these illustrators who were quite influential in shaping Sherlock Holmes.

One of the earliest efforts of illustrating the Sherlock Holmes stories went badly. Arthur Conan Doyle's alcoholic father who was at this point confined to an insane asylum created a number of illustrations for Doyle's "A Study in Scarlet." These illustrations from Doyle are quite shocking to the modern viewer for all of the characters appear quite decrepit and ill. Worst of all, these illustrations feature a Sherlock Holmes with a strange bushy beard!

Sherlock Holmes delivers a knock-out blow
in this illustration from "The Solitary Cyclist" by Sidney Paget
By far the most famous artist who illustrated the original Sherlock Holmes stories was Sidney Paget. Paget (1860-1908) illustrated three sets of short stories and one novel for the Strand Magazine. Interestingly, the art editor of the magazine actually wanted Sidney's brother, Walter Paget (also an artist) to do the illustrations for the stories, but the commission went to Sidney in error. However, in the end, Walter Paget did end up connected with Sherlock Holmes in more way than one. Sidney Paget used his younger brother as the model for Holmes. Later, in 1913, Walter Paget did end up illustrating "The Adventure of the Dying Detective."

Sidney Paget is today credited for giving the detective two of his most famous attributes - the deerstalker hat and Inverness cape. In Arthur Conan Doyle's original writing, the hat which Sherlock Holmes wears in the country is never explicitly called a deerstalker - being referred to merely as "an ear-flapped travelling cap." Paget, who was a fan of the deerstalker and wore the hat often, decided to depict the detective wearing such a hat. The rest is history...

"The Priory School" by Fredric Dorr Steele
While Sidney Paget is the most famous artist from Britain to have illustrated the stories, an equally famous artist in the United States was creating fantastic illustrations for the magazine, Collier's Weekly. Fredric Dorr Steele (1874-1944) created a number of fantastic character studies for the magazine. Steele's illustrations are quite obviously based on the countenance of the American actor, William Gillette who brought the role of Holmes to the stage in his original four-act play which debuted in 1899.

Aside from the two most famous artists to illustrate the Sherlock Holmes stories, there have been many other illustrators who have taken up their art supplies to transfer the great detective's likeness onto paper. Richard Gutschmidt and Josef Fredrich were both European artists whose illustrations were featured in German and Czech translations.

Some of the most recent illustrations of the Sherlock Holmes stories are quite well-done. Artist Nis Jessen illustrated a striking and beautifully done version of "A Study in Scarlet." In addition, artist I.N.J Culbard and Ian Edington have collaborated to transform all four of Doyle's Sherlock Holmes novels into wonderfully crafted graphic novels. We can only hope that we can see more from these illustrators in the future.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Review - "Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula"

There have been many different variations on the concept of the world's most famed detective squaring off against the king of vampires - Count Dracula. There is David Stuart Davies' fantastic sequel to "The Hound of the Baskervilles," entitled "The Tangled Skein." There are two novels with the same idea by Fred Saberhagen, "The Holmes, Dracula File" and "Seance for a Vampire." Stephen Seitz's "Sherlock Holmes and the Plague of Dracula" and now Loren D. Estleman's "Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula."

Actually, Estleman's rather melodramatically titled novel was the first book which featured the pairing of the world's greatest detective against the vampire. Titan Books had already re-released Estleman's second Sherlock Holmes effort, "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes," which paired Holmes with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Estleman's work was quite fantastic, so I expected a lot from this book - being re-released from Titan Books as well.

"Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula," (also known as "The Adventure of the Sanguinary Count") nimbly fits Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson into the plot of Bram Stoker's famous novel. When a ship runs aground on the cost of Whitby, Sherlock Holmes is called in to investigate. No one was aboard the ship except for the captain - quite dead, tied to the wheel and grasping a crucifix in his hands. Witnesses reported seeing a great dog leap off the ship and rush into the night. Shortly thereafter, a number of mysterious attacks on London's Hampstead Heath attract the detective's attention, and soon he makes the acquaintance of Professor Abraham Van Helsing, who informs Holmes that these recent events are the work of the vampire, Count Dracula. What ensues is a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with the king of vampires and the world's greatest detective.

