Short Story Review: The Adventure of The Speckled Band by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventure of The Speckled Band in the eighth short story in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Summary

Helen Stoner goes to visit Sherlock Holmes as she fears her life is in danger.  She believes her stepfather, Dr Roylott might try to kill her, as her sister died in strange circumstances two years previously, shortly before she was to be married.  Now Helen is to be married, she is scared of suffering the same fate. Since her sister’s death, her final words, spoken in terror, have haunted Helen, “The speckled band!”  But she has not been able to work out what they mean.  The question is, can Sherlock Holmes, before Dr Roylott is able to do away with his remaining step-daughter?

Favourite Quote

I had no keener pleasure than in following Holmes in his professional investigations, and in admiring the rapid deductions, as swift as intuitions, and yet always founded on a logical basis with which he unravelled the problems which were submitted to him.

Review

This was a great little mystery and so very imaginative.  There are so many clues and red herrings littered throughout the story that you find it difficult to pinpoint the truth of the matter, until of course, everything falls neatly into place.

The Adventure of The Speckled Band is one of my favourite Sherlock Holmes mysteries.  It has everything a late Victorian story should; exotic wild animals that are free to roam, a suspect band of gypsies who keep company with the guilty party, and a damsel in distress at the mercy of her strange and greedy stepfather.  Fabulous stuff!  It kept me guessing until the very end.

Rating

4.5 / 5

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Short Story Review: The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle is the seventh short story in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Summary

Christmas has just passed when Dr Watson goes to Baker Street to see Sherlock Holmes.  On his arrival he finds his friend thinking over a battered hat brought to him by a commissionaire named Peterson.  It came into his possession when Peterson witnessed a scuffle in the street; the victim dropped both his hat and his Christmas goose.  He has brought them to Sherlock Holmes so that they might be returned to their owner as Peterson has no clue as to work out his identity for the man fled after the attack.

However, Holmes thinks it unlikely that the owner will be found, and sends Peterson home to cook the goose, but the man returns and produces the blue carbuncle, claiming that it was found inside the bird.  Naturally, Holmes realises that there is a larger mystery here and sets off to discover what it is.

Favourite Quote

“One of those little incidents which will happen when you have four million human beings all jostling each other within the space of a few square miles.  Amid the action and reaction of so dense a swarm of humanity, every possible combination of events may be expected to take place, and many a little problem will be presented which may be striking and bizarre without being criminal.” 

Review

This was an intriguing and engaging short story, and in terms of enjoyment, sits around the middle of the stories I’ve read so far from The Adventures of the Sherlock Holmes.  It just so happened that I reached this story in the collection in time for my Festive Reads Fortnight reading challenge, which was a stroke of luck.

Sherlock’s analysis of the hat is interesting.  Here we hear him discussing such things as phrenology and how much the hat owner’s wife loves her husband.

This is a great Christmas read with a good message.  It’s nice to see that Sherlock Holmes, who often appears cold and aloof, can be compassionate and merciful.

Rating

3.5 / 5

 

Book Review: Under the Dragon’s Tail by Maureen Jennings

under-the-dragons-tail-front-coverUnder the Dragon’s Tail is the second of The Murdoch Mysteries by Maureen Jennings.

Summary:

Toronto, July 1895.  When a midwife and abortionist is murdered, Detective William Murdoch investigates.  Although the dead woman, Dolly Merishaw, seems to have kept quiet about the clients that had used her services, it transpires that she kept a record book as protection, should she need it, or, for a spot of blackmail.  Fallen on hard times, it seemed that she tried to get some money out of one of these old clients.  But which one?  And did they resort to murder?

Dolly wasn’t very much liked and there are no shortage of suspects.  But when one of the young boys in Dolly’s care turns up dead on the kitchen floor, Murdoch must work quickly to uncover the murderer, before any other children are hurt.

Favourite Quote:

“…The wicked shall get their due.”

That didn’t sound quite right to Murdoch but maybe it was a Methodist saying.

Review:

As I mentioned when I reviewed the first book in The Murdoch Mysteries series, Except the Dying, I am a big fan of the television series.  The first book was brilliant, and the second didn’t disappoint either.  I like the fact that the books and the TV series are so different, and I love them both.  The books are far more grittier than the cosy mystery series we see on the TV, and there is a place for each.

