About girlonbridge

23rdSixties...because the 23rd century was so much like the 1960's, Baby. Until 2011, I had seen half an episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and "Star Trek," the movie from 2009. Armed with that incredible arsenal of trekkie knowledge, I decided to jump headfirst into the world of TOS, the original Star Trek series that began in 1966. This blog is my homage to that experience. Will I be an expendable redshirt, or an enduring blue or yellowshirt? Will I disappear randomly like Yoeman Janice or press bravely forward like Mr. Sulu? Only time will tell.

Shakespeare and Sherlock


It’s often said that Poe invented the detective story, while Doyle’s Holmes Canon was responsible for immortalizing and popularizing it. However, I recently went to see Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost in the cinema, an excellent production by the Stratford Festival in Ontario, and my reintroduction to that play reminded me how much of what we would call detective work is in Shakespeare’s plays. 

The character of Boyet acts as a detective on behalf of the Princess of France, ferreting out the plans of the King of Navarre and his nobles. In service to his own passions, Don Armado investigates and uncovers an affair between Costard and Jacquenetta. The princess and her ladies perform detailed analysis of the letters received by their suitors as part of the comedy’s elaborate wordplay, and their meticulousness is worthy of a Holmes brother. 

This is just one of a number of Shakespeare plays that contain conspicuous elements that fall under the heading of detection, for where there’s a mystery to solve by the end of the play, there must be at least one character functioning as a detective to solve it. Some even use their skills for nefarious purposes, like Othello’s Iago, an excellent sleuth who uses what he deduces to destroy lives.

I’ve heard and read many theories about the enduring popularity of Holmes and detective stories, but Shakespeare is a reminder that the popularity of mystery and elements of detection did not arise out of a Victorian vacuum. They were around in popular media long before, and if Holmes is ever to be forgotten, they will no doubt continue after.

Life presents the adult human with constant mysteries to endure, some of which we can solve, others of which we will never be able to fully grasp. Mystery stories are comfortingly escapist because they present solvable problems and the characters with the necessary skills to solve them. Whether or not they’re called mysteries and detectives, several of Shakespeare’s plots serve this function. He wasn’t the first, and Doyle certainly isn’t the last, great author to interpret and make sense of life through the mystery lens. Detection is always found where mystery is found, which means the human race has never lacked detectives, regardless of what they were called. 

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How to purchase my Sherlock Holmes novels:

(Book 1) The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

(Book 2) The Detective, The Woman and The Winking Tree: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

(Book 3) The Detective The Woman and The Silent Hive is available from all good bookstores including   Amazon USAAmazon UKWaterstones UK, and for free shipping worldwide from Book Depository. In ebook format it is in Amazon Kindle.

An Imperfect Hero: My Life, My Disability, and Sherlock Holmes

I don’t think about it all that much, the intersection of my disability and my love of Sherlock Holmes. I’m a permanently-disabled person; my physical disability goes with me and is part of me, wherever I go and whatever I do. These days, I’m so used to the idea of Sherlock Holmes as a positive coping mechanism that I hardly even stop to think about the magic of it all any more–the magic of the way a fictional detective joined me on my journey one day, jumping into the landscape of my life and making himself at home.

I met Holmes as a preteen, but I truly fell in love with him as a character right in the middle of the period that I think of as my “Crohn’s Decade.” I was a distance-learning college student in my mid-20s, trying to make sense of an incurable disease and physical limitations my doctors couldn’t solve. In contrast, Sherlock Holmes was the ultimate solver. He might make mistakes on occasion, but for the vast majority of the 60 canonical stories, he’s at the top of his game. I could get lost in a story like “The Copper Beeches” and know that it was all going to come out right in the end. Holmes would figure it out. Even if no one could figure me out, I had a place to go where everything made sense.

Alongside my health issues came mental ones, exacerbated by the physical challenges I faced. I’m clinically obsessive-compulsive. I’ve had intermittent bouts of major depression, and I have an anxiety disorder. At times, along the way, I’ve felt like an alien trying to survive in a world where I don’t seem to fit, an outsider looking in. You know who else is an outsider? The world’s only consulting detective. Never once has Sherlock Holmes made me feel alienated; in fact, the celebration of Holmes’s uniqueness in the Doyle Canon, his difference from the norm, has helped me to look at my own personality with a gentler eye. I might never reach Watsonian or Lestrade-like levels of societal acceptability. I might never be able to conform to what is expected of me or reach the social normalcy I sometimes seek, but neither does Sherlock Holmes. He’s an iconoclastic, self-directed character, and he’s not always happy, either. He has good days and (very) bad days. The point is, he’s always uncompromisingly himself. His radical self-acceptance is an ongoing challenge in my quest to reach my own.

Finally, Holmes’s character arc of defeat and triumph has served as a highly personal inspiration for me through the darkest time in my life, my cancer fight that resulted in a permanent ileostomy and other challenging physical complications. As a Christian, I often look to the Bible, and Micah 7:8 makes me think of Holmes: “Do not rejoice against me, O my enemy, for though I fall, I will rise again!” To defeat his enemy, Holmes takes the classical journey to the underworld, dying to the life he once had, but ultimately emerging stronger and more victorious than he could have ever imagined. I love Doyle’s resurrection story “The Empty House” less for its character reunions, though they’re marvelous, and much more for the fact that Holmes re-emerges in a blaze of glory, solving a locked room mystery and taking down his remaining nemesis without, it seems, breaking much of a sweat. I’ve never confronted the likes of Moriarty at the Falls or Colonel Moran with an air gun, but I know what it is to confront my deepest fears and to emerge from the crucible of suffering with a greater determination and will to not only survive, but to transcend. Through Holmes I’m reminded that my Reichenbach is not the end; it’s only the beginning. Though I fall, like Holmes, I will rise again.

