Reviews May Contain Minor Spoilers

If you're reading a review you should expect to hear some spoilers. I try to keep them to a minimum though.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Sherlock Holmes: The Adventures for the Ages (12-1)

After bad, decent, good, and great, we come to the twelve absolute best cases!

12. "The Man with the Twisted Lip" 9/10 (Short Story from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes)
A man disappears into thin air and Sherlock must find him while a man rots in prison for the abduction. Holmes once again makes a wrong conclusion that he must reassess on new evidence. It also deals with the issues of the London poor. The solution to this case is one of my particular favorites.

11. "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans" 9/10 (Short Story from His Last Bow)
Mycroft and the British government employ Sherlock to find the plans to a submarine. The deduction in this case is well explained and interesting to follow. Plus, a great deal of it relies on actual forensics and police work rather than deductive leaps. The best story from the 'His Last Bow' collection.

10. "The Adventure of the Red-Headed League" 9/10 (Short Story from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes)
This is another much lauded and very strange case. A man is given money for simply being red-headed and copying the dictionary. This is probably the finest example of something small revealing something huge.

9. "The Adventure of the Priory School" 9/10 (Short Story from The Return of Sherlock Holmes)
Holmes must help retrieve a lord's son who has disappeared. This involves almost all of Holmes' classic tricks. The slog through a moor isn't quite as good as one coming up, but is pretty awesome itself.

8. "The Adventure of the Norwood Builder" 9.5/10 (Short Story from The Return of Sherlock Holmes)
A classic tale of vengeance. Sherlock must clear a man of murder despite the evidence stacked against him.
7. "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton" 9.5/10 (Short Story from The Return of Sherlock Holmes)
Sherlock must turn to crime to thwart a malicious blackmailer. My favorite of all Sherlock's foes! Moriarty is a plot device, the Tiger of San Pedro is too malicious, and Gruner is too obvious; however, Milverton matches Holmes' cunning and forces him to work just outside the law.

6. "The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual" 9.5/10 (Short Story from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes)
My favorite adventure from Memoirs. Another gothic tale that requires Holmesian deduction to finish. It starts with a strange disappearance and suicide and ends with discovered treasure.
5. "The Adventure of the Dancing Men" 9.5/10 (Short Story from The Return of Sherlock Holmes)
This is the best tragic Holmes tale and my favorite from the Memoirs collection. Holmes must break a code to uncover a woman's past before it is too late. The quintessential code-breaking tale.

4. "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" 10/10 (Short Story from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes)
Miss Helen Stoner's sister has been murdered and now she fears she may be next. A tale of jealously, greed, and hatred. It is also one of the most elaborate murder plots that Holmes unravels. It features exotic animals, a midnight wait, and engagement!

3. "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" 10/10 (Short Story from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes)
On Christmas a man finds a goose that lays a large jewel of an egg. It is the subject of a headline theft and Holmes has to discover the thief. The famous Watson-Holmes betting ruse comes from this story.

2. "A Scandal in Bohemia" 10/10 (Short Story from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes)
The best of the short stories contains the only canonical appearance of Irene Adler aka 'the woman.' She has been built by time to be Sherlock's love interest and the quality of this story attests to why. However, she is at her best in the original version without any romantic attachment to the famed detective. The fire trick and Sherlock's getting into good graces in disguise are some of the most memorable of the great detective's gambles.

1. "The Hound of the Baskervilles" 10/10 (Novel)
This is often cited as the best of the Holmes novels, if not the best of all the stories. It definitely lives up to those expectations. A complex plot that evokes intrigue and suspense. The only clear suspect is a supernatural demonic hound. It all wraps up with a logical explanation at the end. My only complaints were that it gets a bit dry in some of the middle chapters and the last chapter might explain things too thoroughly, but they are minor complaints and are necessary to the plot. Doyle provides everything with a haunted majesty that makes it easy to be swept up in. This is Sherlock Holmes at his finest.

Next Time: The Oscars!

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Sherlock Holmes: A Study in Silver (24-13)

I've gone through a few bad stories, some decent ones, and several solid tales, so now we get to the really good stuff!

24. "The Adventure of the Cardboard Box" 7/10 (Short Story from His Last Bow)
A woman is sent a pair of human ears in a cardboard box. Holmes follows several simple (to him) clues which lead him to a killer. We then get his side of the story told like the second parts of 'A Study in Scarlet' and 'The Valley of Fear.' Of the three, this might actually be the most successful at telling the criminal's side. It remains interesting while giving a side of the story the reader couldn't have guessed at before.

