Saturday, November 29, 2014

Review - "The Devil's Promise"

The Devil's Promise is perhaps best described as an unconventional Sherlock Holmes pastiche. I might as well say now that I enjoy unconventional pastiches. If handled correctly, these novels can provide some extraordinarily entertaining reading. Written by David Stuart Davies, one of my favourite Sherlockian writers, The Devil's Promise features Holmes and Watson entangled in a most unorthodox problem. How did it fare overall? Let's find out.

On holiday in the English seaside, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are soon embroiled in a mystery. The duo discover a body on a secluded beach, which promptly disappears. Deciding to investigate, Holmes and Watson soon find that the residents of the sleepy seaside hamlet are behaving oddly, seemingly intimidated by the Blackwood family who live in a secluded mansion outside of town. According to local lore, the Blackwood's father was a renowned Satanist who tried to conjure the Devil during a black mass. Sensing a potential lead, Holmes and Watson are prepared to investigate further when they are attacked in their rented cottage. In the struggle Watson is knocked out cold.

When the good doctor comes to, he discovers that months have passed. Returning to Baker Street with Holmes, Watson finds that his friend's personality has changed dramatically - the detective is far more distant and cold. What could have caused this change in character, and what happened after the two men were attacked months earlier? Watson will set out on his own to discover the truth, putting not only his life in jeopardy, but Sherlock Holmes' as well.

The Devil's Promise summed up in the above two paragraphs clearly shows that it is a different breed of Sherlock Holmes pastiche. However, I was drawn into the mystery almost from the beginning and I found myself finishing the novel in only a few sittings. While it may not please the most conservative of Sherlockians, the novel was obviously written by an ardent Holmes fan who managed to craft an ingenious plot around Holmes and Watson. There were many twists and turns in the plot which made for edge-of-your-seat reading, and the idea that Watson is alone in his investigation, unable to trust Holmes added much tension to the story.

The twisting plot was complimented by wonderful atmosphere. The book was filled with a sense of foreboding, impending doom which practically jumped off of the page. Just as Davies' Sherlock Holmes-vs.-Dracula novel The Tangled Skein was an obvious homage to Hammer horror films, The Devil's Promise fit the same mold. There were several Gothic nuances throughout the story and the climax was the typical blood-and-thunder set piece seen in a Hammer horror. The book particularly mirrored Hammer's 1968 film The Devil Rides Out which starred Christopher Lee fighting the forces of the Devil and a group of insane Satanists.

While the book was quite good, it's plot did make a few things difficult. There were few scenes which Holmes and Watson shared together and seldom were the detective's deductive prowess put on show. But, these were all compromises which had to be made considering the novel's plot. Therefore, I happily say that David Stuart Davies has delivered once more. The Devil's Promise is filled with twists and unexpected turns and tremendous Gothic atmosphere. I give the book 4 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A State of the Blog Address

I just wanted to take a moment and apologize for my recent in-activity on this blog. I have been very busy lately and as much as I would like to keep the blog up-to-date, I simply haven't had the time.

I cannot say with certainty how much time I'll be able to devote to posts over the next few months, but I will try my best to post a few reviews and thoughts whenever I have the chance. There's a few things on the horizon which I hope to devote some time to.

So, in all, don't lose faith dear readers - though my output may not be as tremendous in the past, I have not forgotten my blog. I hope you check back periodically as I do have a trick or two up my sleeve.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Review - "Doctor Who: Dark Water/Death in Heaven"

Warning - This review will contain spoilers!

Well, another season of Doctor Who has come to an end. How did the finale, a two-part story scripted by showrunner Steven Moffat fair and how it stand up against the rest of the series? How did Series 8 fare compared to the other seasons of the show and what of Peter Capaldi? I hope to answer all of these questions in the following review, so without further let's dive right in...

Distraught over the death Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson), Clara (Jenna Coleman) almost incapacitates the Doctor and his TARDIS by throwing the time machine's seven keys into a volcano. Seeing how far she would go to save the man she loved, the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) takes Clara to 3w, a mysterious institute fascinated with death. The Doctor comes face to face with Missy (Michelle Gomez), the strange woman who has dogged his heels throughout the series, and together they manage to contact Danny in heaven. No sooner have they accomplished this does the Doctor learn that 3w is harboring Cybermen and Missy is in actuality his arch enemy, the Master! With the future of planet Earth hanging in the balance, the Doctor will have to use UNIT to save the day. But at what cost?

When it comes to two-part episodes like this, I tend to find one portion to be better than the other. Here, Dark water/Death in Heaven managed to remain consistent throughout. I must applaud Steven Moffat for keeping the tone the same throughout the two episodes, even when plot twists are introduced and the scale becomes much grander in the second half. I do not hesitate to say that these two episodes have been two of the darkest episodes in Doctor Who's recent history, dwelling on subjects like death and the afterlife, rather taboo for a children's show. However, I found it to be quite compelling and original. I would be lying if I said I wasn't drawn in - especially by the episode Dark Water which had to lay on the mystery extra thick.

