Category Archives: Arthur Conan Doyle

The Hound of the Baskervilles – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

As I mentioned to you the other week, a man who helped form the reader I am today sadly passed away. As you read this I will be on the train to his funeral in Kent, where I will be talking to everyone about him during the service, and I thought as a second tribute to him I would re-read one of the books he gave me many moons ago that has become a firm favourite of mine over the years. In fact I still think that ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ may not just be my very favourite Sherlock Holmes story yet also possibly my favourite Arthur Conan Doyle novel, though don’t hold me to that.

When Dr Edward Mortimer appears seeking Sherlock Holmes at 221b Baker Street he comes not only with a mysterious death but also a family curse that has latest through the Baskerville line for decades. Sir Charles Baskerville recently died of a heart attack in the grounds of Baskerville Hall on the edge of the misty moors in the English countryside. However there has been suspicion around his death as his face was filled with a terrible fear and giant paws were found by him, the giant paws of the mythical ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’. With a new heir soon to arrive from America Mortimer wants Holmes to look into the mystery, and yet weirdly Holmes doesn’t seem convinced regardless of how grand a mystery it seems.

In fact it is Watson who is sent back with Mortimer to Baskerville Hall with the instructions that he must just keep Holmes abreast of the goings on and characters in the area and Holmes will join him if he feels the need. Once Watson arrives he finds that the characters are rather dubious and the moors incredibly ominous especially when during the night howls are often heard.

I am refusing to say anymore, though I could go on and on as I love this tale so much, as to give even a snippet away of what comes after the first quarter of the book would do any new reader, or indeed any returning reader who hasn’t read it for quite some time, out of a wonderful mystery that will have you turning the pages faster than you can say ‘whodunit’.

I love the atmosphere of this novel. We start with foggy Victorian London but are soon carried away by carriage to the haunting moors and the countryside that looks so peaceful but proves to be incredibly hostile. Conan Doyle also manages to make what could be another old country house murder mystery so much more using the supernatural of which he was a fervent believer. So as well as a murder mystery you also have a rather spooky tale. All in all this is the perfect tale for dark nights when you want to escape into the fantastical and the sinister. 10/10

Even several re-reads later, and I think this most recent must be my ninth or tenth, I spot new things I hadn’t before. Ok, I know then ending but there is so comfortable in opening a book like this and knowing just where you are but being able to take in all the extras of your surroundings. I can’t recommend this book enough, I am just wondering where to head with Sherlock next? I have suddenly realised with shock I have never read ‘The Valley of Fear’, maybe I should open one of the collections and have a short Sherlock by the bed that I can dip in and out of over these winter nights.

So a huge thanks to my Uncle Derrick for introducing me to such story telling and tales, hopefully me spreading the word will encourage others to try it and leave a little legacy from a man who was a true legend in my life.

This wonderfully covered new edition was sent to me from the publisher earlier in the year when I was planning a Sherlock season… I am still mulling over the idea.

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Filed under Arthur Conan Doyle, Books of 2010, Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Review

The Sign of Four – Arthur Conan Doyle

Here in the UK tonight it is the last episode of what has been rather a new series called ‘Sherlock’ and its quite elementary dear readers what it’s about, almost. Rather than being just another remake of the tales of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson it has been given a modern twist and is set in modern day London with Holmes using mobile phones, Bluetooth and various other modern items to solve cases. It should really be everything I hate as a true Holmes fan, however somehow it’s won me over and I think it’s great, well apart from the fact it’s only been three 90 minute episodes when I think it would have been better as six hour long shows. It has also made me turn once again to some original Holmes, I only hope its inspiring many people to do the same, and so I decided to read his second outing in Conan Doyle’s tale ‘The Sign of Four’.

As ‘The Sign of Four’ opens we are greeted by a bored Sherlock Holmes. Without anything to occupy or tax his mind he is regularly turning to cocaine much to the horror and concern of his friend and lodger Dr Watson. Before long however a young lady by the name of Mary Morstan arrives at 221b Baker Street with a mystery that goes back many years to the arrival from India of her father who promptly vanished on his first night back in London. Each year since she has received a box containing a single large pearl, only this year it has come with a message, a letter telling her that she is a wronged woman and should she bring friends with her she will be taken to meet someone who knows the truth.

It might almost sound like the case is solved then, after all if she is simply going to pop round to someone’s house and be told everything where is the story? Of course Conan Doyle throws in some twists and by the end of the evening not only does the mystery seem even more complicated but someone else has been murdered, and of course being a Holmes tale it has been done in almost impossible circumstances.

