Saving Undershaw: The First Step

From the Undershaw Preservation Trust Website:

UPT Co-Founder Lynn Gale says, “We did it! The team from all over the world has saved the former home of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle from development. The judge ruled in our favour this morning. Thank you to everyone for all their support.”

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s house is safe–for the moment.

I became a part of the Undershaw Preservation Trust over a year ago when I became one of the Florida representatives. At the time, I couldn’t believe that the home of such a prominent writer was under threat of imminent development by people who did not intend to preserve its historical legacy.

Things got even weirder–I found out that the British Historical Trust had refused to fully protect the house in the past because they claimed Sir Arthur wasn’t an important enough writer. (I’m not kidding-this is documented. You can google it.) I also found out that the incomparable Mark Gatiss of Sherlock acclaim was the patron of the Preservation Trust. How, I thought, with people like him and Stephen Fry on their side, could the Trust fail?

But then I looked up the legal stuff. I saw the condition the house is currently in, and I understood why citizens who live near it are eager to see it restored. For some, the idea of development seemed like a good plan because it would mean someone was doing something. To lovers of history like me, however, the idea was horrifying. Conan Doyle designed the home for his wife, lived in it for a decade, wrote The Hound of the Baskervilles there, and finally resurrected the world’s greatest detective during his residence there. The historical and literary significance is mind-boggling, not to mention that the house itself is an absolutely gorgeous example of turn-of-the-century architecture.

I’ll admit, I’ve been pretty pessimistic about the ruling for some time. Those of us involved with the Trust saw the court date postponed, naysayers decrying the chances, and a tide of legalese that seemed to be on the side of development.

Turns out The Undershaw Preservation Trust did its homework. When the home was greenlit for development, the proper legal steps were not taken. As a result, a judge has ruled that the development cannot go forward.

This is a truly joyful day for lovers of Sherlock Holmes and his creator’s home.

But it’s only the beginning. Undershaw still stands vacant, run-down, and in need of serious care. That care will require attention and funding for years to come. If we truly desire to preserve Undershaw as a piece of history, we can’t afford to stop working now.

We won, but winning is the very first step.

The Reichenbach Fall: Review

He is the Napoleon of crime, Watson. He is the organizer of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in this great city. He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker. He has a brain of the first order. He sits motionless, like a spider in the center of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them.

The Final Problem

Not, perhaps, the final problem, but certainly the biggest problem confronting the BBC’s Sherlock is always how to update stories and characters that are iconically Victorian without destroying the essence of the original. Steve Thompson (with input from Gatiss and Moffat, I’d imagine) had a particularly daunting challenge with which to contend this series, that of adapting a story that contains one of the most important events in the Sherlock Holmes canon but is at the same time, arguably, one of the least  well-plotted of Conan Doyle’s stories.

In this reviewer’s opinion, The Reichenbach Fall not only matched Conan Doyle’s version–it was better.

Certainly, the Sherlock team could have chosen to stick closely to the original story. Holmes and Moriarty could have confronted one another, and  Sherlock could have foreseen eventualities and dragged Watson to Switzerland for an emotional climax. But that’s not how Sherlock works. Unlike Conan Doyle, who chose to off Holmes using someone who hadn’t previously been mentioned, the BBC version has done a careful job of crafting Moriarty as Holmes’s nemesis from the first episode of Series 1 when his name is uttered by the dying cabbie. As a result, viewers needed the stakes to be high, both for the consulting detective and the consulting criminal, and the writers had a great deal to work with. In addition, Conan Doyle killed Holmes because he was tired of him. The show’s intention was the dead opposite–viewers want more of Holmes, not less, so the fall had to take into account the heartbreak that everyone knew was coming, like it or not.

The resulting episode was chilling, funny, beautiful, and heartbreaking. The fall’s conception as a philosophical rather than physical concept was surprising and horrifying, though its inevitable conclusion was extremely close in tone and spirit to the original. In an age of mobile phones and Internet, it makes sense for us to see Sherlock Holmes’s farewell rather than watching his friend find a note, and Mycroft’s ambiguity, while not strictly canonical, fit neatly with his characterization throughout both series.

Ample praise has already been heaped on Cumberbatch, Freeman, and Scott. I will just add that their Bafta nominations are more than deserved, and it’s a pity Freeman and Scott are pitted against each other in the same category.

