Tag Archive: Sherlock Holmes


Review by C.J. Bunce

Stranger Things’s Millie Bobby Brown leads up a cast of Harry Potter alumni in Netflix’s fun new Victorian mystery, Enola Holmes, a sure-fire selection for streaming this weekend on Netflix.  Based on the novels by Nancy Springer, Enola Holmes puts a new face—and name—to the Sherlock Holmes legend.  Enola (“Which backward spells alone”) is the much younger sister of the disapproving elder Holmes brothers, and their unconventional mother (played by Harry Potter’s Bellatrix Lestrange, Helena Bonham Carter).  On the morning of her sixteenth birthday, Enola wakes to discover her mother has left without warning, leaving her only a hidden message in a book of flowers, and a hidden stash of cash.  Disappointed in her brothers’ lackadaisical approach to solving their mother’s disappearance, Enola determines to do it herself—finding herself tangled in another mystery along the way.  The runaway Marquess of Tewkesbury (Medici’s Louis Partridge) falls into Enola’s path, and she’s swiftly drawn into his case, which leads her from London, to his family estate, to a ghastly finishing school, and back again.

Brown turns in a strong performance as the headstrong Enola, the best moments of which come when she breaks the fourth wall to speak—or simply look—at the audience. She and Partridge have good chemistry, adding a hint of innocent young romance (but only a hint) to their partnership.  Brother Mycroft (Sam Claflin, My Cousin Rachel) steps into the role of film’s antagonist, while Sherlock (in a fun performance by Superman Henry Cavill) becomes an unexpected, if distant, ally.  Supporting cast includes Harry Potter film series alumni Frances de la Tour and Fiona Shaw, Doctor Who’s Claire Rushbrook, The Golden Compass’s Hattie Morahan, and one of England’s best villain performers, Burn Gorman.

Viewers looking for a faithful adaptation of the Springer books should prepare themselves for some changes.  Enola and Tewkesbury are older, and Enola’s search for her mother reveals a secret life behind her disappearance.  There’s more work for stuntmen and women, and less for the makeup artist, as the movie opts to showcase Enola’s physical prowess over her mastery of disguise and cryptography from the novels.  Looks for some young adult/adult violence in excess of the middle grade books, too (16-year-old Enola is drowned, beaten, choked, kicked).  It’s a bit difficult to pin down the time the movie takes place–a date of 1884 is given alongside the scene of Enola’s birth, which would put the date at 1900 for most of the action—but the plot centers around a suffrage reform bill before Parliament, the last of which was in 1884.  The clothing and technology likewise span the last quarter of the 19th century, including elaborate bustle-era dresses alongside early automobiles and film (both of which arrived in the mid 1890s).  So it’s a hodgepodge of Victoriana that sometimes works and sometimes confuses, but if you’re prepared not to take things too seriously, it all looks rather good (except for a gaffe with some obviously 21st century plastic shotgun shells).

Although it’d be fun to look forward to, unfortunately it doesn’t look like a series of movies lies ahead–marketing images for the film show Brown is not likely to be playing young teenagers much longer (which also doesn’t bode well for anyone wanting many more seasons of Stranger Things).

With attractive production design, lively performances, and a surprising mystery, Enola Holmes is a must-watch film for fans of Sherlock Holmes, detective stories, and Millie Bobby Brown.  Enola Holmes is streaming now on Netflix.  And be sure to check out Netflix Life’s recommendations for books to read if you enjoy the movie—including borg contributor Elizabeth C. Bunce’s new Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries, coming to bookstores October 6.

As ardent fans of Stranger Things, Victorian mysteries, and all things Millie Bobby Brown (Intruders, Godzilla: King of Monsters), we were indeed excited to see the preview for Netflix’s new Enola Holmes, based on Nancy Springer’s novels for elementary (ahem) schoolers.  Teenager Enola Holmes is the much younger sister of two famous older brothers, Mycroft (Sam Claflin, My Cousin Rachel) and Sherlock (Henry Cavill, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.).  When their unconventional mother (Helena Bonham Carter, Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter series) disappears, Enola sets off to track her down, much to the chagrin of her siblings.  Proving she’s ever bit as clever as her brothers, Enola (naturally) stumbles into a mystery.

