Book: Moriarty

"Moriarty"

Days after Holmes and Moriarty disappear into the Reichenbach Falls’ churning depths, Frederick Chase, a senior investigator at New York’s infamous Pinkerton Detective Agency, arrives in Switzerland. Chase brings with him a dire warning: Moriarty’s death has left a convenient vacancy in London’s criminal underworld. There is no shortage of candidates to take his place–including one particularly fiendish criminal mastermind.

Chase is assisted by Inspector Athelney Jones, a Scotland Yard detective and devoted student of Holmes’s methods of deduction, whom Conan Doyle introduced in The Sign of Four. The two men join forces and fight their way through the sinuous streets of Victorian London in pursuit of this sinister figure, a man much feared but seldom seen, who is determined to stake his claim as Moriarty’s successor.

Three years ago, I wrote that The House of Silk was Anthony Horowitz’s best work–even if it didn’t feel like a proper Sherlock Holmes novel. Which was fine, because at the end of the day, it was a fun read.

I wish I could say the same for Moriarty.

It took me two weeks to finish the book, putting the book down after every chapter because I just couldn’t muster enough interest to continue reading.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that none of the characters are familiar nor likable. I mean, Frederick Chase comes off very dumb for a supposed senior investigator, and Athelney Jones is trying too hard. And they don’t feel like fleshed-out characters, especially since they keep name-checking Sherlock Holmes and John Watson every chance they get.

But even if you replace Athelney and Frederick with Sherlock and Watson, I don’t think it would make any difference. The whole story itself doesn’t feel right; as if it overstayed its welcome.

And then there’s how the novel was wrapped up. I don’t think I’ve ever been this worked up about how a book ended. And not in a good way.

I mean, I’ve already suspected that there were external forces at play in the sidelines of the story. But the way it was revealed felt like a forced a-ha moment. It took away whatever good will I had left for the novel.

Moriarty is a very disappointing read.

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Television: Sherlock and His Last Vow

"His Last Vow"

A case of stolen letters leads Sherlock Holmes into a long conflict with Charles Augustus Magnussen, the Napoleon of blackmail, and the one man he truly hates. But how do you tackle a foe who knows the personal weakness of every person of importance in the Western world?

And so ends another series of BBC’s Sherlock. And at the end of it all, a character posits the question, “did you miss me?” A tease, if there ever was one. A tease to the fans who have to endure another long hiatus to get the next fix, the next series.

So, to respond to the question: Yes, you bastard. Yes, we missed you. And now, we’re going to miss you again.

His Last Vow caps off another great series of Sherlock. Although, if we’re going to be perfectly honest with each other, this has to be my least favorite batch of three. Which is a compliment to the series to be perfectly honest. Their least good batch of episodes are still four and a half hours (or is it six hours?) of quality television.

But why do I say that this is the least good batch?

If you remember, I was very much a fan of the premiere. I loved how Sherlock was made more accessible to the viewers. And I think I’m starting to understand why: it’s because he’s more likable now. Not that he wasn’t before. But he’s actually making an effort to be liked now.

In The Empty Hearse, it was a breath of fresh air. In The Sign of Three, it felt weird. Now, in His Last Vow, the discord in Sherlock’s character is made more pronounced because he’s back to being who he was in the first two of series of the program. He’s back to not caring.

And it feels wrong.

I mean, it’s not wrong. This is actually the Sherlock we’ve waiting for since he took that jump in Reichenbach Fall. But after being teased with the more human Sherlock… Well, it’s classic Steven Moffat, isn’t it? He gives you what you think you want, and then he takes it away.

Thing is, I think it’s good that he actually takes away the human Sherlock this time ’round. One of the reasons why I like BBC’s Sherlock is because of his inability to process the basic need of human beings to be loved, to be understood. He has his own bubble world where what other people think don’t matter.

And then it started to.

I liked Series 3. Let me be clear about that. I liked it. It’s more visual, it’s more ambitious, it has more heart. But I don’t think it lives up to what the first two series were. Genius. They were genius. Series 3, having seen all the episodes now, was just below genius.