23. "The Adventure of the Red Circle" 7.5/10 Stars (Short Story from His Last Bow)
This story finally struck the perfect balance of Holmes sleuthing and murderer backstory for me. Most of the other tales, especially the novels have too much of their length devoted to the killer's lives. This one was short, but detailed enough to be interesting.

22. "The Adventure of the Three Students" 7.5/10 (Short Story from The Return of Sherlock Holmes)
Holmes must save a professor's reputation after an important test is stolen from his study the day before the exam. This case stands out because of its very low stakes. Often a murder or a theft is involved, but this time it's just a scholarship and a reputation.

21. "The Adventure of the Second Stain" 7.5/10 (Short Story from The Return of Sherlock Holmes)
Holmes must help retrieve a paper of international importance and solve a related murder. Another national scandal story that hinges on the titular second stain. Holmes also makes some inferences on the propogation of secrets. In the end Holmes proves that he isn't exactly the most lawful detective when he makes some 'questionable' calls.

20. "The Adventure of the Dying Detective" 7.5/10 (Short Story from His Last Bow)
Holmes is dying and its up to Watson to save him! This is a simple yet elegant story that has a somewhat predictable bent to it. What truly sets it apart are the conversations between Holmes and Watson.

19. "The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter" 7.5/10 (Short Story from The Return of Sherlock Holmes)
An interesting mystery involving the disappearance of a rugby player. It is one of the stories that involves something Holmes has no knowledge of (sports) and a keen adversary that (unlike Moriarty and Milverton) could be a force for good or evil.

18. "The Boscombe Valley Mystery" 7.5/10 (Short Story from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes)
Sherlock must prove that the likeliest suspect in a murder is not always the culprit. Holmes often takes cases on the basis of passionate pleas and this one is no exception. Holmes even makes a few mistakes, but does not waver in his search for the truth.

17. "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches" 8/10 (Short Story from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes)
A Victorian Gothic tale about a governess who works for a family with some incredibly odd habits. She's forced to conform to a dress code and sit at a window at a certain time of the day.
16. "The Adventure of the Empty House" 8/10 (Short Story from The Return of Sherlock Holmes)
This is a much more interesting adventure than the Final Problem. It concludes Sherlock's dealings with Moriarty's gang when he faces Colonel Sebastian Moran, the second most dangerous man in London. The reveal that Holmes is alive and how it is rolled into this tale are fantastic. Plus, unlike the former, there is actually a deductive case.

15. "The Problem of Thor Bridge" 8/10 (Short Story from The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes)
A wholly original case is a surprising thing from the final set of Holmes tales, but 'Thor Bridge' gives us a great story of evidence pointing to the wrong person. In this case, it is the lack of suspects and minimal evidence that dives the tale.

14. "A Study in Scarlet" 8/10 (Novel)
The first Sherlock Holmes novel does not disappoint, though it is a bit simpler than the more famous tales. It establishes Holmes and Watson clearly and imbues them with vigor and humor. It is no wonder that this classic is still read today. My only issues were the sudden change of point of view during part two. All of a sudden the read is transported from London to Salt Lake City? I guess this shift was more common in the late nineteenth century. I'd recommend this to any fan of 19th century literature or detective fiction.

13. "The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb" 8.5/10 (Short Story from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes)
A young man relates the tale of how he lost his thumb after going to a strange house to inspect a machine. It was intriguing until the very end when it led to sort of a cop out ending.

Next Time: The best of this awesome series!

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Sherlock Holmes: The Sign of Greatness (36-25)

From Bad to Average only covers a fraction of the cannon.

36. "The Adventure of the Reigate Squire" 7/10 (Short Story from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes)
Holmes solves a theft where nothing of value was stolen. Holmes' expertise in handwriting comes in handy as part of a note is left. A highlight of this episode is a look into Watson's life before Holmes.

35. "The Adventure of Black Peter" 7/10 (Short Story from The Return of Sherlock Holmes)
An admirer and imitator of Holmes requires the master's help why he gets stuck on the harpoon murder of a violent sea captain. It turns out the student has much to learn.

34. "The Adventure of the Naval Treaty" 7/10 (Short Story from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes)
Missing papers and a curious clue may lead to the fall of the British Empire. Holmes makes some great deductions and lays a good trap. The criminal is the weak point of this one due to his rather weak plot and common motive. This one has a great ending that stands as one of the best Holmes tricks ever, and it's on his own client!

