Sherlock Holmes: A Betrayal in Blood

This weekend I read Mark Latham’s recent Sherlock Holmes novel from Titan Books, A Betrayal in Blood. Set shortly after “The Empty House,” Holmes is tasked by Mycroft to investigate the events described in “The Dracula Papers” (ie., what we know as Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula) and determine what, exactly, it was that happened when a Transylvanian nobleman arrived on England’s shores.

This isn’t the first entangling of Sherlock Holmes with the characters and events of Dracula — I know of at least six, and I’ve read four — but it’s certainly the most unconventional. A Betrayal in Blood is a sequel to Dracula, with Holmes launching an investigation into a group of characters hailed in the press as heroes and whether the late Count Dracula was truly a monster or merely a man. Holmes and Watson cross paths with all of the major surviving characters of Dracula, and their investigation takes them to many of the locations of the book, such as Whitby, Carfax Abbey, and the sanitarium run by Dr. Seward. Dracula‘s characters are positioned as accessories to a murderous conspiracy, even criminal masterminds as Holmes seeks to unravel a very human, very rational conspiracy. Alternate theories about the reason for Dracula’s interest in Lucy Westenra and the identity of the Bloofer Lady, among other events from Stoker’s book, are put on offer.

Latham’s writing doesn’t feel particularly Watsonesque — the writing is too modern at times, and Watson was never so wordy — though his plot, which is rather byzantine, keeps the pages turning. About that plot, A Betrayal in Blood is more of a howdunit or a whydunit than a whodunit; it’s obvious from the first chapter who Holmes believes to be the guilty party in the Dracula affair and, like a Columbo story, A Betrayal in Blood sees Holmes build his case methodically, finding the evidence and testing his theories against his findings. Holmes is characterized well — he’s a man on a mission, in the throes of his pursuit of justice — though Watson is a little bit of dullard.

I feel like I’d have gotten more out of the book if I’d read Dracula more recently than about twenty-five years ago, though nothing in the book struck me as “wrong.” It holds together well, resulting in a revisionist, yet plausible, reading of the events of Dracula. I wouldn’t call A Betrayal in Blood an essential read or a must-read, but it does offer an unconventional and entertaining take on placing Sherlock Holmes into the Dracula story. Though this won’t dethrone Loren D. Estleman’s Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula as my favorite Holmes/Dracula pairing, this is a worthy addition to my Holmesian library.

Random Thoughts on Sherlock

What follows is a rambling post about “The Final Problem” and Sherlock overall that I made on Facebook. I don’t guarantee that it will make any sense. It’s a bit random.

A coworker said to me this morning, “You either loved it or you hated it.” I didn’t hate it, but I’m not a fan of psychological horror, so I couldn’t really love it. I got what (I think) it was going for last night, but it wasn’t a journey I really wanted to go on.

The interview with Mark Gatiss in Radio Times was instructive, and it really confirmed the feeling I had coming out of “The Final Problem” — emotionally it felt like the ending of Batman Begins, and Sherlock is now out of his “Sherlock Holmes Begins” phase. I mentioned this feeling to my coworker, to which he replied: “‘He’s not the Sherlock Holmes we want, but he’s the Sherlock Holmes we need,'” which rewrites the line from the next Batman film, but it applied here. But it also feels like a giant retcon of the four seasons of Sherlock to suggest that he hasn’t been “himself” for six years and hundreds of cases (a few recorded, most not) and only now he’s the Sherlock Holmes he was always meant to be.

The fourth series, at least to me, seemed like Moffat and Gatiss said, “Anything you can do Elementary, we can do better.” Elementary has a Sherlock post-rehab, and when he chased the dragon at the end of season three, we didn’t see him high, only the aftermath. The fourth series of Sherlock has practically reveled in a Sherlock off his face, by contrast. Elementary had Sherlock’s greatest nemesis — a woman! — defeated by love and imprisoned in an impregnable fortress, and when she escapes she’s again defeated by love. Sherlock has Sherlock’s greatest nemesis — a woman! — imprisoned in an impregnable fortress and defeated by love. I enjoy Elementary, and those two things — a female arch-nemesis for Sherlock and a foregrounded drug addiction — are things that I associate with Elementary, so seeing them so prominently in Sherlock these last three episodes felt a bit odd. (The only thing that would have made them odder would have been if Eurus occupied her time in Sherrinford by painting.) I’m not sure Sherlock used these elements better than Elementary, just differently.

