Short Story Review: The Adventure of the Illustrious Client by Arthur Conan Doyle

* This review may contain spoilers *

The Adventure of The Illustrious Client is a Sherlock Holmes short story by Arthur Conan Doyle.  It is the first story in the collection, The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A good, gripping story with an interesting mystery and unexpected ending. 4 / 5

Summary

Sir James Damery seeks out Sherlock Holmes on behalf of an un-named yet illustrious client.  The case is a delicate one.  Violet de Merville has fallen madly in love with Baron Gruner, a highly intelligent man, believed by both Sir James and Sherlock Holmes to be a murderer.  Violet is determined to marry the Baron, no matter what anyone says about him and even after the man himself apparently lays bare his chequered past.  Can anything be done to make Violet realise what she refuses to see?

Favourite Quote

I couldn’t decide between these two:

‘Johnson is on the prowl,’ said he. ‘He may pick up some garbage in the darker recesses of the underworld for it is down there, amid the black roots of crime, that we must hunt for this man’s secrets.’

(From The Adventure of The Illustrious Client by Arthur Conan Doyle, page 15)

*

‘Woman’s heart and mind are insoluble puzzles to the male. Murder might be condoned or explained, and yet some smaller offence might rankle.’

(From The Adventure of The Illustrious Client by Arthur Conan Doyle, page 16)

Review

I am slowly making my way through the Sherlock Holmes stories, although not in chronological order.  Currently, I am moving back and forth between the short story collections, The Return of Sherlock Holmes and The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes, and having just recently finished the short novel A Study in Scarlet (you can read my review here), plan to start the next Sherlock novel, The Sign of Four, soon.

The Adventure of The Illustrious Client was a good story.  The storytelling ensured the tale was gripping and the mystery itself was certainly an interesting one.  As for the ending, it was certainly unexpected.

Out of all the Sherlock Holmes stories I have read so far, this one, I think, has the most interesting and memorable characters.

Kitty Winters was probably chief amongst them.  I would love to have known more of her back story.  One of my favourite descriptions from this story is that of her and Violet being like fire and ice.

The Baron made for a very engaging antagonist; a dangerous rogue but well-educated, with a niche interest in Chinese pottery.  He was also very brazen and sure of himself, admitting to Sherlock that yes, it’s all true but there is nothing you can do about it!

An entertaining read, indeed!

Rating

Short Story Review: Eveline’s Visitant by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

I found the short story Eveline’s Visitant by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, in Anthology of Fear: 20 Haunting Stories for Winter Nights (Marshall Cavendish Ltd.)

Quick Review (read on for full review)

An enjoyable, atmospheric quick read with an unexpected ending. Highly recommended for reading on a cold, dark winter’s night. 4 / 5

Summary

Two cousins, Hector and André de Brissac, quarrel over a woman.  André is the cousin favoured by Fortune; women love him and the family money and lands have gone to him.  By contrast, Hector is considered “a rough soldier” and “mannerless boor”.  The quarrel escalates and a challenge to duel is issued, with fatal consequences for André.

But, with his dying breath, André does his best to ensure that Hector does not enjoy his victory nor his inheritance…He claims their quarrel is not yet over.  Hector, however, does not believe in such things…

Favourite Quote

I will come to you when your life seems brightest. I will come between you and all that you hold fairest and dearest. My ghostly hand shall drop a poison in your cup of joy.

(From Eveline’s Visitant by Mary Elizabeth Braddon)

Review

I’m a little late completing and posting this review, seeing as though I read the story as one of my Halloween Reads for 2019!

As part of the same reading challenge, I read The Cold Embrace, another short story by the Mary Elizabeth Braddon (you can find that review here).  I noted then that I really liked the author’s writing style and ability to create the most atmospheric and unexpected twists in the story.  So I went into reading Eveline’s Visitant with high expectations and was not disappointed.  Once again the story was atmospheric and the unusual plot twists came as a surprise. Although I would like to go into detail about what was so special about these twists, I won’t for fear of giving too much away.  But I will say this: the ending came as a complete surprise.

My copy was no more than twelve pages long, so it’s a quick read, but for all that, there is no lack of story.  The setting is richly described, both Paris and the inherited estate, and there are enough details of the main characters to make them appear whole and believable.

If you enjoy reading ghost stories on dark nights by candlelight, I recommend you give this a read.  There’s a creepiness to it, a pervading sense of the sinister…

I plan to read more by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, and have added her first novel, published in 1862 – a sensational melodrama – Lady Audley’s Secret, to my TBR list.

