Thursday, October 23, 2014

Book Review: "The Adventure of the Abbey Grange" (Doyle, 1897)

“Come, Watson, come!” he cried. “The game is afoot. Not a word! Into your clothes and come!”

--Sherlock Holmes, “The Adventure of the Abbey Grange

Leigh: *Rummages through boxes. Clears away dust. Comedic coughing ensues.*

There it is! 

Hey, did you know we have a blog? I know, I was as surprised as you are! But here it is! We do! We have a blog! And I've even been told it's about Sherlock Holmes so...We should probably talk about that. Right. Yeah.

The latest adventure of the World's Greatest Detective that we're looking at is the Adventure of Abbey Grange. It starts off with Holmes saying one of his most famous lines, telling Watson he sucks, and leaving London for Downton Abbey. 

Holmes tells Watson, not for the first time, that he over sensationalizes the stories and adds too many romantic details and doesn't stick to the facts of the mystery at hand. So Watson, after having his feelings obviously hurt, says, "FINE! YOU write your own damn stories then!" And Holmes responds, "FINE! I WILL." And that is the end of that. I don't know if it's me just wanting more interpersonal drama between the detective and his biographer, but I wish this had been brought up more or even again. Watson is an important part of the duo but Holmes often times just pushes him to the side and only talks to him when he's retelling what he did when trying to figure out a mystery. 

When the duo finally arrive at Downton Abbey, the mystery isn't actually a mystery. The lady of the house's husband is killed and she says that it was a group of well known robbers who have been burgling houses all across the country. She provides numerous details that all point to the fact that this is true and that she didn't make it up at all. 

"You're right. The murderer is definitely not someone in the house."

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

In-Class Movie: "The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter" (Hobbs, 1955)

Holmes put his finger to his lips and glanced at me.

--Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter”

Austin: So we’ve covered a lot of different Sherlock Holmes stories in our year+ on this blog, but we’ve had one major omission so far. Sherlock Holmes has always been very active in the radio community. In many ways, that seems to be going against its own strengths. Sherlock is the master of observation and with audio that tends to be a bit difficult. Yet how different is it to hear Sherlock say, “Ah look at this!” then have a TV show that doesn’t put the clue in focus until the hero mentions something?

Our first venture into this auditory adventures is with Carleton Hobbs as the acclaimed hero and Norman Shelley as Watson. (Despite the YouTube link saying John Gieguld….we’ll get to him soon.) The two of them were in 80 radio adaptations for the BBC starting in the 1950s. They feel very much into the rhythms of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. While Shelley never seems as outright dumb as Bruce, he does have that flustered feel.

I think what builds to the strength of this audio adaptation is the chance for more acting nuance with the story. We just covered this one and it goes into some dramatic territory and one of the most noticeable things about this audio drama was the ending. It goes from a fun adventure equipped with the sound of a dog, to a really melodramatic conclusion. This turn seemed to work better for me in this because you really got to hear the response of the characters above all else. 

What did you think, Leigh? Was this your first Sherlock audio drama? Would you want to hear more from these two or are you more prone to find different leads? Or are you saying that radio is dead and we should only cover the written page or filmed adaptations WITH NO MIDDLE GROUND?!?!

Leigh: My experience with radio dramas is very limited. I've listened to War of the Worlds, as is required by law, I believe, for people who work at radio stations, and that's about it. I'm one of the few people who hasn't gotten into Welcome to Nightvale, by no fault of the show, I would just rather watch one of the many TV shows on my ever growing "To Watch" list. So when I finally sat down and listened to this, I was a bit disappointed. The story was basically word for word from the story but I just felt like that other element was missing, which doesn't make sense since the audio medium allows us to use just as much of our imagination as reading it does. I've said before that I listen to the audiobook versions of our stories most of the time just because it allows me to do something else like knit or play dumb games online while still getting the story and the information. The radio drama added very little more to what the audiobook version already had. Sure there were more voice actors than the lone reader attempting (and sometimes succeeding) to do various voices, and there were the occasional sound effect to add to the story but I just felt that it didn't add anything. 

"And then they came down like A WREEEECKING BALL!"