As absurd as Eurus’ years-in-the-making plan was, “The Lying Detective” laid the groundwork for it. Eurus was able to predict what Sherlock and John and even Moriarty would do years in the future with absolute accuracy so it would all come to a head now, as absolutely insane as that is. But Sherlock did the same thing with John in “The Lying Detective,” setting up a situation in which John would have to rescue him a month in the future under very exact circumstances. The Holmes siblings clearly would put the Second Foundation to shame to be that accurate. But their powers of observation and deduction also come across as outright omniscience — Super Saiyan God Mode Sherlock or what have you.

Speaking of the Holmes siblings, I was struck by how well they map to the Wiggins siblings from Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game series — Mycroft/Peter, Eurus/Valentine, Sherlock/Ender. Two families, each of three siblings, each of them super-geniuses, each of them (in descending age) boy-girl-boy. The oldest one is a master manipulator who goes into government, the middle one has a bond with her younger brother despite being separated by years and unable to communicate, the youngest one is gaslighted by those around him into not fully understanding the circumstances of the existence that molds him into being a driven individual with strong ethical imperatives. “Wait,” you say, “Mycroft isn’t a sadist like Peter, and Eurus lacks the empathy that Valentine has.” First, we don’t know that Mycroft isn’t a sadist (or wasn’t in his past), and Gatiss’ Mycroft has always struck me as something of an unpleasant, monstrous figure. And second, Valentine was as just interested in power as Peter (she was his partner in the Demosthenes project) and her empathy was directed at her younger brother, just as Eurus’ emotional energy, stunted though it was, was directed entirely at her younger brother, Sherlock. I freely admit I’m cherry-picking details from the Ender books and Sherlock (both in general and “The Final Problem” specifically), but the more I think about it the more I wonder if Moffat and Gatiss were influenced at all by Card’s work. Intuitively, this all feels right to me.

I assume “The Final Problem” was the overall series finale. If we don’t see this version of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson for five years, ten years, or even ever again, I’m fine with that. I loved the idea of Sherlock, sometimes I even loved the execution (particularly in series 1 and 2), but it wasn’t quite the series I thought it could have been. In some ways, I blame the format; three 90-minute episodes per series forced some creative choices that were to Sherlock‘s detriment by making every episode a movie-scale epic that served a larger metaplot. In other ways, especially series 3, Sherlock‘s storytelling felt like it was geared toward fan service moments in search of a coherent narrative; the attitude of Moffat and Gatiss toward cliffhangers, or even following up on the implications and repercussions of events in their stories, I found frustrating and tiresome. In short, it could have been a more focused and disciplined program.

You Have Been on Mars, I Perceive

A series of bright flashes on the planet Mars catch the attention of Sherlock Holmes, the world’s great consulting detective, and with Dr. Watson at his side, Holmes attempts to alert the authorities that an invasion by the Red Planet is imminent. His warnings go unheeded, and when cylinders fall on Horsell Common and Martian war machines emerge, the War of the Worlds has begun.

D.G. Leigh’s The Massacre of Mankind: Sherlock Holmes vs. The War of the Worlds imagines what Holmes and Watson were up to during the events of H.G. Wells’ novel, The War of the Worlds. Unfortunately, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s characters weren’t up to anything interesting.

First, the book is pointless. Instead of recounting the events of the War of the Worlds through the eyes of Wells’ unnamed narrator, Leigh tells them through Watson’s eyes. And Holmes and Watson are as powerless to do anything to save Earth from the Martians as Wells’ narrator. Holmes and Watson go to similar places as the Narrator, they have similar experiences, they witness similar things. Instead of a deranged curate, Holmes and Watson encounter a deranged farmer. Instead of the artilleryman and his theories about restarting civilization, there’s a government functionary who fills the role. Except for providing a “secret origin of Moriarty” — I suppose we can’t have a Sherlock Holmes pastiche without the Napoleon of Crime — adds nothing to your understanding of The War of the Worlds.