As I mentioned earlier, I found "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes" to be a thoroughly enjoyable pastiche and so I expected quite a bit from Mr. Estleman. What I liked so much about his novel was that he inserted the characters of Holmes and Watson into  Robert Louis Stevenson's novella, and it still managed to feel like a genuine Sherlock Holmes story. "Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula" did follow the same routine, but perhaps not to the same caliber. While the plot of this novel did follow Bram Stoker's original, I was rather disappointed that Holmes and Watson were not rubbing elbows with the characters from the original novel as much.

Furthermore, the beginning of the book was done very nicely - creating an atmosphere of genuine mystery with the wrecked ship. After Holmes learned of his adversary, there was very little of that same mystery left and the brilliant deductions much beloved by fans of Sherlock Holmes took a back-seat to action and adventure as Holmes and Watson pursued the vampire across land and sea.

Onto the good things about "Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula: The Adventure of the Sanguinary Count" though. Speaking of sea, one of the most exciting scenes in the novel was a prolonged chase on steam launch after a ship commandeered by Count Dracula. A number of these chases were thoroughly exciting and did leave the reader anxious to find out what happens next.

The characterizations of Holmes and Watson were brilliantly done. Sherlock Holmes and Watson felt very much like their canonical counterparts. My only nitpick would be that Holmes seemed a bit too excepting of the supernatural in this story. It felt unusual that Holmes did not pursue a logical explanation after Van Helsing told him about their vampiric foe. But nevertheless, this is a small gripe to make against a book which has a number of excellent redeeming qualities.

To sum up, while Loren D. Estleman's first foray into Sherlock Holmes territory may not be as good as his second, "Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula" was a very enjoyable novel. Combining a great deal of action and suspense, the book told a very entertaining story. "Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula" deserves a well-rewarded 4 out of 5 stars.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Review - "The Talons of Weng-Chiang"

Today's review isn't exactly a Sherlock Holmes item, but it is rather close. Today I am reviewing the thrilling six-part episode of "Doctor Who," "The Talons of Weng-Chiang" which is clearly modeled after the great detective.

However, before I go too far, allow me to give just a bit of background information on the show for those of you who may be unfamiliar with it. "Doctor Who" is a science-fiction adventure show which debuted in 1963. The Doctor is a renegade member of an alien race known as The TimeLords. He has stolen a TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space), a time machine and space-ship which is disguised as a 1960's police-box, and goes around the universe (and through time) saving the world.

This particular serial features the Fourth incarnation of the Doctor. Each time a TimeLord faces death, they can change every cell in their body - leading to a new version of the Doctor. Tom Baker stars as the Fourth Doctor in this serial - which in 2003 was voted as the best "Doctor Who" story.

"The Talons of Weng-Chiang" find the Doctor and his travelling companion, Leela in Victorian London. What started out as a pleasant trip turns deadly when a man dies right before the Doctor's eyes, which leads the Doctor and Leela into a dangerous world of Chinese Tongs, disappearing women and a giant rat in the sewers of London.

Tom Baker as The Doctor in "The Talons of Weng-Chiang"
"The Talons of Weng-Chiang" was my first foray into the "Doctor Who" universe and I was attracted to it by the supposed Sherlock Holmes connections. The Doctor dresses in a deerstalker hat and Inverness cape throughout this episode, and meets a medical man by the name of Professor Litefoot who acts as his Watson throughout the story. What's more, the Doctor takes to the sewers of London to find the Giant Rat which lives there. Of course, this is a direct reference to the famed untold story from the canon, and it is an absolute delight for a Sherlock Holmes enthusiast like me.

Tom Baker is quite marvelous as the Doctor. He is the longest-running Doctor in the series going from 1974 to 1981. He is a favourite of many fans of both the new series and the old. It looks as though Baker is having a great deal of fun in the role of the Doctor for this adventure, and his high-spirited nature spills over into the episode itself. Christopher Benjamin appears as Henry Gordon Jago, the owner of a small music hall who works alongside the Doctor and Litefoot and John Bennett is wonderful as the creepy music hall musician.

Tom Baker as Sherlock Holmes in a 1982
television serial of "The Hound of the Baskervilles"
In all, "The Talons of Weng-Chiang" may not be a Sherlock Holmes story, but it is certainly akin to the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. To many, the Doctor is Holmes' intergalactic counterpoint. Interestingly, after Tom Baker's term as the Doctor came to an end, Baker went on to appear as the detective in a 1982 television serialization of "The Hound of the Baskervilles." While, Baker seems to be enjoying himself immensely as the Doctor, Baker's performance as Holmes is quite the opposite. While Baker's performance isn't bad, he suffers from a dull Watson and an overall dull adaptation.