The direct-to-Netflix film looks to be chock full of delightful Victoriana, and the source material is a fun twist on the Sherlock story.  We love seeing Milly Bobby Brown with her natural English accent.

And if you think this trailer looks like fun, allow me to point out even more diverting Victorian mysteries featuring an irrepressible young sleuth you’ll surely also enjoy.  My own new novels, Premeditated Myrtle and How to Get Away with Myrtle (currently an Amazon #1 New Release!) are being published October 6, in a rare two-book launch event extravaganza (to quote a publisher of our acquaintance).  Twelve-year-old Myrtle Hardcastle has an unconventional obsession with criminology and a passion for justice… and a Highly Opinionated Feline Sidekick.  Netflix Life lists the Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries as part of its “7 Books to Read if You Like Enola Holmes on Netflix.”

Here’s the trailer for Netflix’s Enola Holmes:

Begin by getting your first fix of Victorian sleuthing with Enola Holmes on Netflix September 23, and check out my new mystery series October 6, at Amazon and other fine booksellers.

Elizabeth C. Bunce / mystery novelist / borg contributor

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Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

We’re big fans of James Lovegrove here at borg.  This time, I managed to beat C.J. to one of the books!  Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows is the first volume in Lovegrove’s The Cthulhu Casebooks trilogy, an alternate history of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson’s adventures that sets the record straight about their real cases, those steeped in the paranormal and supernatural.  As the series title suggests, the trilogy draws on the canon not just of Arthur Conan Doyle, but of Lovegrove’s “distant American ancestor,” H.P. Lovecraft.  The result is a lively and somehow entirely natural mash-up.  (See our previous review of the final volume, Sherlock Holmes and the Sussex Sea-Devils, here).

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Coming this week is a new story from the steampunk crossover genre, those mash-ups featuring stories that blend the adventures of the real and the imaginary with Victorian charm.  It’s Adler–after Arthur C. Doyle’s Irene Adler, who he created for his story A Scandal in Bohemia, a popular character in his Sherlock Holmes stories and novels.  The new comic book series features Jane Eyre from Charlotte Brontë’s novel, Lady Estella Havisham from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, Ayesha from H. Rider Haggard’s original Amazon Queen in his 1887 novel She, her confidante Carmilla, a vampire from an 1872 Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu novella, The Dark Blue, and little orphan Annie, from the 1920s Harold Gray comic strip, plus real-life physicist/chemist Marie Curie and Queen Victoria, among others.

A follow-on to the 2014 Adler mini-series also written by Lavie Tidhar with artwork by Paul McCaffrey, the band of heroines are readying to again face their nemesis, also Holmes’ nemesis, Professor James Moriarty.  Artists McCaffrey and Jackson Guice will provide variant cover options, along with a silhouette cover series created by Andrew Leung.

 

Author Kim Newman (interviewed here at borg in 2013) has become the master of the crossover and mash-up genres, but the story device has been around for centuries.  Examples in recent comics history include Bill Willingham’s Legenderry, which merged Red Sonja, Six Thousand Dollar Man Steve Austin, Zorro, Vampirella, the Green Hornet and Kato, the Phantom, Ming the Merciless, and Doctor Moreau.  And then there’s Chris Roberson and Alex Ross’s Masks, including The Shadow, The Green Hornet and Kato, Zorro, the Green Lama, Miss Fury, Black Terror, and the Black Bat, and Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen have included Captain Nemo, Allan Quatermain, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Invisible Man, and Tom Sawyer, and others.  Years before Moore, Newman’s several award-winning novels pulled together more than anyone else, literally thousands of characters, many real, historical people, many others fictional and from other famous works.  (We reviewed Newman’s characters in comic book mash-up form, Anno Dracula 1895, here at borg).  As with Willingham’s Legenderry, look for plenty of steampunk elements in Adler.