Second, the story is a waste of Sherlock Holmes. Nothing about this story requires Sherlock Holmes because the story The Massacre of Manking is telling isn’t a Sherlock Holmes story. There’s no mystery here, no deduction. What little characterization of Holmes we have in the book is inexplicable; the Holmes that Watson writes about in A Study in Scarlet — “Knowledge of astronomy, nil” — wouldn’t take an interest in flashes of light on Mars before even the noted astronomer Ogilvy and become worked up into a panic that Martians are invading the Earth.

Third, the writing is poor. Sherlock Holmes fans know that Watson has a distinctive prose style. Leigh’s Watson writes in staccato sentences that are closer to headlines, often missing either subjects or verbs, than to actual prose. Here’s a great example: “The town of Woking in the midst of being evacuated. The rail station besieged, thought still claim and civil, with people carrying all manner of unnecessary belongs. The army had set their cannon battery on the hill north of the town. If the Martians had come for a fight they’d find one away from the civilian population. The decorated officer in charge confident he’d pummel the enemy into submission with the initial volley.” Not only is the text riddled with typos (see “claim” or “unnecessary belongs” in the second sentence there), but it doesn’t read at all like Watson’s polished prose. It’s nothing but words vomited on the page, and it’s painful to read.

The Massacre of Mankind badly needs a rewrite and a copy-edit but, more importantly, it needs a story worthy of Sherlock Holmes. Otherwise, it’s nothing more than a pointless rewrite of Wells’ classic that wastes both Sherlock Holmes and The War of the Worlds. As it stands, The Massacre of Mankind is an unpleasant chore to read and a waste of the reader’s time.

Not recommended.

The Plan

This weekend I sat down and did something I never do — I wrote out New Year’s Resolutions.

I’ve never been the resolution-y type. I’d occasionally make a list, and it would be a vague list — write more, exercise more.

This time, I sat down and asked myself, “What am I trying to accomplish? What do I want to do? What will make my life measurably better?”

I came up with some ideas. I wrote them down. I came up with some more ideas. I wrote those down, too. I typed them up. I reordered them. I rewrote a few. Then I formatted the list for printing, picking some suitably appropriate fonts.

Here’s the list:

1.   Write 1,000 words per day.  Note: Things that do not count: work writing, blog posts, forum posts, e-mails.
2.   Make at least 3 blog posts per week.  Note: Link Round-Ups do not count, nor do Tweet compilations.
3.   Leave the cubicle every day for lunch.  Do not eat lunch at the desk.  Do not work through lunch.  Take a book to read.  Write in a notebook.
4.   Leave work at work.  If deadlines are missed, deadlines are missed.
5.   Eat breakfast daily.
6.   Pack a lunch each workday.
7.   Walk three days a week, no matter the weather, no matter the time, unless there is snow on the ground.
8.   Set the alarm clock for 6 o'clock every morning.  Saturday and Sunday are exceptions.
9.   Make the bed every morning.
10.  Shave thrice weekly.
11.  Submit one job application or resume each week.
12.  Develop a podcast to launch in the spring.
13.  Code new front page for website by April.
14.  Resume and complete The Misadventures Project.
15.  Work through the One Minute Gaelic podcast, and continue with Teach Yourself Gaelic.
16.  Reread The Lord of the Rings and the Lankhmar series, for possible blog series.
17.  Listen to The Lost Lennon Tapes episodes, also for possible blog series.

I’m going to print out three copies. One I will hang in the office at home. One I will hang in my kitchen. And one I will hang in my cubicle at work. The idea is that they’ll always be somewhere where I can see them, read them, think about them, and internalize them.

Some of these may seem like lifehacks. I don’t eat breakfast every day. I don’t usually make my bed; as someone who lives alone, I don’t usually see the point. I don’t shave because I don’t deal with the public anymore; why be presentable? I want to implement and reinforce better behavior on my part.

Toward the end, I name some specific things that I want to complete or embark upon. Some are projects that I began and then lost interest in. Some are things that I’ve wanted to do but have never started. I wrote them down to keep myself accountable.

Yes, I really do want to learn Scots Gaelic. I got far enough into the One Minute Gaelic podcast that I can understand a little of the Gaelic used in Starz’s Outlander.