I don’t have much patience for those who dismiss fandom as a silly thing or a little thing, who fail to grasp that stories have power to change our lives and bring us hope. Even after years of frantic Holmesian cultural zeitgeist, I still constantly see people posing the question–why is Holmes so popular? Why do we still love him so very much? I can’t answer that for everyone, just myself. He started out as an imaginary friend in my childhood, but later he became an integral part of understanding and coping with my personal disability, helping me to process and accept the daily challenges that shape my life and my identity. He’s a man who solves what can’t be solved, but at the same time is never quite solved himself. He’s a hero who transcends death, and he does it without ever being the stereotypical shining knight on a white steed. He’s a deeply imperfect man who accomplishes an uncommon thing.

Sometimes, when I’m feeling very courageous, I even aspire to follow in his footsteps

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How to purchase my Sherlock Holmes novels:

(Book 1) The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

(Book 2) The Detective, The Woman and The Winking Tree: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

(Book 3) The Detective The Woman and The Silent Hive is available from all good bookstores including   Amazon USAAmazon UKWaterstones UK, and for free shipping worldwide from Book Depository. In ebook format it is in Amazon Kindle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TV Review/First Impression: Mystery Queen

(This review was originally written for the Baker Street Babes and can be found on our site here.)

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(This will be spoiler-free for major mysteries and plot points beyond the setup)

Mystery Queen (Queen of Mystery) is 2017’s newest contribution to the ongoing Sherlock Holmes zeitgeist. Produced by South Korea’s Public Broadcasting network (KBS, aired on KBS2), it’s far from being a rehash of familiar territory. Instead, it breaks new ground with a smile, a wink, and a refreshingly self-deprecating tone.

The opening episode wastes no time whatsoever in introducing the key players, beginning with an impressive action piece in which we see both the street smarts and physical prowess of our Watson (Wan-seung), played with rough charm by veteran star Kwon Sang-woo. Any fight that includes our hero breaking a clay flowerpot into a perp’s face is one I can get behind, and I particularly like the visceral quality of the action throughout the episode. This no pretty, choreographed martial arts-style combat. It’s about fists and survival.

In contrast, we’re subsequently introduced to our lady Sherlock (Seol-ok) through what appears to be a mundane instance in which a shopkeeper can’t figure out who is stealing from her, while the police refuse to take her seriously. In a sequence reminiscent of any number of Doyle’s Holmes stories, Seol-ok uses clues and security footage to put together a string of clever deductions that lead straight to the solution to the mystery. Played by Choi Kang-hee (one of my all-time favorite Korean actresses), this middle-aged, married female Holmes bears all the hallmarks of the character we love–she’s whip-smart, nonconformist, eccentric, and socially unusual. (Case in point: In oblivious Holmesian fashion, after solving this initial mystery, she asks the shopkeeper for a discount–apparently missing the ample social cues that indicate the woman is processing the personal emotional implications of what Seol-ok has just uncovered.)

Our third major player also comes into the picture during our convenience store case, the Inspector Lestrade character (Chief Hong), played by Lee Won-keun. The youngest Lestrade adaptation I’ve seen on screen to date, Chief Hong has an endearing younger-brother relationship with Seol-ok, whom he calls Seonsaengnim (a Korean title used for a respected mentor) . We are quickly shown that he’s risen to being precinct chief at an unusually young age, mostly because she’s been helping him solve difficult and perplexing cases for quite a while. Hong is no idiot, but he lacks Seol-ok’s speed of thought and ability to connect unusual clues. In this iteration, however, he’s humble enough to willingly look to the person who has the skills he lacks.

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The episode’s central mystery, one with higher stakes that potentially sets up a series arc, is presented in a visually-engaging way by showing various characters’ different mental constructs of how the crime was  committed. As clues are added and theories are refined, we see the changes reflected in these psychological reconstructions. Overused, this could be annoying, but in this episode, it’s relied upon sparingly and simply serves as a way to show rather than just telling, and it’s a welcome technique.

Mystery Queen is not a strictly procedural mystery show. The above is simply the setup, and as the story is fleshed out, it’s clear that we’ll be delving into the mysteries of our characters’ lives as much as the crimes they solve. Seol-ok is the wife of an absent prosecutor and daughter-in-law to his domineering, social-climbing mother. For years, she’s harbored a dream to become a police detective (and has the skills to pass the test) but has deferred her dream to further her husband’s career. Our closest equivalent to Mrs. Hudson is Seol-ok’s best friend, divorced chef Kyung-mi. Some of the episode’s strongest moments are between the two women, who have painfully honest conversations about love, marriage, and divorce. Their friendship, and the struggles they share, takes a charming series and provides it with emotional weight.

I’ve covered quite a bit of ground, but I’d be remiss in not mentioning that the series contains a hefty dose of comedy. It’s not a constant slapstick-fest, and it has plenty of dramatic moments, but the overall tone is light. I find that particularly refreshing after the slew of extremely serious and self-important Holmes adaptations that have come out in recent years. I love larger-than-life, superhero Holmes. I also love a Holmes who’s just trying her level best to keep her nosy relatives from finding out that she’s a super sleuth on the side. An added dollop of elderly ladies who lunch and do their own version of detective work is particularly hilarious.

