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Underwhelming mysteries elevated by a superb reading from Cumberbatch
on 16 February 2011
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle may not have wanted to write more Sherlock Holmes stories in his lifetime until forced to by an angry mob, but there's been no shortage of pasticheurs since his death willing to do so for him, with these four stories by John Taylor the latest, but far from the last, in a long line. The presentation certainly impresses: borrowing a leaf from Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond's book, these are drawn from discarded notes in Dr John Watson's old cedar wood box that are finally dusted off for an airing. No great or shocking revelations about the Great Consulting Detective's private life here, merely some second string stories that don't live up to the master but do a decent job of capturing his style, aided immensely by Benedict Cumberbatch's superb reading. While it may immediately seem like gimmick casting, what particularly impresses is not just that Cumberbatch gives a completely different reading of Holmes to the one in his TV incarnation as Sherlock - these are, after all, period stories rather than modern-day adventures - but that in his narration as Watson you really would think you were listening to a much older actor so accomplished and natural is his performance. He's quite adept at creating the other characters with a multitude of accents as well. Indeed, it's one of those rare cases where the reader is so good he carries you over the stories' many weak points - the poor plots and obvious resolutions in particular - and emphasises their strengths - Taylor's stylish prose - making what could have been a mere opportunistic cash-in something that's actually a genuine pleasure to listen to. It won't take you long to forget the stories, but the narrator's fine performance(s) will stay with you a lot longer. Someone really should give him some genuine Conan Doyle Holmes stories to narrate before he gets sick to death of the role.