"Doctor Who" continued on until 1989 at which point the show went off the air. It returned in 1996 with a made-for-television movie and didn't return to the BBC until 2005 under the helm of Russell T. Davies. In 2010, Steven Moffatt took over as the show-runner. Moffatt is also the co-creator of BBC's "Sherlock."

"The Talons of Weng-Chiang" is a very enjoyable television serial for fans of both "Doctor Who" and Sherlock Holmes. Seeing the great detective's alien equal is a great deal of fun, and the six-part serial is perhaps the epitome of entertainment. "The Talons of Weng-Chaing" deserves a worthy 4 out 5 stars.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Twelve Best Stories?

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published an article in 1927 in which he named what he thought were his favourite - the twelve best Sherlock Holmes short stories. His list is quite and interesting one and includes:

  • The Speckled Band
  • The Red-Headed League
  • The Dancing Men
  • The Final Problem
  • A Scandal in Bohemia
  • The Empty House
  • The Five Orange Pips
  • The Second Stain
  • The Devil's Foot
  • The Priory School
  • The Musgrave Ritual 
  • The Reigate Squires
This leads me to wonder whether these are in fact the Twelve Best stories. Of course a great deal of this list is subjective - and everyone has their own favourite stories. Interestingly, three of my favourite five stories also appear on Conan Doyle's list, but some of his choices are different. Such famous and beloved stories as "Silver Blaze" and "The Naval Treaty" do not appear on Conan Doyle's list, while "The Empty House" does.

From "The Five Orange Pips"
Granted, Doyle did put quite a bit of thought into his choices. However, he does not substantiate some of these choices (especially his more obscure choices). For example, "The Five Orange Pips" appears on his list. This story is a fairly odd choice considering there is very little detective work actually done of by Holmes in this story. Doyle said he choose the story because it was one of the more "dramatic stories."

Furthermore, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle decided not to select any stories from the last collection of short-stories, "The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes." This is interesting considering that some of the best of the later stories can be found in this last anthology. "The Illustrious Client," "The Three Garridebs" and "The Problem of Thor Bridge" all coke from "The Case-Book."

I come now to the hardest part of this post - I will deliver to you my list of the twelve best Sherlock Holmes short-stories. So here goes...

  • "The Speckled Band" - Doyle's story is by far one of the best from the canon. While not being a straight-forward whodunit, "The Speckled Band" is an early example of the how-done-it school of mystery, and is an early example of the locked room mysteries made famous by John Dickson Carr during the Golden Age of Mystery Fiction.
  • "The Red-Headed League" - Despite the somewhat outlandish nature of this story, "The Red-headed League" is one of the best examples of a mystery in the canon.
  • "The Six Napoleons" - Like "The Red-Headed League" and "The Speckled Band," "The Six Napoleons" offers one of the best mysteries in the canon. Although not all of the clues are presented to the reader, the twist ending of what was really in those plaster busts is quite ingenious.
  • "The Dancing Men" - One of the earliest examples of mystery fiction came from Edgar Allan Poe's story, "The Gold Bug" which is centered primarily on code-breaking. Not only does "The Dancing Men" pay homage to this story, but also throws in a murder.
  • "The Problem of Thor Bridge" - Again, this story displays some of the best mystery elements in all of the canon, and features an interesting twist ending befitting of Agatha Christie. 
  • "The Illustrious Client" - Although there is no detective work for Sherlock Holmes in this story, "The Illustrious Client" features one of the best villains from the canon and plays out as a very dramatic story.
  • "Silver Blaze" - Surely one of the most beloved stories in the canon, "Silver Blaze" has yet another magnificent mystery plot and features the infamous line about "the dog in the nighttime."
  • "The Three Garridebs" - Although the plot is in essence recycled from "The Red-Headed League," "The Three Garridebs" is one of the best stories which truly shows how deeply Sherlock Holmes cares about his only friend, Dr. Watson.
  • "The Devil's Foot" - Surely one of the darkest stories in the canon, "The Devil's Foot" is an un-discovered gem.
  • "The Solitary Cyclist" - This interesting story combines high-spirited adventure with mystery and suspense. 
  • "The Bruce-Partington Plans" - Featuring the second appearance of Mycroft Holmes, this story features one of Doyle's most clever solutions. 
  • "The Sussex Vampire" - While not involving the same dramatic elements present in the other stories, "The Sussex Vampire" is a well-crafted little mystery and of course features the lines referring to the Giant rat of Sumatra.

