BOOK REVIEW: The Whole Art of Detection, by Lyndsay Faye

BOOK REVIEW: The Whole Art of Detection, by Lyndsay FayeTitle: The Whole Art of Detection: Lost Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes by Lyndsay Faye
Published by Mysterious Press
Published: March 7th 2017
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 352
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

Internationally bestselling author Lyndsay Faye was introduced to the Sherlock Holmes mysteries when she was ten years old and her dad suggested she read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story The Adventure of the Speckled Band. She immediately became enamored with tales of Holmes and his esteemed biographer Dr. John Watson, and later, began spinning these quintessential characters into her own works of fiction—from her acclaimed debut novel, Dust and Shadow, which pitted the famous detective against Jack the Ripper, to a series of short stories for the Strand Magazine, whose predecessor published the very first Sherlock Holmes short story in 1891.

Faye’s best Holmes tales, including two new works, are brought together in The Whole Art of Detection, a stunning collection that spans Holmes’s career, from self-taught young upstart to publicly lauded detective, both before and after his faked death over a Swiss waterfall in 1894. In The Lowther Park Mystery, the unsociable Holmes is forced to attend a garden party at the request of his politician brother and improvises a bit of theater to foil a conspiracy against the government. The Adventure of the Thames Tunnel brings Holmes’s attention to the baffling murder of a jewel thief in the middle of an underground railway passage. With Holmes and Watson encountering all manner of ungrateful relatives, phony psychologists, wronged wives, plaid-garbed villains, and even a peculiar species of deadly red leech, The Whole Art of Detection is a must-read for Sherlockians and any fan of historical crime fiction with a modern sensibility.

 In the broad light of day, I could not give his tale nearly so much credence as I had granted it when sitting rapt before a midnight fireplace whilst the tempest without erased the natural world.

One of the things I love about Lyndsay Faye’s books are that they evoke the atmosphere of the period of which she writes. Especially her Sherlock Holmes pastiches. Somehow she manages to capture Doyle’s style with a sense of freshness that especially makes The Whole Art of Detection really feel like lost Holmes mysteries. After reading Dust and Shadow and Jane Steele, I wanted to read more of her works and jumped at purchasing The Whole Art of Detection not long after it was released. I read a story or two here and there for the next couple of months because I wanted to savor it, and I’m glad I did. If you enjoyed the original stories, this collection of stories feels like a more intimate peek into the lives of Holmes and Watson. Where the originals seemed to gloss over the “domestic stuff and conversations,” this collection doesn’t shy from it.

A few of the stories that stood out to me were the these: “Memoranda Upon the Gaskell Blackmailing Dilemma” takes place during The Hound of the Baskervilles and is Sherlock Holmes’s perspective while he takes leave from the Watsons during that story. It’s so much fun to read a story from another character’s perspective, and even more so to have that perspective be the elusive Holmes himself.  “An Empty House” is heartbreaking and bridges the gap between the Reichenbach Fall and Holmes’s return. “The Adventure of the Memento Mori” is creepy, thrilling, and shows us readers once again that Holmes has a heart underneath that cold, calculating exterior he tries to project. “The Adventure of the Lightless Maiden” captures Doyle’s obsession with the supernatural, and I thought it was just really well done overall.

All of these stories feel at once rooted in time and timeless, and Faye manages this with her effortless, captivating writing. If you’re a fan of Sherlock Holmes in any capacity and love a good historical mystery, read this right away.

BOOK REVIEW: Dust and Shadow, by Lyndsay Faye

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BOOK REVIEW: Dust and Shadow, by Lyndsay FayeTitle: Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson by Lyndsay Faye
Published by Simon & Schuster
Published: April 2nd 2015
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Retellings
Pages: 336
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

From the gritty streets of nineteenth century London, the loyal and courageous Dr. Watson offers a tale unearthed after generations of lore: the harrowing story of Sherlock Holmes’s attempt to hunt down Jack the Ripper.
As England’s greatest specialist in criminal detection, Sherlock Holmes is unwavering in his quest to capture the killer responsible for terrifying London’s East End. He hires an “unfortunate” known as Mary Ann Monk, the friend of a fellow streetwalker who was one of the Ripper’s earliest victims; and he relies heavily on the steadfast and devoted Dr. John H. Watson. When Holmes himself is wounded in Whitechapel during an attempt to catch the savage monster, the popular press launches an investigation of its own, questioning the great detective’s role in the very crimes he is so fervently struggling to prevent. Stripped of his credibility, Holmes is left with no choice but to break every rule in the desperate race to find the madman known as “the Knife” before it is too late.
A masterly re-creation of history’s most diabolical villain, Lyndsay Faye’s debut brings unparalleled authenticity to the atmosphere of Whitechapel and London in the fledgling days of tabloid journalism and recalls the ideals evinced by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most beloved and world-renowned characters. Jack the Ripper’s identity, still hotly debated around the world more than a century after his crimes were committed, remains a mystery ripe for speculation. Dust and Shadow explores the terrifying prospect of tracking a serial killer without the advantage of modern forensics, and the result is a lightning-paced novel brimming with historical detail that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

 As he passed a hand over his eyes, I recalled the he could not have slept more than twenty hours in the last seven days. For the first time since I had known him, Sherlock Holmes appeared to be exhausted by work rather than inaction.