Here is a preview of Adler, Issue #1, courtesy of Titan Comics:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In the Victorian holiday tradition of spending Christmas sharing tales of ghosts and other haunts, comes James Lovegrove′s latest novel, Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon Another excellent addition in Lovegrove’s long list of new tales of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s hero and his earnest confidante and co-conspirator in sleuthing, Dr. John Watson, here readers encounter the master detective in a tale of murder and high crimes in the yuletide season.  Like Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, expect an ample serving of curiosity and cleverness, and perhaps a side of the supernatural.

It’s 1890 and Holmes and Watson are called to Fellscar Keep in Yorkshire by one Eve Allerthorpe, the heir-apparent to a family fortune.  She believes she is haunted by a Krampus-like being, the legendary Christmas demonic spirit known as the “Black Thurrick.”  Holmes and Watson believe she’s being duped–the family fortune will belong to her when she turns 21 this Christmas Eve unless she is found to not be of sound mind.  So who is trying to prove that she is insane?  As the family and extended guests arrive for the holidays, Holmes and Watson ruffle feathers, encounter strange happenings, and investigate the wing of the house where the family matriarch died, as Watson finds himself the next target for the demon.

Lovegrove knows how to take Holmes and Watson for an unusual spin, having wrapped his Holmes trilogy The Cthulhu Casebooks this year with the final chapter, Sherlock Holmes and the Sussex Sea-Devils (reviewed here at borg and just out in paperback).  As with Lovegrove’s previous Sherlock Holmes novels and his Firefly novels Big Damn Hero and The Magnificent Nine, the story is rich and funny, and the action clips along to a surprise, satisfying ending.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In his fourth novel expanding on the world of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson, The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols, writer and movie director Nicholas Meyer adds another mash-up to his repertoire, weaving Doyle’s dynamic duo together with real-life contemporaries and events in England and Russia in 1905.  In keeping with Doyle’s subtext of having his heroes address and attempt to thwart social injustices, Meyer takes a real-life hoax document used for more than a century to discredit Jewish people and weaves it into the fictional narrative to address and mirror racism, governance, and propaganda in current government and politics.  Meyer overlays his own lessons of history on a murder plot brought to Holmes by renowned brother Mycroft, the solving of which takes Holmes and Watson outside their familiar England to far-off Russia.

Readers who haven’t read the original Doyle stories would benefit by tackling a few of those first, or any of the several modern sequels, sidebars, and tie-in books we’ve reviewed over the past decade here at borg.  The Peculiar Protocols is a narrative for diehard Holmes & Watson readers, stuffed full with early 20th century psychology, Easter Eggs, callbacks, and a host of real historical figures interspersed convincingly in the style of a Kim Newman novel.  To absorb all the layers introduced into the story, readers will want to follow Holmes’ lead and pay close attention to the details–something readers will enjoy more after becoming familiar with Doyle’s original style.  Meyer’s “meta” conceit as backdrop for the story is the finding of diary pages believed to have been written by the real Dr. Watson, and so the Special Collections library folks at the University of Iowa, Meyer’s alma mater and keeper of his own original papers, deposited the material into Meyer’s hands for deft handling, knowing he’s done this before.

Meyer never forgets his Star Trek chops (having written three Star Trek movies and directed two).  Meyer, who I interviewed here at borg back in 2016, then confirmed his intent in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country to have created Sherlock Holmes as a real character in the world of Star Trek by having Spock refer to Holmes as one of his ancestors.  That movie doesn’t hide its reliance on Spock as a future master sleuth inspired by Doyle’s detective.  Now if you want to see the source of where Spock got his own signature fighting move, you might check out Peculiar Protocols if only to find Spock’s ancestor using a familiar method to debilitate a foe.

