Posts Tagged ‘Undershaw’

Watson’s Christmas List 2011

As Holmes never seems to want of anything, this is my Christmas List instead of his!

Most of what you see here I already have but some of the items only become available just before Christmas so I don’t have them yet.

Let me start off by recommending to you A Study In Sherlock.

This is the ideal gift for that person who has the whole Canon but wants something a bit different. This is a wonderful compendium of stories inspired by the Canon. The sort of book you want to curl up with in your favourite armchair in front of a blazing fire on a cold winter’s evening.

Here you will find sixteen stories plus a fascinating introduction by Laurie King (known to my readers as Mary Russell’s literary agent) and Leslie Klinger (author of the Sherlock Holmes Reference Library and the New Annotated Sherlock Holmes). Holmes crops up in some of the stories, as do I, but other characters employ Holmes methods, with varying success.

As the cover says this is a “perfect tribute” in a “collection of twisty, clever, and enthralling studies of a timeless icon”. I hope the book is a great success and if it is perhaps King and Klinger will consider making this an annual event producing a new collection at the end of each year.

You can find out more at their website.

In mentioning Mary Russell, Laurie King has published Mary’s latest memoir The Pirate King.This is one of the lighter of Mary’s adventures.

In England’s young silent-film industry, the megalomaniacal Randolph Fflytte is king. Nevertheless, at the request of Scotland Yard, Mary Russell is dispatched to investigate rumors of criminal activities that swirl around Fflytte’s popular movie studio. So Russell is traveling undercover to Portugal, along with the film crew that is gearing up to shoot a cinematic extravaganza, Pirate King. Based on Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, the project will either set the standard for moviemaking for a generation . . . or sink a boatload of careers.

Nothing seems amiss until the enormous company starts rehearsals in Lisbon, where the thirteen blond-haired, blue-eyed actresses whom Mary is bemusedly chaperoning meet the swarm of real buccaneers Fflytte has recruited to provide authenticity. But when the crew embarks for Morocco and the actual filming, Russell feels a building storm of trouble: a derelict boat, a film crew with secrets, ominous currents between the pirates, decks awash with budding romance—and now the pirates are ignoring Fflytte and answering only to their dangerous outlaw leader. Plus, there’s a spy on board. Where can Sherlock Holmes be? As movie make-believe becomes true terror, Russell and Holmes themselves may experience a final fadeout.

Two notable pastiches appeared late this year, the first that I wish to mention is Barefoot on Baker Streetby Charlotte Anne Walters. This, like The House of Silk, which I will list next, attempts to rewrite parts of the Canon and weave into them a completely new story. In my view, Walters makes a better job of this that Horowitz does in The House of Silk. The inclusion of The Blue Carbuncle and the Man with the Twisted Lip, as well as other stories, is very well done and the period setting is mostly correct. Just one quibble though with the text. Holmes tells a bereaved mother that he is “sorry for their loss”. This phrase is entirely recent (an unwelcome American import, in my opinion) and Holmes is more likely to have said “May I offer my condolences?”

Some may have concerns about Red, the heroine of the adventures, and her liaisons with the three main male characters which I won’t go into detail about here to avoid spoiling the plot. One of these liaisons is quite ridiculous and doesn’t really work but is, I think necessary for the plot.

But all that said it is still an excellent story from a new author. As part of the publicity for her book and as a build up to the Great Holmes Debate, Walters read and reviewed all 56 of the short stories and gave each one a score out of ten. These provide an excellent guide to the stories and I hope she will consider doing the same for my four long stories.

The other pastiche is The House of Silkby Andrew Horowitz. Again this is a very good story but the book is spoiled by the attempt to include too many Canonical references, some of which are wrong, and some of which are entirely unnecessary.

I have already written a more detailed review but if you can ignore these inaccuracies then it is still a good read.

Following on from the success of the BBC Sherlock, the creators, Steven Moffatt and Mark Gattis, have provided introductions to the novels and the collected editions of the short stories, published by BBC Books.

Moffatt introduces A Study In Scarletand lets us know that at first he got Holmes and I the wrong way round after looking at one of the pictures. I looked older and he assumed I had to be the clever one. A Study in Scarlet enlivened a weekend with his grandparents. He acknowledges how much they took from the original when producing the BBC series.

Mark Gatiss introduces The Adventures of Sherlock Holmesin a similar way to Moffatt, this time telling us that he can’t quite remember when he became aware of what he calls our “imperishable friendship”.

They both envy anyone reading my stories for the first time. Even if you have all the stories already, find your local bookshop (whilst it’s still in business) and read these introductions even if you don’t buy the books. I know that not really helping keeping the bookshop in business but you could buy something else whilst you were there and what about buying these editions for someone you know who enjoyed the BBC series but has never read my original stories on which the series was based?

If you don’t yet have this DVD of the marvellous BBC Sherlockfirst series then you’re missing a real treat. On the DVD you get all three episodes plus the pilot version of A Study In Pink and a short film about the making of the series. The pilot version of A Study In Pink has a subtly different plot and is nowhere near as polished as the broadcast version. But there are some memorable shots including one of Holmes on a roof (looking for the pink suitcase I think) in a sort of Batman pose!