Tomorrow after work, I’ll stop at Target or Office Max and pick up a daily planner where I can track my progress on these. And, if more ideas occur to me as the year wears on, I can write them down.

That’s the plan.

If you have any questions on any of these, please ask.

Moriarty’s Identity and the Sherlock Christmas Special

Last night, PBS’s Masterpiece Theater aired the Sherlock Christmas special, “The Abominable Bride.”

That was well-made nonsense.

sherlock-xmas2If you ever thought the biggest problem with the Canon was that it wasn’t phildickian enough, Moffat and Gatiss wanted to reassure you that, yes, Sherlock Holmes can indeed mess with your mind.

“The Abominable Bride” wasn’t what I was expecting. I thought the episode would be like the Robert Downey, Jr. Sherlock Holmes films, albeit on a BBC budget. What made “The Abominable Bride” different from the previous three series of the series was that this episode was set in Victorian, rather than modern times. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman would be wearing Victorian garb, riding in Hansom cabs, walking the cobbled streets, and all of that.

It was, instead, something else entirely.

It was, essentially, an extended dream sequence. Following the reveal that Moriarty was back at the end of Series 3 — and after Sherlock was exiled from Britain for straight-up murdering a blackmailer by shooting him in the face — Sherlock entered his “mind palace” to solve an 1895 murder and, by doing so, solve the mystery of how Moriarty was still alive.

There. I’ve just ruined the episode’s plot twist for you, which comes about an hour into the episode.

One remarkable thing about the episode was how much it referenced other Holmesian media. Some shots, like Holmes and Watson in the railway carriage, were clearly derived from Sidney Paget’s artwork in the pages of The Strand. Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell novels got a shout-out, Holmes makes a reference to The Seven Per-Cent Solution, and the climax of the episode pilfered from Young Sherlock Holmes. I was surprised at some things that felt derived from Elementary, such as Sherlock’s drug addiction in the present day, and there was a musical motif that hinted at the Jeremy Brett theme, as well.

Enjoyable nonsense, indeed.

sherlock-xmas3

But this nonsese gave me something to think about.

I am entertaining the idea that Andrew Scott’s Moriarty isn’t (or wasn’t) a criminal mastermind. Rather, the “Moriarty” that Sherlock has been battling across the first three series exists in his mind, a creation of his drug-induced mania and the character that Andrew Scott has played was, at worst, a minor criminal that Sherlock transmogrified far out of proportion to his actuality, and it’s Sherlock himself that’s responsible for Moriarty’s crimes.

There were two things that lead me to this theory. The first was that reference to The Seven Per-Cent Solution (Holmes mentions “the Vienna alienist” — in other words, Sigmund Freud), in which Holmes, out of his mind on cocaine, imagines his school maths teacher is a criminal mastermind. The second was the conversation in the Strangers Room at the Diogenes Club between Sherlock and Mr. Creosote… I mean, Mycroft… about Moriarty as “the virus in the data.”

Moriarty-as-Holmes would explain a number of problems with Andrew Scott’s Moriarty, such as his Heath Ledger Joker-like anarchy, which would be a function of Sherlock’s drug use, rather than his Canonical “Napoleon of Crime” self. It would also explain the bizarre public suicide at the end of Series 2 — he’s a man Sherlock has hounded and harassed who has been backed into a corner and this is his only way out and his only way to destroy his tormentor.

This would also explain how Sherlock, at the end, knows what Moriarty’s next move will be. Sherlock knows, because it’s his idea, it’s something he planned.

Some might say this hypothesis — Moriarty is an out-of-his-mind Sherlock — is too Fight Club and not at all Sherlock Holmes. But Michael Dibdin used this idea — a drug addled Holmes is Moriarty — in his novel, The Last Sherlock Holmes Story, and it’s an idea that has cropped up over the decades in the Writings about the Writings.

My one objection to this hypothesis is that it’s too neat. Steven Moffat’s plot twists are never this well planned.