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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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Review by C.J. Bunce

It was only a year ago, in Timothy Zahn‘s novel Star Wars: Thrawn, that Zahn returned to provide the backstory for the enigmatic military genius Grand Admiral Thrawn, who emerged from the sidelined Expanded Universe novels of the past to be part of the rebooted Star Wars canon as a driving force in last year’s season of Star Wars RebelsZahn has returned with another tale of Thrawn, this time partnering the strategist with two of the most important characters of the entire Star Wars saga (or three, from a certain point of view): Anakin Skywalker, Padme Amidala, and Darth Vader.  In his latest novel, the author of the most popular Star Wars novel series (the Heir to the Empire saga), brings us Star Wars: Thrawn–Alliances, one of the best character studies (in book form or on film) of Thrawn, Vader, Anakin, and Padme.

Although you’ll find the preface timeline indicates this story fits between Solo: A Star Wars Story and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (immediately following A New Dawn), a good half of Thrawn–Alliances 342 pages takes place just before the events of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.  This is important because it introduces significant events for its key characters that have never been mentioned outside this book.  Most important is an early partnership between Anakin Skywalker and Thrawn at a time when Skywalker was Republic representative and Jedi and newly married to Senator Amidala, and before Thrawn joined the Imperial Navy.  As with most Star Wars stories, a recurring theme is the echo or repetition of events (dialogue, scenes, etc.) among key characters in the Star Wars universe, across the movies, novels, and comics.  So readers now learn that before the events of Star Wars Rebels, Emperor Palpatine once decided to partner Thrawn with Darth Vader to investigate a disturbance in the Force occurring on the very planet Anakin and Padme first met Thrawn years before, an outlying planet called Batuu.  The twist is that Vader’s former existence as Anakin is a carefully guarded secret in the forward story, not even disclosed to Thrawn.  The helmeted and fully armored Vader is quite knowledgeable about his past with Thrawn, and so we get to watch a sort of dance between the characters over the course of the story.

Zahn gives some powerful dialogue to Darth Vader in this story, possibly some of his best lines in the saga, and you can hear James Earl Jones’s voice in each delivery.  Because the always angry and impatient Vader is shown as the only slightly progressed and naïve Jedi, neither incarnation is a match for the wits of the shrewd and dynamic Thrawn, Zahn’s original creation first introduced in the now mostly discarded novel Heir to the Empire In many ways Zahn takes this novel as his opportunity to create a better, stronger, more manipulative villain than Darth Vader, a feat that is great for Thrawn but it also could be seen to minimize what has always been the saga’s #1 villain.  Zahn also has an opportunity to finally give Padme a rich and heroic adventure–a sadly lacking component in George Lucas’s prequel trilogy.  Yet Zahn doesn’t take full advantage of that opportunity.  She is allowed to come to the aid of some tangent factions and gets a brief survival story, but her role is secondary to the two key parallel leads and unfortunately ishe s underutilized again.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

When next surfing your next adventure on Netflix, fans of seafaring stories will want to make sure they save some time for the 2005 television mini-series To the Ends of the Earth, one of the best accounts of the brutal, nasty, ignoble, and vile side of life in the early 19th century.  In what would be a relatively simple flight across continents today on a jet plane was a life-risking venture on the high seas in 1812, as a young British aristocrat named Edmund Talbot travels by a converted ex-warship to Australia, and learns more about social positions, decency, military discipline, and character than he contemplated when he booked his voyage into politics around the globe.  As with the recently reviewed series The Terror, To the Ends of the Earth is a grimy, authentic look at life below deck for the several tiers of passengers (a mirror of British society) in a classic man-of-war.   But where the production for The Terror looks gorgeously historic, it’s the stench that seems to permeate this tale in a way unmatched by The Terror, the A&E Horatio Hornblower series, Master and Commander: To the Far Side of the World, or Kenneth Brannagh’s Shackleton. 