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Culturally speaking, Mystery Queen contains enough recognizable nods to Doyle’s Holmes that even viewers who are not aficionados of KDrama should be able to enjoy it and make it through some unfamiliar cultural territory. Thus far, the most jarring aspect for viewers from more individualistically-inclined cultures, I think, will be Seol-ok’s home situation. Simply, going into it with the understanding that in-laws are treated like immediate family and that social structure dictates a high level of respect for and obedience to family and societal elders would be helpful.

I’m pleasantly surprised by Mystery Queen. It’s funny, it’s quirky, it’s intelligent, and it re-adapts characters I know and love in familiar but fresh ways. Even more than that, as a feminist, I’m delighted to finally find a series that introduces a female Holmes with a realistic life. She’s brilliant, and she’s odd. As many brilliant and unusual women have found, society doesn’t usually reward those who choose to walk a different path. It would have been easy to give Seol-ok an easier life, to make her single, fabulously wealthy, and able to do whatever she wants. Instead, the writers of Mystery Queen have given us a far more complex gift, a woman with the mind of Sherlock Holmes and a life that looks a whole lot like that of many women around the world. Seol-ok is no superhero. She’s a real-life woman trying to juggle her talents and society’s expectations, and sometimes that’s even better.

Mystery Queen (Queen of Mystery) airs on KBS2 on Wednesday and Thursday nights at 10:00p.m. and will run for 16 episodes (barring an extension, which would be announced later).

It can be viewed with English subtitles at Viki and Dramafever.

(The above review was not sponsored, and all opinions expressed are the reviewer’s own.)

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How to purchase my Sherlock Holmes novels:

(Book 1) The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

(Book 2) The Detective, The Woman and The Winking Tree: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

(Book 3) The Detective The Woman and The Silent Hive is available from all good bookstores including   Amazon USAAmazon UKWaterstones UK, and for free shipping worldwide from Book Depository. In ebook format it is in Amazon Kindle.

Book Reviews: New Sherlockian Historical Fiction

This review was originally written for the Baker Street Babes and can be found on our website here.

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Richard T. Ryan’s The Vatican Cameos tells the oft-mentioned story alluded to by Watson. The phrase “Vatican Cameos”  became a military code after Doyle used it, but it’s unclear if it had been previously used or was derived from him. Ryan imagines the case as a literal allusion to the Vatican, and the story mostly takes place in Rome–in both 1501 and 1901.

History buffs will enjoy Ryan’s detailed research. It’s clear he knows what he’s talking about, and when he brings in Michaelangelo and Leonardo, he’s just as confident as he is in Watson’s and Holmes’s characters. The action is paced swiftly, and the story moves along at an engaging pace.

Ryan’s world pulls the reader in, whether he’s with Italian masters or the Baker Street detective, and he expertly weaves together action that is hundreds of years apart. The Vatican Cameos is a very enjoyable take on one of those stories from Watson’s Tin Dispatch Box that he never quite had time to tell.

Order from MX PublishingThe Strand (currently on sale, at the writing of this review), and Amazon

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We previously reviewed Phil Growick’s excellent novel The Secret Journal of Doctor Watson hereIn The Revenge of Sherlock Holmes, he’s back with a thrilling continuation. Growick is masterful at writing Holmes, but he’s also an expert at weaving the stories of the Romanovs and other historical figures into his Sherlockian narrative.

This is definitely a novel for those with a tolerance for finding many real-life individuals entwined with their Sherlockian mysteries, but Growick is never at a loss for how to use the individuals he selects, and his writing style is confidently witty and doesn’t get bogged down.

Growick emphasizes Holmes as a man of action and conviction, and fans of the detective’s physical prowess and tougher side will enjoy his take on the character. Both of his books that we’ve reviewed are adventures more than strictly-traditional mysteries, and they’re simply great fun to take in.

Order from MX PublishingThe Strand (Currently on sale, at the writing of this review), and Amazon

The above-reviewed works were provided for consideration by the publisher. Opinions expressed are the reviewer’s own.


How to purchase my Sherlock Holmes novels:

(Book 1) The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

(Book 2) The Detective, The Woman and The Winking Tree: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

(Book 3) The Detective The Woman and The Silent Hive is available from all good bookstores including   Amazon USAAmazon UKWaterstones UK, and for free shipping worldwide from Book Depository. In ebook format it is in Amazon Kindle.

 

 

Sherlock Review: The Final Problem

This review was originally written for the Baker Street Babes, and it can be found on their website here

(WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR THE FINAL PROBLEM)

Here, though the world explode, these two survive

—Vincent Starrett, 221B

I used pieces of Vincent Starrett’s beloved poem in my review of “The Abominable Bride,” and it’s fitting that my mind is again drawn to it as I try to formulate thoughts about “The Final Problem.” This episode, more than the others this season, is the spiritual and practical sequel to TAB, giving Sherlock a chance to put into practice in the real world what he learned about himself in the Victorian construct of his mind palace.

