Friday, September 27, 2013

Book Report: "The Adventure of the Priory School" (Doyle, 1903)

“But surely this is somewhat irrelevant?”
“Not entirely,” said Holmes.

--Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of the Priory School”

Leigh: We have another mystery this week that focuses on bicycles. This time, more specifically bicycle tires instead of people riding on them. We have a very important Duke whose son has gone missing from school. The headmaster then contacts Sherlock Holmes and says that he's missing along with the German teacher. Of course kidnap is the obvious red herring here but it's a Sherlock Holmes mystery and these are rarely that simple. 

Holmes goes to the school to attempt to figure out the problem and Watson and the audience actually gets to come along. Holmes and Watson go all along every bit of field and anywhere there might be a path to find the bicycle tire marks from the missing bicycle that was presumably used in the possible kidnapping. They eventually find the trail and then the dead German teacher. DUN DUN DUN! 

My God.....

And that's when the mystery gets exciting and slightly convoluted and becomes a bit of a rip off. There's a worker who had been fired from the Duke's home. There's an illegitimate son who's jealous of the Duke's younger son. There's of course a murder and murderer and still a missing boy. Holmes ends up solving the whole thing because the tread marks left by the cows along the trails didn't follow a cow's natural stride. This annoyed me. Did it annoy you?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

In-Class Movie: "The Solitary Cyclist" (Brett, 1984)

“The case is clear enough against you, and all I ask are a few details for my private curiosity. However, if there’s any difficulty in your telling me, I’ll do the talking, and then you will see how far you have a chance of holding back your secrets.”

--Sherlock Holmes, “The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist”

Austin: Now that we've reviewed “A Study in Pink”, I want to bring up the BBC series again as a point of comparison. Don't worry internet, this isn't about Elementary. It's about the Jeremy Brett led series, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. We are now watching the earliest episode for us, with "The Solitary Cyclist" being the fourth. When we last reviewed him in "The Resident Patient" and that showed a more prickly Holmes than we were used to with Basil Rathbone, it's nothing compared to this.

In this episode, Sherlock Holmes is an asshole.

And the episode is better for that.

"Hush. Still my turn to speak."

This episode has plenty of the plot problems we had in the story earlier this week--oh man the wedding scene in particular is just crazy to watch. Yet it was always fun because of Brett. Many people looking for a warm hero would probably be put off by him, but since not every Sherlock Holmes is like this, I'm all for a break into a very grumpy area. 

It's the cruelty towards Watson, the aggressive attitude he has towards the case and the plenty of jabbing sarcasm. That's where the writers seem to focus because the one-liners are really great. Nowadays, this is the strength of plenty of episodic TV shows. People will join in week after week, not necessarily because of the mystery set-up but because they like the characters walking around this world. (Bones, NCIS, every single USA show, etc). It's clear that this version of Sherlock is an inspiration towards the type of characters Benedict Cumberbatch could play. How far he could go with being unlikable, but still a charismatic hero. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Book Review: "The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist" (Doyle, 1903)

“You will go down?”
“No, my dear fellow you will go down”

--Watson and Holmes totally in context, “The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist”

Leigh: Before I start on a feminist rant, I'm going to openly remind myself that this was written in another time period where arranged/forced marriages were commonplace.

Now, on with the story. 

The introduction of this story is a bit like Watson bragging, I think. He says that Holmes was SO busy and they have SO many stories that he has to pick and choose more than normal when deciding which stories to write about. I thought this seemed a little out of place and more like Arthur Conan Doyle saying, "Don't worry, guys, I gots stories to last for YEARS! Holmes isn't gonna die again any time soon!" I think it was supposed to be a reassuring nod to readers but felt more like a pompous, "Don't worry, I got this." That could just be me though.

A young woman is mysteriously contacted by two men after her uncle dies in South Africa (exotic locale!). She is then hired by one of these men for a lot more money than she was expecting to teach his daughter music while the other one is a legitimate creeper and stares at her like he's going to molest her at any moment, both in the Victorian sense and the present day sense of the word. She is then followed by a mysterious man on a bicycle whenever she goes to visit her mother. Holmes is then so busy that he again sends Watson out to do some investigating and when Watson comes back with what he thinks is very important information, Holmes tells him he did a shit job. Holmes then goes and does everything he told Watson he should've done after the fact. 