The acting for me was just as melodramatic as the Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies and I honestly thought it was Nigel Bruce as Watson when he first spoke. I had to do the aural equivalent of a double take. I have to remind myself of the time period though. If people recognized the actors as being Sherlock Holmes and Watson without having to actually say, "Hey look, Watson! I think there's something over there, Watson!" every line, then you'll have more listeners and people will be more interested in it. It makes sense and if I were a child of a different era where I didn't have a camera in my phone that I can stick in my pocket after I'm done playing a video game on it, then the audio drama might've interested me more. 

As for the story, I'll say again that it was basically a line by line adaptation, which I appreciate. But because it was, we didn't really get any new insights to this story. The only thing that was added for me was the actor who played Holmes who really changed tones when the story did. That's not something I got from the story itself so having that was nice to show that Holmes really does pick up on things like social cues and such.

I feel like I'm being too harsh. Is it just that I'm a child of a different age or was this not the best adaptation?

Austin: Ah, I completely forgot that you listen to the audiobooks. Then this feels a bit redundant, most likely. My praise for being faithful and approachable in an audio format is a bit silly when you already listened to the most faithful audio adaptation one can have.

I think I have more of a history of radio dramas but they’re all new-age radio dramas. I’m a podcast junkie and one of my favorites is the Thrilling Adventure Hour, which is a comedy show that is in the style of “old-time radio”. So you get to have serial space western stories like Sparks Nevada: Marshall on Mars or a paranormal Thin Man send-up like Beyond Belief. Very rarely does that show go for a meta-approach to their medium—usually only when the audio cue was late. When listening to something like that or a Big Finish Doctor Who drama, I think it’s all about how to create the image in your mind. Much like a written story is supposed to do. If you want a great one in recent years, listen to the BBC Radio adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere with James MacAvoy, Natalie Dormer, Benedict Cumberbatch, Christopher Lee and more amazing people.

"Is he part of the mafia?"

In this story, the most vivid image I had was in the final moments because it’s easier to imagine an outdoors scene than something like 221B Baker Street. It would ruin the illusion if Watson and Sherlock just start describing everything around them. When you’re outdoors the sound effects can create all that you need without any awkward dialog. While I feel this story could have had more of a production to it, I think this fits in well with the more casual scope of the story. This wouldn’t work for something like "The Sign of Four”, but it feels nice here.

I didn’t mind the melodrama because the story itself was melodramatic. I always like that genre when it’s done well and that means a complete commitment to the heightened drama. By the end, all the of emotions worked thanks to the actors willing to go for that understated sadness/disappointment when they wanted a happy just ending. 

[Between this response and the next over a month has passed. Austin moved from Indiana to Chicago. Leigh moved from Florida to Indiana. They both started new jobs. A LOT HAPPENED.]

Leigh: Again, the varied emotions were nice. It's not something that you always get when just listening to an audio book. Not every reader is Stephan Fry. They don't always bring the nuances of dialog and tone that the story needs, that your brain puts in there when you read a story. Having actors performing it, even if it is just audio, adds more than I normally get with the just an audio book.

"And that's when Sherlock Holmes discovered something quite interesting...."
I do wish that it might've been more adventurous than just repeating the story line by line. I wanted something more, something that we couldn't get just from reading the story aloud with a few friends in a living room. I don't know how they would've gone about it, maybe with more/better sound effects or something. Maybe brightening up the dialog. I felt that it needed something more than just what we were given.
Next time, we deal with a murder, some wine and burglars. Good times!
Also, I'd like to apologize. This time the post is so late because of me. My life imploded and got in the way. Things are starting to calm down now so maybe we'll get back on some semblance of a schedule!

And here is Austin Lugar with the final word…

Austin: I definitely remember this audio drama very clearly!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Book Review: "The Adventure of the Missing Three Quarter" (Doyle, 1904)

“You live in a different world to me, Mr. Overton—a sweeter and healthier one. My ramifications stretch out into many sections of society, but never, I am happy to say, into amateur sport, which is the best and soundest thing in England.” 
— Sherlock Holmes, "The Adventure of the Missing Three Quarter"

Leigh: Yet again, our story matches up with our recent viewings without any sort of planning. We actually changed what movie we were going to watch to something easier to discuss to get back into the swing of things. We're getting good at this. On the first page, Watson discusses that he's worried about Holmes going back on drugs in a paragraph that might be one of Doyle's best written paragraphs. We have a bored Sherlock Holmes who is is teetering on falling back into drug use and a very concerned Watson who doesn't want that to happen to his friend. 