This entire season has been about the fracturing of Holmes’s world. First, his relationships disintegrated, as the death of Mary Watson drove a wedge between him and John, and then his home itself literally exploded around him. Finally, his reality itself exploded as he realized he had a once-beloved sibling he could no longer remember. The beautiful thing about “The Final Problem” is that it’s not so much about the problem; it’s about the solution. No matter what explodes, these two survive. Ultimately, the deep loyalty and affection Holmes and Watson have for each other transcends the bitterness of their conflict, together they are able to rebuild from the ashes of their home, and Watson’s support helps Holmes to navigate the desperate puzzle of his sister’s existence.

In one of my favorite sequences in all of Sherlock’s history as a series, we see Sherlock returning time and time again to see the woman the world doesn’t want, the sister Mycroft tried to hide away, whom he now says is unreachable. But Sherlock reaches her, communicating through music what neither sibling can communicate in words. The man who once thought he would forever be alienated from the world now does for Eurus what John Watson once did for him. He becomes a bridge to the world, to love, to connection, the way his blogger has been a bridge for him.

John Watson once rescued Sherlock Holmes in his mind palace at the Reichenbach Falls. Now it’s Sherlock who visits his sister’s mind palace, the airplane where a lonely little girl is looking for a pilot to help her know how to land. He rescues her, and in the end he keeps rescuing her, bit by bit, day by day, because he can, because he has the confidence to reach for someone as unreachable as he used to feel. The man who was once rescued can now attempt to rescue someone else without fear of losing himself.

And not only is he ready to spend himself on his sister. As the showrunners have said, the four series and one special we’ve had have served as the origin story for the Holmes and Watson of the stories, putting them in place to be the crimesolving duo of legend. The Holmes and Watson who rebuild Baker Street also rebuild their lives and partnership, culminating in a triumphant ending that sees them back where they started—except better, stronger, and wiser. The Sherlock we leave at the end of the series is ready to be of use, not just to one person, but to humanity.

That’s a look at the thematic concepts addressed in “The Final Problem.” Now let’s explore the specifics of the storytelling. Structurally and stylistically, the episode was more of a horror film than any other installment of the show. It shared certain similarities with much-beloved episode “The Great Game,” but the tone was astronomically more ominous, with the majority of the episode being taken up by the torturous mindgames Eurues inflicted on her brothers and Watson inside the Sherrinford facility.

The great value of this structure is that it brought an elegant simplicity to the stages of the story, something we’ve missed in the previous two episodes. We love to watch Holmes and Watson partnering to solve puzzles, and in this instance, Mark Gatiss’s Mycroft added a great deal, both in terms of emotional stakes and intellectual weight.

The various puzzles were complex and gripping. Ultimately, some come out better after scrutiny than others (the dangling Garrideb brothers were a bit comical for the gravity of the situation), but the overall effect was mesmerizing. Louise Brealey (sadly) wasn’t called upon for much this season, but she gave her all to one of the saddest scenes of the episode, Molly being manipulated by Sherlock one more time, because he thought he was saving her life. Mark Gatiss gave a Bafta-worthy performance as a Mycroft who’s coming to terms with his own culpability for his sister’s (and Moriarty’s) crimes and is willing to pay with his life. John Watson was also back on fine form, with a magnificent moment in which he realized that his own inherent decency wouldn’t let him shoot an innocent man, a reaffirmation that he has it in him to be the good man he aspires to find.

Eurus herself was played brilliantly by Sian Brooke, who came across as a creepily Hannibal Lecter-like inhuman creature at times, but at other times simply a lost little girl. Somehow, she managed to humanize a woman said to be cleverer than either Mycroft or Sherlock, capable of seemingy-impossible manipulation, but ultimately craving simple human connection and to somehow be understood as something more than a machine or a monster.

Redbeard being a human, particularly Victor Trevor (canonical friend of Sherlock Holmes) was a twist I did not see coming, but it was a marvelous payoff for a through-line that has confused and entranced Sherlockians for years. The trauma around Sherlock’s memory of Redbeard seemed too cataclysmic to refer to a dog, and that turned out to be absolutely true. Thankfully, history did not repeat itself. Sherlock Holmes solved the case, and his best friend lived.

Canon nods abounded, particularly in the mechanism of the overarching case from Sherlock’s childhood, which used the creepy nursery rhyme/song Eurus had devised as a child. Both “The Musgrave Ritual” and “The Gloria Scott” center around puzzles, and the episode married the cases in a pretty seamless partnership. The Holmes family home referenced the former, and Victor Trevor is a major part of the latter. Eurus’s puzzles also had Canon references entwined all through them. We noticed nods to “The Retired Colourman,” “Lady Frances Carfax,” the aforementioned “Three Garridebs,” and there were undoubtedly others. The disguises Sherlock and Mycroft donned refer back to “Black Peter” and “The Sign of Four,” in which Sherlock Holmes posed as a captain and seafaring man. Also, the Stradivarius reference points to Holmes’s Strad in the stories, purchased by him at a pawnshop for a fraction of its worth. Not canonical but historical, the reference to Oscar Wilde is a nod to the fact that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle got the idea of writing the Holmes stories while he was having a meal with Wilde.


We had a great deal of love for this episode, but it wasn’t perfect. Let’s look at some of the less-successful aspects.