Rating

 

 

Short Story Review: The Cold Embrace by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

I read The Cold Embrace by Mary Braddon in Anthology of Fear: 20 Haunting Stories for Winter Nights (Marshall Cavendish Ltd).

Quick Review

Atmospheric and unexpected…a fantastic Gothic read for Halloween or a cold, dark winter’s night. 4 / 5

Summary

A German artist, orphaned at an early age, is raised in his uncle’s household where he forms an attachment to his cousin, Gertrude.  They become close and secretly become engaged, only Uncle Wilhelm has high expectations of finding a rich suitor for his daughter…

When the artist is of an age, he travels across Europe undertaking commissions for rich patrons, in the hope of finding fame and fortune.  But what of Gertrude?   She is quickly forgotten…but her retribution at his betrayal cannot be…

Favourite Quote

The date seems burnt into her brain.

The date, written in fire, dances forever before her eyes.

The date, shrieked by the Furies, sounds continually in her ears.

(from The Cold Embrace by Mary Elizabeth Braddon)

Review

I read The Cold Embrace as part of my Halloween Reads challenge for 2019.

Mary Braddon is an author I had not read before, prior to undertaking this year’s Halloween Reads.  Yet it is clear, as soon as I started reading The Cold Embrace, I had been missing something.  This was a great read and I enjoyed the author’s writing style very much.

The Cold Embrace is one of the best Victorian Gothic ghost stories I’ve read.  Full of atmosphere and rich in description, once started, I had to read to the end (it isn’t a particularly long read).  It had just the right amount of creepiness to it without being gory, which is how I prefer my ghost stories.

There is a sadness to the story that cannot be avoided due to the tragic subject matter, but the author doesn’t dwell too heavily on it.  Rather, a clever response, beautifully written, sees the fiancée get her retribution.  Although the storyline is predictable, I don’t believe its execution was.

I read a second story by this author for my Halloween Reading challenge, Eveline’s Visitant, so keep an eye out for that forthcoming review.  It was another good story 😉

I expect that I will be reading many more stories by Mary Braddon in the future, because I certainly enjoyed this one.  It was perfect for the Halloween challenge and equally suited to reading on a cold, dark winter’s night. Recommended!

Rating

Short Story Review: A Pair of Hands by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A quick, atmospheric read, set in an interesting location, and peopled with interesting characters. 3.5 / 5

Summary

Miss Petyt is staying with a friend, when the topic of ghosts arises in conversation, thanks to her host’s daughters.  When Miss Petyt explains that she once lived in a haunted house, the young women are interested to hear her tale.  And so she relates to them of the time she lived in a quaint but isolated house on the Cornish coast, with no-one for company but the housekeeper, Mrs Carkeek…

Favourite Quote

‘…but I was young enough to be romantic and wise enough to like independence,

and this word “secluded” took my fancy.’

(From A Pair of Hands by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch)

Review

A Pair of Hands was the final story in the anthology of Great Crime Stories, first published by Chancellor Press in 1936; an anthology that I enjoy flicking through and picking out stories at random from time to time.  So I was surprised that this didn’t appear to be a crime story at all…

Perhaps best known today for the phrase, “murder your darlings”, this is the first story I have read solely authored by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch.  Many years ago I read Castle Dor, a story left unfinished upon his death which was completed by Daphne du Maurier.

Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch was from Cornwall and his knowledge and love of the Cornish landscape is clearly evident in the descriptions of the area in which the house, Tresillack, is situated.  Set in an idyllic location, this short story centres on a puzzle that Miss Petyt won’t let go of it until she has solved it.

There is a gentleness to this story, rather than an overbearing sense of horror or fear, given the house’s isolation.  The atmosphere and tension instead comes from the determination of Miss Petyt and the personality of Mrs Carkeek, with the location setting the mood for the tale.

Overall, a nice story, in a nice setting, but I was left feeling perplexed, wondering as to why it was included in a book of crime stories.  It is, if anything, more of a light mystery, in my opinion.  An enjoyable, quick read, that kept my interest; definitely worth a read.

Rating

3.5 / 5

Short Story Review: They Never Get Caught by Margery Allingham


This short story was found in Great Crime Stories first published by Chancellor Press in 1936.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

An interesting, engaging read from the ‘golden age’ of crime writing with a great twist at the end. 4 / 5

Summary

Harold Brownrigg is a chemist with a few money problems and a wandering eye.  His wife, Millie, is just dull and stupid, nothing like some of the pretty girls that come into his shop.  But none are so captivating as Phyllis, a young woman half his age.