"Miss can you describe the cyclist?" "He had bulging eyes, terrible skin and an impossible to place accent."

So the mystery. This is one that I felt like Holmes was cheating a lot. The audience didn't get nearly enough information to figure out what was going on so by the time the conclusion comes around, I was scratching my head going, "Huuuh?" This one that I've read a couple of times and I never remember it and I blame it on the fact that the conclusion comes out of left field. A lot of the conclusion would be left to guesswork if the audience were the ones solving it. How were we supposed to know there was a secret deal about who got to marry the young woman? How were we supposed to figure out her dead uncle left her with a small fortune? Why is her boyfriend mentioned if he never shows up and is only mentioned in the introduction and in the last paragraph of the story? I enjoyed this story for the drama of it all but I have to stay from a mystery aspect, it seemed to fail. 

What do you think? Am I just in a bad mood or are some of my complaints legitimate? Also, what is with ACD naming his female characters the same thing? This is the second Violet we've come across and it completely threw me off. I have half of a completely different email written but what I was talking about happened with a DIFFERENT Violet. 

Austin: I was also a bit disappointed by this one. I was intrigued when Violet was telling her story but then once they stopped their huddle and shouted "BREAK!" it lost my interest.

We've seen Watson explore and detect by himself before, most famously in The Hound of the Baskerville. In that, through all our blog entries, we valued the idea that Holmes was serving as a mentor figure encouraging Watson to use the skills he's learned. Yes Holmes still swoops in to save the day, but there was respect there that was missing here.

On the Wikipedia page for this entry, it says that the Strand refused the first draft because Holmes wasn't as involved with the plot. This could be the cause of the structural issues where Holmes suddenly arrives because it could have easily been a late edition change. So now I can just think of Doyle plotting instead of the character having reason for splitting things up. Oh, I know...he was SO BUSY.

"I would ask Mrs. Hudson to go but she couldn't hear me."

We've discussed the rise in excitement in this collection, but is this perhaps one of the most violent stories we've read? We have fistfights and gunshots and all sorts of stuff that would be ideal for Robert Downey Jr. Is this a case when Doyle was trying to amp up the action that he severely lost track of the mystery?

Leigh: I hate to agree with you all the time because a lack of drama can be boring, but the "BREAK" moment is the perfect moment of when I stopped caring too. Everything was SO interesting until that point. And it's not like the rest of the story isn't interesting when you look at the facts, it just wasn't presented in as intriguing of a manner.

I don't think the additional action is what lost the mystery. You can have an action packed adventure that surrounds a mystery and it still be a logical conclusion. I think that this one really needed another editing. It makes sense now that you've mentioned that Holmes wasn't in it in the first submission. He does really feel like he was shoehorned in the story. As an audience member, I would've been completely happy with Watson doing the investigation by himself. At this point in the canon, I feel like Watson is completely capable to get 75% of what Sherlock Holmes does in his investigations. I think this story though was purposefully (re)written so that Watson was doddering about the countryside and Holmes had to come in to save the day, which of course upsets me because I love Watson and I hate the doddering dullard Watson-stereotype.

Coming soon....

Because Sherlock Holmes was SO BUSY, I would've loved to have like a side by side story that is an adventure of Holmes and Watson solving the multiple mysteries at the same time and how they might overlap or not. I think it could've added some interest there that was lacking in the last 2/3 of the story. I know everything is written from Watson's POV but it would've been interesting to have an omnipotent narrator describe the multiple mysteries going on at the same time. It would at least have given a reason as to why Holmes was so busy and why he made Watson go do his busy work.

What do you think, Lugar? Is there any way to save this mystery?

Austin: I think it's something that we're talked about this entire blog. Focus on what people care about. For us, it seems that means the characters and the fantastical elements. When those things are hitting just right, we typically love the story. We aren't exactly the type of mystery fans that will sketch out every single step to make sure it all works. If the elements are heightened in a cohesive way, then we're game.

When things stumble around and it leaves us focusing on the broken pieces then we have to wonder what's going on. We're fine with someone sending a snake up a pipe to kill someone if the ride to that conclusion works even though I'm pretty sure a simple poison would be more effective. 