Again, not a bad thing. It’s just that we’ve gotten used to getting the best. Settling for second best isn’t as good.

And we are settling, aren’t we? After two years of no Sherlock, we lapped up the three episodes like the world was ending this month. We didn’t care that most of what we watched seemed to have come from the need to service the fans more than the story.

I get that the fans are important. Without the fervent clamor for new Sherlock episodes, there wouldn’t be more Sherlock episodes. But didn’t we come for the stories? Didn’t we come for the smarts? The last minute unraveling of a mystery?

I like that they tried to bring Sherlock a notch down. But a stumped Sherlock is not a fun Sherlock. I want his glee. I want his superiority. Because we watch Sherlock not because we want realism. We watch Sherlock because we want to see this fictional character be brilliant.

So Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, and Steve Thompson? Make Sherlock brilliant again. Make him shine.

Please.

Television: Sherlock and the Sign of Three

"The Sign of Three"

Sherlock faces his biggest challenge of all – delivering a Best Man’s speech on John’s wedding day! But all isn’t quite as it seems. Mortal danger stalks the reception – and someone might not make it to the happy couple’s first dance. Sherlock must thank the bridesmaids, solve the case and stop a killer!

As is always the case with Sherlock, the second episode doesn’t match the intensity of the premiere. But that’s not to say that The Sign of Three was bad. It wasn’t. It was brilliant, funny, and poignant. It just wasn’t as good as the first off the series. Not for me. And I can attribute this to two things:

Number one is the storytelling. Whilst I completely enjoyed Sherlock’s discomfort at having to give a best man speech, the digression towards The Bloody Guardsman and the MayFly cases were what really hooked me in this episode. So much so that whenever we would go back to the wedding, I would feel a tinge of disappointment. The entire episode was brilliant, some parts were just more brilliant than the others. Which isn’t, I’m guessing, how you want viewers to remember the episode. The sum should be equal the parts.

But, spoiler alert, what really made this episode less enjoyable for me, was how neatly the puzzle pieces fit together in the end. How convenient was it for Sherlock to remember the two cases that would lead to the mystery in the wedding? I mean, really. Out of all the cases he can use to highlight John, he uses the two unsolved ones that would pinpoint a murderer in their midst? And the murderer was there. He was listening to the anecdotes. He should’ve realized that he had to start making an escape plan, and not just a hasty exit after the reception. I understand the need to keep cover, but his escape could’ve been smarter. After all, in the two unsolved cases Sherlock presented, he was ingenious with his means. Why suddenly be an ordinary-thinking criminal with something to hide?

And then there’s number two: Sherlock Holmes. Two people living together as long as Sherlock and Watson have are bound to become more acclimatized to one another. They show each other sides that they normally hide from the public. But there was something off about how Sherlock was written in this episode. I mean, for the most part it’s the Sherlock we know and love, but there would be lines of dialogue that were funny but doesn’t feel right coming from him.

Sherlock is socially awkward, we get it. But he is a high-functioning sociopath, as he likes to remind us. Getting a crowd to listen to him be smart should’ve have silenced him in the beginning. Wouldn’t getting a captive audience invigorated him? And then his admittance at not solving a case? Two cases? Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes might do that. Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes might do that. But the BBC version hasn’t shown us that he is capable of being humble, even for just the span of a second, that it feels off when he does do it.

But these are just nit-pickings. The Sign of Three is a solid episode. It… It’s just not for me.

Television: Sherlock and the Empty Hearse

"The Empty Hearse"

Two years after the devastating effects of The Reichenbach Fall, Dr John Watson has got on with his life. New horizons, romance and a comforting domestic future beckon. But, with London under threat of a huge terrorist attack, Sherlock Holmes is about to rise from the grave with all the theatricality that comes so naturally to him. It’s what his best friend wanted more than anything, but for John Watson it might well be a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’! If Sherlock thinks everything will be just as he left it though, he’s in for a very big surprise…

It looks like Steven Moffat saved all his smarts for Sherlock and left none for Doctor Who. But this isn’t about Doctor Who. This is about Sherlock Holmes, and BBC’s brilliant adaptation that takes the detective to the present time. And currently, the only show under Steven Moffat that has any semblance of brilliance.