33. "The Adventure of the Lion's Mane" 7/10 (Short Story from The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes)
Sherlock Holmes has retired, but must untangle the curious circumstances around the death of his neighbor. The imagery really captures life near the ocean. Unfortunately, Holmes looks foolish as the evidence leads Holmes, and the reader, away from the actual solution. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it was too trivial to fool Holmes. Perhaps he's slipping in his old age. This is another story narrated by Holmes and the third of the 'forged' stories according to “The Seven-Per-Cent Solution.”

32. "The Adventure of the Three Gables" 7/10 (Short Story from The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes)
A strangely twisting tale that involves Holmes exploring the motives behind the purchase of a house. This one is also declared a forgery in 'The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. There is a fairly racist caricatured black man in it which brings down an otherwise solid story; however, I don't feel it is any worse than the racism in 'Wisteria Lodge' (not that it is excused).

31. "The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet" 7/10 (Short Story from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes)
Holmes must free a wrongly imprisoned man and attempt to reunite a family. A man withholds evidence that could lead to his freedom. The beryl coronet is used as a McGuffin in this story which is unusual for Holmes' mysteries.

30. "The Adventure of the Crooked Man" 7/10 (Short Story from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes)
A locked room case involving a creepy man. This story puts Holmes' deduction against old passions of a soldier. The backstory is forged in the firery exoticism of the Indian war and provides as good a tale as the main mystery.

29. "The Adventure of the Abbey Grange" 7/10 (Short Story from The Return of Sherlock Holmes)
Holmes is called once again by his detective admirer. Holmes' prejudice almost gts the better of him, but his thoughts on the train home win out. The case hinges on a bottle of wine!

28. "The Adventure of the Retired Colourman" 7/10 (Short Story from The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes)
Sherlock Holmes and Watson take the case of man whose wife ran off with another man and all his money. Sherlock also contends with an up and coming young detective. This case swings on Watson's report of paints fumes and the deduction follows. This story is often put last in the canon as Holmes respects the up-and-comer which makes for a much better last case.

27. "The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez" 7/10 (Short Story from The Return of Sherlock Holmes)
Another fine deductive Holmes case with interesting twists and classic gambles. Holmes must help the promising young admirer from 'Adventure of Black Peter' solve a murder where the only solid evidence is a pair of gold pince-nez glasses.

26. "The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier" 7/10 (Short Story from The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes)
A man requires Sherlock's expertise in discovering what happened to his army buddy. As the first tale related by Sherlock himself, this one is a unique and has a few genuinely surprising gothic turns. The ending might turn some off to the adventure, but it is a fitting end to this tale of friendship.

25. "The Sign of Four" 7/10 Stars (Novel)
The second Sherlock novel is loved by many and is the most Victorian of the novels. It has Indian exotics and a charming young lady in distress all wrapped around a locked door murder. It gets a little long winded and repetitive at times. Though it has the most suspenseful boat chase in fiction, it couldn't save the rather obvious plot and lame cartoonish villains.

Next Time: Sherlock tales that really rise to the occasion.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Sherlock Holmes: His Average Adventures (48-37)

From the worst to the discernibly average! The Sherlock Holmes canon provides a great many unique mysteries, but the following aren't the best examples. This is also the one with the most tags: Science Fiction & Horror for 'Creeping Man,' War for 'His Last Bow,' and we've finally got a Novel!

48. "The Adventure of the Illustrious Client" 6/10 (Short Story from The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes)
Watson relates a case that could not be told before. The Heiress Violet De Merville has fallen in love with wife murderer Baron Gruner, and Sherlock must prevent their marriage. This case has a simple solution, involving no deduction or real skill. The Heiress comes off as foolish making the stakes incredibly low.

47. "The Adventure of the Creeping Man" 6/10 (Short Story from The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes)
The Sherlock Holmes story that verges on Science Fiction: The Island of Doctor Moreau mixed with The Strange Case of Doctor Jeykll and Mr. Hyde. The horror elements make the case fascinating, but the ending explanation is so far from the grounded realism of the rest that it sounds quite ridiculous.

46. "A Case of Identity" 6/10 (Short Story from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes)
Holmes loves a false identity case without even breaking a sweat. He then chooses not to tell his client about his discovery... Another case that doesn't excite like many of the others. Both its faults and merits are few.

45. "Silver Blaze" 6/10 (Short Story from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes)
This is considered by many to one of the favorite Sherlock Holmes stories, but it is merely average. It has one of the better endings, but not the best lead up to it.

44. "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor" 6/10 (Short Story from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes)
Nobleman has to find his runaway bride. It's hard to find cases that don't challenge Holmes exciting. Even if the reader has difficulty deciphering, it is good to challenge the hero.

