After a promising beginning, this novel, the debut appearance of Sherlock Holmes, falls a bit flat and ultimately fails to deliver on the promise.
I'veAfter a promising beginning, this novel, the debut appearance of Sherlock Holmes, falls a bit flat and ultimately fails to deliver on the promise.
I've read quite a few of Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories at this point, but I've approached them in somewhat random order, only coming to this first Holmes novel after reading several others, as well as a couple of the short story compilations. Generally, that presents no problem, as the Sherlock Holmes stories rarely refer to each other and have little in the way of continuity. However, this book shows some flaws that would not be present in Doyle's later work.
The beginning was wonderfully exciting and engaging: the main characters in the Holmes universe are brought onstage quickly and just as quickly given life and personality. The dialogue between Holmes and Watson, always one of my favorite elements of these stories, is excellent: funny, witty, and with the authentic ring of conversation between real friends.
As the characters were introduced and the main mystery began to ramp up, I was completely drawn in, expecting a smart, fast-moving, clever Sherlock Holmes story like so many others I've read. However, the plot takes a sharp turn in the middle of the book, one that in my opinion was very much for the worse. From the streets of London, which Doyle seems so comfortable describing, the reader is suddenly torn away to the desolate plains of Utah, there to see Brigham Young and his murderous gang of Mormons. Arthur Conan Doyle never visited Utah, and his descriptions of the place and the Mormon people are drawn from rumor, imagination, and the writings of others. As such, Doyle's Utah is an odd patchwork of the accurate, the plausible, the hokey, and the ridiculous.
Living in Utah myself, being formerly Mormon, and being very familiar with Utah's history and that of the early Mormon church, I found the juxtaposition of real people (sometimes with misspelled names) and institutions with bizarre fiction very jarring. What's worse, you can tell that Doyle is out of his element and kind of flailing in this section: his prose, normally so clean and direct, becomes flowery and overwritten. It feels like shifting from reading a late-19th Century writer, and a modern-feeling one at that, to an early-19th Century writer. The "Utah" section of this book is the worst writing I've ever read from Arthur Conan Doyle. It's the kind of distracting aside that's completely absent in most of his work.
Thankfully, the plot does eventually return to London for the conclusion of the mystery and the great reveal. Even there, though, it isn't the ultra-neat resolution of The Hound of The Baskervilles or any one of dozens of short stories, depending on some really implausible developments that I won't spoil here.
Still a fun book, still a vital introduction to one of the most famous, essential characters in literature, but clearly a first effort by a writer who would become far better at this. Three stars!...more
This book was an absolute blast! The best way I can describe it is as a hard-boiled detective novel...minus the hard-boiled detective. It's a crime caThis book was an absolute blast! The best way I can describe it is as a hard-boiled detective novel...minus the hard-boiled detective. It's a crime caper story where the protagonist is just a regular guy, flawed yet likable, and in way over his head.
For a book published in 1955, it's surprisingly fast-moving, exciting, and gritty. The dialogue is fantastic; so authentic and believable that it's almost exhilarating to read. Off hand, the only other author I can think of who can do that so consistently is Elmore Leonard, whom this book reminds me of quite a bit.
I grabbed this book from Project Gutenberg, where it's available for free because its copyright inexplicably lapsed, and I'm glad I did. I'll be looking for more John D. MacDonald for sure....more
The best way I can sum up this brutally acerbic, straight-faced piece of satire is this: even knowing it was(Open spoiler for the 275-year old essay.)
The best way I can sum up this brutally acerbic, straight-faced piece of satire is this: even knowing it was coming, when the other shoe dropped (the famous "A young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food..." line), I laughed out loud. This is an amazingly well-crafted piece of writing....more
Wow, what an amazing little work. One of the best short stories I've ever read - and maybe the most precisely and perfectly crafted. Some great shortWow, what an amazing little work. One of the best short stories I've ever read - and maybe the most precisely and perfectly crafted. Some great short stories - Maugham's "Rain" and Hemingway's "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" come to mind - have narrative and emotional climaxes that hit you like a baseball bat across the face. Not this one. "The Yellow Wallpaper" is intimate, seductive, and nasty...more like someone crawling into your bed and sliding an ice pick into your ear.
The feminist message for which the book is rightly famed comes across as plain as day, but everything here serves the story. For my money, "The Yellow Wallpaper" depicts a first-person descent into madness as well, and as disturbingly, as anything Poe ever wrote....more
Since this is my first time reading H.P. Lovecraft after a lifetime of being exposed to his writing at second hand, I will defer commenting on him inSince this is my first time reading H.P. Lovecraft after a lifetime of being exposed to his writing at second hand, I will defer commenting on him in general until I've read a few of his better-known, better-regarded stories.
Commenting on this work in particular...it just kind of lays there for me. Not especially horrifying, or even absorbing. I don't know if this was an early work, and therefore maybe a not-fully-formed example of his style, but it's a very short one, and I believe it was originally published in a 30s pulp magazine. In any event, it was building towards something ominous and creepy, but ended horribly abruptly. I will say I was pleasantly surprised at how readable this was; Lovecraft is known for esoteric vocabulary and intricate syntax, but I actually found the sentences artful as well as sturdy in structure.
A fun, short read that disappointed slightly, but leaves me wanting to read more....more
At his best, reading Bill Bryson feels like getting cornered at a dinner party by your well-read, well-traveled uncle, or perhaps your favorite historAt his best, reading Bill Bryson feels like getting cornered at a dinner party by your well-read, well-traveled uncle, or perhaps your favorite history professor in college: garrulous, generous, humorous, full of gee-whiz facts and pithy observations, wanting to tell you a story but in no rush to get to the end. And One Summer is Bryson at his absolute best.
The best thing about this book, for me, is that it took elements of the era with which I was already somewhat familiar - Charles Lindbergh, the 1927 Yankees of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, the Sacco-Vanzetti trial, Al Capone, the explosion of "talking" motion pictures, Mount Rushmore, and so many more - and wove them into a neat, rambling, yet oddly cohesive overarching tale of one very eventful season. Yet he managed to incorporate literally dozens of subtexts, anecdotes, and facts of which I was previously unaware, thus enriching my understanding of events and people that I thought I knew well. I was spellbound.
The best thing about Bill Bryson is that he seems to get better with each new book. I can't wait to read his next one....more
Probably the weakest of King's post-car crash novels that I've read, but still a fun book that I plowed through in two days. I enjoyed the slow, leisuProbably the weakest of King's post-car crash novels that I've read, but still a fun book that I plowed through in two days. I enjoyed the slow, leisurely build, something he hasn't indulged in for quite some time. And the horrifying payoff, where King gets his Lovecraft and Shelley on in a big way, is great....more