I read the entire Holmes back catalogue as a youth a good two or three times and again in my early twenties, it amazes me still that not only do I not remember the endings of these stories I also get them completely wrong second guessing as I go. As a younger reader I was amazed by the impossibility of it all, the fear (faces at windows have always bothered me) Conan Doyle can thrill you with and the dark atmosphere. As an adult reader I still love all this but in addition am also more and more impressed with Conan Doyle’s plotting and the complexity of a character like Sherlock Holmes who steps vividly off the pages (oh dear clichéd but true). It makes it very hard when you have read one of his mysteries not to dash straight off into the next one.  

Originally, according to those who knew him at the time, Arthur Conan Doyle wasn’t expecting that the Sherlock Holmes mysteries would be a huge hit with readers. The success of the characters and the mystery in ‘A Study in Scarlet’ meant of course that he needed a follow up and in doing so he changed things. ‘The Sign of Four’ is a story just of Holmes and Watson with snippets of adventure elsewhere, in this case India, as the book goes on rather than a second part which is just the back story and adventure its predecessor had and though the first was good ‘The Sign of Four’ feels a much fuller and concentrated tale and slightly more polished.

A book that will: have you guessing the whole way whilst immersing you in murder and adventure, and will have you reaching for the next in the series. 9/10

Savidge suggests perfect prose partners;

A Study in Scarlett by Arthur Conan Doyle – because like any good series you should start at the beginning and though a slightly weaker tale because of the way its done in two halves gives you a taster of Sherlock but also his wonderful adventure stories too.

I can’t think of a second suggestion because I don’t think I can compare any modern crime I read to Conan Doyle. I would compare Christie for plotting but none of her stories, though good, can match the atmosphere in the Holmes tales – but that’s probably due to the periods they are set in too. Who is watching ‘Sherlock’ on the BBC? Who has read other tale of Holmes and what did you think? Is he the greatest detective of all time? Can you recommend any others? Who still has yet to try any Holmes at all?

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Filed under Arthur Conan Doyle, Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Review

A Study in Scarlet – Arthur Conan Doyle

When I was compiling my three/four books for my Triple Choice Tuesday for Reading Matters a few weeks ago I knew in some shape or form I would have to include a Sherlock Holmes mystery by the marvellous Arthur Conan Doyle. These books, this author and indeed the character have been a big push in my reading life three times, more on that later, and I also realised I rarely do any re-reading. So, along with the vague memory of me saying I would have a Sherlock Holmes-a-thon back when I saw the film, I decided to return to the very first Sherlock Holmes mystery and see if we could get reacquainted.

If you are like me and like to read a series from the start then with Sherlock Holmes you have to start with ‘A Study in Scarlet’. It is actually the book in which Dr Watson, just back from the army after being injured, becomes introduced to the mysterious and slightly odd Sherlock Holmes via a mutual acquaintance as they are both looking for shared digs. You guessed it; this is of course the now infamous address 221B Baker Street.

As the two slowly get to learn more about each others habits Dr Watson soon discovers that Sherlock Holmes is indeed an amateur detective, though only in terms that it is not under an official capacity as the police come to him for help. It is then little time before Watson ends up on the trail with Sherlock for a murderer in on of the most baffling mysteries London has seen in some time. That of the unscathed dead man, found in a derelict house in Brixton, who is surrounded by blood that is not his own and the word ‘Rache’ written in blood on the wall!

Naturally being a Sherlock Holmes mystery you can expect the unexpected and an impossible sounding case that by the end Sherlock Holmes will have made seem easier than playing chess against a five year old. You can also expect horse cab chases, a sight into the Victorian underbelly, dead ends and twists through the London streets. If you love a good mystery or a great Victorian book then this is definitely for you. I still think there is yet to be a detective or a series that betters Sherlock Holmes.

The one thing I had forgotten about ‘A Study in Scarlet’ since reading it many, many moons ago was that it’s a book of two halves. The first is working out who the murderer is, the second takes us to foreign shores and looks at how the case ended up where it did and the aftermath. This half has a very different tone, the first being told by Watson and has the gloom of London, the second being set in sunnier climates told like an adventure story (which Conan Doyle was also very famous for) involving love that cannot be and the Latter Day Saints. (That is all I will say on the plot.) Initially I was a little cross as I wanted more Holmes and he features little in the second half, but then as a whole book it has more impact, you only realise just how much cleverer Sherlock is than you could even think. I thoroughly enjoyed this and read it in two sittings. 7.5/10

I mentioned that Arthur Conan Doyle, his tales and his characters have had a very big impact on me as a reader. When I used to go on walking holidays with Granny Savidge, my Grandad plus her brother, my Great Uncle Derek, and his wife Pat we could walk up to and sometimes over ten miles a day. Uncle Derek would memorise Conan Doyle stories, not all Sherlock, to tell me as we went. I then learnt there were books and became addicted. After I stopped reading from about the age of 17 – 23 (I know shocking) what was the very first book I bought? A delightful 70’s edition of The Hound of The Baskervilles of course. When my Granddad died and I feared I could never read again, sounds dramatic but I honestly though it was the case, which series managed to hold my attention? Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘Tales of Adventure’ and ‘Tales of the Supernatural’ of course! So in many ways these books go past a comfort read (not that they are by any means cosy) and are a nostalgic read and mean a lot to me.