The Doctor and the Master - or is Mistress?
We'll revisit the story itself in a minute, but I need to take the opportunity to address the performances from the principles. Peter Capaldi pulled out all the stops in these two episodes. He is without doubt the best actor to have taken on the role of the Doctor since the revival in 2005 and, aside from Matt Smith, is my favorite Doctor. The changes which we the audience have witnessed in his character since the start of the series have been tremendous - a truly brilliant character arc. I look forward to Capaldi's future in the role as I know he will retain that tremendous quality.

Also of particular note was Michelle Gomez as Missy. When it was revealed she was in fact the Master at the end of Dark Water, I wasn't quite sure what to think. (Not to sound too narrow-minded, but I have never been a big proponent of the whole gender swapping thing.) I reserved my judgment and I must say she did an excellent job. Gomez communicated a sense of the Master's true deranged character in a cold, quiet manner which was far more successful than John Simm's scenary-chewing attempts when he played the character. It wouldn't be too outrageous to liken Gomez's Master (Mistress, whatever) to Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal Lector; speaking quietly and delivering a genuine chill up the spine.

While the scripts for Dark Water/Death in Heaven fared well for Capaldi and Gomez, it fell rather short when dealing with the companions. Jenna Coleman delivered her usual fine performance but it seemed like the independent nature of Clara's character became a bit too outrageous when she virtually kidnaps the Doctor and nearly destroys the TARDIS. What's more, this scene, which really goes nowhere, was hardy linked to the rest of the episode. Samuel Anderson, who usually gave a pretty decent performance in the past, seemed rather flat here, especially once he's been turned into a Cyberman. I don't want to bash too much on the script - especially since it did afford Capaldi one of his greatest Doctor moments; skydiving from a crashing airplane without a parachute, tearing a page from James Bond's playbook in Moonraker.

As I said at the top of this review, both episodes of the finale fared equally. Therefore, I give them both 3.5 out of 5 stars. So, in all, how did Doctor Who series 8 fare? Rather well. It featured some truly excellent episodes, but a fair share of mediocre ones. I'd say the series did afford Peter Capaldi a nice introduction and I look forward to his future in the role.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Review - "A Scandal in Bohemia Graphic Novel"

I am actually not very familiar with Sherlock Holmes graphic novels. The extent of my knowledge consists only of the graphic novelizations by Ian Edginton featuring moody, evocative artwork by I.N.J. Culbard. All four of them, published by Self-Made Hero, are highly recommended. But today's subject is a little different. Today I take a look at an interesting take on A Scandal in Bohemia by Petr Kopl.

Going over the plot of the graphic novel may be a little redundant as it more-or-less follows Doyle's original but also manages to weave the plot of The Speckled Band into the mix. Despite this, this particular graphic novel may be a little surprising for the more ardent Doylean. The tone of this retelling is quite light and fun, bordering at times on outright parody. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson aren't above exchanging banter and getting into petty squabbles. One particular scene found the detective strong up from the ceiling of 221b hanging by his feet testing a theory. Aside from the fact that there's something overtly Robert Downey Jr. about the panel, it was actually quite funny, especially as Watson enters the sitting room, only to find his friend in a most unusual situation.

Holmes as drawn by Petr Kopl
However, the tone of graphic novel does change and scenes of genuine suspense or horror were conveyed quite nicely. These instances came more often than in the segment retelling The Speckled Band which managed to convey its original's sense of Gothic horror beautifully. The artwork was of particular note here, and I feel as though I should devote a bit of time to the artistic style. Though drawn in an obviously cartoon style, the exaggerated features of the characters was actually quite charming. Holmes is portrayed as quite angular with pronounced chin and nose, and surprisingly enough, Watson is drawn as quite the competent medico and not in the traditional buffoonish style. The illustrations added to the more-or-less light-weight sense of fun which ran throughout the graphic novel and heightened the "fun factor."

There were also a number of interesting asides and references to outside works to make this reader's eye widen. Phileas Fogg, the hero of Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days makes a cameo appearance, and Watson becomes a member of the former's exclusive club. Mata Hari is also referenced (this comes as something of a funny twist come the comic's end) as are both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. These touches, though enjoyable, were something of a distraction from the overall narrative and with the inclusion of Frankenstein's Monster into the mix (yes, Frankenstein's Monster is in here too) one began to feel that the writer's tongue was planted a little too firmly in his cheek. That's not to say this was a drawback just something of a stylistic surprise.

In all, A Scandal in Bohemia was a fun, very entertaining read. As far as Sherlock Holmes graphic novels go, it fared quite well I think. I do not hesitate in recommending it to fellow Sherlockians, and seeing as Petr Kopl has authored other Sherlock Holmes graphic novels in the same vein, I would be interested in taking a look at those too. I award A Scandal in Bohemia 4 out of 5 stars.


A Scandal In Bohemia – A Sherlock Holmes Graphic Novel is available from all good bookstores including   Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Waterstones UK, and for free shipping worldwide Book Depository . In ebook format it is in Kindle, Kobo, Nook and Apple iBooks (iPad/iPhone).