In absence of other evidence, however, this will remain my working theory — Moriarty is Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock Holmes Vs. Frankenstein: The Novelization

Autumn, 1898. Sherlock Holmes receives a letter from the Burgomeister of Darmstadt, Germany. The town’s gravedigger was brutally murdered and one of his legs was surgically amputated. A little girl was the only witness, and she reported seeing a giant, hulking monster carry away the gravedigger. The Burgomeister’s concern is as much for the reputation of one of his town’s oldest families as it is for his townsfolk’s safety. Soon, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are on their way to the continent to unravel the mysteries surrounding the murder and the town’s famous family — the Frankensteins.

coverDavid Whitehead’s Sherlock Holmes Vs. Frankenstein is the novelization of the screenplay that was written for the yet-unmade film (which, at one time, was to reunite Young Sherlock Holmes‘ Nicholas Rowe and Alex Cox as Holmes and Watson).

The story is a quick read, running about 40,000 words. Whitehead doesn’t attempt the Watsonian voice, preferring to tell the story in third person (as there are several scenes that take place outside of Watson’s presence). Holmes’ investigation plunges Watson and himself into deeper danger as they threaten some of the town’s secrets, and Whitehead’s writing conveys an almost Hammer-esque atmosphere. Graveyards are investigated, the theft of medical supplies appears suspicious, townsfolk carry secrets, assassins lurk in the woods, the secret histories of Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein and the real Frankenstein family are revealed, and as the novel nears its climax you’ll wonder if the solution to the problems of Darmstadt is mundane or if there is something far more sinister and unnatural at work.

The only thing I felt the novel missed was a final chapter in which Holmes, sitting down in a comfortable chair and smoking his pipe, explains to Watson (and the reader) how he pieced everything together.

For a $1.99 on the Kindle, I was perfectly happy with Sherlock Holmes Vs. Frankenstein. It was properly atmospheric, Whitehead’s take on Holmes felt genuine, and the story had momentum. I enjoyed it.

Thoughts on Ian McKellen’s Mr. Holmes

Last night after work I went to see Mr. Holmes, starring Sir Ian McKellen as Sherlock Holmes.

I mentioned before this was the movie I most wanted to see this summer. Back in March I read the book on which the film is based — Mitch Cullin’s A Slight Trick of the Mind — and I liked the book a lot, finding it a moving and haunting piece of work. It’s not really a mystery in the traditional Holmesian sense. Part of the narrative resembles the classic Holmes set-up — the client upon the stair, some investigation, some deduction, and a resolution — but the novel is much more than that. It’s a meditation on memory and the stories we tell (and believe) to make sense out of our lives, the unknowables in life, about the places where the powers of the rational mind cannot take you. It’s an internal book with an unreliable POV character, and I wasn’t sure how well it would translate to screen.

mr-holmes-posterMr. Holmes is the story of Sherlock Holmes, aged 93, and it unfolds in three time periods — Sussex, the summer of 1947; Japan (in particular, Hiroshima), a few months earlier; and London, 1919. (In the book, the London plotline takes place in 1903, just before Holmes’ retirement. The movie makes some changes to the chronology of Holmes’ career, probably so that McKellen could convincingly play the younger Holmes.) In the “present” of the film, the summer of 1947, Holmes returns to his cottage on the Sussex Downs where he is studying bees and the recuperative powers of the Royal Jelly. He is also struggling to recall the details of a case he handled at the end of his career as a detective, a case that involved a husband, his bereaved wife, and a glass armonica. Something about that case caused him to retire, but his memory is failing and he cannot recall the details. With the help of the Prickly Ash (gathered in his Japanese trip) and his housekeeper’s young son, Holmes tries to piece together the fate of Mrs. Anne Kelmot.

The story translates translates well. Mr. Holmes is a good adaptation of the novel’s storyline and all three of its narrative threads, with changes that are largely appropriate for translating the book to the screen. Mrs. Munro, the housekeeper played by Laura Linney, has a more prominent role and more character moments. And Roger, Mrs. Munro’s ten-year-old son (played by Milo Parker, who looks like a very young Thomas Sangster) has a deeper relationship with the movie Holmes than he does with the book’s Holmes — surrogate son, friend, assistant, confidant, pupil.