The author easily captures the time period and brings it to life with ease.  As I’ve already mentioned, there is a grittiness to the story, but then life was gritty, hard and dark for most people at the end of the nineteenth century, and that clearly comes through.

The pace is good and there were enough twists and turns in the story to keep me guessing.  Murdoch is a fabulous main character and is very likeable and realistic.  I was pleased to see Dr Julia Ogden make a small appearance in this instalment, and I’m hoping that there will be more later in the series.

I can’t recommend this book and series highly enough, and am looking forward to reading the third Murdoch Mystery, Poor Tom is Cold, soon.

Rating:

five-stars

Book Review: Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

fingersmith front coverLondon, 1862.  Sue Trinder is a young fingersmith or thief.  Orphaned at birth when her mother was hanged for murder, she was raised by Mrs Sucksby, a baby farmer.  All her life she has lived with Mrs Sucksby and Mr Ibbs in a house in Lant Street, a house full of other rough and ready thieves.  One night, a man known to them as Gentleman, who also goes by the name of Richard Rivers, comes to see them.  He has a proposition to make; an opportunity for Sue to make their fortune. All she has to do is pretend to be a lady’s maid and persuade her new mistress to marry a rogue.

It sounds simple enough.  But this plan is elaborate and complex.  It has to be if they are to get their hands on Maud Lilly’s fortune and keep it…

And what of Maud Lilly?  Another orphan, she was raised in the madhouse where her mother died and left their by her uncle until he could find a use for her.  He is a reclusive man, who remains at Briar cataloguing his vast library of erotic books.  Maud’s job, when she is old enough, is to help him, and, when he has guests, to read passages to them for their enjoyment.

Maud Lilly knows nothing of the world beyond what she saw in the madhouse as a child and what she has since encountered at Briar.  Is it any wonder that she craves freedom, and is willing to marry Richard Rivers to obtain it.  Only, as secrets are revealed, it seems there is much more at stake than money…

This is the first book by Sarah Waters that I have read, though I will say that I had watched the TV adaptation of the book before reading it.

The atmosphere that the author manages to create around the story is intense and mesmerising, especially in the second half of the book.  The plot is complex and full of twists and turns, and as we are given both Sue and Maud’s perspective of what is going on, offered tantalising glimpses of the truth behind the lies.

The pace of the first quarter of the book was slow as all the foundations for what was to come needed to be laid, but when it started gathering speed, it never relented until the end.  The characters were well-crafted and the use of language was employed cleverly to help set the tone in each of the locations visited.  The descriptions – of thoughts, feelings, smells, sounds, and places – are rich and bring Victorian England colourfully to life, perhaps too colourfully, I would imagine, for those of a sensitive nature.  But, in my opinion, this only added to a realistic portrayal of the people and the times.

Fingersmith has everything a Victorian suspense story requires: a madhouse, a prison, orphans, thieves and pickpockets, not to mention a view of the seedier side of life in the latter half of the nineteenth century.  The grim, rough streets of inner city London are juxtaposed with that of the rich and well-to-do, as we are taken from Lant Street to Briar, a grey and gloomy mansion set in its own estate in the country.  And yet, though these places are worlds apart, misery and villainy are to be found in both.

After reading this, I will certainly be adding the other novels by Sarah Waters to my “must buy” book list.

Book Review: The Chimes by Charles Dickens

The Chimes, or A Goblin Story of Some Bells that Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In is a short story / novella by Charles Dickens published in the 1840’s.  It is the second of the five Christmas stories that he wrote, the most popular and well-known being the first, A Christmas Carol.

Toby Veck, called Trotty due to the strange way he walks, is a hard-working, honest but poor man, who has a deep obsession with the bells in the church tower, the porch of which is where he waits for work as a ticket porter.  The strange thing about Trotty is that when the bells chime, it’s as if he hears them ringing out messages.  He lives with his daughter, Meg, who is planning on marrying her sweetheart on New Year’s Day.

On New Year’s Eve, Toby hears the tolling of the bells, and thinking they are calling to him, he goes to the church, where he finds the door to the bell tower unlocked and open.  Climbing the stairs, when he reaches the bells, he is greeted with the vision of a multitude of goblins dancing.  But what message does the spirits of the bells have for Toby this particular New Year’s Eve?