Last time on Sherlock, we saw our titular detective fall to his death–only to attend his own funeral. In the first episode off the new series, we quickly find out how Sherlock survived the fall. Or do we? The way Sherlock tells the story is open to interpretation. He really might be telling the truth, but he could also be trying to pull a fast one. It wouldn’t be out of character for him. I don’t plan on dwelling on the mystery. I’m just happy to have three new episodes of Sherlock.

The first order of business is to bring Sherlock back to everyone’s lives. It takes a third of the episode to integrate him back into people’s lives, but I’m not complaining. Benedict Cumberbatch, the bastard, is perfect in every aspect. The ways he breaks the news to the people he cares about are Standard Sherlock, but he gives them each a personal touch depending on the relationship his character shares with whoever he’s talking to in the scene.

Amanda Abbington is a glorious addition to the cast. I was afraid that I wouldn’t like whoever they cast as Mary Morstan, since I’m already content with the existing cast from the first two series. I feared that introducing Watson’s wife might change the chemistry of the show. But I was wrong. Abbington’s first series of scenes doesn’t actually make much of an impact. I won’t share why. But once we do get to meet Mary and see how her relationship with Watson works, she immediately wins us over.

Well, she won me over at least.

Louise Brealey, our dear Molly Hooper, also steps up as she gets more screen time. Brealey gives life to Molly with such enthusiasm and seriousness, that I would actually like to see her help out more in Sherlock’s cases. She gives a new dynamic to the Holmes-Watson tandem, and I think the team behind BBC’s Sherlock would do well to explore it. If not in this new batch of episodes, then maybe the ones for Series 4.

But the best part of The Empty Hearse is this: it’s fun to watch. Series 2 of Sherlock reached too much into intellect. The writers sought to one up us every step of the way. The Empty Hearse brings something back that hasn’t been seen since the first series: fun. It’s not tiring to watch The Empty Hearse. Our minds do not get taxed. We get sharp wit and smart entertainment, without the show becoming overbearing… or too smug about its brilliance.

Book: A Study in Scarlet

"A Study in Scarlet"

A Study in Scarlet is a potent mix of murder, suspense, cryptic clues, red herrings and revenge. It introduces us to the world-famous characters of Sherlock Holmes, Dr Watson and Inspector Lestrade as they join forces for the first time to track a mysterious killer that stalks London’s streets.

I finally got around to reading this.

I’ve always been intrigued with how Sherlock Holmes and John Watson met. For real. We’ve seen many iterations now of how this happened though, that it feels weird reading the original source for the first time.

I must say, it was a little underwhelming. John Watson is impressed by Sherlock way too quickly, and he is far too trusting for a soldier come home from war. With regards to the first meeting, I must say that I preferred Steven Moffat’s take on it.

That said, I did like the novel. The case was interesting even when I already knew where it was going, and who the murderer was. The digression into the murderer’s past was jarring at first; but it was just as engaging as the case, when the initial shock of switching point of view and timeline wore off.

And there are not buts.

Well, there’s one, but I got that out of the way already–with my less-than-thrilled reception at Sherlock’s and Watson’s actual first meeting.

A Study in Scarlet is a definite must read for any Sherlock fans–and a great first novel for those who want to start reading the detective stories. That said though, don’t expect for all of them to be like this.

I think this is the only Sherlock Holmes novel I’ve read so far though, that has a flashback just to explore the murderer’s motive. It’s very much an add-on and not important to the story. But, as I said, it’s just as engaging as the actual case, so I’m not complaining.

All I can say is, on to the next mystery!

Book: The Sign of Four

"The Sign of Four"

Sherlock Holmes is roused from drug-induced depression by a beautiful young woman. Her name is Mary Morstan and every year since the mysterious disappearance of her father, she has received a lustrous pearl. Now her anonymous benefactor has requested a meeting and she wants Holmes and Watson to accompany her. Together they uncover a story that began in far-off India with unimaginable treasures and terrible betrayal.

