Review – Sidney Chambers and the Perils of the Night (James Runcie)

Sidney Chambers and the Perils of the Night

James Runcie

ISBN: 1608199517

Not yet available for purchase, but available to be admired on Goodreads.

 

I won an advance reading copy of PotN from Goodreads some time in April and have been cautioned by the back cover not to judge an uncorrected proof too harshly. Fortunately, harsh judgement is not an issue. I liked it.

 

Note: this is a review of a sweet collection of mysteries set in and around Cambridge of the late 1950s and early 1960s. This is, ostensibly, a Sherlock Holmes blog, but my brain’s filing system catalogues all mystery under the Archetype Holmes header, and so this review fits. 

 

Much mystery, caught up in its attempt at edginess, loses itself in gratuitous sex and gore. Edginess has its place, of course, but I’ve grown tired of it. I wanted to take a few steps back from the edge.

 

Sidney Chambers has provided for me a much needed break. I found the reading at once light and weighty, a balance between vibrant, whimsical characters and their brushes with the darker side of human nature. The language is elegant and cerebral without being overbearing, and it fits the period without feeling stilted.

 

The episodic structure of the book – a series of short storied, tied together by a few threads into a loosely-bound whole – threw me off a little at first, but I quickly decided to allow myself one story a day, and the subdivision into manageable chunks became a convenience.

 

What I loved most, though, was the title character, the clerical detective, Canon Sidney Chambers. Much in the tradition of Father Brown, Sidney shows a deep and sensitive understanding of humanity, flaws included, and yet retains a wonderful optimism and innocence, reaching out to touch the sinner without letting himself be touched by the sin. In some ways, he perhaps surpasses Father Brown in realism: in the difficulties of his relationships, his flashes of human jealousy, his worries that his academia or detective work sometimes interferes with his priestly duties. Where moral ambiguity has become the norm for protagonists, Sidney is proof that it is by no means a necessary attribute of a complex, interesting character; I found his uprightness refreshing.

 

My only complaint would be the overabundance of cricket jargon in The Hat Trick, the fourth story in the collection.

Review – Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of Ichabod Reed (M. Pepper Langlinais)

Lacking for any other cover image…

Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of Ichabod Reed

M. Pepper Langlinais

ASIN: B0095OB3NK

Available for purchase

From Amazon: “The man is the mystery.” So says young Malcolm Durstwell when he comes to Baker Street in hopes of discovering the truth about the man who has inherited his uncle’s estate–a man no one has ever heard of or seen. Sherlock Holmes is inclined to dismiss the case . . . until Malcolm Durstwell himself is found dead shortly after his visit.

Is it a coincidence? Or has the nameless, faceless Ichabod Reed gone so far as to commit murder? And if so, how can Holmes identify him and bring him to justice?

Inspired by the classic mysteries of Arthur Conan Doyle, the “New Sherlock Holmes Adventures” from award-winning author M Pepper Langlinais follow the further exploits of Holmes and Watson in the style of the original stories. “The Adventure of Ichabod Reed” is the first volume in the series and is followed by “The Mystery of the Last Line.” Further adventures are forthcoming in 2013.
The Premise: 
A young man – Malcolm Durstwell – arrives in Baker Street, concerned and outraged that, due to a strange and unexpected provision of his late uncle’s will, he and his family will be evicted from their home. The benefactor, Ichabod Reed, is unknown to the family and has never been seen, instead choosing to conduct his legal affairs by proxy. Holmes sees nothing criminal in the case and refuses to take it on, until Malcolm Durstwell is found dead on the train the following morning.
The Good:
Ichabod Reed was an enjoyable little story that got me through an hour at the shoe store, which will ensure my favourable opinion of pretty much anything.
The mystery engaged me directly from the beginning; it isn’t terribly often that the client is also the victim, which created interest for me straight from the start.
The language was, for the most part, closely complementary to the Canon, though somewhat more succinct so as not to alienate a modern reader.

The Watson was admirably sharp and considerate – not the bumbling idiot he is sometimes made out to be – and I really do appreciate that. Watson is a physician, after all. The body of medical knowledge may have been much narrower in the nineteenth century, but there has never been a point in time at which idiots could make it through medical school and establish themselves in respectable practice.

The Bad – SPOILERS:
Some of the clues did not seem to match up. For instance, though heredity was still a fledgling science, I can’t see both Holmes and Watson assuming that two brown-eyed parents could not produce blue-eyed offspring. And while I can’t claim any first hand knowledge, my understanding is that nightshade berries are too sweet to be concealed in so bland a food as an egg sandwich, and the alkaloid extracts would be too bitter. Additionally, death by nightshade typically involves horrific hallucinations, agitation, convulsions, and painful vomiting. It’s very unlikely that poor Malcolm could have died quietly of belladonna poisoning without attracting any notice.
It is a personal preference, but I don’t find the killing of canon characters to be good form in pastiche. Unless Langlinais has some clever trick up her sleeve, reserved for later Adventures, I can’t approve of the death of Mycroft. (However, if she absolutely had to kill off Mycroft, she did it well; another writer might have penned some maudlin dialogue for the bereaved Sherlock, but her Sherlock handled the loss as dispassionately and reservedly as the real one would.)
In Conclusion: 
I enjoyed it. It was well-considered, well-written, and well-edited, if not as well-researched. When one has run out of Adventures and hasn’t the time for a novel, Langlinais’s New Adventures are an agreeable substitute.

The BBC Sherlock fandom and a fascinating quotation

I have recently had the opportunity to be interviewed by Alyssa Nabors of The Anglerfish magazine, a chronicle of modern nerdiness and geekery. The poor dear took me seriously when I called myself  a Holmesian loremaster – which, as we all know, is code for “obsessive and slightly unbalanced fanatic.” Fortunately, she was willing to treat my opinions as reasonable and semi-valid, and she quoted some of my speculations concerning Sherlock and social media.

The article can be found here.

The issue continues with a short overview of Holmes in film and some observations on ‘Elementary,’ a discussion of classic mystery, and an analysis of the Holmes/Moriarty dynamic. It’s a good, nerdy little collection of musings on one of my favourite topics. I recommend a read-through.

After a short sabbatical…

It wasn’t intentional, I assure you. I’ve been writing in that other place, consumed for the moment by the paranormal and all of the wonderful social and eschatological artefacts surrounding it – that is to say, finishing a rough draft while slogging through term paper season in my corner of academia.

I am still around, though, and still reading, and – shortly, at any rate – still reviewing. I’ve got a small pile of pastiche to get through during my few upcoming days of leisure, one down, and a few comments nearly ready for posting. I haven’t abandoned the blog, nor Sherlockiana. I just happen to have a few issues with time management.

I’ve also redecorated a bit. I happen to like herringbone.