The performances from the major characters are all strong. McKellen does well with Holmes at two different ages and makes them different; the sixty-year-old Holmes is cold and detached, the elderly Holmes is warmer and more human. I was especially impressed with the quick mental turns McKellen conveyed as the 93-year-old Holmes; he goes from sharp to catatonic and back, as dementia patients often do, and he managed the physical change that comes from that mental whiplash as well. (My grandmother suffered from dementia that last decade of her life. I saw a lot in McKellen’s performance that I recognized from personal experience.) I was very impressed with Parker; he held his own on screen against McKellen and Linney, with a scene where Roger demands that Holmes perform a deductive trick on his mother as exceptional and noteworthy.

For me, the film’s most emotionally affecting moment was the visit of Holmes and Umuzaki, his Japanese corespondent, to the burned ruins of Hiroshima, especially when Holmes sees the Genbaku Dome, the famous burned building at ground zero that survived the blast. Curiously, I wasn’t moved when the book’s most affecting moment happened, perhaps because I knew it was coming.

McKellen’s Holmes is closer to Jeremy Brett or Jonny Lee Miller than Benedict Cumberbatch or Robert Downey, Jr. He has feelings, even if he can’t always express them or understand them.

I liked this film a lot. It’s well acted, well directed, and has solid production values. It’s not hyperkinetic like Robert Downey Jr.’s films or Sherlock. It’s thoughtful. I’ll gladly add this to my collection when it comes out on DVD.

Elementary: Kitty Winter, Sherlock Holmes, and “The One That Got Away”

I keep thinking about last night’s Elementary, “The One That Got Away.”

In the third season of Elementary, Sherlock Holmes took on a new partner, Kitty Winter, while Watson struck out on her own as a private investigator. So as not to break the format too much, Holmes and Watson both consulted with the NYPD, often on the same cases, so the show still functioned basically as it had before, but now there was a new element in the mix, a young English woman (Kitty) with a tragic and violent backstory (she was kidnapped and, over the span of a month, brutally and repeatedly tortured and raped until she was able to escape).

Two weeks ago, a woman’s body was found in New York, tortured and branded the same as Kitty had been during her captivity some five years prior. Last week, Holmes, Watson, Winter, and the NYPD hunted down the perpetrator, and Winter went to extreme lengths to find the man who had hurt her. At the end, their main suspect died in a boat fire. But — shock twist — the perpetrator was not, in fact, the man they had been pursuing. It was, in fact, Del Gruner, the head of a major insurance firm and Joan Watson’s new boss.

Last night, then, was the pursuit of Gruner. Fans of the Canon will recognize these names; Kitty Winter and Aldelbert Gruner come from “The Adventure of the Illustrious Client,” and even though I knew how that story ends, I didn’t know if Elementary would go that route. When there was no “murderous attack on Sherlock Holmes” (one of the great lines from the Canon, to be honest), I felt confident that Elementary was going its own path.

If you know “The Illustrious Client” (and I’m not spoiling the ending of that here), it ends in a very dark place. “The One That Got Away” actually manages to go to a vastly darker place. The scene where Kitty is preparing the nutmeg concoction was chilling; she was -far- beyond premeditation. She had gone to cold and calculating fury. It was scary. It was also understandable. Ophelia Lovibond’s performance as Kitty was utterly sympathetic, and Buzzfeed has a really good article about what the producers and Lovibond were going for and achieved last night.

My thoughts keep returning to the three present-day scenes between Jonny Lee Miller (as Holmes) and Lovibond (as Winter). (The episode is told partly in flashback, showing us their first meeting after the second season finale and their early interactions.) Winter brought out a facet to Holmes that no other Holmes story (except, maybe, for the first of the Mary Russell novels) has had — Holmes as the paternal figure. Holmes and Winter weren’t related, but they read like a family. He was the father who had been through hell and still struggled with his demons. She was the daughter who needed to prove herself yet still wanted his validation and approval. Something as simple as Holmes scrambling eggs for Winter’s breakfast carried great emotional freight. Later, paraphrasing from memory — “You will always be special to me. Whatever you do, you will always be my friend.” — spoke powerfully to the bond between the two characters; whatever choice she made, it had to be hers, and Holmes would love her irregardless. And Winter’s final line in the episode, though it didn’t need to be said, because her actions with Gruner said it well enough, was earned and cathartic.