I’ve gone and read another Sherlock Holmes novel!

All right, confession time. I didn’t really pick this book up because I was intrigued with the story. All I know of this story was that Watson meets the woman he will eventually marry. The real reason I picked up this book was because it featured a nice cover–and an introduction by Martin Freeman.

The introduction is actually just the actor talking about being a fan of the fictional detective, of being asked to audition for the modern adaptation by BBC, and his initial hesitation at accepting the part of John Watson. That’s actually more interesting than The Sign of Four.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been spoiled by the modern adaptation, with its mile-a-minute exposition that really dazzles, or maybe it’s just because The Sign of Four isn’t as engaging as any of the other Sherlock Holmes stories. This one bored me a little.

But, I must say, the synopsis is really well-written. It does lead you on into thinking that this book is about the mystery of the pearls that Mary Morstan receives. Well, it is–and yet, it also isn’t. How do I say this? The mystery Mary Morstan introduces is not the actual mystery that we need to solve. In fact, Miss Morstan’s mystery is no mystery at all.

I do wonder why Sir Arthur Conan Doyle thought it was necessary to include the character of Miss Morstan. Was it really his plan to have Watson fall in love with the woman? If so, for what purpose? In most of the novels I’ve read where Watson is already married, Mary rarely ever plays a big part.

But how do you question an author long dead? I guess this will have to remain a mystery for me–unless someone out there knows the story behind the creation of Mary Morstan.

While me mull that over, let’s go around the ‘net and see what other people have written about The Sign of Four.
The Beauty of Eclecticism
Scott D Parker
Teen Ink

Book: The House of Silk

"The House of Silk"

London, 1890. 221B Baker Street. A fine arts dealer named Edmund Carstairs visits Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson to beg for their help. He is being menaced by a strange man in a flat cap–a wanted criminal who seems to have followed him all the way from America. In the days that follow, Carstair’s home is robbed and his family is threatened. And then the first murder takes place.

The House of Silk brings Sherlock Holmes back wiht all the nuance, pacing, and almost superhuman powers of analysis and deduction that made him the world’s greatest detective, in a case depicting events too shocking, too monstrous, ever to appear in print…until now.

The House of Silk is the first Sherlock Holmes novel I’ve read that isn’t written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; and while this is Anthony Horowitz’s best work (among his books I’ve read, I mean), it doesn’t really feel like an authentic Holmes novel.

Don’t get me wrong: Horowitz does get the time period right, and more importantly, he doesn’t deviate from the established characters of either Holmes or Watson–although, I must say his Watson is a lot more sentimental than what I remember from the stories I’ve already read.

What really sets The House of Silk apart as not a Doyle-written Sherlock Holmes novel is that it’s written for today’s readers.

I’m not saying that the original stories of Sherlock Holmes are slow-paced. They’re not. But neither were they written with the mindset that a reader can and will put a book down if they don’t find it engaging. Books today are written to be far more accessible, and thus, there is more competition.

The House of Silk is a fine novel, and author Horowitz makes a great attempt at emulating the voice of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. But it is just that: an attempt. I think I would have enjoyed it more if the author had decided to give his own take on Sherlock Holmes–kind of like what Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss had done with their BBC drama series. Personally, I find the drama series more to my liking that the two blockbuster films featuring Robert Downey, Jr. because it’s more fresh and more interesting because of its new angle on the characters.

Then again, there’s the new Sherlock Holmes series Elementary that I feel took things too far. I love Lucy Liu, but John Watson should have stayed a guy. If they really wanted a strong female presence in the show, they could have chosen Mrs. Hudson (who is very bad-ass in her own way) or Irene Adler. But, I digress.

Going back to The House of Silk, it’s worth the price of the book and it is a fun read. But if you’ve already read a few of the original Sherlock Holmes novels, the challenge falls on not comparing this book to the ones Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote.

Reviews for Anthony Horowitz’s The House of Silk:
Visceral Observations
Rivers I Have Known
Vintage Frills
YouTube Review: Rawesome4815