Well, there you have it - my top twelve list. Please feel free to comment and tell me what your favourite short-stories are. What do you think of my list, or Doyle's?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Sherlock Holmes - The Original Hard-Boiled Detective?

The hard-boiled detective seemed to emerge during the late 1930's and 1940's with stories like "The Maltese Falcon" and "The Big Sleep" by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler respectively. However these hard-boiled private eyes may have been inspired by Sherlock Holmes, who could have served as a template for the tougher breed of detectives who emerged during the days of the Second World War.

Inspector Lestrade and Holmes
arresting the killer in "A Study in Scarlet"
The evidence showing that Sherlock Holmes acted like one of the hard-boiled detectives is quite great. Starting right away in "A Study in Scarlet," Sherlock Holmes shows that he is rather rough-around-the-edges. After the murderer Jefferson Hope has been captured, it is Holmes and Inspector Lestrade who throw the criminal at one of the windows of the flat. Holmes is known to engage in fisticuffs in "The Sign of Four." Holmes exchanges some choice words with McMurdo, the guard at the home of Bartholomew Shalto.
“I don’t think you can have forgotten me. Don’t you remember that amateur who fought three rounds with you at Alison’s rooms on the night of your benefit four years back?”“Not Mr. Sherlock Holmes!” roared the prize-fighter. “God’s truth! how could I have mistook you? If instead o’ standin’ there so quiet you had just stepped up and given me that cross-hit of yours under the jaw, I’d ha’ known you without a question."
Sherlock Holmes forays into physical violence are spread throughout the canon. It is with his knowledge of Baritsu that Holmes is able to dispatch Professor Moriarty in "The Final Problem" and in "The Empty House," Doctor Watson steps forward to pistol-whip Colonel Moran who is choking the detective.

In "The Six Napoleons," Sherlock Holmes tackles the criminal to the ground.
"With the bound of a tiger Holmes was on his back, and an instant later Lestrade and I had him by either wrist, and the handcuffs had been fastened."
However, it is the later stories where the Sherlock Holmes stories really show indications of paving the way for the hard-boiled detective stories. In "Sherlock Holmes for Dummies," the authors describe how "The Valley of Fear," the last of the four novels acts as a template for the hard-boiled detective novels. The second part of the novel details the activities of a group of gangsters who operate out of the Vermissa Valley in Pennsylvania. Then the short story, "The Three Garridebs," the opening lines of the story could have come from the opening passage of a Raymond Chandler crime thriller.
"It may have been a comedy, or it may have been a tragedy. It cost one man his reason, it cost me a blood-letting, and it cost yet another man the penalties of the law. Yet there was certainly an element of comedy. Well, you shall judge for yourselves."
Dr. Watson is shot in "The Three Garridebs"
And later in the same story, Dr. Watson gets into a rather precarious situation after being shot by the culprit.
"In an instant he had whisked out a revolver from his breast and had fired two shots. I felt a sudden hot sear as if a red-hot iron had been pressed to my thigh. There was a crash as Holmes’s pistol came down on the man’s head. I had a vision of him sprawling upon the floor with blood running down his face while Holmes rummaged him for weapons. Then my friend’s wiry arms were round me, and he was leading me to a chair.
In all, it evident that the Sherlock Holmes stories oftentimes featured a darker, harsher reality than was expected in the Victorian and Edwardian Eras, and certainly opened the door to writers in the future.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Review - "The Tangled Skein"

Big Finish's next audio drama takes the characters out of the realm of mystery and headlong into a world of suspense and horror as Sherlock Holmes comes face-to-face with the king of vampires, Count Dracula.

Picking up where "The Hound of the Baskervilles" left off, Sherlock Holmes learns that the villainous Jack Stapleton is in fact still alive and out for revenge against the detective. When a number of mysterious attacks occur, the victims drained of blood and with two small pin-pricks on their throats, Holmes ends up associating himself with Professor Van Helsing. Van Helsing tells Holmes that the source of these attacks is Count Dracula, and soon Holmes and Watson are speeding off towards Dartmoor once again in search of the king of the un-dead.