I'd be curious to one day read a proper biography of Arthur Conan Doyle. I know nothing about his romantic life, but from these stories he doesn't have the happiest sense of relationships. Mrs. Watson was killed off without me noticing. Sherlock won't ever be in a proper relationship. Then--perhaps for the sake of the genre--if a spouse comes to Sherlock Holmes with some marital issues, it never really ends well. This story was no exception.

Molly and Jim were the happiest couple on the show.

Anywho, we'll revisit this story again but this time we'll get the intensity of Jeremy Brett as we revisit his show The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes with the episode cleverly titled "The Solitary Cyclist".

Here is Leigh Montano with the final word....

Leigh: Daisy, Daisy...

I'm sorry, Leigh, I'm afraid I can't let you keep quoting films you haven't seen.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

In-Class Movie: "A Study in Pink" (Sherlock, 2010)

“Tell me,” said Holmes—and I could see by his eyes that he was much excited—“was this a mere addition to the first or did it appear to be entirely separate?”

--Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of the Dancing Men”

Austin: Obviously, it has been well established that we are a massively successful blog that is highly acclaimed not only in the English language but also in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. This has been well reported on and it's not egotistical to ponder that I think millions--nay, tens of millions--have been waiting for us to finally review the hit BBC series Sherlock


Just a few weeks away from our one-year anniversary we're reviewing the show that arguably makes us such active Sherlock Holmes fans today. We have been fans of the stories for years but what Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss created, at least for me, renewed that love in a major way.

So this week when I revisited the pilot, "A Study in Pink" for the umpteenth time it was that canonical love that felt very apparent throughout every minute. The idea of updating the Victorian hero to the modern day sounds like a gimmick but putting a story into a new setting really allows for them to make their homage/appreciation into a dramatic setting without it just being a repetitive wink.

The original story of "A Study in Scarlet" is just a jumping off point in structure. Using modern dramatics they are able to re-examine what it would be like for Watson to meet Sherlock for the first time, how Sherlock would interact with modern police/technology and who really are these famous characters. There is a rich psychological examination going on with the two leads (with Watson literally seeing a shrink before the opening credits). 

It's a look at Doyle's original stories made by true fans. There are plenty of little Easter eggs with my favorite being the fact that one of the detectives reads RACHE on the floor and assumes it's German for "revenge" which was Sherlock deduced in the original story. When we first see Sherlock's apartment, it's just a treasure trove of odds and ends that are designed with a loving care that encourages exploration. This world is a playground for them to make adventures and this episode is just oozing with potential.

"Sherlock where are my keys?" "Ask the skull." "I did; he was looking guilty in your direction."

So what about this episode's giddiness resonates with you the most? The banter, their mystery, the characters, the tributes or just the fact that Mrs. Hudson sometimes gets high?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Book Report: "The Adventure of the Dancing Men" (Doyle, 1903)

“I ought to make you sign a paper to that effect.”
“Because in five minutes you will say that it is all so absurdly simple.”
“I am sure I shall say nothing of the kind.”

--Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, “The Adventure of the Dancing Men”

Leigh: I feel like I've started every email of the new book off with, "I really liked this story" but it's true. I really did like this one. The first time I listened to it, the person reading it tried to read every little picture as well which just made it frustrating to listen to. Add to the fact that I was working at 5am while listening to them and needless to say that I didn't remember this one much while reading it this time around so it was like I was reading it for the first time.

And while I liked this story, the first half of it, I couldn't help but think, "Didn't we read this one already?" It seems that there are a lot of Sherlock Holmes stories that have a wife who has a secret that she won't tell her husband so he goes behind her back to find out what is going on. I felt a little ripped off while reading the first half because I felt like I've read this before with “The Yellow Face”. There always seems to be a bit of a formula with Doyle's stories but this one felt more formulaic than normal at first.

I can't translate this. It's way too vulgar.

But then it gets interesting. There's a murder that is the turning point in the story for me and which seems to be happening more often in Sherlock Holmes' world, and a crazy set of dancing guys which is a secret language made up by an organized crime group of some sort. So possible mafia and a murder definitely makes it more interesting than a little girl with a weird mask. 

Is it just me, or do the stakes seem higher more often now? It feels like every story has a possibility of murder or an innocent being blamed for a crime. It doesn't seem like it's as simple as a husband who is posing as a bum or a girl being held captive by her family. Those could be considered serious but murder is more serious I feel.