43. "The Final Problem" 6/10 (Short Story from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes)
Given that this story has given rise to one of the most infamous villains of all time, I expected more. Moriarty is better served by the many adaptations of this story. Doyle tries to sneak him into later stories with varying degrees of success, but he reads more as plot device than person in his signature tale. Our heroes spends most of their time running away. Watson tries his hand at the art of deduction at the end, but comes up lacking.

42. "The Adventure of the Gloria Scott" 6.5/10 (Short Story from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes)
The story of how Sherlock became involved in detection. There is a significant lack of detection by Sherlock. The code cracking is better in the Dancing Men and it has another muddled ending.

41. "The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter" 6.5/10 (Short Story from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes)
The first appearance of Mycroft Holmes. Sherlock must help a man who's been kidnapped and forced to translate for a Greek hostage. The sections with Mycroft are the best part. The rest is obscure politics and the resolution isn't that great.

40. "His Last Bow" 6.5/10 (Short Story from His Last Bow)
The first Holmes story completely in third person and the last story of Holmes' life. The switch is odd and it doesn't really feel like a Holmes story until Watson arrives at the end. It's pretty entertaining, though its 'twist' is fairly obvious. The real treat is seeing Holmes at work during the first World War!

39. "The Adventure of the Three Garridebs" 6.5/10 (Short Story from The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes)
A melodramatic opening leads into a story that is incredibly similar to “the Red-Headed League.” It differentiates itself by showing more of Sherlock's effect on the world and being one of the rare instances of Sherlock having an emotional outburst (and a good one!).

38. "The Valley of Fear" 6.5/10 (Novel)
The last Holmes novel is also the weakest. This story would have been better without trying to connect it to Moriarty. An entire chapter is spent trying to build up the villain, even leading to some continuity issues. The story itself involves the murder of a man in the country. It starts with some code breaking and builds up to Holmes solving the case based on an insignificant detail. It is actually sort of an amalgamation of several other stories. It even lends the style of its second part to the second part of A Study in Scarlet. Fortunately, there is more of a transition, but the tale is also more vague. It ends up becoming a slog until the very last chapter. All this leads to a very uneven novel with several high points and many low points.

37. "The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place" 6.5/10 (Short Story from The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes)
The last Holmes story to be written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but doesn't provide any finality. From burnt corpses to strange insanity, it a Gothic tales of a man trying to preserve his fortune. It has plenty of twists; though, it might be somewhat convoluted. Holmes' second and more unconventional use of dogs was great.

Next time: Some solid Sherlock Holmes stories!

Saturday, 4 January 2014

A Thousand Tiny Wings

Continuing in the Klein series, the Doctor catches up to her several years later in Kenya.
A Thousand Tiny Wings (2010) By: Andy Lane

At a house in the midst of the wilds of Kenya, four women prepare for revolutionaries to arrive at their home. One of them finds a strange blue ape in the forest, brings him back, and names him Abraham. A little while later there's a knock at the door. A man named the Doctor has arrived and one of the women recognizes him.

This adventure takes a look at Imperialism and how it compares to Nazism. It also involves the willingness to change one's long held beliefs. Both Klein and Sylvia have their beliefs shaken when faced with an advanced alien race. The toughest part of this is the trying to take the Imperialist notions as sound. They are definitely outdated, and make Sylvia tremendously unlikable.

Our Hero
The Seventh Doctor's ideologies are put to the test again as his faith in people doesn't really work in desperate revolution Kenya. His banter with Klein is top notch once again and she gets in some really good points. Ultimately it comes to the question of which is more important, the individual or the society.

Cruel Observers
Mrs. Sylvia O'Donnell is the matron of the house who awaits her husband's return. She is a strict believer in the superiority of Western culture and doesn't understand the Kenyan Mau Mau rebellion. As I mentioned earlier, she is really difficult to sympathize with. Even by the end, it is more a change in long held belief than the challenge of imperialism that's interesting about her.

Elizabeth Klein is in Kenya trying to prevent something that happened in her timeline from happening in the proper one. She still maintains that the timeline she's in is an error, but she'll try to make the best of it and steer it toward her conceived future. While with the Doctor, she constructs a darker Doctor straw man and beats it up quite a bit; however, her best points come with regards to their foes and Abraham.

Bladed Foe
The Swarm is intense and unrelenting. The idea of the creatures not only being a mass of tiny razors coming at you, but a thousand poisoned ones is terrifying. A great monster that unfortunately falls into the weapons broker trope. They deserve better.

Homestead Atmosphere
The entire adventure takes place on the grounds of a colonial house. A claustrophobic feeling of impending doom hangs over this adventure as portions of the house fall to the Swarm and the Mau Mau.