"The Tangled Skein" was originally published by David Stuart Davies in 1995. Richard Dinnick, adapter of Big Finish's "The Hound of the Baskervilles" was on hand once more to adapt this pastiche and makes this drama very exciting to listen to. I gave nothing but praise to Dinnick's adaptation of "Hound" but he surpasses himself with this adventure. All of the elements work splendidly together making for a genuinely scary and very exciting audio drama.

The striking cover from
"The Tangled Skein"
"The Tangled Skein" may not be everyone's cup of tea though. While the concept of Sherlock Holmes facing Dracula is not new, it does make one have to be open to the supernatural occurrences which take place in this book. For the most part, the first installment is more mystery driven as Holmes and Watson piece together the clues which lead them to Professor Van Helsing, but the second part is much more akin to a thriller as the great detective pursues the vampires across Dartmoor. Seeing Sherlock Holmes break his ethical code ("The world is big ghosts need apply") may be a bit jarring for some.

Interestingly, "The Tangled Skein" does not follow the plot of Bram Stoker's novel. David Stuart Davies says that he was inspired by the Hammer Horror films made from the late '50's until the mid '70's with Christopher Lee playing the role of Dracula and Peter Cushing as Van Helsing. His novel certainly mirrors the blood-and-thunder, Gothic style of the Hammer Horror films expertly.

As usual, Nicholas Briggs and Richard Earl are excellent. Guest star Barnaby Edwards is fantastic as well returning as Jack Stapleton. The sound effects and music are wonderful as usual and really add to the horror-like atmosphere of the story. However, you should be warned - "The Tangled Skein" is an extremely violent story (especially in its final half). The sound effects certainly add to this gruesomeness, and there are times when shivers are liable to crawl up your spine. But...that means their doing it right - doesn't it?

All in all, "The Tangled Skein" is the jewel in the crown of the Big Finish Sherlock Holmes productions. I never (I repeat NEVER) do this, but "The Tangled Skein" deserves a 5 out of 5 stars.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Review - "The Hound of the Baskervilles"

"Avoid the moor in those hours of darkness when evil is exalted." - The Hound of the Baskervilles
 After two very enjoyable full-length audio dramas ("Holmes and the Ripper" and "The Reification of Hans Gerber") as well as one hour-long recording of "The Speckled Band," Big Finish turned to the daunting prospect of bringing to life the most famous Sherlock Holmes story. Did the studio with such a good track record do Arthur Conan Doyle's masterpiece justice?

Coming into the production, Nicholas Briggs wanted to create a faithful adaptation of the novel without too many plot deviations. And that can certainly be said for Richard Dinnick's script. Big Finish's version is the closest that anyone has come to faithfully adapting the novel - aside from the BBC serial made in 1982 with Tom Baker as the detective. However, the problem with the 1982 serial was that it lacked suspense and made the proceedings seem rather dull. It would be imperative for Big Finish to faithfully adapt "Hound" while not making the story out to be dull. Did they do this? The answer is: Yes!

"The Hound of the Baskervilles" makes the story very interesting to listen to. Even in the scenes where Nicholas Briggs is absent, the atmosphere never lifts up. As usual, the sound effects and music create the majority of the atmosphere. In some ways, "Hound" is perfect for audio. It is the listener's imagination which can run away with itself creating the perfect atmosphere of the moors of Dartmoor near Devonshire. Furthermore, in the story's conclusion an accurate beast of a hound can be created - glowing green and spitting fire kept intact.

Richard Earl (left) and Nicholas Briggs (right)
in character
Nicholas Briggs and Richard Earl do not seem daunted by the prospect of starring in the most famed Sherlock Holmes story. I must commend Richard Earl especially here. His acting throughout the story is brilliant, and he really carries the majority of the tale. Never once during Watson's scenes on the moor did I feel bored and ready for Holmes' return. Richard Earl's Watson is an overlooked and very enjoyable interpretation of the good doctor.

