Category Archives: Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson

Review of AUDIOBOOK Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Audio Collection by Arthur Conan Doyle, narrated by Stephen Fry #Brainfluffaudiobookreview #SherlockHolmesaudiobookreview

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After firing up my Kindle Fire and looking for new audiobooks, this one caught my attention – I’m so very glad it did. It has represented marvellous value as for the cost of only a single credit, I have had the pleasure of nearly seventy-two hours of Fry’s narration.

BLURB: Ever since he made his first appearance in A Study In Scarlet, Sherlock Holmes has enthralled and delighted millions of fans throughout the world. Now Audible is proud to present Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection, read by Stephen Fry. A lifelong fan of Doyle’s detective fiction, Fry has narrated the complete works of Sherlock Holmes – four novels and five collections of short stories. And, exclusively for Audible, Stephen has written and narrated nine insightful, intimate and deeply personal introductions to each title.

It has been a joy. I found it fascinating to listen to the variety of methods Conan Doyle used to structure his novels and his stories. Some of them were slightly derivative of other work he’d produced earlier in his career, but given the span of years he was writing Holmes’ adventures, I was impressed at how rarely this occurred. The other striking aspect of this collection was just how much I found myself disliking Holmes. He’s cold, arrogant and condescending to a degree that even occasionally annoys dear old Watson – in fact, thoroughly unpleasant. Each time I revisited this collection, within a handful of minutes I’d remember all over again just how much I loathed him. But there’s dear old Watson, who is the beating heart of all these stories. It is his humanity, kindness and acceptance of people’s quirks that sings off the page and drew me into the stories.

Conan Doyle’s writing style is also very easy to listen to – his ability to draw a quick description of a character and their surroundings, as well as his pacing and story structure are mostly impressively good. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Fry is narrating these – the range of voices and accents is impressive, without at any stage feeling forced or OTT. I also enjoyed his forewords and what he had to say about the body of work, as ever insightful and informative. And the reason it has taken quite so long for me to get to the end is that I have stretched it out, by interspersing each folder with one or more other books. But all good things must come to an end, and I have finally reached the last story in the last folder…

Any niggles, then? The one distasteful aspect of this collection, which I must point out, is the racism, xenophobia and chauvinism running throughout. I managed mostly to roll my eyes at the dismissive descriptions of any woman over the age of forty and the way all the younger females were objectified according to their looks and attractiveness. While it graunched, I was able to mostly shrug it off – I still recall similar attitudes being prevalent in the 1960s and 70s.

However, the racism inherent throughout did leave a bad taste in my mouth. There are some truly horrible descriptions, to the extent that one story in particular was skipped. It was striking that many of the more brutal antagonists were foreigners, spoken of with breathtaking condescension. I was intrigued to note that those stories published in the runup to WWI had a particularly strong vein of xenophobia running through them towards other Europeans. No one was truly trustworthy unless they were English and of a certain class – and male, of course. I’m aware they are a product of their time, but I would warn you that if this sort of depiction is a major issue for you, then this probably won’t be a collection you could listen to with any real pleasure. I would have scored this collection a ten but for this aspect, which did dent my enjoyment at times.
9/10

Review of Sherlock Holmes: Gods of War by James Lovegrove

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Anyone who has read this blog for a while will know that I really enjoy Lovegrove’s writing – see my review of The Age of Odin here – so I was intrigued when I came across this offering on the shelves. I also happen to be a fan of Arthur Conan Doyle’s short stories, though it was a while ago when I read them. I love the way his bluff, good hearted doctor is the mouthpiece for the complicated, haunted genius of Holmes. So – does Lovegrove’s addition to the Holmes’ canon pay due respect to the original, while adding fresh exciting stories?

godsofwarIt is 1913 and Dr Watson is visiting Sherlock Holmes at his retirement cottage near Eastbourne when tragedy strikes: the body of a young man, Patrick Mallinson, is found under the cliffs of Beachy Head. The dead man’s father, a wealthy businessman, engages Holmes to prove that his son committed suicide, the result of a failed love affair with an older woman. However, Holmes quickly discovers that certain aspects of the case simply don’t add up – not helped by the hostile attitude of the local constabulary. But when someone attempts to murder Dr Watson, the stakes are raised to a shocking and unexpected climax…

I’ve fiddled around a bit with the blurb, but that sums up more or less the gist of it. Lovegrove’s rendition of his main protagonist, Dr Watson, is pretty much pitch perfect. There is more than a nod to the language and phrasing of the time while keeping it suitably streamlined for modern tastes, which takes a degree of skill to pull off. I also liked Watson’s occasional gusts of annoyance at Holmes’ erratic behaviour, and his fond reminiscences of some of their earlier adventures.

Though both men are now in their twilight years, this is a full-blooded adventure involving desperate clifftop chases in thick fog, kidnapping, murder and attempted murder – several times. So does Lovegrove pull this off? What we don’t want is the Frost scenario where poor old David Jason, overweight and clearly unfit, once more is seen to be running down young men more than half his age and in their physical prime. Fortunately Lovegrove is far too canny to fall into such an obvious hole. In fact, Dr Watson spends a great deal of time grumbling about how he really isn’t up to all this excitement – and is made quite ill by his adventuring. I also liked the notion that Holmes’ housekeeper, Mrs Tuppen, feeds him quantities of a homemade concoction that sounds suspiciously like slippery elm, amongst other things, which has him on his feet again in next to no time.

Some of their exploits strain plausibility – but then, so did some of the original stories. What I love about this tale is that it starts quite slowly, steadily accelerates and doesn’t let up until the end. Which I didn’t see coming. I’d worked out who had done it, but not exactly why or all the ramifications. As ever, Lovecraft’s clever, nuanced plots has extra layers that resonate and I’ve found myself thinking a lot about this story, despite having now read a couple of other books in the meantime.

I shall be looking out other books published by Titan Books in this series – George Mann and Guy Adams are other contributors, also strong, skilful writers whose work I admire and enjoy. And treat upon treat – I’ve also discovered that James Lovegrove has written another Sherlock Holmes book – The Stuff of Nightmares. How can I resist?
9/10