First off, it would be pointless and annoying to belabor every single plot leap. We weren’t particularly bothered by them when watching, but details like Eurus’s nearly-supernatural ability to manipulate everyone around her, John somehow escaping a well on a rope while his feet are chained to the bottom, and the extraordinary efficiency of Moriarty and Eurus to be able to formulate their plan during five unsupervised minutes, don’t bear looking at too closely. Most of the apparent plotholes worked as horror tropes. Eurus evokes Hannibal Lecter, particularly in Silence of the Lambs, at several moments, and it was such great fun to see Andrew Scott show up that we could almost ignore the fact that it didn’t make a huge amount of sense. So, too, it was a lot to swallow to accept that Mycroft made a string of bad decisions so vast he was using his mentally unbalanced sister to do government research and rewarding her with things like tete-a-tetes with criminal masterminds. Nevertheless, as a sudden fall for a character who, at times, has seemed nearly omniscient, it worked quite well.

Of course, this wouldn’t be Mofftiss without a bit of the Extra thrown in. We still have a Plot Baby who doesn’t really have a place in this story. We now have, in Eurus, a whole new unbalanced genius with incredible power (as well as another evil brilliant female, something the writers seem to love doing). She’s fun to watch, but she’s definitely from a very heightened world that bears only a glancing resemblance to the real one. Additionally, the strong character development of Molly and the joy of watching Lestrade at work were largely sacrificed for runtime and plot needs, which, as we’ve said before, can make a story feel smaller when it gets bigger because it can’t find enough space for the people who matter.

Finally, we were a bit disappointed not to get a more direct adaptation of the most emotional part of Doyle’s “The Three Garridebs,” which is when Watson is shot, and a distraught Holmes shows for a brief moment how deeply he cares about his friend. This episode substituted Holmes’s shouted declaration to Mycroft that Watson is like family to him, which was magnificent, but we’d still have enjoyed seeing a horrified Holmes fussing over his injured comrade.

The less said about the 221b explosion the better, we think. The symbolism of having Holmes and Watson rebuild it while they rebuild their friendship (and Sherlock rebuilds his sister) is powerful, in the end. The way they got there? We’ll just let the lacking CGI and over-dramatization that resulted in (apparently) no one even being injured be water under the bridge of an episode that, over all, we hugely enjoyed.

As a final criticism, this episode did little to redeem the issues with its two preceding episodes. That’s less a criticism of this story than it is a shake of the head that “The Six Thatchers,” in particular, just is what it is, warts and all. There was no hail Mary in the end that made the whole thing worthwhile.

Here dwell together still two men of note

—Vincent Starrett, 221B
I’m back to Starrett, because the brilliant coda at the end of “The Final Problem,” voiced by the actually-dead Mary Watson (we were right about that), echoed him, speaking about two men with the potential to become, together, a haven for the desperate and downtrodden. We’re left with the image of Holmes and Watson back in Baker Street, taking cases and solving crimes.
And that’s exactly where we want them. During the Q&A after the episode screening the other night, Moffat told the crowd that we all know how the story continues. Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes keep solving mysteries together. We know, he said, because it’s written in the stories, and we can read them whenever we like.
At this point in time, no one knows if Sherlock will continue or if The Final Problem was its swan song. Either way, we’re grateful for where the episode left us. If we never see these iterations of Holmes and Watson on screen again, we can always imagine them in 221b, happy and secure in their partnership. If we do see them in future seasons or specials, they’re perfectly positioned to return to the kind of self-contained, clever mystery solving that made Holmes a household name in the Victorian Era and underpins all great adaptations since.
The man who plays the violin with his broken sister, and the doctor raising his little girl alone, are not perfect men, and I think Doyle would be glad about that. After all, he didn’t write about perfect men. Instead, he gave us the greater gift of uncommon friends..

Sherlock Review: The Lying Detective

This review was originally written for the Baker Street Babes, and it can be viewed on the BSB website here.
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(WARNING: THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE LYING DETECTIVE)

Following on last week’s “The Six Thatchers,” I was extremely unsure what to expect. Out of all the options running through my mind, the one initially presented by “The Lying Detective” is one I was hoping to see – an immediate return to the sharp mystery format, with the episode taking on Culverton Smith, as a fairly straightforward (by BBC Sherlock standards) adaptation of Doyle’s “The Dying Detective.”

As with its predecessor, this episode presented excellent performances, but, in my subjective opinion, with a lot more heart in the script. Last week, the principle cast managed, off and on, to pull something compelling out of the episode. This week, the episode itself gave them much more to work with in terms of genuine warmth and expression. I felt like I should care what was happening in “The Six Thatchers” but had trouble getting there. “The Lying Detective,” in contrast, had me in the palm of its hand for more of the narrative. Once again, in a return to past successful formatting, the incisive character revelations went hand-in-hand with Holmes’s steady march toward taking down Culverton Smith through his usual methods of detection.

“The Lying Detective” wasn’t a perfect episode, but it had genuine moments that felt like a partial return to the Sherlock I want to see. Let’s take a look at what worked, what didn’t, and where we’re headed.

 

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Once again, the cast delivered. In particular, Una Stubbs’s Mrs. Hudson brought unexpected humor and expected heart in some of the most joyful moments of the episode. As serial killer Culverton Smith, Toby Jones was deeply charismatic even while he was skin-crawlingly psychopathic. The core cast remained fully committed, and Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman carried a heavy emotional load in a convincing way. Most unexpectedly, Amanda Abbington gave a touching performance as John’s hallucination of Mary, a conceit that could have come across as ridiculous, but instead acted as an ultimate emotional catalyst for Sherlock and John to reconcile. Abbington didn’t overplay her scenes, and the subtlety was touching. It was also entertaining to see an appearance by Wiggins, who still calls Holmes “Shezza.”