Do you have any nostalgic reads? Have you ever read any Sherlock Holmes, and if you have which have you loved the most (no plot spoilers)? Have you yet to read a word of Conan Doyle, and if not why not? Which other of his non-Sherlock works have any of you tried?

Oh and I have included the covers of both Penguin’s edition and Oxford University Press as I have both… and about three different editions from the 60’s – 80’s at my Mums!!! Oops!

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The Tragedy of the Korosko – Arthur Conan Doyle

I felt that before I embarked on a big binge read of Sherlock Holmes over the coming months, as I previously mentioned, I would read another Arthur Conan Doyle and when I saw the cover of the Hesperus edition of ‘The Tragedy of the Korosko’ in the library I simply couldn’t not take it off the shelf to be devoured in the comfort of my own home. Would this once again be a book that I simply didn’t want to take back or one I couldn’t wait to exchange?

The Tragedy of the Korosko is a novella by Arthur Conan Doyle that I had no prior knowledge of until I opened the first page. It is the tale of a group of English, French and American tourists who set out on an excursion down the Nile by steamer in the late Victorian era. A trip that starts of as a sightseeing excursion of a group unknown to each other before embarking the Korosko find they have to come together in order to survive when an excursion leads to their kidnap by a group of dervish camel men.

This book took me right back to my early teens, not because I lived in the desert, and to the thrill of opening a book and going on a real adventure somewhere you have never been before. This is just one of those books and Conan Doyle doesn’t hold back from killing people off as the adventure goes on. There are thrills galore as things get bleaker and bleaker for the characters. The characters are in part what make the book so wonderful. They start out a certain way Colonel Cochrane Cochrane is austere and stand offish, Miss Sadie Adams an innocent thing prone to giggles or tears and her Aunt one of those do-gooder types who come with a bit of prejudice.

There are many more characters involved and as the story goes on they change and Conan Doyle looks at them, their true characters and beliefs and asks the reader not to judge people as you would first think to.  He also manages to throw in some humour occasionally where you would not necessarily think that any could be found. All of this in just 117 pages, you do wonder just how his mind worked. However it was he came up with tales like this I am grateful to him as I had a wonderful adventure for an afternoon when I was actually filled with horrible lurgy. If a thriller can be at once be comforting, adventure filled and have you on the edge of your sick bed seat then it has to be a good’en doesn’t it?

I will say though, and if any publishers are reading this please here my plea, I don’t know why introductions/forewords are allowed in books that give away the ending.  The same applies to plots. It’s fortunate I read a foreword afterwards as in this case Tony Robinson, who I am normally a fan of, would have left me in no need to read the rest of the book. This is a small issue for me as I said I read the introductions last, for many though it would slightly tarnish the book. Having said that Hesperus excel when it comes to covers and this book is no exception. I am quite annoyed that it has to go back to the library on Saturday. In the case of The Tragedy of the Korosko you definitely should judge a book buy its cover (though maybe not by the foreword).

Which Hesperus books have you read that you would recommend I look up? What none Sherlock Holmes based Conan Doyle is out there that I am missing out on?

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Sherlock Holmes

One of my favourite characters in literature and one of the best fictional detectives ever has to be Sherlock Holmes. It is also down to him and the unusual way that I was introduced to him by a very special relation of mine which really got me into reading when I was younger.

From since I can remember my family was big on walking though not so much now. When I was younger we would think nothing of a nice thirteen mile hike through the peak district before a nice late Sunday roast (who was making it or how long it was in the oven I have no idea as we were all out). Occasionally we would also do one on Saturday. As I got older we would go on walking holidays. These involved my Gran (Granny Savidge Reads), Bongy (who I mentioned the other day) my Great Aunty Pat and her husband Derrick who is my Gran’s eldest brother. They would also involve anything between nine and fourteen miles of walking a day either for a week or a fortnight.

Naturally this could get a little boring for a young gent so my Uncle Derrick would memorise tales for me of Arthur Conan Doyle. Initially starting with such greats as ‘The Croxley Master’, ‘The Brown Hand’, ‘The Nightmare Room’, and many, many more. These are all contained in a collection of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories he gave me in my early teens and one I still treasure dearly and dip into now and again. I loved these tales, though it was with Sherlock Holmes that my Uncle Derrick realised he had struck gold half way through The Dales Way. I was apparently spellbound. All these wonderful adventures in Victorian London with dastardly doings and seemingly impossible mysteries to solve, all done by a rather rogue and mysterious man who would fathom them all easily with his trusty sidekick.

