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moriarty2

The game is afoot again..

I know I am not alone in my love for Holmes, those Conan Doyle stories can be enjoyed time and again I think. Such is the enduring love and fascination for Sherlock Holmes that there are now lots of authors who have written new Holmes stories, although the only ones I have read are mainly those by Laurie R King and a couple of others. Anthony Horowitz though is the only writer approved by the estate of Conan Doyle to write more. The House of Silk published in 2011 – was I believe originally going to be a one off – I had my doubts about that at the time, and so was delighted when I heard there would be a second. The House of silk of course features Holmes and Watson in their heyday investigating a case that the reader is informed was too shocking to write about until now. Moriarty is different in that it doesn’t feature Holmes or Watson – except when being referred to by other characters. When I first heard that, I confess I was disappointed, but I really shouldn’t have been, as Horowitz’s story is still firmly rooted in the world of Holmes, but he has really got creative, and the result is fairly unputdownable. Moriarty is perhaps a shade darker than the Conan Doyle stories, there is some very realistically portrayed violence – but it isn’t particularly gratuitous, and is necessary to the story.

The novel opens in Switzerland at the Reichenbach falls, as the world learns of the death of Professor James Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes. Only one body is recovered, and is identified as being that of Moriarty, he is laid out in the basement of a local church, where two men who have travelled to Switzerland join the local police in carrying out a detailed examination. These men are: Inspector Athelney Jones, from Scotland Yard, who since having being embarrassed by Holmes in previous investigations, has made a close study of his methods, and Frederick Chase from New York, an investigator with the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Inspector Jones, Holmes fans may recall, was the policeman beaten to the truth by Sherlock Holmes in the Conan Doyle story The Sign of Four.

Chase tells Inspector Jones that he was on the trail of a new gang of criminals from New York, headed up by the strange and reclusive Clarence Devereux, who Chase maintains will now seek to fill Moriarty’s place. One man has already died in London, a man Chase explains was working for Pinkerton’s, also on Devereux’s tail. Chase believes a meeting was to have taken place between Moriarty and Devereux, and a coded letter from Devereux in a sealed waterproof packet, is found on the body pulled from the falls arranging a meeting in London just days later. Jones and Chase race back to London, now on the trail of an American gang far more murderously merciless than any that the capital has seen before.

“Clarence Devereux is here in London. I am certain of it. I have heard his name mentioned and I have felt his presence.
The speaker was, by some margin, the youngest person in the room. I had noticed him sitting upright in his chair throughout the lengthy speeches, as if he could barely prevent himself from breaking in. He had fair hair, cut very short, and a keen, boyish face. He could not be more than twenty-five or twenty-six years old. ‘My name is Stanley Hopkins,’ he said, introducing himself to me. ‘And although I never had the honour of meeting Mr Sherlock Holmes, I very much wish he was still with us for I believe we face a challenge such as none of us in this room has ever encountered”

Back in London Jones and Chase are immediately embroiled in the investigation into the gruesome murders of one of Devereux’s right hand men and his household, following an aborted attempt to keep the appointment referred to in the coded letter. While Athelney Jones goes home each evening to his wife and daughter, Chase takes himself back to a poor little hotel, with just one other guest, a man Chase only ever hears coughing in the room next door, and catches sight of in the window from outside.

Despite the dangers of their investigation, the two men find time to become friends as well as allies and Chase is invited to dinner at the Jones house, where he meets Athelney Jones’s wife, who treats him with some suspicion, worried for the already fragile health of her husband. Before very long the two men are subjected to terrible violence at the hands of Devereux’s gang, an explosion rips through Scotland Yard and Athelney Jones is forced to put his own career at risk in the attempt to get at the truth, illegally gaining entry to the American legation. Naturally I don’t want to spoil this book for anyone else, so I’m not going to say too much more, but Horowitz wraps things up brilliantly in this superbly plotted mystery.

“None of them was speaking and yet I heard echoes… voices, far away and out of sight. There was the clang of steel striking steel. The complex must be vast and we were in but one secluded corner of it. I thought of shouting out, calling for help but knew it would be pointless. It would be impossible for any rescuer to tell where the sound had come from and I would surely be struck down before I could utter to words.”