Here’s to the Sherlock team for crafting a brilliant series of television capped off by a brilliant finale, and here’s to the 18 months we wait for the detective and the doctor to meet again. In the end, that’s what Sherlock is all about.

What did you think about the episode and about Sherlock Series 2? Let me know in the comments.

Canon Thursday: Funniest Moment in Sherlock Holmes

I’ve recently been invited to contribute to a Sherlock Holmes humor anthology, and that got me thinking about the one major thing that stood out to me when I re-read the Sherlock Holmes canon in 2010: the humor.

My first exposure to Holmes was before the age of 10, and during childhood, I was able to absorb the suspense and excitement, but the prevalent dry humor eluded me. As an adult re-reading the stories, I was delighted to find a great deal to giggle over in stories that were very familiar but at the same time not familiar at all because I was looking at them with mature eyes.

Many of Watson’s observations in the stories strike me as humorous, but one of my favorite lighter moments occurs in “The Adventure of the Yellow Face,” when Holmes drily utters, “Watson, if it should ever strike you that I am getting a little overconfident in my powers, or giving less pains to a case than it deserves, kindly whisper ‘Norbury’ in my ear, and I shall be infinitely obliged to you.”

Canon Thursday wants to know: What strikes you as funny in the Sherlock Holmes stories? Do you have a silly idea for a Sherlock Holmes humor piece that you wouldn’t mind me using? Let me know in the comments.

The Detective and The Woman: How to get it

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It’s been a month since The Detective and The Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes was officially released by MX Publishing, and it’s been a month filled with book-signing hijinks, lovely reviews, and increased availability. Here’s a master list of ways you can get the book, both as a paperback and as an e-book.

As a paperback:

The Baker Street Babes Bookshop (Portion of all proceeds helps out our podcast)

MX Publishing US

MX Publishing UK

Classic Specialties

Amazon USA 

Amazon UK

The Book Depository (ships free all over the world)

As an e-book:

Apple iBooks (purchasable through the app)

Amazon US Kindle Version 

Amazon UK Kindle Version (I can’t link it because I’m in the US, but if you click into the paperback version, you’ll see a link to it)

Kobo (This link provides the e-Pub version, which works for nook, Sony, and many other e-readers)

The Hounds of Baskerville: Review

“They say it is the cry of the Hound of the Baskervilles.”

The Hound of the Baskervilles

Mother’s Day in the United States marked the airing of Mark Gatiss’s take on the classic Holmes novel The Hound of the Baskervilles. For Holmesians, this story is one of the most significant in the entire canon because its publication marked the first official hint that Sherlock Homes might not be gone for good, and it bisected the time period between The Final Problem and The Empty House.

Gatiss’s reimagining is an intriguing mixture of specific homages and major changes to the original story, filled with exact quotes and plot twists, but also with characters whose genders and roles in the story have changed significantly. The tone of the episode feels very different from the other five in the show’s canon, just as the novel reads quite differently from Doyle’s other Holmesian output. In both cases, the horror/paranormal elements of the story make for far more gothic and shocking mood than usual.

In Sherlock‘s first series, Gatiss proved himself to be masterful at character moments, and the interactions between Holmes and Watson during this episode are some of the best of the second series as they navigate anger, deceit, loyalty, and ultimately, what friendship means to the two of them. Rupert Graves’s Inspector Lestrade makes an appearance that cannot be called anything less than charming, and a few other surprising cameos allude to the overall arc of the series. Of further note is the superb score by David Arnold and Michael Price, as well as the beautiful, sometimes terrifying, and always engaging cinematography.

The Hounds of Baskerville, series 2’s middle child, refuses to be overlooked or underestimated. It stands alone as a fascinating re-telling of a beloved classic, but it also provides a link in the chain of the wider story Moffat and Gatiss have committed to telling through the series as a whole.

What did you think of the episode? Let me know in the comments.

Canon Thursday: Favorite Female Character

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This past Sunday saw the PBS airing of A Scandal in Belgravia, featuring Steven Moffat’s update of the clever and enigmatic Irene Adler. In honor of this, Canon Thursday has a very specific question:

Out of the three main women in the Holmes canon, who is your favorite? I’m aware that others are mentioned in passing, but these are the three I want to focus on because of their greater presence.

