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Tag Archive: Basil Rathbone


Review by C.J. Bunce

So many genre novels are quick reads, full of action and modern surprises.  Once in a while you stumble upon the slow read–the book that is so smartly written, so exciting and enjoyable you never want it to end, and you force yourself to take it slow and enjoy the author’s use of language.  With his latest book I’ve now added James Lovegrove to my shortlist of authors I will make sure to read as soon as his next work is released.  His new novel is Sherlock Holmes and the Sussex Sea-Devils, book three of his trilogy, The Cthulhu Casebooks.  In short, this work has it all–tie-ins, a mash-up, genre-bending, and immersive storytelling in a suspense-filled mystery adventure.  It’s a big feat because the very subject matter and project has much to overcome.  First, it is the third book in a series, not your usual place as a reader to begin.  As it is a new release, I delved in anyway, and discovered Lovegrove crafted a complete end-to-end story requiring no prior knowledge of the first two books in the series.  Second, it’s a tie-in and a mash-up of the most well-known historical characters in all of fiction, Arthur Conan Doyle‘s Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson twisted together with the macabre, dark world of H.P. Lovecraft.

I’ve reviewed several Watson and Holmes stories written in the past decade and the challenge is always the same–getting two voices just right, voices that are so familiar after reading original Doyle writings, and watching countless modern sequels and a host of television series and movie versions.  One misstep and it’s easy to pull a reader out of the narrative, yet Lovegrove doesn’t skip a beat in this regard.  Whether you’re drawn to the TV series with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, the classic Basil Rathbone film version, modern retellings, or just Doyle’s own marvelous words, you will feel this book is a believable sequel to the original stories and the voices are spot-on.  Another barrier for Lovegrove to overcome is getting right that rich world of H.P. Lovecraft, whose works and words drip with a uniquely strange brilliance and eerie beauty.  Again, Lovegrove fully captures the spirit of his creations and seaside environments, too, as if he’d conjured Lovecraft for this story.  This strange mash-up of the logical, rational Holmes and Watson and the dark and fantastical Lovecraft probably shouldn’t work so well.  These are opposites, right?  But Lovegrove fuses them into one, evoking the 19th century wonder of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne science fiction and fantasy along the way.  Not merely a fun romp for fans of either world, Sherlock Holmes and the Sussex Sea-Devils has all the realism and research of a scholarly work, sinking us into the world of England, the nautical life of coastal peoples at the turn of the 20th century.

The story begins a few years after the retirement of Holmes and Watson.  In Doyle’s story “His Last Bow” we learned the character retired to a farm at Sussex Downs taking on beekeeping as a pastime.  Only two original stories take place during Holmes’ retirement.  This is where Lovegrove’s Watson catches up with Holmes: The date is 1910 and as England and the world moves toward war, Holmes and Watson learn the leaders of the famed Diogenes Club are all dead, found under strange circumstances.  When three young women go missing in a nearby town, the detective duo takes on sleuthing out their disappearance as their final case, where they encounter local lore that speaks of monsters from the deep and a foretold legend of the return of a phantom from long ago.  Locals believe that is why the women are missing, and Holmes knows it must all be connected.  How much is real, how much is fantasy?  Is it possible Holmes could discover both worlds might co-exist?  Can Holmes ever escape the specter of his lifelong nemesis Moriarty?  And what of his brother Mycroft?

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Walken Poe The Raven

The Witching Hour of All Hallow’s Eve has just passed.  It is time to pick your poison, so to speak.

It is time to listen to the many readings by celebrities of Edgar Allan Poe’s classic poem, “The Raven.”  The poem actually takes place in December, so there’s no wrong time to listen to the poem again and again.  Thanks to a new audio version uploaded this weekend by Sean Astin, we were prompted to search for other famous voices, and we found many interesting celebrities to choose from, many from long ago.  Oddly, we found no famous actresses voicing the creepy story–if you know of any please add them to the comments above.