In Moriarty, Anthony Horowitz has retained much of that delicious Holmsian feel, the streets of London and its many characters, dark corners and dangers that exist just beneath the surface of polite society are brilliantly recreated. As far as the plot is concerned there are some delightful twists, spectacularly unexpected, I was left gasping.

anthonyhorowitz

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Locked_Rooms

Sherlock Holmes is a character that who seems to continue to fascinate. Conan Doyle’s character having taken on almost mythical proportions has been responsible for the wide ranging Holmes pastiche that has grown up since Conan Doyle finished writing his Holmes stories. There are many writers out there who have continued to write Sherlock Holmes stories. For instance, there is ‘The young Sherlock Holmes’ series for children by Andrew Lane, a book called The Last Sherlock Holmes story by well-known crime writer Michael Dibdin, a quick look on Amazon revealed books by authors David Wilson, Richard Dinnick and Nigel Scott, and many others – none of which I have read or even heard of, if I’m honest. I did read a good collection of Holmes stories called The Remains of Sherlock Holmes by Paul W Nash – though I think the book is out of print now. I also really enjoyed Anthony Horrowitz’s The House of Silk.

sherlockholmesHowever the series that continues to delight me is the Mary Russell series by Laurie R King. In the first book – The Beekeeper’s Apprentice – Mary Russell is a fifteen year old Anglo/American orphan living in Sussex with an aunt – she meets and becomes apprenticed to an ageing Sherlock Holmes – who has retired to the Sussex downs to study bees. Needless to say Holmes doesn’t stay retired for long, and is frequently called upon to undertake secret missions by his brother Mycroft. As the years pass Russell and Holmes’s partnership/friendship leads to marriage. Russell is a tough bluestocking, fiercely intelligent and independent; she is not a typical early twentieth century wife – who could imagine Holmes married to a traditional wife anyway? I love the way Laurie R King has resurrected Holmes in these novels, he is still very familiar – he is older and mellower no longer a drug addict – and still taken care of by Mrs Hudson, corresponds with Watson – and still a master of disguise.

Locked Rooms is the eighth Mary Russell novel, it is 1924, ten years since the accident that robbed Mary of her parents and younger brother. Returning from Bombay where they had been involved in the case detailed in the seventh novel The Game, Russell and Holmes sail for San Francisco to settle some business with Mary’s family estate. However as the ship gets closer to San Francisco, Mary starts to experience some very unsettling dreams, and Holmes notices his wife’s behaviour begin to change. In 1906 the city where Mary’s family had lived had been devastated by an earthquake, Mary believes that she hadn’t been there at the time; Holmes is convinced that she must have been. Still haunted by the accident which killed her family but which she survived; Mary Russell has a lot to face up to upon her return. She is sure that she can cope with the memories, with revisiting her old home, and is irritated by any show of concern from Holmes. Once in San Francisco Russell starts to uncover the secrets of her own past. A series of deaths that appear to be connected to her family and a bizarre codicil to her father’s will – lead Holmes and Russell to the busy streets of China town.
Locked Rooms is possibly my favourite of the series so far – although I remember The Moor as being pretty fantastic too. This novel is a little different as the story – and the mysteries are more personal to Mary – so much more of Russell is revealed. Throughout the series so far, Russell had been almost as enigmatic as the man she married. I do love a bit of Holmes escapism – my curl up in a ball cosy reading. This series is well written, tautly plotted – with plenty of those familiar Holmes ingredients that we love. For anyone not familiar with this series who like the sound of it – I would always recommend starting with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice – and reading the books in order. Thankfully I already have the next one TBR.

laurie r king

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The sign of four

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – birthday May 22nd

I have loved the stories of Sherlock Holmes for years, he’s quite definitely one of my favourite literary characters. For me these stories are the kind of books that can be read again and again. I love the atmosphere of Holmes’s world, the hansom cabs, the dark foggy streets of Victorian London, the gas lit rooms at 221b Baker Street. I love the relationship between Holmes and Watson, Holmes’s arrogance and Watson’s calm good sense – what a team!
The Sign of Four – first published in 1890 – was the second novel about Sherlock Holmes that Conan Doyle published. It is in this novel that we see Holmes the addict, and Watson’s concern for his friend’s health. Although a slim volume, The Sign of Four is brilliantly intricate. I’m sure I have read it before – there were one or two things that did ring a vague bell – but as it isn’t one I have reached for, for a very long time, I had pretty much forgotten the majority of the details.