As you make your way through The Crimes, it would be hard to miss the strong social and moral theme that is the backbone of the story.  This is no surprise as Dickens is well-known for depicting the plight of the poor and downtrodden of Victorian Britain.  One of the main things to strike me as I read the story was the terrible and cruel personality of the rich characters, the worst part being that they actually believed that they were kind and generous, compassionate and helpful to those less fortunate to them.

There are also a number of strange character names, which, when I read Dickens, I must say I look out for and make a note of 🙂  My favourite strange-sounding name in this story would have to be Mrs Chickenstalker.

The story is a fairly gloomy one, one that brought tears to my eyes at one point, but it clearly brings home the message of how hard life was for the poor of Victorian towns and cities.  And yet, the message in the story might be one of hope or overcoming the despair of the circumstances you find yourself in.  Still, it is quite a dark, gloomy read.

In my opinion, if you enjoy the classics, this is a great story to read over the Christmas and New Year period but if you are looking for a more light-hearted festive read, you probably won’t enjoy this so much.

Short Story Review: The Judge’s House by Bram Stoker

Malcolm Malcolmson is a scholar and mathematician.  Wishing to find a place where he can study in peace, away from all distractions, he sets off in search of isolation, not telling anyone where he is going.

He gets off the train at the small town of Benchurch, checking into the Good Traveller inn for a night before beginning his quest to find even more isolated lodgings.  Whilst on his walk, he comes to the perfect place: an old Jacobean-style house which was currently unoccupied.

The first Malcolmson hears of the strange reputation of the house is when he is speaking to the agent; he says that the locals are not used to seeing the house occupied.  If they were, perhaps it would change their opinion of it.  Afterwards, when he informs the landlady at the inn that he will need provisions for where he is moving to, she realises with horror, he is speaking of the Judge’s House.

She goes on to explain that a hundred years before, a local judge terrorised the surrounding area and was in the habit of passing overly harsh sentences.  Locals had since avoided the house, saying something wasn’t right there, but what that something was she didn’t know and she wouldn’t stay there to find out.

However, Malcolmson isn’t at all worried by what he’s heard; he isn’t easy to scare and is driven by logic and reason…at least in the beginning.

The question is, will Malcolmson survive his stay at the Judge’s House?  Or do the locals fear it with good reason?

The Judge’s House is a slow-moving ghost story, one in which the tension builds steadily towards the inevitable, chilling conclusion.  If you like Victorian ghost stories, then you might enjoy this…

I came across this short story in Short Stories from the Nineteenth Century, selected by David Stuart Davies.

Book Review: The Seance by John Harwood

The Seance by John Harwood is a Victorian mystery that captures the imagination and makes for compelling reading.

The book begins in London in 1889, with Constance Langton, whose family has never quite recovered after the death of her sister, Alma, some years earlier.  Raised alone and unloved by her parents, she finds herself drawn into the world of the spiritualist, if only to try and abate her mother’s enduring grief.  However, what happens is far removed from what she expects.

Then Constance learns that she has inherited Wraxford Hall, a house in Suffolk with a dark and sinister past, where stories of ghosts, murders and strange disappearances abound.  She finds herself drawn into the mysteries, desperate to learn the truth for in her heart she knows all is not as it seems.  When a man from the Society for Psychical Research wishes to carry out an investigation at Wraxford Hall, Constance agrees, and soon finds herself in the isolated, decaying house that she has read so much about.

But how will she fare in it when it has been the ruin of so many others?  And perhaps more importantly, will she find the answers she seeks?

I don’t often discuss book covers when reviewing books but I was instantly drawn to the cover for The Seance, in the same way that Essie Fox’s The Somnambulist caught my eye.  The descriptions of Wraxford Hall were vivid and gloriously spooky.  The separate narratives that combine to create the story work so well together, each revealing little pieces of the tale at a time.  The characters are engaging and carry off their respective roles with ease.

As I worked my way through The Seance, I couldn’t help but think of The Turn of the Screw by Henry James.  The book is so cleverly written that when you start reading you believe you know you are reading a ghost story.  The question is, are you?

I was absolutely captivated by this book and wholeheartedly recommend it.  I can honestly say that The Seance is one of my ten favourite reads of the year, and in my opinion, you will not be disappointed.  It is one of those books in which a reader can very easily get lost…