I also keep thinking of this episode in terms of Sherlock and whether it would have worked with those versions of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. If it were Molly in Kitty’s position, would those three Holmes/Winter scenes have occurred with Sherlock/Molly? I can’t imagine them. I can’t imagine the Sherlock of Sherlock as being as open emotionally to another human being as the Sherlock of Elementary was to Kitty. Neither version of Holmes is particularly healthy emotionally, but the Sherlock of Elementary has more self-awareness of his failings. Sherlock‘s Sherlock would’ve been petulant that Molly reached Gruner before he did, and based on “His Last Vow” he would have taken the agency from Molly that Elementary‘s Sherlock allowed Kitty by taking matters into his own hands. The two shows and their approaches to Sherlock Holmes are fundamentally different and valid in their own ways, but I think Elementary remembers that there’s a human being inside of Sherlock Holmes that Sherlock sometimes forgets.

Suffice it to say, last night’s Elementary was impressive. It had to be; I keep thinking about it. I’m not sure where Elementary goes from here.

The AV Club Weighs In on the “Elementary vs. Sherlock” Question

The Onion‘s AV Club has posted an insightful and nuanced take on Elementary and Sherlock in comparison to each other. Though I try not to compare the two series (because they really are different things with different aims), I find myself in agreement with a lot of it, frankly; I keep wondering how Sherlock‘s cast would fare with Elementary‘s material. And after someone suggested it on Twitter, I’d like to see Sherlock‘s Molly move to New York to work with Elementary‘s Holmes and Watson.

There’s one thing that this article misses, however.

Elementary, because of the rigid teaser and five acts structure, more closely mimics the format of the Doyle’s original stories — short, somewhat formulaic, stories. Yes, there are the four novels, but of the four the only one that holds a candle to the short stories, in my opinion, is The Hound of the Baskervilles (which, to this day, remains my favorite novel). Sherlock, by contrast, is a more formless beast. Moffat was quoted once as saying that Sherlock is what Doyle would write if he were writing today, but I think Elementary can lay a serious claim to being that.

To be fair to Sherlock, the format of Elementary — to say nothing of the mass of material that a weekly television series can produce — is an advantage that the BBC series will never be able to match. The article points out that it’s easier for Elementary to spread the character attention around because they have more space to do it. The format Moffat and Gatiss are working limit them to some extent in what they can do with the supporting cast, story arcs, and the wider world of their franchise.

It’s an interesting analysis of the two series. Like I said, I really do try not to compare the two series. I’m just glad that there are two series about Sherlock Holmes on television, and hopefully both are sending new readers in search of the Canon.

And it amuses me to no end that the two Sherlocks like to watch — and enjoy — and discuss — the other’s show.

Introducing… The Misadventures Project

Four years ago today, I made an interesting discovery — the text of Ellery Queen’s lost lost 1944 Sherlock Holmes anthology, The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes, was online.

It had been posted sometime before that — the webpage says 2007 — but the day I downloaded the PDF, a scanned edition of the third printing, was January 18, 2010. I also downloaded the TXT file, which proved to be an OCRed version of the PDF.

The Misadventures is legendary for what it is and why it vanished. What is is — a collection of Sherlock Holmes parodies and pastiches to 1944 by writers both famous and not. Why it vanished — supressed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate for reasons of copyright infringement on Sherlock Holmes.

Over the years I’ve thought of finding a copy of the book, and a poster reproduction of Frederic Dorr Steele’s dust jacket illustration hangs on my dining room wall. I’ve also held a copy of the book in my hands; my sister attended Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia, and their library had a copy of the book.

When I found the PDF, I printed off a copy of the book — four hundred pages, bound in bundles of 100 pages each in binder clips. I didn’t read the whole thing, I’m sad to say, but I read a great deal of it. (I know I skipped the Mark Twain story, “A Double Barrelled Detective Story,” and probably several others.)

In general, I enjoyed the book, though, to be perfectly honest, subsequent collections, such as Marvin Kaye’s The Game Is Afoot, have rendered The Misadventures little more than an historical curiosity.

And I forgot about The Misadventures.