It seems I wasn’t the only one hooked as Gran admitted when she was here that she would walk quicker to stay in ear shot of me and Derrick as he regaled these tales for a good mile or three. After the walks stopped (I got a bit teenagery – I needn’t say more) the reading of Sherlock didn’t and I think for a good few years I would start at the beginning read the whole lot and then return to the beginning again. I had a wonderful illustrated omnibus that actually fell apart from over reading and all the journeys it went on. Shockingly I have never bought them again, and now I think it might be time. Maybe I should have a Sherlock Season this spring?

I hinted yesterday that I was going to see a film in this households Boxing Day movie ritual. It was of course Sherlock Holmes. I was slightly worried as I have always found the TV versions lacking something; he always seems too old and more mentally apt than physically which isn’t the case in the books where he boxes like he does in the film. Would a blockbuster directed by Madonna’s ex do the job? The answer is a resounding yes!

It’s utterly brilliant and everything  a Sherlock Holmes tale should be. It’s got an impossible mystery, masterly disguises, devilish doings, tonnes of action and mayhem galore. Robert Downey Jnr is just brilliant as a wily, mysterious, dry humoured and cunning Holmes. Jude Law is great as an authentic Watson who, again like in the books, doesn’t just keep notes and stand by the sidelines but gets fully involved. It was everything I hoped it would be and probably a bit more. I cannot wait for the second one already. You must go and see it; I think it will cause a huge serge in Sherlock sales in the next few months with both adults and younger fans. The game is afoot.

So who else has been thrown under the spell of Sherlock or indeed Arthur Conan Doyle in their reading life? Who has never read him? Who really wants to? Who out there might be up for a read-a-thon? Also who of you have had a remarkable relation who through you further into reading in an unusual way? Uncle Derrick sadly now has Alzheimer’s and when I go and see him has no idea who I am. I often hope he goes back to his favourite tales and gets lost a little in the Victorian adventures he loved and passed the love of on to me?

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Time… For Your Thoughts!

Does anyone else feel a little bit cheated today? Does anyone feel like they have lost an hour this morning to enjoy a delightful read in bed, in the bath or just with your elevenses? Yes me too. I am enjoying Blackmoor so much that frankly this spare hour that has vanished has thrown me into a small sulk. I know it’s Sunday so it’s a nice relaxing day anyway but still, I want that hour back. It’s some kind of time stealing skulduggery that’s what it is.

Mind you it did get me to thinking about Time both reading wise and book wise. Can you believe that some people actually think that reading a book is time wasting, there have been a few books that I have felt that way about, but reading as a general rule I think is one of the most rewarding ways to spend your time. So now its time for you feedback (do you see what I did there) I thought I would ask you all some questions relating to time and see what you all come up with. I shall also have a go too. So here are ten time based questions with my answers beneath each and I would love you to all have a go…

What time do you find the best time to read?
Hmmm, I could read all day but I have four main reading times. Thirty minutes when I get up, on the tube, in the bath and an hour or two before bed.
What are you spending time reading right now?
Blackmoor by Edward Hogan, already am deeply entranced by all the mystery in the book which being set in the 1990’s I didn’t know if would grip me but it has.
What’s the best book with time in the title you have read?
Without question for me it’s The Time Travellers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, I actually want to read this again before the movie comes out.
What is your favourite time (as in era) to read novels based in?
I would say Victorian and Tudor are my two favourites with Victorian novels being my very favourite as it’s such a dark point in history. I also like books set around The Plague, is this making me sound strange.
What book could your read time and time again?
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier.
What recently published book do you think deserves to become a classic in Time?
I think it would have to be The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer or The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite by Beatrice Colin.
What book has been your biggest waste of time?
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, which actually has a time theme, I insisted on finishing it but don’t know why I did.
What big book would you recommend to others to spend time reading if they haven’t?
I would have to recommend that anyone who hasn’t read The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins must, or Darkman’s by Nicola Barker which is huge but well worth it. I on the whole prefer shorter books as you can read more of them.
What’s your favourite read of all time?
That is a really hard one I could list about five that tie for this however as have only one choice it would be The Complete Tales of Sherlock Holmes by the great Arthur Conan Doyle which you can read in parts or simply devour.
Who is your favourite author of all time?
Hmmm that’s a tough one I can think of three, but again as only one choice I would say Daphne Du Maurier, as yet I haven’t read a book of hers I haven’t like and two of her novels would make it into my top ten books of all time.

I look forward to hearing all your responses! So let me know either in my comments of by leaving a link if you decide to do it in your own blog and get other people you know doing it as I think the answers could be very interesting, even if I do say so myself.

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Filed under Arthur Conan Doyle, Audrey Niffenegger, Beatrice Colin, Daphne Du Maurier, Edward Hogan, Mary Ann Shaffer, Nicola Barker, Wilkie Collins