My only nitpick about Big Finish's "Hound of the Baskervilles," is that the ending feels a bit too rushed. After Sherlock Holmes makes his reappearance in the story and the hound is killed the story just ends so abruptly. There isn't even a formal explanation of all the facts. And even though Big Finish's "Hound" is left somewhat open-ended for its sequel, "The Tangled Skein," that story does not answer any of the questions which are left open with this story. Even though that Richard Earl's scenes were fantastic as Watson, these segments could have been shortened or condensed.

However, in all, "The Hound of the Baskervilles" stands out as a remarkable addition to the Big Finish library. Their accomplishment of creating a faithful and exciting adaptation of "Hound" is remarkable indeed. 3.5 out of 5 is my judgement for Big Finish's very enjoyable adaptation.

Review - "The Reification of Hans Gerber"

reify (v) - to convert into or regard as a concrete thing

Nicholas Briggs and Richard Earl have stepped back into the Victorian Era to take on the roles of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson once again in the next Big Finish Audio Drama, "The Reification of Hans Gerber" an excellent pastiche by George Mann.

Sir Theobold Maugham is dead, having died of what appears to be natural causes after falling down his flight of stairs duirng the night. However, there are those among his family who are not so certain that Sir Theobold's death was not accidental - but murder. Luckily, Sherlock Holmes is brought into the case and with Dr. Watson at his side they begin to explore the Maugham family - as well as an estranged family member by the name of Hans Gerber. When Gerber returns to his claim his inheritance as Sir Theobold's eldest next-of-kin, there is another murder. Is Hans Gerber responsible for these two deaths? That is up to the world's greatest detective to decide.

Similarly to Big Finish's previous audio drama, "Holmes and the Ripper," "The Reification of Hans Gerber" is an original work this time by novelist George Mann. Overall Mann's story is excellent. It feels as though his pastiche could quite simply fit itself onto a shelf along with the Doyle originals. The style of writing and plot structure are quite similar.

Nicholas Briggs in a publicity shot as Sherlock Holmes
Once more Big Finish has crafted a piece of entertainment which is an absolute pleasure to listen to. Music and sound effects are wonderfully executed, and all of the acting is quite good. Nicholas Briggs is much less stilted this time around in the role of Holmes. He comes across as a much more accurate depiction of the detective than in his last venture, and I got the distinct impression that Briggs was enjoying himself playing Holmes. The same applies for Richard Earl, who is no longer the bumbling and comedic side-kick he was in "Holmes and the Ripper." Furthermore, this recording is the first to feature Watson's narrations throughout much of the story, a point which I liked. I really liked Richard Earl's performance as Watson, and his narration made the story feel more like a Doyle original.

"The Reification of Hans Gerber" was quite wonderful aside from two things - the first being the title. I had no prior knowledge of the word 'reification.' I had to use to find out the meaning of word. It was only after that I looked up the word that I started doing my own deductions which lead me to solving the mystery before Sherlock Holmes (there's the ego-boost of the year!). I was slightly disappointed by the outcome of the mystery, but other than that, "The Reification of Hans Gerber" proved that Big Finish was on the road to success with the Sherlock Holmes recordings. A worthy 4 out of 5.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Case of the Disregarded Detectives Part II

Ian Richardson and David Healy
When you think of actors who have played the world's most famous detective chances are three names come to mind at once - Basil Rathbone, Jeremy Brett and Peter Cushing. However, once you look beyond those three are many actors whose turn as the great detective have impacted media greatly. John Neville, Christopher Plummer and others spring to mind - however I want to focus on the actors who are overlooked in the long list of actors to put on the deerstalker hat - the most disregarded detectives.

Ian Richardson - "The Sign of Four" & "The Hound of the Baskervilles" (1983)

Wrapped in fog and dressed impeccably in a deerstalker hat and Inverness cape, Dr. Watson asks Sherlock Holmes what is happening around them in "The Hound of the Baskervilles." "It's murder Watson," Holmes replies, "Cold-blooded, refined, deliberate murder." This remarkable tableau is staged in the 1983 television production of "Hound" featuring the fantastic Ian Richardson as the world's greatest detective.

In the mid-1980's, the rights to the Sherlock Holmes stories were bought from the Doyle Estate. Ian Richardson was chosen to play the part of Holmes in what was going to be the first of about 30 made-for-television movie adaptations. These plans came crumbling down when Granada announced their intention of filming the canon with Jeremy Brett as Holmes. The decision to end the series came much to the chagrin of the producers, but was something of a relief to the star who feared typecasting in the role of Holmes. However, for those who can get Richardson's work on DVD, they will probably be very surprised.