In the End
Did the Doctor really win? Was there any winning?

An adventure with great atmosphere but a rather muddled message. The Doctor and Klein make a great team and this adventure promised more fascinating things between them. We also see more of a full introduction to Klein, since Colditz is more of an Ace story.

Check it out at Big Finish! Klein's story continues in Klein's Story.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Sherlock Holmes: The Twelve Black Stains (47-60)

Happy New Year! With the premiere of the new season of Sherlock, I thought I'd go through my ranking of the entire Sherlock Holmes Canon by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. These ratings are by story as opposed to by collection. The novels are included as a single 'story' each, though none of the novels are featured in this post. Given that these twelve are the only ones I really can't recommend, it makes Doyle's works all that more impressive. So, here are:

49."The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist" 5.5/10 (Short Story from The Return of Sherlock Holmes)
A woman is hired by a gentleman to be his housekeeper, but she is continually followed to work by a lone cyclist. Adding to her troubles is that her boss's friend is a jerk with the hots for her. This story is long and has some problems with pacing. It is unbelievable that Sherlock Holmes has to point out that a marriage is not valid until both parties say 'I do."

50. "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons" 5.5/10 (Short Story from The Return of Sherlock Holmes)
Sherlock Holmes must figure out why someone is smashing busts of Napoleon. This one is only this low because the crime seemed really obvious.

51. "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire" 5.5/10 (Short Story from The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes)
A heartfelt, if disappointing tale, involving Sherlock clearing the suspicion around a very simple case. The best part of this story comes from the emotion written into the Ferguson family.

52. "The Adventure of the Resident Patient" 5/10 (Short Story from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes)
An old man gets frightened by footprints. Okay, it ends up being much more complicated and perilous than that, but it didn't have a good hook or endearing characters.

53. "The Adventure of the Stockbroker's Clerk" 5/10 (Short Story from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes)
A young man consults Holmes about a job that seems too strange to  be true. So convoluted that it becomes tedious and boring, this is perhaps the most average Sherlock Holmes story.

54. "The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax" 4.5/10 (Short Story from His Last Bow)
A lady has disappeared in France and Holmes has deduced that foul play is involved. This a rough Holmes story. Most of the elegant detection is throw out while Sherlock acts like a mad ruffian. While some cases call for this, Holmes could have used discretion to successfully solve the case.

55. "The Adventure of the Devil's Foot" 4.5/10 Stars (Short Story from His Last Bow)
While Sherlock Holmes convalesces at a seaside resort, an event happens that appears supernatural in nature. A woman is killed and her two brothers are driven mad with little sign as to what or who could have killed them. There just wasn't much deduction in this story and the explanations for the deaths were really weak.

56. "The Adventure of the Yellow Face" 4/10 (Short Story from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes)
The token "Sherlock Holmes is wrong"story from Memoirs. Sherlock Holmes is approached about a man whose wife is behaving strangely. The situation becomes conflated and it turns out to be more about lack of trust than anything sinister. This is a worse version of "The Dancing Men."

57. "The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge" 4/10 Stars (Short Story from His Last Bow)
A man goes to visit a friend for dinner and wakes up to find the house empty the next day. The first part is promising, but the second part is a big let down. The muddled facts and the puffed up villain make this case kind of a dud. Not even any really great deductive bits. Also, there is an unfortunate amount of racism in this tale.

58. "The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone" 3/10 (Short Story from The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes)
The 'Seven-Per-Cent Solution' Watson was right to name this one a forgery. It reads like a cobbled together “Blue Carbuncle” and “Dying Detective.” Another 'nefarious' villain who turns out to be even stupider than the one from “Wisteria Lodge.” This is rightfully seen as one of the worst stories.

59. "The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger" 2/10 (Short Story from The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes)
Why was this adventure written? Sherlock Holmes has failed a case and has it told to him at a later date. There are plenty of Sherlock Holmes fails stories, and this one adds nothing new. It isn't even interesting, just a boring account. I suppose Doyle tries to drive some pathos for the Veiled Lodger, but it just comes off as baffling. There is a bit of Sherlockian persuasion at the end, but not enough to save this story. My version of Watson declares this one a forgery! I can do that, right?

60. "The Five Orange Pips" 1/10 (Short Story from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes)
My least favorite tale is the most dissatisfying of the first set of Holmes stories. This is partially because as an American the mystery behind "KKK" is... thin at best. Plus the mystery is convoluted and the ending is dissatisfying. I can't believe this ever made it to one of Doyle's 'best of' lists.

Next time: The stories whose only crimes are being average!