“My mind rebels from stagnation, give me problems, give me work. Give me the most abtruse cryptogram or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my proper atmosphere.”

A dreadfully bored Sherlock Holmes has been alternately taking cocaine and opium for months when Miss Morstan – a young governess calls on him. She tells him the story of her father’s mysterious disappearance ten years earlier – and how each year for the previous six years she has been sent a single valuable pearl. Now she has been contacted by her unknown benefactor – and needs an escort to meet him.
Holmes and Waston are quick to offer their services, and by the time that night is ended they are embroiled in a complex and mysterious case. A scrap of paper with the names of four men, and the words the ‘sign of the four’, written on it, a pair of identical twins, a seemingly impossible murder inside a locked room, footprints, poisoned darts and missing treasure. In charge of the case is the marvellously named Mr Athelney Jones, but Holmes is already on the trail of the culprits.

“Now, Watson’ said Holmes, rubbing his hands, ‘we have half an hour to ourselves. Let us make good use of it. My case is, as I have told you, almost complete; but we must not err on the side of overconfidence. Simple as the case seems now, there may be something deeper underlying it.
‘Simple!’ I ejaculated.
‘Surely,’ said he with something of the air of a clinical professor expounding to his class. “

Poor old Watson is quickly smitten by the gentle Miss Morstan – and as Holmes delves deeper into the case Watson seems slightly distracted. Their investigations take them down to the wharf in search of a steam launch and its owner, aided by a mongrel dog called Toby and the Baker Street irregulars. A frantic man hunt down the Thames at night ensues.
Miss Morstan’s father had been in India till shortly before his disappearance and it is from here the missing treasure came, and from where some of the men involved seem to have come. Given the time this novel was first written – there are maybe unsurprisingly a few slightly toe-curling references to people of Indian origin, I always try to set these things into the context of the times they were written – but it is still a little uncomfortable.

I think it is testament to the greatness of Holmes that so many authors are still writing Holmes stories – he is a fictional character who has taken on almost mythical proportions. Not everyone like these books written about Holmes by other writers, but I actually do – not that I’ve read all of them – but love them or hate them, it is surely quite amazing – that a character first created so long ago, still inspires people to write new stories for him. Reading ‘The Sign of Four’ has made me want to blow the dust of the two Laurie R King books I have had TBR for ages. What is it about Sherlock Holmes that we love so much? Is it his genius? Or his vulnerabilities?

conan doyle1

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THE GAME’S AFOOT…It is November 1890 and London is gripped by a merciless winter. Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson are enjoying tea by the fire when an agitated gentleman arrives unannounced at 221b Baker Street. He begs Holmes for help, telling the unnerving story of a scar-faced man with piercing eyes who has stalked him in recent weeks. Intrigued by the man’s tale, Holmes and Watson find themselves swiftly drawn into a series of puzzling and sinister events, stretching from the gas-lit streets of London to the teeming criminal underworld of Boston. As the pair delve deeper into the case, they stumble across a whispered phrase ‘the House of Silk’: a mysterious entity and foe more deadly than any Holmes has encountered, and a conspiracy that threatens to tear apart the very fabric of society itself’ With devilish plotting and excellent characterisation, bestselling author Anthony Horowitz delivers a first-rate Sherlock Holmes mystery for a modern readership whilst remaining utterly true to the spirit of the original Conan Doyle books. Sherlock Holmes is back with all the nuance, pace and powers of deduction that make him the world’s greatest and most celebrated detective.