As far as the case itself went, it was a surprising and engaging fusion of Doyle’s “The Dying Detective” and the real-life story of H.H. Holmes, America’s first serial killer, who used his murder castle to terrorize the Chicago World’s Fair. Like Him, Smith had created a hospital that would allow him to gleefully dispatch his victims. As in the Doyle story, Sherlock feigned becoming a victim of Smith and ultimately exposed him as a result, with John’s help. In the story, John is hidden and hears Smith’s confession; in the episode, he provides the cane with a recording device inside it.

In terms of overall positive themes, “The Lying Detective” contains a through-line focused on the value of life. He believes his client is suicidal, and he encourages her not to take her life. Culverton Smith is a villain beyond all others because he takes life without a second thought for the seriousness of his actions. Later in the episode, after seemingly not caring about his own existence, Sherlock says, about Mary Watson, “In saving my life, she put a value on it. It is a currency I do not know how to spend.” By the end of the episode, both he and Watson have accepted the fact that even if life’s loose ends can’t all be tied up, it must be lived fully, with acceptance of what can’t be changed.

Canon references, as always, are ample, most of them from “The Dying Detective” itself, not just in the major plot points, but also down to things like Holmes having papered the flat with pictures of Smith. (In the story, Watson says Holmes has pictures of criminals all over the walls.) “The Veiled Lodger,” with its suicidal client, was also referenced in Holmes’s initial interactions with Faith. His deduction about the note she brought him was also reminiscent of a deduction in “The Boscombe Valley Mystery,” about Watson’s bedroom window. The name “Blessington” referenced a character from “The Resident Patient.” Ultimately, it seems that the final cliffhanger is leading into a “Three Garridebs”-type scenario, in which Holmes shows unusual depth of feeling when Watson is injured (or nearly injured).

As a group, The Babes unanimously felt that the strongest moments of the episode tended to be the simplest–Mrs. Hudson’s quips, Sherlock’s physical deductions of his client, Smith’s final discussion with Sherlock, and the scene in the flat when Watson finally confronts his guilt and grief, and he and Sherlock embrace and reconcile. These “small” moments are tightly-written and emotionally resonant, reminiscent of the best moments of the show’s previous episodes and of the qualities that make Steven Moffat a sometimes-transcendent writer. They gave us hope that the show may be heading back to the essence we love–the crimefighting partnership and unbreakable friendship between Holmes and Watson, complete with self-contained mysteries and sharp, understandable chains of deduction.

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 03/01/2017 - Programme Name: Sherlock - TX: 08/01/2017 - Episode: Sherlock S4 - Ep2 (No. 2) - Picture Shows: **STRICTLY EMBARGOED UNTIL 3RD JAN 2017** Sherlock Holmes (BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH) - (C) Hartswood Films - Photographer: Ollie Upton

Now let’s look at some things that, in our view, didn’t quite make the grade.

First of all, Watson Watson Watson. Following on his text affair last week (which was confirmed this week as being what it seemed), this week we had Watson beating Holmes to a pulp while he was at his worst moment, with Holmes accepting the punishment. It’s hard to construe this as either a good message to send or in-character for the John Watson of the Canon. In Sherlock, Watson has always displayed a violent streak, notably beating Sherlock in “The Empty Hearse,” while Sherlock has always had a penchant for the kind of emotional manipulation that he uses in this episode (acting like he’s about to be killed), seen notoriously during the train scene when he made Watson believe they were both about to die. Their relationship is imperfect at best, but at worst, it gets pushed so far that we’re challenged in our ability to continue to like the characters (Watson, in particular, currently).

Adding to the negative components above is the revelation that the meaning of Mary’s video message was to tell Sherlock to put himself in extreme danger in order to manipulate John to rescue him, supposedly the only way to “help” John. This is obviously meant to produce a parallel of John shooting the cabbie to rescue Sherlock in “A Study in Pink,” which bonded the two men, but as a life message, it’s fraught with problems. Sherlock complies, setting off the Culverton Smith investigation. While the investigation itself is well-executed, having this as a motive is questionable and troubling. It’s just a show, you say. True, but it’s a show that expects us to like, even love, its characters. We’re not supposed to end up thinking they’re all villains, and there’s a difference between being a flawed normal human and being pulled so far that you approach antagonism. We want to love the Holmes and Watson partnership, not feel the weight of massive negative baggage when we see these two together. (Arguably, one of the most charming things about the original stories is the lack of baggage in their relationship.)

Finally, we’re still a bit concerned about the insistence on everything being huge and loud. While, as stated above, this episode featured a welcome return to simplicity off and on, it still presented yet another mysterious Holmes, with a mysterious past and seemingly-impossible skillset. Heaven forbid we get a truly self-contained story that might have been allowed to end on the touching emotional reunion of Holmes and Watson; we had to dial it up to eleven, yet again, and end on a huge cliffhanger with an explosion. Once again, it seems the production team doesn’t realize how much of the audience loves the simple, quiet moments and finds them far more poignant than bombastic quality of the overall arcs.

(Honorable mention of what doesn’t quite work goes to the insertion of Adlock [Irene x Sherlock] and Mycroft having a flirtation with Lady Smallwood. While not huge issues, and not exactly problems on their own, these felt extra to the episode, like random shoehorned-in details that didn’t quite belong.)