AND LO AND BEHOLD, in walks a mystery! Not an incredibly serious mystery, but the mystery of a missing rugby player. The best in the world or county or something. I don't know. I didn't really pay attention to the rugby bits. In fact, the rugby bits actually confused me. I found myself drifting off and not paying attention when anything about a three quarter or goals or tries or quaffles were mentioned. If anything, it made me not interested. I'm sure that for those who know anything about rugby at all besides that the New Zealand All Blacks are the scariest/sexiest men in the world, it at least made sense. It makes complete sense that Doyle wrote a story that had a sports theme since he founded a football team (since disbanded) and played cricket (which I think is impossible to learn how to play and people just pretend that they know what's going on). In fact, I'm a little surprised that it we haven't encountered another story like this before. Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Missing Cricket Bat or something. 

This is all that Leigh understands about rugby, but really, who needs to know more?

What we do have though, once we wade through all of the rugby talk, is a man who is missing. A man who, while relatively scant of money now, is set to inherit a lot of money from his uncle, Scrooge McDuck. The missing man sent a very intriguing telegram before he up and disappeared which leads Holmes and Watson to a doctor who IS NOT HAVING IT. He actually challenged Holmes, not so much so Holmes couldn't figure it out, but enough to put a bit of padding into the middle of the story. 

What did you think? Did you enjoy the rugby ties? Or did it just muddle the relatively straightforward mystery?

Austin: The rugby bits were confusing because they ultimately weren’t a major part of the story. The European sport was a bit of misdirection, which was disappointing since while we’re writing this we’re in the middle of an exciting World Cup. I’ve had only a limited experience with rugby. I saw the movie Invictus and my brother played rugby for a year—but I only attended one game. I mostly understood it. It’s like American Football except they hug more and play faster.

You mentioned the parts of this story I really liked which was examining Sherlock out of his element. His boredom is causing a major toll on him and then the case that is supposed to get him out of his rut begins with a name he is expected to know but doesn’t. I think it’s rather fitting that by the end, Sherlock isn’t even the one to find the exact location of Geoffrey; he has to have the help of a scent hound. 

Not just used for the "DAWWW"s any more! 

Yet throughout all of this, Sherlock keeps his cool. He never panics or even feels that embarrassed that he doesn’t know about rugby. (AND NOBODY SHOULD) It fits true to his MO of going forth into the strange and unknown even if that means amateur rugby. It ends up having the same sort of elements that we see in his crimes like mysterious notes and money grabbing plans. However, it still feels like an underdog story for our brilliant hero. 

This isn’t one of the great stories and I’m not sure I’m entirely happy with the conclusion, but I enjoyed the point of view of it all. Am I crazy or did you see some of that too?

Leigh: I thought the conclusion was...lackluster? Inappropriate? I don't know. It was a let down though to have Holmes run all around the countryside and then it ends with a man crying over his dead wife and the doctor saying, "GUESS WHAT?! YOU WON. YA HAPPY NOW? JERK!" I don't know. I just wanted something a bit more fantastic to go with the rest of the story. Holmes was facing a great opponent and yet the story ended with the missing Three Quarter (do I capitalize this? I don't know.) mourning over his recently dead wife. It just felt like a bummer after what was a really fun adventure. Almost like we were having all of this fun and Holmes was doing his best and then when we find out what happened, I almost feel guilty for having so much fun. 

I know that some Sherlock Holmes stories are going to be a bit more relaxed and not as crazy as some of them but I was hoping for a conclusion to at least match the rest of the story in intensity and intrigue and instead we are left with a melancholy ending. 

But it felt to me like Watson should've stepped in at the end and had a discussion with Holmes about how they went about things and maybe if they should've stopped searching for the missing rugby man. It feels like a moral story, like we the audience should learn something from it like that some people's business is private for a reason or that sometimes people go missing who don't want to be found. 
What do you think? Should we, the audience, take something away from this story or is it just an odd ending?

Austin: I thought it was a fine ending. Not one of the best but the dead wife element threw me off a bit. I thought it would have a more emotional appeal, but since it was so much looking at different directions it didn’t work for me on that level. Plot wise, I thought it was fine. I guess I didn’t think this was a super happy fun adventure! Not that I thought it was a darker tone throughout but the rugby element felt more like a new setting than a wacky setting—like a gaggle of gingers. 