Ian Richardson (right) as the sleuth and David Healy (left)
as his "Boswell." in "The Sign of Four" (1983)
The first of the two stories to be filmed was "The Sign of Four." Aside from Richardson, David Healy signed on as Watson as well as Thorley Walters, Terence Rigby, Joe Melia and Clive Merrison. This version of "The Sign of Four" capitalizes on the blood-and-thunder aspects of the story. The wooden-legged Jonathon Small becomes something of a vengeful pirate with Tonga sporting a black bowler hat ( a la Nick Nack in the James Bond film, "The Man with the Golden Gun") and a rather creepy set of fangs.

There are numerous changes made to the story, however they add an air of adventure which is quite prevalent in Doyle's original novel. Small and Tonga mount an assault on the house of Thaddeus Shalto, killing him in the process, and the deranged pygmy is about to shoot one of his poisoned darts into Miss Mary Morstan when Holmes intervenes. Included is a chase through an amusement park fun house and a fight on a merry-go-round, before our intrepid heroes give chase on steam-launch down the Thames, after which Small is arrested and the famed Treasure of the Agra is discovered concealed inside his wooden leg. All in all, "The Sign of Four" makes for a first-rate piece of entertainment, and soon Richardson would return to the role of the detective to tackle the canon's most famous story.

1983's "The Hound of the Baskervilles" has a number of surprises in store - both welcome and unwelcome. Again, Richardson delivers a first-rate performance even though this time 'round he is encumbered with a dullard of a Watson played by Donald Churchill. This version of "Hound" is quite well-done on a whole, keeping up the level of suspense and moodiness throughout the film. However, the movie changes a number of the details from the novel. Even though these changes do not lessen the level of enjoyment of the movie in anyway, it is rather jarring to see a beloved story to have its plot changed so dramatically. In this adaptation, Holmes' return coincides to the murder of Miss Laura Lyons at which her husband (played by Brian Blessed) is accused of the murder. Holmes is able to lure the culprit, Jack Stapleton, into the open and after a shootout with the villain, Stapleton sinks into the Grimpen Mire per the novel.

While, "The Hound of the Baskervilles" is by no means not any good, it is a shame to see how much the plot of Doyle's much respected plot is changed in favour of action and drama. And yet, Ian Richardson still works through it all acting the part of the detective to the fullest. Later in life, Richardson would get one last stab at the role of Holmes (well sort of) in "Murder Rooms" where he starred as Dr. Joseph Bell, the inspiration for the character of the detective who solves mysteries alongside Arthur Conan Doyle. To this day, Ian Richardson's performances as the great detective stand out as some of the best - and sadly the most forgotten.

The Case of the Disregarded Detectives

When you think of actors who have played the world's most famous detective chances are three names come to mind at once - Basil Rathbone, Jeremy Brett and Peter Cushing. However, once you look beyond those three are many actors whose turn as the great detective have impacted media greatly. John Neville, Christopher Plummer and others spring to mind - however I want to focus on the actors who are overlooked in the long list of actors to put on the deerstalker hat - the most disregarded detectives.

Robert Stephens - "The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes" (1970)

Robert Stephens (right) and Colin Blakely (left)
as Holmes and Watson in Billy Wilder's "The Private
Life of Sherlock Holmes" (1970)
In 1970, famed director Billy Wilder (best known for "Sunset Boulevard", "Some like it Hot" and others) was contemplating making a Sherlock Holmes film. Wilder had wanted to make a Holmes movie since the mid-1950'sand finally constructed a script. Originally slated for the roles of Holmes and Watson were Peter O'Toole and Peter Sellers, but Wilder settled on the relative unknowns Robert Stephens and Colin Blakely. The original concept for the film was to feature four vignettes - all cases from Dr. Watson's previously unreleased casebook. The final film only featured two, and the movie comes off as an unusual combination of humour and drama. ""The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes" is neither funny and neither serious" Wilder said, but all the same the movie is quite clearly a loving tribute to the world's most famous detective. And it all starts with Robert Stephens' stellar performance as Holmes.