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Ultimately, we end in a slightly more positive place than last week, appreciative of the golden simple moments this episode brought us and the good, old-fashioned mystery solving. As before, we reserve judgment on the season until it ends, but for now, we hope for a greater appreciation for the less-is-more approach in any future Sherlock episodes, whether this season or in the future. We want to see a detective and doctor, working in tandem and harmony to solve crimes using clever deductions. Please, bring back the Watson we desperately want to see and the partnership that keeps us coming back to the show.

 


 

How to purchase my Sherlock Holmes novels:

(Book 1) The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

(Book 2) The Detective, The Woman and The Winking Tree: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

(Book 3) The Detective The Woman and The Silent Hive is available from all good bookstores including   Amazon USAAmazon UKWaterstones UK, and for free shipping worldwide from Book Depository. In ebook format it is in Amazon Kindle.

Sherlock Review: The Six Thatchers

This review was originally written for the Baker Street Babes, and I’m sharing it here. It can also be found here on the BSB website.

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WARNING: THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS FOR “THE SIX THATCHERS.”

One year from “The Abominable Bride.” Nearly three from the last regular-season-order episode “His Last Vow.” The combination of seemingly-interminable hiatus, international build, and a fandom given to painstaking analysis means that “The Six Thatchers” came onto screens less like a single episode of a mystery series and more like the receptacle of the collective weight of metric tons of expectations.

The question is: Did it deliver?

The answer is a complicated yes and no and maybe. I’ll delve into all three, in an effort to make a complicated episode (and the complicated opinions of members of our podcast) into something coherent.

First of all, what delivered? Without a doubt, the core cast of Sherlock is one of the finest in the business and perhaps one of the best ensembles that has ever graced television screens. With his usual sharp precision, Benedict Cumberbatch settled into the role of a Sherlock Holmes who is on edge but still completely recognizable as the established character. His rapid-fire deductions during the case montage were as entertaining as ever, and his smugness when he tracked Mary’s location and confronted her was a wonderful cheeky moment. Even more enthralling, in my opinion, were his razor-edge interactions with Mark Gatiss’s phenomenal interpretation of Mycroft, one of the only characters who is consistently able to unsettle our hero and bring his vulnerable side forward. Rupert Graves’s Lestrade, Louise Brealey’s Molly, and Una Stubbs’s Mrs. Hudson were all on point, though not extremely prominent in this episode. (We hope for more of them in the coming weeks.)

When all is said and done, though, the acting plaudits for this episode belong most of all to Amanda Abbington and Martin Freeman. Freeman’s Watson is, as always, a multi-layered man with a seemingly-simple facade that overlays a world of emotion and passion. The final scenes, of course, have pulled a great deal of focus from the rest of the episode, but Freeman plays the earlier scenes of the quiet desperation of a new father losing touch with his wife and experiencing the temptation of another woman with piercing vulnerability. He’s an actor who never settles for the comfortable version, and he forcibly compels the audience to feel his internal conflicts. Abbington, in her swan song on the show, plays a Mary whose past has finally caught up with her. We watch her, like a hunted animal, run from the inescapable, and she’s mesmerizing on screen. Even in scenes that, as plot points, I didn’t care for, I found her screen presence enthralling. Her Mary is by turns brittle, sweet, funny, and finally desperate. In the end, she made me care. As Babe Ashley Polasek says in our reaction episode, even though she didn’t particularly enjoy how the episode arrived at it, Mary’s death made her cry. It was just that well-played. The chemistry between Freeman and Abbington as John and Mary wasn’t so much tender as brutal, and when they finally said goodbye, their pain mingled into something almost unbearable to watch in its intensity.

I’d also be remiss in not mentioning the wonderful direction of Rachel Talalay, new to Sherlock, but veteran of hits like Doctor Who and The Flash. Her deft hand brought atmosphere, style, and beauty to the episode and made some very complicated sequences work and retain visual coherence. “The Six Thatchers” has a gorgeously operatic quality, and the bold images of the aquarium, the stark simplicity of Mycroft’s office, and the richness of the foreign settings created a feast for the eyes.

Finally, the episode had many brilliant references to the Doyle Canon and the world of pastiche. Most prominently, the overarching plot was a very high concept take on The Sign of Four, in which the Agra treasure that should belong to Mary Morstan is lost at sea. As a part of AGRA herself, Sherlock‘s Mary meets her demise under water (in the London aquarium). Seen as a unit, “His Last Vow” and “The Six Thatchers” play out the story arc of the novel. Additionally, the concept of six busts of a historical figure being destroyed is a reference to “The Six Napoleons,” one of Doyle’s stories, which has the solution that Sherlock expects in the episode–the missing Black Pearl of the Borgias. When Mary takes her around-the-world jaunt, each disguise is a reference to a Canon case or disguise Holmes used. A more emotional reference is the use of “Norbury,” a name in the episode, but a place in Doyle’s story “The Yellow Face.” In both cases, Holmes makes an error in judgment, and the word “Norbury” comes to symbolize his own awareness of his tendency toward hubris. Of course, Mary’s death is Canonical as well; after the Great Hiatus, Watson mentions that he’s lost her, but he doesn’t specify how. Acclaimed pastiche author Nicholas Meyer also received a direct shout-out in the episode, through the title “The Canary Trainer,” one of his books. (The showrunners enjoy referencing Meyer; they referred to his most famous Sherlockian work, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, in “The Abominable Bride.”)