Sometimes just plain gross, but never in a gratuitous way, To the Ends of the Earth is a smartly written story in the same serial delivery as the Hornblower series, this one three 90-minute chapters for a total of 4.5 hours.  Based on a trilogy of novels from the 1980s by Nobel Prize-winning Lord of the Flies author William Golding, for fans of modern film and modern takes on Sherlock Holmes, the series is a great, early pairing of the BBC’s Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch, and the big screen Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadow’s Moriarty, Jared Harris.  Although his fictional story is less popular an his voyage less memorable, Harris elevates his layered Captain Anderson to a naval leader comparable to Forester’s Pellew and Foster and O’Brian’s Aubrey (and a comparison of his captain then to his The Terror captain 15 years later is also worth the watch).  A younger Cumberbatch also shows his acting chops and foreshadows his later rise in filmdom, carrying each scene for nearly the entirety of the series’ 4.5 hours as the show’s tour guide, Talbot.

Flies.  Rotted food.  The stench of the wounded and the dying in close quarters.  The constant rocking of the ship, inability to walk, or sit, or drink, or sleep without getting sick, wet clothes, rashes, injuries, preparing for battle, losing men overboard–this film stinks (well, almost) like no other, and thankfully without the addition of Smell-o-vision.  Add to that being lost, the uncertainty of ever landing anywhere, distrust, embarrassment, mutinous types, savvy sailors and poor sailors, alcohol, drugs, sex, and no doctor or surgeon in sight for six months.  Oh, the good ol’ days, right?  We must take the books’ author and the studio’s word for it as to true authenticity, but the costumes and treatment of the human condition seems completely spot-on.  Thomas Hobbes’ life outside society as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” has hardly been more plainly laid out.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula is a series of novels and short stories that began in 1992, showcasing an elaborate and detailed parallel history of Earth set between 1888 and 1990 (so far), where Bram Stoker’s Dracula is seen as a true biographical account of the real Count, and the Count controls England by winning the hand of Queen Victoria.  Anno Dracula is a steampunk mix of fictional characters and real people spanning a century in a bit of a The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Legenderry construct.  Gunga Din, Fu Manchu, Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, Lestat de Lioncourt (from Interview with the Vampire), Prince Mamuwalde (from Blacula), Doctor Moreau, Allan Quatermain, and even Carl Kolchak from The Night Stalker all show up in Newman’s fantasy world, alongside real people of the past like Billy the Kid, Catherine the Great, Joseph Merrick, William Morris, Beatrix Potter, and Orson Welles.  Newman’s entirely new story is in the form of a comic book series, Anno Dracula–1895: Seven Days in Mayhem, published by Titan Comics and illustrated by Paul McCaffrey, and it is now available in a collected trade edition from Titan Comics.

As Dracula’s tenth jubilee approaches, an assassination plan is underway from radical forces in Great Britain.  Newman’s powerful lead Kate Reed–journalist, free thinker, and vampire–has joined a council of revolutionaries, but when Dracula’s secret police come crashing in she turns to a familiar old friend to try to save herself and the Count himself, but she must first get through Count Graf Von Orlok of Nosferatu fame.  As with past entries in the series, this is not a tale about Dracula, but more about every other living and fictional famous face of the day.  And my favorite piece of a Kim Newman story is his use of fantastic characters and historical figures sometimes only for a single page or, as with his new graphic series, in a single panel, but always for a reason, and often for a joke (Twilight books, you are not exempt).  So keep a lookout for a steampunk cyborg Thomas Edison and a ship captain with a striking similarity to Lon Chaney’s Phantom of the Opera.  Artist McCaffrey’s artistry is a great pairing with Newman’s classic prose.

Few authors have a such a command of their subjects as Newman has of vampire lore and film.  Check out my interview with Newman back in 2013 here at borg.com, as well as our reviews of his sequels to the novel Anno Dracula:  Dracula Cha Cha Cha here, and Johnny Alucard here.  Fans of Alan Moore’s several adaptations of classic characters will love Newman’s works, but be prepared:  Where Moore puts a few characters together to have an adventure such as in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Newman has deftly woven easily more than a thousand into his world.  Anno Dracula–1895: Seven Days in Mayhem is proof that the entire Anno Dracula series should be adapted to the graphic novel format.  An exciting, rousing tale, it’s too good to pass up.

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