Thursday, January 27, 2011

Review: The Sherlockian - Graham Moore

Synopsis: December, 1893: Hungry for the latest Sherlock Holmes installment Londoners ripped open their Strand magazines, only to reel in horror. Holmes's creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, had killed their hero off. London spiraled into mourning, with crowds donning black armbands in grief, branding Conan Doyle an assassin, and demanding an explanation. But the cryptic author said nothing.

Eight years later, however, just as abruptly as he had "murdered" Holmes in The Final Problem, Conan Doyle brought him back for a new series of adventures. Again, the author said nothing. After his death, the diary that would have shed light on his mysterious reasons, chronicling this interim period in detail, went missing. In the decades since it has never been found.

Or has it?

January 2010: When Harold White is inducted into the preeminent Sherlock Holmes society, the Baker Street Irregulars, he never imagines he's about to embark on the hunt for the holy grail of Holmesophiles: the missing diary. But when the world's leading Doylean scholar turns up dead in his hotel room, it is Harold - using wisdom gleaned from countless detective stories - who must take up the search, both for the diary and for the killer. In a journey that hurtles from New York to London, and from the present day into the historical milieu of Conan Doyle, Harold delves perilously into the history of Sherlock Holmes and his creator - discovering a secret that proves to be anything but "elementary."

Review: Any mystery fan will love this book, but to truly appreciate it - to truly understand it - you must be a Sherlockian yourself. And I mean a real Sherlockian - not someone who gets all of their information from The Seven Per-Cent Solution and thinks that the Baker Street Irregulars are just okay.

That said, I must now move onto less pleasant things. The Sherlockian is a great mystery, but none of the characters are at all likable - except, maybe, Bram Stoker, but even he has shortcomings that are hard to ignore. I thought that I would like Harold White at first, but as the story wore on, I began to care less and less about what happened to him. This is one of those stories where you read it for the story's sake - not for the characters' sakes. But what really made me decide that I wasn't going to buy it is the language: 1 g--damn, 2 f-words, and 8 s-words. Now, a lot of the language can actually be avoided.

There are two stories going on in The Sherlockian: the mystery Harold White is trying to solve on 2010, and the one Conan Doyle is trying to solve in 1900. The book goes back-and-forth between the two, and you could actually just read Conan Doyle's story and skip the 2010-set story entirely - this is how you avoid the language. The 1900 section only has three bad words - 1 f-word and 2 s-words. And if you do this, you'll be reading the more interesting of the two mysteries. However, you cannot read the 2010-mystery without reading Conan Doyle's story, because it does end up being linked in the end, but not in a way that prevents you from reading Conan Doyle's mystery only. I will warn those of you who have easily-upset stomachs: the last two chapters set in 1900 have some pretty graphic gore.

In short, if I could just buy the chapters set in 1900 and the Author's Note (really, the most interesting part the book; definitely worth reading), then I would buy The Sherlockian. But I can't and there are better mystery stories out there with likable characters and not nearly as much language.

Overall Rating: 

Sherlockian Rating: JJJ

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