Laughter and books make life a little easier

Posts tagged “sir arthur conan doyle

Books read in June

June

Also featuring a new section on audiobooks. (more…)

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Day 27 – The most surprising plot twist or ending

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This post is part of a month-long series of pre-dated posts running while I am on holiday. Feel free to comment, I’ll get back to you when I return!
Please note that any “reviews” I write here are simply my own opinion and that I am not doing any objective, informative reviews for this challenge. If there are any spoilers in a post, I will indicate it at the top.
I draw the book covers straight from Goodreads and you can click on the images to go to the book’s page on there.

 

I was considering writing about one or more of Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries for today’s post, but then I decided that a plot twist at the end of one of those books is not surprising, it is expected. Basically, when you pick one of those up, you are saying “Go on. Surprise me,” because plot twists are, after all, Dame Christie’s speciality.

 

So then I decided to write about The Valley of Fear by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It is one of the four Sherlock Holmes novels written by him, and quite different in the sense that Holmes is only present for a small part of the story (similar to A Study in Scarlet). For the rest of the story, we are transported into the past and a continent away from Holmes and Watson’s quarters in Baker Street. We travel to America, to the fictional Vermissa Valley (a.k.a. the valley of fear) where coal and iron is mined, where we follow the story of young John McMurdo, who seems to be a nice guy. He is a newcomer to the valley and soon hears out that the entire valley is caught in the dictatorship of a group of men reminiscent of the Klu Klux Klan. They are the Scowrers and their word is law. At first McMurdo laughs off these dark rumours, but it is not long before he is swept up, drawn in and becomes as bad as the rest of these men who are red to the elbows with murder.

I’ll leave you to find out the fate of these men for yourself, but I can tell you that the plot twist at the end of their story had me gaping at the masterly subterfuge. Personally, I think it is the best of the four Holmes novels and it is also the one all the stories that stand out the most to me, even with the absence of Holmes and Watson. Although I am also fond of The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot, The Greek Interpreter and The Five Orange Pips none of them have a plot twist like this at the end.

 

On a slightly related note, has anyone else experienced that they get too good at predicting the plot of a normal book? The more I read, the more I find plots that repeated. That is what I like about Agatha Christie’s oeuvre: just when I think I know who the murderer is, taking into account her method of flitting between the most likely and least likely person, then she turns the tables on me again so that I am wrong yet again. Actually, I have only once been “right” about the ending and then just as I was congratulating myself, Monsieur Poirot said “Wait a minute,” and pulled yet another rabbit from the hat. That book has two endings: it makes you think that it is ending and then it simply picks up the mystery again and goes on. It is her first book: The Mysterious Affair at Styles.

 

I could name other mysteries with plot twists, but what would be the point? You already know that I love murder mysteries (I’m gruesome like that) and why else do I read them except for the plot twists? I’ll stop now before I spoil the plot of one of these mysteries. I hate it when people do that to me, so I shouldn’t be a hypocrite. 😉

 

Tomorrow’s post is about my favourite title.

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Day 13 – Your favourite writer

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This post is part of a month-long series of pre-dated posts running while I am on holiday. Feel free to comment, I’ll get back to you when I return!
Please note that any “reviews” I write here are simply my own opinion and that I am not doing any objective, informative reviews for this challenge. If there are any spoilers in a post, I will indicate it at the top.
I draw the book covers straight from Goodreads and you can click on the images to go to the book’s page on there.

 

Oh dear, now I’m stuck again. So many choices I’m quite overwhelmed. I think Terry Pratchett (yes, I know, again) is probably my favourite living writer, but I read dead people too. So what should I add here as well? I absolutely love J.R.R. Tolkien’s style and all his works (as far as I’ve progressed so far). I adore Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries. And of course Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is not to be left out of this list either. So how can I weigh such a diverse bunch of authors up against each other, every one (perhaps excepting the last two) from a different genre and style? Personally, I think it would be very unfair to try to compare any of them, because they are just too different from each other to find any matching points for comparison.

 

Agatha Christie wasn’t called the Queen of Crime for nothing. There’s no one who can compete with her ability to twist a story on the last page and blindside every single reader. Who else would have thought of making the criminal pretend to be the victim and so attempt to escape suspicion? Who else could have created a character such as Hercule Poirot, who is just in a class of his own? (Actually, I’m a Miss Marple fan. :P)

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle… well, no else created Sherlock Holmes. It is not the mysteries that make Conan Doyle’s stories, it is Holmes and Watson. Conan Doyle is not able to or does not want to keep the reader in the dark up to the last page in the same way that Agatha Christie does. In many of his stories I could see through the mystery before the end, which has never happened to me when reading Christie. The wonder lies in the way that Holmes tackles each case: his eccentricities and methods that you get to know so well after a couple of dozen of stories.

J.R.R. Tolkien is not any less deserving to be called the father of modern fantasy than Agatha Christie is to be called the Queen of Crime. To me, there is nothing to compare to the scope of Lord of the Rings, including the languages, mythology, songs, poems and appendices. He was an author with the ability to paint a picture in words: you can see it, smell it and feel it all around you. His charm lies not in his characters (which are still great), but in his imagined world: the landscapes, creatures and races, and history.

Sir Terry Pratchett… well, I don’t even what genre it is that he is king of. But I do know that no one can beat his wit. There have been more energetic authors (though I believe they are few and far between), there have been authors better at characterisation, but I have never before read an author that can make you laugh on every page like he does. And when you’re done laughing, he’ll make you cry from guilt, because you can suddenly recognise your own faults in the “bad guy” and suddenly you realise how presumptuous you are for judging him: you’re as bad as he is!