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Unfortunately, alongside these brilliant elements, other aspects of the episode didn’t quite work as I’d hoped. I could come at this from several angles, but since this review is already getting long, I’ll try to keep it concise. If you listen to our upcoming reaction podcast, you’ll hear that we had strong criticism of the plot of “The Six Thatchers” and of the implications of what it means for the future of the series.

First, taking the plot alone. It was meta. (I’m not even sure meta is a strong enough word for how self-referential it was). We in the Babes enjoy a bit of meta, and for the most part, we were big fans of “The Abominable Bride,” which was about as meta as you can get–or so we thought. The problem is, at least partially, a context issue. A one-off Christmas episode can take a mind-palace trip that shows us Victorian versions of our beloved characters and dissects their psychology. By placing them back in their original contexts it bought the collateral necessary to get away with it. That is most definitely not the context we find ourselves in with “The Six Thatchers.” We’re back in the “real world” with our modern heroes and their daily jobs and problems. But apart from very brief deductive montages, we didn’t have an episode of Sherlock Holmes being Sherlock Holmes, solving cases, being a detective. We were almost entirely in navel-gazing territory, where the characters’ problems were almost entirely created by themselves. At some point, if Holmes spends most of his time solving problems created by or primarily involving him (the ending of the ep) and his friends (most of the rest of it), there’s a curiously claustrophobic and inward feeling to the action. Even as it goes global, it feels small, smaller than it should.

This episode also asked viewers to accept the idea that John Watson, a character whose loyalty to his friends and loved ones has been his primary trait in the series thus far, is carrying on a late-night extramarital flirtation while his new baby cries in the next room. Three-Continents Watson might be flattered by a woman’s attention on a train; the man we know and love, however, would not let it go beyond that. He’s not perfect, but nothing in the series or the source material paints him as anything other than a faithful partner. I understand the plot’s reason for this–the fact that Watson’s anger at Holmes after Mary’s death is projected anger at himself. That’s possibly the biggest problem. It feels like John’s actions served the plot, rather than the other way around.

Finally, as enjoyable as it was to watch Mary traveling the world as different characters (and it was great fun), it was all a bit much. Sherlock has always had a heightened quality, but it’s anchored in reality. The international espionage elements of “The Six Thatchers” didn’t feel in any sense anchored in reality, and the previous episode it called to mind, in our opinion, was “The Blind Banker,” which also struggled with feeling a bit ridiculous for similar reasons. (Don’t get me wrong; as with this episode, there are aspects of “The Blind Banker” we greatly enjoy, but along with many fans, we consider it one of the weakest of the series.) This criticism has nothing to do with the stellar performances. In fact, if this is Amanda’s James Bond audition, we heartily support her being cast as the first International Woman of Mystery.

In a more general sense, we’re concerned about what this episode says about this show’s trajectory. Sherlock has always been a show about a detective, rather than a detective show; that’s a given. One of the main things that drew us in at the beginning was the side-by-side interplay of what we learn about the man through the mysteries he solves. Memorable moments like Watson yelling about Holmes’s lack of care, Holmes asking whether something is “not good,” and the heart-shattering moment of the Reichenbach Fall were all wonderfully poignant character moments, but those moments were earned by being integral parts of the mysteries the episodes and seasons presented. Once those mysteries fall away, the series becomes nothing but a very heightened show about the relationships between an extremely small group of people. “The Six Thatchers” was phenomenally acted, but in the end, the primary story wasn’t much of a mystery at all.

If we take Sherlock Holmes out of his time, that’s fine. If, as in TAB, we put him back in his time and change up the focus of his story, also fine. What concerns us most is this episode seemingly trying to do both–giving us the modern Holmes of most of Sherlock (obviously), but failing to give him back his primary function as a solver of mysteries. Additionally, by placing such a huge rift between Holmes and Watson, while taking Watson somewhat out of character, the show has also endangered the primary relationship of the source material, the core friendship between the detective and his doctor. Holmes alone is not the Holmes we know and love; he’s diminished. To be fully realized as a character, he needs his Boswell (or blogger).

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Let’s finish up on the maybe question. We don’t know what’s coming in the rest of this series of Sherlock beyond general information, and it’s possible we may end up with a different view of “The Six Thatchers” by the end. The Moriarty question still looms over the show, and one of our criticisms in this episode was that it didn’t link Sherlock’s ongoing obsession with any tangible clues. We may find later, however, that it dropped clues we didn’t grasp. Also, if the resolution of the Holmes-Watson rift is strong enough, we may look back and find that the conflict was worth it, or at least less troubling. More than anything, if the next episodes return to tightly-plotted mystery with clues and deduction, we’ll be very grateful, because while we love the characters of Sherlock dearly, what we love most is learning about them while they do the work of solving mysteries in the world around them.

I’ve now seen “The Six Thatchers” three times, and I thoroughly enjoyed each viewing. Even when, in our opinion, Sherlock isn’t quite firing on all cylinders, it’s still very good television with excellent production values. Though not our favorite in terms of story, this season opener will live on in our minds for its beautiful visuals and stunning performances, and we will miss Amanda Abbington’s presence. Criticism aside, she made Mary vibrant and alive and wonderful, and we won’t forget her or what she added to the world of the show.


How to purchase my Sherlock Holmes novels:

(Book 1) The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

(Book 2) The Detective, The Woman and The Winking Tree: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

(Book 3) The Detective The Woman and The Silent Hive is available from all good bookstores including   Amazon USAAmazon UKWaterstones UK, and for free shipping worldwide from Book Depository. In ebook format it is in Amazon Kindle.