At New Years, I sideloaded Readmill onto my Kindle Fire. I like the Kindle Fire as a piece of hardware, but in software terms, it’s adequate. I don’t like its typography, and its inability to read ePub files is an issue. In December I’d seen several articles online that recommended a new piece of eReader software, Readmill, and I decided to give it a try. I liked it a lot. The software interface was nice, the typography was very good, and I actually enjoyed reading eBooks, probably for the first time in a decade-plus of reading eBooks.

Long ago, back in 2000 when Microsoft released their eReader software, Microsoft Reader, I downloaded the tools necessary to create eBooks for the platform. There was a plug-in for Microsoft Word that would export a LIT file (the Reader format), and it produced decent or adqueate results. There was a standalone package, though, that would produce beautiful results if you started from a really clean, well-formated HTML file. Over the years, I’d take a file from Project Gutenberg and make LIT eBooks from that. I actually learned a great deal about HTML and CSS from that, and eventually I produced, for personal use, some very nice eBooks.

When I got my Nook a few years ago, I downloaded Calibre, an eBook creation program, and I found that the files I’d created for use with ReaderWorks, the Microsoft Reader creator, worked very well with Calibre for making ePub files for the Nook. Then, when I got the Kindle, Calibre did a nice job making MOBI files for that. But I never made eBooks with any great enthusiasm.

Installing Readmill on my Kindle Fire got me excited about eBooks, in a way I hadn’t been in a decade when I first started playing with Microsoft Reader. I made a few eBooks as an experiment to see how they would look in Readmill, such as an ePub made from Andrew Sullivan’s “Untier of Knots,” his profile of Pope Francis.

But I wanted a bigger project.

And thus I came back to The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes.

“Wouldn’t this be great on my Kindle?” I thought.

Thus, The Misadventures Project was born. I decided to take the files I had downloaded four years ago and make an eBook that I could read on my Kindle, either natively or through Readmill.

But the OCRed text file was rough. It needed a copyedit and proofing. It needed formatting. Basically, it needed a lot of work before I could sit down with my Kindle and read Ellery Queen’s anthology. Ninety percent of it’s already done thanks to the OCR, but it’s the last ten percent that will take time and effort. I’m taking each story from the text file, proofing it and formatting it.

Some stories require more work than others. The OCR software had a terrible time with italics, and words at the margins vanish or get horribly mangled. Dust on the pages the software treated as punctuation. Em-dashes, which are used so liberally by Ellery Queen that even F. Scott Fitzgerald would blanch, the OCR software did nothing with at all. One story involves an acrostic, two stories are playscripts. Deciding how to format these in HTML (which is how I’m working) so that Calibre can format them properly for an eBook is a challenge. Plus, I want to make an eBook that replicates, as well as possible, the formatting of the print book. I want to make something that looks and feels professional, like care went into it. When I’m done, I’ll stitch the files together, give them another proofing pass, build the eBook, and admire it.

Why? The Misadventures, as a whole, isn’t in the public domain yet, so I can’t sell it, and it’s an awful lot of work proofing four hundred pages.

Honestly, it’s for fun. It’s a project, one that hopefully will teach me some new tricks and will, in the end, provide me with an eBook I can read, maybe next month, maybe next year.

The Misadventures Project is a working blog, to track my progress and keep me honest. I started last week, and at this point I’ve proofed and formatted the introduction and the first eight stories. I’ve been averaging roughly a story a day, but something like “A Double-Barrelled Detective Story” will probably take two or three days due to its length when I get to it. I hope to be finished within a month. Yesterday I passed the quarter mark in the book.

As I go, I’ll post the stories that are in the public domain (those published before 1923), all told about fifteen stories. That would include stories such as:

  • “The Adventure of the Two Collaborators,” by JM Barrie (1893)
  • “Shylock Homes: His Posthumous Memoirs,” by John Kendrick Bangs (1903)
  • “Holmlock Shears Arrives Too Late,” by Maurice Leblanc (1907)
  • “The Adventures of Shamrock Jolnes,” by O. Henry (1911)
  • “The Adventure of the Unique Hamlet,” by Vincent Starrett (1920)

I will also post excerpts that I find interesting and reviews of some of the stories.

That’s the plan for The Misadventures Project. As Sherlock Holmes might say, “The game’s afoot!”