I have read a few other novels featuring Holmes and Watson written by authors other than Conan Doyle, and enjoyed them, feeling the authors had done a pretty decent job. However Anthony Horowitz has beaten them all hands down! Reading House of Silk, I felt I was properly back in the company of Holmes and of course dear Watson, just as if I was reading ACD himself. I’d like to think Conan Doyle would approve heartily. There are some nice references back to famous Holmes stories, which should please all Holmes fans, and ensures that this story fits perfectly within the Holmes canon.
A fast paced multilayered plot – with a few surprises thrown in for good measure, this is a book perfect for long winter evenings. A brilliant sense of time and place, along with a credible Watson narrating, helps to give this novel such an authentic feel.

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A dense yellow fog descends upon London. Tricksters, thieves and murderers stalk their prey undetected. Lawlessness abounds but it is no match for the penetrating mind of Sherlock Holmes as he investigates the strangest of cases. A woman receives a gruesome package – two human ears in a box. A vital government secret is threatened with exposure. Miss Brenda Tregennis is found scared to death – could she really have died from fright alone? And when the stability of the country is threatend, Holmes’ unrivalled talents are called upon once again …

There are times when only certain types of books will do, when one is feeling in need of some consoling literary friend. At such times I often reach for Agatha Christie, although another old and comforting literary companion is Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.

This fairly slight volume contains eight fascinating Holmes stories, each of them a fairly decent length, utterly perfect to curl up with on a chilly December evening. I adore the character of Holmes, it matches exactly the mood that Doyle creates so perfectly in each story. The tension and fear that lies beneath a rarefied Englishness, the dense fogs that swirl outside the windows of Baker Street, while a great mind is figuring out the unfathomable. In my personal favourite ‘The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot’ Holmes and Watson find themselves in a tiny Cornish village, where a woman has been apparently terrified to death, and two o her brothers left raving mad. In the final  title story, a tale not narrated by Watson, the two old friends are brought back together  some time after Holmes’ retirement, it is August 1914. Although rather different in tome to the preceding stories it is a nice quiet finale.

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Read on Kindle
It’s only the second day of 1924, but Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, find themselves embroiled in intrigue. It starts with a New Year’s visit from Holmes’s brother Mycroft, who comes bearing a strange package containing the papers of an English spy named Kimball O’Hara—the same Kimball known to the world through Kipling’s famed Kim. Inexplicably, O’Hara withdrew from the “Great Game” of espionage and now he has just as inexplicably disappeared. This is no.7 in the Mary Russell Series. It is 1924 and Mary Russell and her husband Sherlock Holmes are sent by an indisposed Mycroft Holmes to India, to search for Kimbar O Hara – the "Kim" of the famous Rudyard Kipling novel. Who is "as real as I am" says Sherlock Holmes to his surprised wife, Mary Russell is then forced to remember how to many people Sherlock Holmes remains a fictional character. O'Hara hasn't been heard of for 3 years. An expert in "The game" – British espionage, the operative is feared dead. Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes embark on a perilous journey across India, which requires them to undertake several audacious disguises. They encounter a host of colourful characters, including a mad Maharajah and a naive young American flapper. Although not my favourite of the Mary Russell series, I did thoroughly enjoy it and the final third is certainly hard to put down.

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remains of sh
I was sent this book ( a lovely hardback edition) by the Librarything Early Reviewers programme. It seemed perfect for me as I love Sherlock Holmes. I know several writers have resurrected the great detective and written new stories about him, and although I have only read some of them, I love the idea that a character is so beloved and has become so mythologised that he never really goes away.

In this book there are seven new stories, stories apparently “discovered” recently which Watson considered too shocking for publication at the time. The events recorded in these stories range in date from 1882 to 1929. In them we meet: giants and dwarves, a silent valet, servants, masters, addicts and murderers.  We discover the truth behind the death of Dorian Gray,  and through the eyes of his great friend Dr John Watson how Sherlock Holmes met his own end in 1929.  I thought these stories, and the characters stayed pretty well true to the original, and I hope Conan Doyle would approve.

I would love to share this book with bookcrossers – but I’m not going to : ) I have lost far too many bookring books to risk it. So if I find another copy – or maybe when it is out in paperback I will get a copy to do that with, but until then I am keeping this nice book and adding it to my increasing permanent collection.

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