So which do you want to hear first?  Why not give an ear to all?  As you listen try thinking of the actor, or of that actor’s many roles, from Samwise Gamgee to Gomez Addams, from Saruman to Dracula or Sherlock Holmes, the Headless Horseman or Johnny Smith, Max Schreck or Lucius Fox, and from Darth Vader to Captain Kirk or the alien known simply as Q…

The Raven

Have a listen to one or all.  Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

 

Sean Astin

 

John Astin

 

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Review by C.J. Bunce

While you are waiting for the return of the BBC TV series Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as modernized sleuths, or even the third big screen entry in the Sherlock Holmes films starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law in their more classic form, you could pull off the shelf the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories to hold your attention.  Or there is another option:  Writer Guy Adams has seamlessly intersected the world of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes with H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau in his new novel Sherlock Holmes: The Army of Doctor Moreau.  And he does this in a way that may be more accessible to modern readers than the original Doyle stories yet evokes the same voice, time and place.  Sherlock Holmes: The Army of Doctor Moreauis being released in bookstores this week.

Told primarily through the mind of Holmes’ classic partner in solving crime, Dr. John Watson, this story blends two classic worlds that actually find a good home together.  Because I am more of a fan of the modern TV and movie series over the other classic visual productions such as the Basil Rathbone performances, or even the original stories, I found myself inside the mind of Martin Freeman’s Dr. Watson throughout this novel, although transferred back in time from the 21st century to Watson’s earlier 19th century incarnation.  My vision of Holmes bounced around between Cumberbatch and Downey, and I saw as Dr. Moreau, Marlon Brando from the underwhelming Val Kilmer film.

The story itself begins with Holmes’ more intriguing brother Mycroft (played in my head here by Stephen Fry’s version of Mycroft).  A bit of a character you could see as an early version of M from the James Bond universe, Adams’ Mycroft is someone you are itching to leanr more of in future novels.  The original mad scientist, Dr. Moreau, is believed alive and operating an underground frankensteinian laboratory melding what he believes to be the inevitable evolution of man–hybrids of men and animals.  Political motivations bring Dr. Moreau from his original story to again attempt to alter perception and here, take down civilized society via an army of loyal, but horrible, creations.

Although horrific in concept, Adams’ story is pleasingly contemporary to the original stories and so this does not read as a modern horror tale, but more of a dark, lost story of science fiction’s past.  It also does not overtly address the original moral and ethical lessons involving the dangers of science as the original but stays lighter in tone, focusing on the detective story.

Adams’ Dr. Watson will be familiar to anyone who is a fan of any version of Sherlock Holmes.  Constantly trying to keep up with Holmes, Watson uses his medical knowledge and desire to measure up to Holmes to propel the story forward.  Early on in the novel we briefly encounter a nice tribe of characters from the Industrial Revolution fiction’s past:  Edward Prendick, the horrified narrator of Wells’ original Dr. Moreau story, has since gone mad and left notes that help Holmes and Watson track Dr. Moreau.  Professor Challenger from Doyle’s The Lost World has his own prequel here, arm-in-arm with the heroes of this tale to the bitter end, as does Professor Lindenbrook from Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, and a few other more obscure cameos.

But this is definitely a Sherlock Holmes tale, and Dr. Moreau primarily serves as a bit of a MacGuffin for the detectives to pursue for the bulk of the book since we only really deal with the evil doctor toward the end.  The spirit of Holmes and Watson is true and pure fun, worthy of the original.  A (literally) dog-headed character named Kane further helps to suck the reader into this fantastical, unthinkable world of the past.  The result is a sweeping and satisfying romp.  My only complaint would be the changing of narrators in the last two sections of the book from Watson to Holmes and then to all the team players by chapter.  It probably works here but I have never read such an abrupt point-of-view shift in a book that I would call completely successful, and so I think a smoother and more exciting end would have been possible without all the head hopping.  Still, the entries for Johnson and Mycroft at the end stood out as fun additions and the change in voice did not take away from this being a good read.  Adams has done a nice job of channeling familiar and convincing voices and recreating the world in and around 21B Baker Street.

 Sherlock Holmes: The Army of Doctor Moreau will be released August 7, 2012, at bookstores and online retailers, and is available for pre-order discount now at Amazon.com. Adams’ first Sherlock Holmes novel, The Breath of God, is available in trade paperback and e-book editions.