“Because if I am right,” he murmured, “I haven’t the first idea what to do.”

Lyndsay Faye’s debut novel Dust and Shadow imagines what it might be like if Sherlock Holmes and John Watson investigated and solved the Jack the Ripper murders. While she tackles some of the more sensitive issues regarding women and people who are not well-off white men, Faye brings to life that Holmesian Victorian London as if Doyle himself might have imagined. The details of day-to-day life are so vivid and believable that there were times while I was reading this that I forgot it was a pastiche.

This novel is a bit slow at first and really takes about a third of the novel to get to the really interesting bits, but once you’ve hit that mark, the story sweeps you away. Holmes is our cynical, cold, cerebral detective, and Watson is our devoted and daring narrator. Faye’s Watson illuminates the humanity of every character in the novel and develops them well. The addition of Mary Ann Monk, a prostitute who proves herself to Holmes and Watson to be “a woman of extraordinary fortitude. Compared to Doyle’s historically sexist and racist writing, Faye’s Victorian England and the characters intertwined are presented in a more modern and humanist light that I found refreshing, daring, and forward.

While I have read many historical documents and fictional narratives surrounding the Jack the Ripper murders, I found Faye’s (and Holmes’s and Watson’s) deductions and conclusions regarding the murderer to be enlightening, engaging, and well-researched.

As usual, we readers are seeing the story unfold through Watson’s eyes and Watson’s pen, so there are times when we should question Watson and his presentation. Did things happen so neatly as Watson writes them out to be? Watson, when writing these narratives, already knows the end and the resolution, so are any of the details exaggerated or changed to fit a narrative? And there are times when Watson and ourselves as readers have no clue what Holmes is about to do, and that’s what I think really drives this story (and any good Sherlock Holmes story).  Holmes already knows the answers, but we need to know them, even if “on occasion his dictatorial glibness grated upon [our] nerves.” But that’s what keeps us reading until the very end.

If you enjoy Sherlock Holmes in any form, find Jack the Ripper fascinating, or just like a good murder mystery, pick Faye’s novel up immediately.

Faye has a collection of Sherlock Holmes short stories coming out in early 2017, so I’m looking forward to reading more of her Holmesian mysteries.

BOOK REVIEW: The Sign of Four, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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BOOK REVIEW: The Sign of Four, by Sir Arthur Conan DoyleTitle: The Sign of Four (Sherlock Holmes, #2) by Arthur Conan Doyle
Series: Sherlock Holmes #2
Published by Penguin Books
Published: March 6th 2008
Genres: Fiction, Classics
Pages: 153
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

A dense yellow miasma swirls in the streets of London as Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson accompany a beautiful young woman to a sinister assignation.
For Mary Marston has received several large pearls – one a year for the last six years – and now a mystery letter telling her she is a wronged woman. If she would seek justice she is to meet her unknown benefactor, bringing with her two companions.
But unbeknownst to them all, others stalk London’s fog-enshrouded streets: a one-legged ruffian with revenge on his mind – and his companion, who places no value on human life...

 ‘The division seems rather unfair,’ I remarked. ‘You have done all the work in this business. I get a wife out of it, Jones gets the credit, pray what remains for you?’

‘For me,’ said Sherlock Holmes, ‘there still remains the cocaine-bottle.’ And he stretched his long white hand up for it.

I’m making an effort to read every one of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories because (gasp) I haven’t yet. A Study in Scarlet is a strange miasma of events, traversing from foggy, gaslit London to the wild American west that disconnected me as a reader. The Sign of Four reminded me much more of the traditional Sherlock Holmes story. I do think Conan Doyle’s strength as a writer is the short story, but this novella is an engaging read through Victorian London.

In The Sign of Four, Mary Morstan has received one large pearl a year for the last six years until she receives a mysterious letter revealing that she is a wronged woman. She visits Holmes and Watson to get to the root of the mystery. Watson falls in love with Morstan over the course of the narrative (nearly instantaneously, I might add), and Holmes finds the greatest pleasure in keeping his mind active, away from boredom. The blatant racism and misogyny (however authentic to the time in which it was written) is difficult to read in today’s times and that certainly takes away from some of the enjoyment of the story for me.

However, the appeal of Sherlock Holmes still remains. Watson’s a sharp narrator who is consistently challenged by Holmes’s charming arrogance. With enough action to keep you glued to the page as the narrative propels itself forward, it’s always a pleasure to see how Doyle manages to bring it all together, however messily or neatly.