Watson felt like an observer this entire tale. It was almost like Sherlock told him this story once and now Watson is telling it second hand. I’m happy when Watson isn’t involved heavily in the plot when he can add an interesting observation like he did at the beginning of the story. After that he seemed to fade away rather heavily. 

I think the world of Sherlock Holmes always feels a bit bleak at times. Not just because there are always crimes happening but it’s because they’re happening without much eye-raising. It’s never a shocking act that’s happening, it just feels so much like normal society. Sherlock is trying to maintain order but it will never stick. This isn’t like a comic book world where goons are going to do bad things but they know Batman could be right around the corner. Sherlock’s presence isn’t making an impact on crime; they’re just carrying on often in very selfish ways. Sometimes they’re goofy and sometimes this town is rather cruel. That’s why we need heroes.

Silly Sherlock! You can't fly!

And here is Leigh Montano with the final word!

Leigh: HAKA!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

In-Class Movie: "The Great Game" (Sherlock, 2010)

“A simple case, and yet, in some ways, an instructive one,” Holmes remarked, as we travelled back to town.”

--Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez”

Austin: We’re back! Again! We keep having these random little hiatuses but we never really leave. We just keep climbing up the Reichenbach Falls, jumping off, messing around for a bit and then come back to the world we know so well. Apologies are on my end this time but now we’re back. Instead of reviewing a Jeremy Brett movie, I thought it’ll be best to change up our plans to review our next episode of Sherlock since that might be of more interest to our readers.

We’re now up to the Season One finale where from the first scene we return to the edge that Sherlock seemed to be missing in "The Blind Banker". He’s mocking someone who is about to die, he’s shooting his own apartment, he’ll probably get around to taking care of that head in his fridge. This is all because he’s bored and the show’s response is to get him a wheelbarrow’s full of plots all with different degrees of danger.

Honestly, this is better than abandoned smelly leftovers. Watson shouldn't complain so much.

In the first two episodes, we had one plot and barely and subplots to deal with for 80 minutes. This is dramatically different where it feels like they’re adapting an entire anthology. Mycroft wants stolen missile plans back, a bomber is setting up a series of mysteries to solve and this is all happening while Sherlock is desperate to use any free minute he has to figure out who is Morarity.

I found this to be very successful because of the time limits with the bombers. They made the possible bomber victims very sympathetic because of how scary their situation is. I found the subplot with Watson earning his stripes to be a bit lacking because government secrets is just gibberish at this point because we know it won’t have any actual impact on our characters and their world. So that is lesser priority even though Martin Freeman is fantastic in those scenes.

What did you think of the format of this show? Was it too messy for you or did it all fit like a crazy explosive puzzle?

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Book Review: "The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez" (Doyle, 1904)

Leigh: For a while lately, I've felt that the stories we've covered have been a little...traditional. A little run of the mill. Nothing really stands out and nothing is that exciting. The last story we covered was literally about cheating students. Yawn, amiright? But this one, this one I feel is different.

The audience is given a chance to see Holmes finer skills, some that we don't see all too often. He takes something as mundane as a pair of fancy glasses and is able to give an accurate description of the person who owns them. I'm a glasses wearer and while I do have some distinguishing marks on them, I don't think someone would be able to deduce an accurate description of what I look like. And yet Holmes is able to tell from the pince nez what the woman looks like and even how she carried herself.

Probably looked something like this...

And then the audience actually gets to go with Holmes (and Watson) to figure out who this lady is. It was such an intriguing story that I didn't even mind the story time towards the end of the book. We we able to enjoy a different adventure with some detail work that we don't see in every story. We also see what might be Lestrade's replacement who actually supports Holmes and his theory of detection. I enjoyed this because it showed that minute detective work was slowly becoming more popular in the Holmes universe just like it did in the real world.

Overall, I was happy with this adventure. What about you? Did you enjoy the plot twist at the end? Did you like how Holmes came to his conclusions?

Austin: This one was a lot of fun. The story time entirely worked because it was a lovably crazy moment. We had a woman come out from behind the bookcase with plenty of accusations, conspiracies and to top it all off, she poisoned herself before she started her speech. Bam!