And of course… I think I’ll always admire J.K. Rowling‘s attentiveness to fine detail and her ability to give reasoning and a backstory to the most minor of characters.

 

I’m honestly still stuck, even after writing this. I don’t know who my favourite author is. Well, now you at least know my options, because I can get no further than this. To try to choose would just be… wrong…

 

Tomorrow’s post is about my favourite book by my favourite writer and will probably not be any more sensible than today’s was.

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Day 10 – Favourite classic book: Part 1

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This post is part of a month-long series of pre-dated posts running while I am on holiday. Feel free to comment, I’ll get back to you when I return!
Please note that any “reviews” I write here are simply my own opinion and that I am not doing any objective, informative reviews for this challenge. If there are any spoilers in a post, I will indicate it at the top.
I draw the book covers straight from Goodreads and you can click on the images to go to the book’s page on there.

I decided to spilt my post on classic books into two, because it was getting impossibly unwieldy really a bit long. No-one has time to read that much at once, so it was easier to spilt it than decide which bit to cut. The second part will follow tomorrow! It’s a bit illogical to have two Day 10’s, but oh well. 😉

 

I love Sherlock Holmes. I’ve read every single story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – all 56 short stories and 4 novels. The Complete Sherlock Holmes Collection that I received for Christmas last year was one of the best presents that I’ve received in years. Remember this old picture?

From my Christmas post.

However, I should also clarify something here. I love the original Sherlock Holmes: the Holmes of those 60 stories. The modern-day adaptions… well, they just cannot capture him again, I feel. I have no problem with most of them. They do not bother me, but I usually would not watch them. I have seen very little of that oh-so-popular show currently airing on the BBC. I’m sure it’s good… but it is not Holmes. Benedict Cumberbatch is not Holmes. He’s good, but I’ll just stick with the original, thanks for the offer and your trouble.

I feel sorry that all those fangirls I see on Tumblr and other places every day will probably never know the “original” Sherlock Holmes, because they will likely never read the books. I know the kind of person I’m talking about: the sort that writes “OMG OMG!!!!!!!!! I ❤ Sherloccccccckkk!!!!” in their status. They will never know him as “Holmes”, only as “Sherlock”. Holmes would likely not have worn a scarf or bright colours. He’d have worn his deerstalker and mouse-coloured dressing gown (but not at the same time). He’d not have had curls. I’m sorry these “Sherlockians” will never know a Watson who had a moustache and would never have worn a red shirt. In fact, Sherlock never, ever called him “John”. He always called him “Watson” or “my dear fellow” and I’m sorry the modern fans do not know that. I’m sorry they do not know the Holmes who did not text, but sent telegrams (actually two are similar in many respects, I give the screenwriters that). I’m sorry they will never know the Holmes who used to race from one end of London to another using horse-drawn carts and trains.

Holmes was an extremely arrogant character: he did not want fame, but he loved praise. Actually, he sought it and this is also the reason why he loved his grand reveals. He smoked like a chimney and he used cocaine. Sometimes he refused to eat for days on end, sometimes he broke into houses and lied to the police. He is not an admirable man by today’s standards. So what is it about him that seems to attract fans generation after generation? Is it the brilliance? The eccentricity? I think it is all of these things combined. He truly is a classic character.

 

I find the “gay” hint in the BBC’s Sherlock quite odd. In my mind, the original Holmes was certainly not gay. And neither was Watson. It does not bother me: after all, the new adaption does not even pretend to be canonical. Or even “Conanical” if we going to be punny. Or phunny. Elana, stop it. … If it had pretended to be an accurate depiction of the stories, it would have annoyed me. Anyway, I know that this kind of hinting is the stuff of pop culture. It is what makes fans return to a show again and again. But what I find really strange is the shipping. I believe I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I do not get shipping. I really don’t understand why fans do this. Mostly I wouldn’t turn a hair at whatever a fan would wish to do to express their “fan-ness”, but I simply cannot understand this concept. To all those who now want to convince me that Holmes was gay all along, please consider the period when it was written. Conan Doyle was writing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. During this time “being gay” was simply something not done. Of course, there were always homosexual people around, but Conan Doyle was not an activist. He was not setting out to shock people and shift literary boundaries when he started writing about Holmes, therefore all the hints that you are seeing in the original stories are there because you want to see them there. The close friendship between Holmes and Watson does not equal romance. Holmes’s bachelorship until he died does not equal homosexuality. His work was his life and I see him more as asexual, but I will not accept that there was a homosexual attraction between him and Watson.

I love the 2009 Sherlock Holmes movie. It was extremely well-made and Jude Law makes an excellent Dr Watson. I’ve watched it several times and it remains pretty brilliant. However, it still cannot top the ink and paper Holmes.

 

Wow, this just turned into a rant. How did I suddenly start writing about modern adaptations of Sherlock Holmesinstead of about the books I love? I really don’t know where that came from. 😛 Of course, everyone can stick to whatever adaptation of Holmes they like best. I don’t care. As for me, I’ll stick to the books. 😉 There is something about the Holmes and Watson combination, Holmes out on the hunt, Holmes talking incessantly about the most random topics, and the big reveals that makes Sherlock Holmes unforgettable. Conan Doyle may not have liked his creation much, but he has undeniably become classic – and part of a literary culture.

 

Check back tomorrow for the second Day 10 post!

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