1) Irene Adler

2) Mrs. Hudson

3) Mary Morstan

Which one do you love the most and why? Let me know in the comments.

The Secret Journal of Dr. Watson: Review

As a book reviewer for the Baker Street Babes, I have the opportunity to read a lot of pastiche and other Sherlock Holmes-related material. Once in a while, a truly exceptional book catches my eye, and this past week, I had a chance to review one that stood out in a major way: The Secret Journal of Dr. Watson by Phil Growick.

The Secret Journal of Dr. Watson takes Sherlock Holmes and his Boswell on an adventure to Russia during the Bolshevik revolution, putting them in contact with historical and fictional figures alike as they pursue the rescue of the Romanovs. Danger stalks them at every turn, and they are constantly confronted with their own mortality and the need for the detective’s mind to be at its most keen.

Growick takes the traditional approach of using Watson’s voice, conveyed in daily journal entries. This technique is effective, and the Holmes and Watson encountered by the reader are canonical and engaging. The book bears the official Conan Doyle estate seal with good reason; the quality of its research and writing are impressive.
Read the rest of the review at the Baker Street Babes
You can purchase the book here
A copy of this novel was provided for consideration by MX Publishing.

A Scandal in Belgravia: Review

To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex.

A Scandal in Bohemia

On May 6th, PBS Masterpiece unleashed Steven Moffat’s stylish update of A Scandal in Bohemia on the United States. I had seen the episode previously, but I watched again and live tweeted with fans, an interesting mix of those who were seeing it for the first time and those who were repeating the experience.

Almost immediately, I was struck by two things: 1) I still intensely dislike the direction Steven Moffat chose to take Irene’s character, and 2) The episode is so beautifully and cleverly written that I love it in spite of that.

When I decided to write a novel (The Detective and The Woman) about Sherlock Holmes, one of my primary desires, one I believe I fulfilled, was to write about Irene Adler as an intelligent human being rather than primarily a sexual object. Moffat’s Irene, played brilliantly by Lara Pulver, is doubtlessly intelligent, but by making her a “professional scolder” as Mycroft Holmes would politely put it, he definitely brought sex to the forefront, which disappointed me. Irene uses sexuality as a weapon throughout the episode, a dynamic of which I am not at all fond.

However, and it’s an extremely large however, the the episode is clever, funny, beautiful, and all-around brilliant. Irene keeps Sherlock on his toes, just as she does in the Holmes canon, and one aspect that I like a great deal is that Sherlock also has a distinct effect on her. He displays a great deal of respect for her by relating to her on a cerebral, intelligent level, refusing to see her as just a body, no matter how fervently she throws herself at him.

In the end, both Sherlock and Irene affect each other deeply, but in a way that goes far beyond the physical. As in the Doylean story, Holmes is confronted with a formidable woman and does not escape unaltered by the encounter. The end of the episode is fascinating because it suggests that both Sherlock and Irene win in different ways, depending on the viewer’s way of looking at it.

Other delights include Mrs. Hudson being far tougher than anyone realized, Mycroft and Sherlock having a heart-to-heart conversation, Sherlock finally playing the violin seriously, and Watson showing how deeply he has come to care for his flatmate.

Overall, Belgravia is my least favorite of the series 2 episodes when it comes to plot, but in spite of that, the cleverness of the writing and performances and the beauty of the cinematography and musical score make it one of the best episodes of television I’ve ever seen.

How did you like the episode? For those of you who had already seen it, what was it like watching again? Let me know in the comments

PBS Sherlock Returns

It’s that time! The USA is finally getting its official dose of Sherlock Series 2 goodness, for the first three Sunday nights in May. Check PBS local listings for airtimes.

Fellow author Lyndsay Faye and my ladies the Baker Street Babes are helping PBS live tweet during the episodes. I’m joining in, and my Twitter name is Pickwick12. The hashtag is #SherlockPBS if you want to join the fun.

Things kicked off on May 6th with “A Scandal in Belgravia,” Steven Moffat’s elegantly-written spin on Irene Adler, and next week we’ll see Mark Gatiss’s brilliant take on “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” with Russell Tovey guest starring. In my view, the highlight is all the fabulous character moments between Sherlock and John.

For those in the US, don’t forget to order your Series 2 DVD set! It’ll be shipping out very soon now, complete with extras and commentary goodness.