However, Phyllis feels guilty about what they are doing even if he does not, and so decides to end it.  This is too much for Harold, especially when he hears that Phyllis has been seen about town with a younger chap in a flashy car.  It is becoming more and more obvious for Harold that Millie is just a problem he needs to get rid of.  Once he has got rid of her, not only will it clear the way for him to be with Phyllis but he will also be able to get his hands on the money left to Millie by her father.

And so begins the intricate planning of a murder.

Favourite Quote

Over-dark, round, hot eyes had Mr Brownrigg; not at all the sort of eyes for a little, plump, middle-aged chemist with a placid wife like Millie.

(From They Never Get Caught by Margery Allingham)

Review

They Never Get Caught was an interesting, engaging read.  Written by one of the queens of golden age crime writing, this is the first story I have read by Margery Allingham (and as of 2019, I have read it twice), though I have a number of Campion novels sitting on my bookshelf.

I felt very sorry for poor Millie as I moved through the story.  Harold was extremely cold, even when he felt unnerved by what he was trying to do.

The story was cleverly written, and the number of characters and points of view from which we see what is going on, is handled very well given the story is told in under twenty pages.  The main POV is from Harold himself, though glimpses are provided by Millie and the errand boy Bill Perry.

The twist in the tale – which I won’t mention – was very good.  I didn’t expect it, probably because I was too preoccupied by the callous nature of Harold.

A short, satisfying read, if you like ‘golden age’ crime stories, then I would recommend They Never Get Caught to you.

Rating


Re-read and review updated in March 2019.  Originally read and reviewed in October 2014.

Short Story Review: This Year It Will Be Different by Maeve Binchy

This Year It Will Be Different is from the short story collection of the same name by Maeve Binchy.  I listened to an audiobook version of this story, read by Kate Binchy.  (Book cover above from Goodreads)

Summary (my own)

A middle-aged woman, Ethel, is not looking forward to Christmas.  She’s reached a point where Christmas seems like too much hard work because her family has come to expect her to do everything for them (as well as go out to work), without offering to help.  But when her family realise that something’s amiss, they promise “this year it will be different”…

Favourite Quote

If she saw one more picture of a 47 year old woman, smiling at her out of magazine, with the body of an 18 year old, gleaming skin, 56 even teeth and shining hair, Ethel was going to go after her with a carving knife.

Review

I’ve not read (or listened) to any Maeve Binchy before.  These types of stories are not the usual type I’m drawn to, but I thought it would be interesting to give one of these Christmas stories a go.

There is so much involved with preparing the “perfect” family Christmas and if the work load falls only to one person, it’s no wonder that they become fatigued just thinking about it.  Listening to the story, I really felt for Ethel.  Her family has a selfish streak, which she accepts responsibility for, which I think is sad – and is probably one of the reasons she finds herself in this state of apathy.  After all, people don’t often know there is a problem unless they are told or made to taken responsibility for it.

When the family make their promise of, “this year it will be different”, on noticing that Ethel’s not her usual self, their solution was not one I expected.  And, it highlights the undercurrent of expectation that moves through their house.

The story was a short listen, at just under twenty minutes, but in that time, we are given a clear and crisp glimpse into Ethel’s character, as well as the personalities of the other family members.  It’s not a cheery Christmas story, but with the weight of expectation associated with this time of year, I think for some it is a realistic one.

Rating

Short Story Review: Outside the Law by Anthony Berkeley

I found “Outside the Law” by Anthony Berkeley in “Great Crime Stories”, originally published by Chancellor Press in 1936.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A tense short story that held my attention to the very end.  A good lesson in creating believable, well-imagined characters. 5 / 5

Summary

After committing the crime of breaking into a house and robbing it of any valuables, three very different men find themselves trapped in a building, surrounded by the police.

There appears to be little if no chance of escape.  And, should the police catch them with the big pile of stolen goods still in their possession, they know for certain that they will be spending the next few years in prison.

With two of the three men armed, how will they react to this twist in their fortunes?

Favourite Quote

He knew little English, but already he had gathered that the word “busies” meant the police.

Review

For a short story, Outside the Law is really quite tense.  I think it’s down to the clear, concise characterisation by the author.  The three men were all very different.  They each have differing reasons to turning to crime, different reasons for being there and have very different characters and backgrounds to each other.  As their options fall away, it’s no wonder they all respond differently to the pressure they find themselves under.

As for the ending…it’s very good.  You suspect you know what is going to happen but still you are glued to the story.  I can’t say any more for fear of giving too much away.

But I will say is this: when a writer knows his characters well, the story just flows.  And this is what we have here.  For any writers out there who want to read what is, in my opinion, a great demonstration of creating well-defined and believable characters, you could do a lot worse than taking a look at this.

Rating