While the story had plenty of other successes, it was this type of drama that really worked for me in this story. I enjoyed the secluded world of this professor and his quiet co-habitants. I was worried Doyle would become too particular with the angles of every room, but this felt a lot clearer. (The map definitely helped.) Perhaps it was because the stakes felt higher than those cheating students or perhaps Doyle was just able to be more concise in this story.

Leigh didn't have a map since she listened to it.
She can only assume it looked something like this.

I enjoyed the glasses bit because it wasn’t just an amusing trick to start off the story in 221B Baker Street. This fit into the story, which helped a lot with the pacing. Also the glasses moment reminded me of the great scene from 12 Angry Men and that’s always a plus.

Something I’m finding amusing as I’m reading and watching mysteries is the path the detective takes. Is the narrative hunting down motivation or simply looking at the evidence? Sherlock Holmes, by nature, will always look at the clues and not entirely know why the mystery woman fits into this story. Does that make for a more satisfying story? What would we do if she popped into the room, refused to say anything and was taken away for questioning and then the story ended?

Leigh: Fictional detectives always have a way of making the suspect talk. Sherlock Holmes seemingly predicts their future from the minutiae that he discovers. Same goes for Shawn Spencer. Rust Cohle can somehow see into their soul (AND JUST HOW AMAZING WAS TRUE DETECTIVE?!). Law and Order we don't get that as often, where the suspect admits that it was him who killed that guy as he was breaking into someone's apartment but we always see the case through the end. We see the court proceedings that allow the audience to see what actually happens after the bad guy is caught. It allows their curiosity to be satisfied. I can definitely say that Sherlock Holmes adventures would be infinitely less interesting if we didn't find out all of the pieces to the puzzle or how a crazy lady hiding behind a bookcase fits into it all.

"Something tells me we'll have this whole case wrapped up in the next 40 minutes."

We like to have our curiosity sated. Why do you think so many people tried to figure out what Bill Murray said to Scarlett Johansson at the end of Lost in Translation (A MOVIE I HAVE SEEN! WHAT! I KNOW! I'm as surprised as you!) Why does Brad Pitt shout "WHAT'S IN THE BOX!?" (Okay, another movie I haven't seen.) We like to know what happens next. We like to find out just exactly how that odd shaped puzzle piece fits into the whole scheme of things. Also, writers want the audience to know why things happened. James Bond supervillains always have a monologue telling their evil plans because they have to have a reason for James Bond to beat him up and save the day. It just isn't satisfying to have find a puzzle piece but not know where it fits.

Does my metaphor work? Are there some key examples I'm leaving out?


Yet Sherlock doesn’t have the skills that we see from other detectives. In Doyle’s world a confession can be caused simply by asking politely. In a short story, it’s about conservation of words and story so you can’t have a long drawn out break-down like you see on The Shield or The Closer. (Especially when they’ve poisoned themselves.) While I really enjoyed this story, I’d like to see a bit more challenge on the character beyond the initial puzzle. Again, this is me asking for a type of story that Doyle isn’t interested in, but I admire what he is doing.
By the end, everything fits together really well. He’s not in the nature of being ambiguous because this is about puzzle solving. Rust Cohle was about examining a generational look at evil where one exact answer wouldn’t be satisfying. In Sherlock’s world, one person (or sometimes two) caused this strange thing to happen and it’s up to one to figure it out. If she would die before revealing everything, then Sherlock loses because these stories are about a full and complete tale—fit for Watson to print. 

"There is definitely a larger evil at work. Just look at those glasses!"

Apologies to everyone for inconsistent postings. I just started a new job. (It’s called Books and Brews! If you live in the Indianapolis area come on in and I’ll recommend you a great book and an in-house crafted beer. Leigh, I believe, has been reading the human genome and adapting into a comedic podcast. Next time, we’ll go further into the Golden Pince-Nez by seeing the Jeremy Brett adaptation.

Before I pass it over, it is important to say this…Brad Pitt already kinda knew what was in the box when he was screaming that. To open it was just confirming all of our dark suspicions. Leigh, watch Se7en! It’s good!

And here’s Leigh Montano with the final words…

Leigh: Why doesn't anyone wear pince-nez any more?