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Sherlock Holmes and the King's Evil: and Other New Tales Featuring the World's Greatest Detective Paperback – 20 Jul 2010
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Sherlockians old and new should relish Thomas' wit and elegance.
Sherlockians old and new should relish Thomas wit and elegance."
Starred Review: Few authors have done as well in bringing these beloved and familiar characters to life. Donald Thomas masterfully evokes the flavor of Doyle's original stories of the great detective.
About the Author
Donald Thomas has published forty books, including poetry, fiction, biography, and true crime. A stage-play based on his work The Return of Sherlock Holmes, was recently produced in Wales. His biography of Robert Browning was short-listed for the Whitbread Award and he received The Gregory Award from T. S. Eliot personally for his poetry collection Points of Contact. The Execution of Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Holmes and the King's Evil and Sherlock Holmes and the Ghosts of Bly are all available from Pegasus Books. He lives in Bath.
Top customer reviews
A rather dull and pedestrian story to begin an anthology with, Watson uncharacteristically documenting the intricacies of finger printing rather than injecting any excitement or urgency into the proceedings. At the half way stage I was almost hoping for the introduction of a Pygmy or two. Holmes seems perpetually on the verge of calling all and sundry, including Watson, blithering morons. The only lighter moment in the whole affair is the alacrity that Watson displays in choosing Ilfracoombe over Tenby as a holiday destination.
The Case of the King's Evil.
This one was much more to my liking. The plot, though not too murky in it's complexity, is still interesting enough to hold the interest, mainly due to how Holmes handles affairs, maintaining a teasing attitude with Watson throughout, which all stems from how the case initially requested aid from the good Doctor and not the better than good detective. The case takes the pair to Norfolk to discover what happened to two brothers, lighthouse keepers both, who have gone missing after a witnessed fight. There are good descriptions throughout of the estuary, the mudflats and the treacherous tides and quicksand under foot. There is a particularly suspenseful sequence out on the mud flats, the tide rushing in, as Holmes pushes bullishly toward a solution with Watson in reluctant tow, the latter seemingly with more mind to the danger the environment poses than the other. I must admit to a fairly rabid fetish in myself for lighthouses, so combining my Holmesian obsession with such is a double whammy. Good stuff.
The Case of the Portuguese sonnets.
Back to more dull ramblings among the murky doings of forgers and extortionists. Too much time is spent with the mechanics and history of forgery, which reads sometimes like a light skimming session on Wikepedia. Hired by Robert Browning's son Holmes travels to Venice, which as a location is largely ignored in favour of dusty rooms filled with poetry, documents and manuscripts from a whole host of figures from Byron to Whitman, as he immerses himself in the dubious art of the forgerer. Yes I chuckled several times at some of Holmes' stock put-downs as Watson and Lestrade so obligingly set themselves up but beyond that my main state of mind, despite being doubly armed with a hot Nespresso and a box of Jaffa Cakes, was boredom. Holmes needs an adversary to outwit or a problem to solve, lives to save or judgement to fall.
The Case of Peter the Painter
This one is jam packed full of the things that make a good Sherlock Holmes story one of the all time high marks for cosy reads. It's got a little of everything. Holmes has a visitor and he can't resist showing off his 'method' for Watson by applying it to the woman who calls. The woman in question tells a story of a sick daughter, yellow canaries and foreigners up to no-good. Holmes is on top note. Watson not so much. Unfortunately, at this point it becomes apparent that Donald Thomas' schtick has turned up wearing Doc Martens; Thomas loves to tie in the story with some historical incidence - in this case the clashes between police and Russian Anarchists notoriously remembered as 'the Houndsditch Murders' in which three policemen were gunned down dead and several more wounded and the Siege of Sydney Street in which Winston Churchill was at hand leading armed police and a detachment of Scots Guard against a heavily armed group of robber/anarchists. Watson gets heavily side-lined as the two Holmes brothers get pally with Winston but at least it gives him time to get some quality reading done in the form of Scott's Heart of Mid-Lothian. Although this is one of the better stories by Thomas I still think it had potential to be better without being diluted by the author's little history essays. 'The Siege of Sidney Street' also appeared in Barrie Roberts' 'Sherlock Holmes and the Railway Maniac', the first of nine Holmes novels which I heartily recommend.
The Case of the Zimmermann Telegram.
The title is all you really need to know. If you have an interest in the Zimmermann Telegram then google some bibliography and save yourself having to read some historical commentary masquerading as a Sherlock Holmes story. Taking place during the 'His Last Bow' era, the story features Sherlock as our secret master decoder and Watson as a secret agent. Sound good? It isn't. No narrative whatsoever, just a very potted spotty history of the exploits of Room 40's codebreakers during the Great War but with Holmes as the prime mover. It occurred to me that the whole story might be another coded message which I eventually managed to decode. It reads thus: FEEL FREE TO SKIM THIS RUBBISH. Unfortunately the message revealed itself too late.
I do like a good anthology. But I do much prefer a mixed author anthology. In a mixed author anthology Donald Thomas might have been represented by the very agreeable 'The Case of the King's Evil', whereas here, in a single author anthology, his faults are highlighted by their repetition and by the inclusion of stories that are of variable quality. Many of these single author anthologies by authors attempting the Holmes pastiche have their highlights but are also of variable quality. It really underlines just what Doyle achieved to maintain such a high level of consistency throughout all 56 of his Sherlock Holmes short stories.