I have reviewed the first set of The Carleton Hobbs Sherlock Holmes Collection and earlier this year The Carleton Hobbs Sherlock Hobbs Further Collection was released. This new collection of dramas, starring Carleton Hobbs is from the BBC Radio Archive. In this these twelve classic stories, Carleton Hobbs established the ‘sound’ of Sherlock Holmes, with Norman Shelley as his superb Watson. Collected together on CD for the first time, with a specially commissioned introduction by Nicholas Utechin, former Editor of “The Sherlock Holmes Journal”. This collection includes: “The Copper Beeches”, “Thor Bridge”, “The Sussex Vampire”, “The Three Garridebs”, “The Three Gables”, “The Retired Colourman”, “The Boscombe Valley Mystery”, “The Crooked Man”, “The Cardboard Box”, “A Case of Identity”, “The Naval Treaty”, and “The Noble Bachelor”. I understand from one of my contacts that more have been “cleaned up” so more may be released next year.

I have just received a copy of Alistair Duncan’s latest book An Entirely New Country.

This new book covers the period in Arthur’s life when he returned to England after several years abroad. His new house, named Undershaw, represented a fresh start but it was also the beginning of a dramatic decade that saw him fall in love, stand for parliament, fight injustice and be awarded a knighthood. However, for his many admirers, the most important event of that decade was the return of Sherlock Holmes – whom he felt had cast a shadow over his life.

Finally, for now, the latest collection of The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.This is volume 3 and includes Murder in the Casbah, The Tankerville Club, The Strange Case of the Murderer in Wax, The Man With The Twisted Lip, The Guileless Gypsy, The Camberville Poisoners, The Terrifying Cats, The Submarine Cave, The Living Doll, The Disappearing Scientists, and The Adventure of the Speckled Band and The Purloined Ruby. This volume is not released until December 6th.

Another bumper year for Holmes fans and with a new film and a new series of Sherlock coming soon there must be more to come!

Eliminate the Impossible

Eliminate the Impossible” is the first of two books by Alistair Duncan on Holmes. His second Holmes book, “Close to Holmes” in which he looks at the historical connections between London, Holmes and my literary agent, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, will be the subject of another review at a later date.

Alistair has also written a book about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Norwood Author“, which I have already reviewed. Currently, he is writing another Doylean book about Undershaw, the house that Sir Arthur had built at Hindhead which remains under threat from developers. This book is not due to be published until next year, by which time the fate of Undershaw will almost certainly have been decided.

Eliminate the Impossible” runs to 244 pages of which the first three-quarters cover Holmes on the page and the last quarter looks at Holmes on the screen.

I note that he prefers to the term “Sherlockian” which is usually reserved for Holmes fans abroad whilst “Holmesian” is supposedly the term used in the UK. I have always found “Holmesian” a bit cumbersome – “Sherlockian” leaves no-one in doubt who you’re talking about and in the BBC Sherlock series we’re on first name terms with the main protagonists for the first time!

May I also raise a point about our address. It was 221B Baker Street – note the capital “B” after 221. Flats are designated with a capital letter not a lower case letter. So where “221b” has been used “221B” should be used instead.  Even the Dummies Guide gets this wrong! But congratulations to the BBC Sherlock props department for getting this right and commiserations to the Sherlock Holmes Museum on Baker Street for getting it wrong on their unofficial blue plaque.

Part One – Holmes on the page

This covers the origins of the stories, Holmes’s influence on crime fiction, his appearance and character before dealing with the “Heroes  and Villains” as Alistair calls them, beginning with me (I assume I am a hero?) His selection is interesting. It includes two women and I will leave you to guess who they are!

Following this is a short discussion about the “timeline” of the stories which has always, and continues to be, a subject of much discussion (and many books)! Alistair picks out D Martin Dakin’s and Leslie Klinger’s chronologies and sets them against the dates found on the Internet. The order of the stories as listed here puts the last three stories from The Case-Book in the order in which they are now usually published (VEIL, SHOS, RETI) rather than the order in which they originally appeared in The Case-Book (RETI, VEIL, SHOS).

For each of the sixty stories, he then gives the date of publication (in The Strand except for the first two stories which were first published elsewhere), the date the story was set in (just the year) and the identity of the client. Following a brief synopsis he then presents some notes about the story, usually about the dates involved, but sometimes about the real identities of the people involved, and some of the puzzles and inconsistencies.

His own inconsistencies are that he leaves “The Adventure of” off all the stories in The Memoirs and again changes the order of the last three stories – this time to SHOS, RETI and VEIL. I think he has the date of publication of SHOS in The Strand incorrectly as January 1927 when it should be April 1927 making it the last to be published.

In the general introduction to the stories he sensibly suggests that you read the story first before reading his notes and doing it the other way round is likely to confuse matters.

Part Two – Holmes on the screen

This looks at Holmes portrayal in film and on television by looking at a selection of actors who have portrayed my good friend. Alistair attempts to classify them as either “good” or “bad” and “remembered” or “forgotten” making the point that some portrayals (“good” or “bad”) might only be remembered by Sherlockians rather than the general public.