Despite the fact that Stephens does not exhibit a profile which complies with the original Holmes description, Stephens looks quite distinguished in the deerstalker and Inverness. Stephens' Holmes suffers both from some unspecified melancholia and displays an overt cockiness unrivaled in any other Sherlockian interpretation. While confronting his brother Mycroft (played by the always-welcome Christopher Lee), who has received a secret message, only to attempt to hide it from the preying eyes of his brother, Sherlock counters: "Why don't you just crumple it up and eat it?"

"The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes" is a spectacular film, made with an enormous budget. The set of 221b Baker Street is beautifully decorated. Doyle's son, Adrian, said that Sherlock Holmes would be right at home on the set. All of the acting is first rate. Colin Blakely is a comic expert as Watson, Christopher Lee is a wonderfully pompous Mycroft and Genevieve Page as Holmes' weary client. And for the most ardent Sherlock Holmes fan, there are plenty of welcome surprises. There are references to the untold case concerning the Abbernetty Family (from "The Six Napoleons"), Watson's stethoscope which he keeps in his bowler hat makes an appearance and much more.

"The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes" performed badly in the box office upon its release in 1970, and star Robert Stephens suffered a nervous breakdown during filming. However today, the movie is regarded as one of the very best Sherlock Holmes films ever to have been - and features one of the greatest Sherlock Holmes interpretations ever committed to screen.

On the next installment of "The Case of the Disregarded Detectives," I will examine one of the most overlooked Sherlock Holmes actors - whose career as the great detective was overshadowed by the conception of the Granada series with Jeremy Brett. An actor by the name of Ian Richardson.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The King of Detectives Vs. The Queen of Crime?

I was recently involved in a short, but interesting conversation in which the works of both Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dame Agatha Christie were brought up. Someone believed that the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were superior to Agatha Christie's mystery novels - a point which I was thought was quite interesting.

Before I go any further, I would like to make it very clear that I love the works of both authors. Obviously I love the Sherlock Holmes stories, otherwise in all likelihood I would not be writing this blog, but I find Agatha Christie's novels the best mysteries which emerged during the "Golden Age." Novels such as "Murder on the Orient Express," "Death on the Nile," "A Murder is Announced" and "Ten Little Indians" stand out as extraordinary examples of mystery literature. But are the works of Arthur Conan Doyle superior to these much loved books?

To be perfectly honest, I do not think that the two can be compared. In the book, "Sherlock Holmes on Screen," co-author Jonathon Rigby brings up an interesting point. He says that Doyle's stories are not really mysteries. His works are an examination of applying observation and deduction to criminal situations. Some of the most famous stories in the canon are not really in the same vein of mystery as Dame Agatha's. When Doyle did write mysteries they were oftentimes very good. Stories like "The Dancing Men" and "The Abbey Grange" play out more like traditional mysteries (in the case of "The Dancing Men," the story is at least in part inspired from one of the very first mystery stories, "The Gold Bug" by Edgar Allan Poe).

Arthur Conan Doyle as he might
have been as Dame Agatha Christie's
writing career skyrocketed in the early 1920's
Now then, compare these puzzles to the tightly-plotted novels of Dame Agatha. One is very likely to forget that the last Sherlock Holmes stories were being published as Agatha Christie's career began. Just as Doyle's stories drew upon the works of Edgar Allan Poe (who is credited with creating the mystery genre), Agatha Christie's earliest works are closer in spirit to the smaller-scale mysteries written by Doyle. It was only after Christie's first works did she begin to experiment with the genre (see "Murder on the Orient Express," "Cards on the Table" and "Five Little Pigs," "Cat Among the Pigeons" and "A Murder is Announced"). Stories such as "And Then there were None" (A.K.A "Ten Little Indians") is in some respects not even a mystery novel, but plays out much more like a thriller.

To sum up, the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is oftentimes a misunderstood writer. His stories are not necessarily mystery stories, but perhaps a blue-print for the police procedural. Dame Agatha Christie's stories, while being mysteries, can be categorized in an entirely different sub-genre of mystery. Her writing from the "Golden Age" of mystery fiction is some of the best to emerge in the genre. However, even in the beginning of her fantastic career, Agatha Christie fell under the shadow of Sherlock Holmes. Would her stories have been as enjoyable without a detective as brilliant as Hercule Poirot or Miss Jane Marple? Surely, they were the next generation's very own Sherlock Holmes?