Anarchist insurrection in the East End, that is the "Siege of Sidney Street" of 1911, is the subject of the other story with a pressing historical theme, "The Case of Peter the Painter". Holmes' contribution is politically doubtful, particularly when he engages in an episode of impersonation but, on the whole, he comes out on the side of the downtrodden, the seamstresses in sweat-shops, in spite, it seems, of the gung-ho activities of the then Home Secretary, Winston Churchill.
Real historical figures also appear in "The Case of the Portuguese Sonnets", or, rather a mix of the Brownings and the son and daughter-in-law of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett, along with Jeffrey Aspern and the Bordereau sisters, characters from a Henry James story, which, itself, draws on a drama of letters sent by Percy Bysshe Shelley to Claire Clairmont. The story of fevered literary blackmail effectively evokes the atmosphere of Venice.
"The Case of the Tell-Tale Hands" is a meandering story of irritating aristocrats about whom I eventually couldn't care less. By far the most successful of the stories in this four-story collection is "The King's Evil", probably because, in his efforts to reproduce Conan Doyle's work and yet add something, Donald Thomas brings out more subtle aspects of Holmes' character while bringing additional historical research and making more of settings and weather than does Doyle. This story is set on the edge of the Wash and its weather and topography play a significant part in the plot.
The collection of stories ends with "The Case of the Zimmermann Telegram", which itself ends with Holmes and Watson receiving their first private client in Baker Street for some four years: "In this manner, peace returned to Baker Street."
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
This present collection contains tales that exhibit Thomas' deep knowledge of British crime and its more complicated manifestations. Each of the novellas presents a complex and unexpected tale of events unique to Britain and, particularly, to the British criminal. The only exception is the final entry, which tells the story of the Zimmerman telegram, the trigger event that brought the United States into The Great War.
The Case of the Tell-tale Hands tells of a unique method of blackmail and the victim's equally unique response. It is a dark and chilling tale, to which Holmes and Watson act as audience. Holmes explains the matter to Watson, but neither is able to divert the destiny set in motion by the blackmailer.
The Case of the King's evil is another dark and confused tale. Murder has been done, but the identities of the murderer and the victim are both in question. Further, the method used to perform the murder is even more in question. Holmes, as is his way, discovers all and acts as final judge and jury. He learns more than his client expects and offers a surprising sentence to the guilty.
In The Case of the Portugese Sonnets, Holmes undertakes an investigation into the world of Nineteenth Century Literary forgery. The remarkable materials made available by the mysterious death of a well-known Literay agent/blackmailer threaten to blacken the names of a number of English lumenaries (and to line the pockests of some less than respectable hangers-on). Holmes and Watson are asked to bring some order out of the chaos his death has inaugurated and the results are a triumph of scientific detective work.
The Case of Peter the Painter is a classic example of Winston Churchill's stint as Home Secretary. Holmes discovers evidence of Anarchist activities in Houndsditch and Churchill calls out the Scots Guards. Sherlock and Mycroft, working together, manage to stave off mass murder and to avoid rioting and revolution. The activities of Londoners during this set of circumstances echo those of The Blitz thirty years later, `Business as usual,' in the midst of explosions and gunfire. Even the mysterious magician Chung Ling Soo has a part to play in this fascinating narrative.
In The Case of the Zimmermann Telegram, the author uses Holmes to explain the events that led to the exposure of the telegram transmitted by the German Foreign Office through the US diplomatic pouch as a courtesy and then sent by commercial telegraph service to the German Counsel in Mexico City. The problem was that the note instructed the Cousel to propose that Mexico attack the United States and make Mexican Port facilities available to German submarines conducting unrestricted attacks on nuetral shipping. The release of this telegram, as decoded by the British, brought the US into the Great War.
Donald Thomas has studied and written about the world of British Crime to the point where his understanding of the subject is encyclopedic. His characters and situations are drawn from life and he uses Holmes as no other writer could to track down and foil the very real sorts of criminals he depicts.
Reviewed by: Philip K. Jones; June, 2009
Thomas certainly knows the source material. He is well-informed about the minutiae of the period in which the Sherlock Holmes stories were set, and with the events and personalities of the day. Conan Doyle's books were published when his readers were, of course, completely familiar with their times and settings. And yet subsequent generations have also enjoyed the adventures of Holmes and Watson without needing to know all the intricate background information that Thomas is nonetheless all too happy to provide in often excruciating detail. The phrase "over-egging the pudding" springs to mind here.
In this volume, and in others of his Sherlock Holmes pastiches, Thomas has fallen into the same missteps found in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, for example, whereby our lead character has to be shoehorned into meeting as many notable personages of the early 20th century as possible, and being involved in as many of the important events of the times as possible. But in the original stories Conan Doyle certainly never felt the need for such celebrity name-dropping. Many stories were just small, intimate adventures in their own right, without needing to portray Holmes as being actively involved in the momentous happenings of the day.
As a result of inflating the historical importance of many stories, Thomas often wants to apply superlatives to them. Watson's narration may boast that this particular adventure or that is "the most" of this, or "the most" of that, the first time such-and-such happened, or the last time, and so forth. Once you become aware of such repetition it does become very noticeable. Sometimes just a small outing would have been much more enjoyable, without the reader having to wade through frankly excessive descriptions and contextual explanations, and without attaching some overblown significance to the story's outcome.
These stories would have been greatly improved by a liberal dose of delicious brevity. Whereas other recent incarnations of Sherlock Holmes rely on action and anachronisms, like Guy Ritchie's pop culture pap, Thomas sinks us into a mire of fastidious historical accuracy, which can all too readily bog down an otherwise enjoyable read.
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