He has left out all the comic portrayals presumably on the grounds that they are universally viewed as “bad” and “best forgotten”.

Rathbone and Brett come out best in this analysis with perhaps Douglas Wilmer coming in third. Alistair puts Brett just out in front and probably the favourite for those who would see the Rathbone films as largely set in their own time rather than the time of the original stories.

Alistair recommends David Stuart Davies book, “Starring Sherlock Holmes“, for more detail about Holmes on film and television (and stage and radio for that matter!)

As Alistair’s book was written in 2008, it predates the Robert Downey Jr film “Sherlock Holmes” and more importantly the BBC Sherlock series. It will be interesting to speculate where these two very different portrayals would be in the “good”, “bad”, “remembered” and “forgotten” categories. Cumberbatch’s Holmes has a good chance of being in the category “good and remembered” if they can maintain the standard of the first series (mostly ignoring The Blind Banker) whereas Robert Downey Jr may end up in “bad but remembered” if they cannot raise their game!

Nevertheless, Alistair Duncan succeeds, as he sets out in his introduction, “to bring a fresh perspective” to some of the puzzles concerning “the anomalies in the stories and the films”. Whilst he “conceived it as an introduction to the canon” it does, as he hoped, “appeal to long-standing fans as well as novice Sherlockians”.

This book, like its successor “Close to Holmes“, is available on the Kindle although Amazon have not linked the two versions properly on their website so you will need to go to the Kindle store to find it.

The Adventure of the Empty House

One of the reasons that I started this series of writings was the threats against the continuing existence of Undershaw, once the home of my dear friend, Arthur Conan Doyle.

I wrote about the current state of the property and the appeal to save it from developers.

Undershaw is built on a 4 acre plot surrounded by National Trust land of outstanding beauty looking down onto the Nutcombe Valley with the South Downs in the distance (maybe as far as Holmes cottage?) The building is in a sad state, rain having poured in through the roof causing extensive damage.

The Undershaw Preservation Trust has been set up by Mr John Gibson, an expert on Sir Arthur, and he can be contacted at info@undershaw.co.uk. Lynn Gale has set up a blog to provide the latest on this desperate fight to save this once beautiful building.

Somewhat cynically, the current owners (Fossway Ltd) , aware of the heritage of the building have offered to include a visitor centre in its plans for the Grade II listed building. The developer, Michael Wilson, has suggested an open-sided pavilion where the public would be able to see views of Undershaw and would contain a display board about the history of the house and Sir Arthur.

The Sherlock Holmes Society of London has publicised the plight of Undershaw but Sir Arthur still gets less publicity than Holmes!

If you can help in any way, please get in touch with the Undershaw Preservation Trust or Lynn Gale direct via her blog.

Alistair Duncan has also created an entry on facebook.

My house is lonely [LION]

An urgent appeal has been launched to pledge support for a multi-million pound project to secure the future of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s home, Undershaw at Hindhead in Surrey.

Undershaw was built by Conan Doyle for his invalid wife Louise in 1897 but despite its history in recent years it has fallen on hard times.

Temporary protection work has been carried out because of vandalism and the theft of the lead roof. The current owners want to convert the original building into three houses and demolish the extension and replace this with a new wing of town houses.

Until 2004 it was a hotel and restaurant. In 2004 the Victorian Society tried unsuccessfully to have the building Grade I listed.

Now the Hindhead Together Appeal is testing the public support for a plan to persuade the National Trust to purchase, repair, restore and maintain the building as a visitor and heritage centre open to the public.

If you want to pledge your support to the campaign then please add your signature to the petition to save Undershaw.

It was, of course, at Undershaw where Arthur and I discussed the publication of The Hound of the Baskervilles.

The one fixed point in a changing age [LAST]


My literary agent, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, having sadly passed away, I have, with some reluctance, had to take up other means of recording the singular gifts by which my friend , Mr Sherlock Holmes was distinguished.

I have endeavoured to give some account of my strange experiences in his company from the chance meeting that first brought us together in the matter of A Study in Scarlet [STUD] up to the final story that was published under the title of Shoscombe Old Place [SHOS] in The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes, though chronologically that was not the last adventure we experienced together.

It was my intention to have stopped there but my hand has now been forced, however by recent events including yet another portrayal of ourselves on the large screen (the forthcoming “Sherlock Holmes” with Robert Downey Jr.), on the smaller screen (the BBC’s pilot that moves us into the present day) and, in a different vein, the threats against the continuing existence of Undershaw – once the home of my dear friend, Arthur Conan Doyle.

More of these events at some later date as I have now to set about establishing myself in this new world. Would that it would be as easy as wandering into the Criterion Bar and finding that a mutual friend knew of someone who was also looking for comfortable rooms at a reasonable price.

One final note – the four-letter abbreviations that appear in brackets above are the commonly-accepted abbreviations of the Canon established by Professor Jay Finlay Christ of the Baker Street Irregulars.

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