Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Crooked Man, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Crooked Man
Illustration for “The Crooked Man” by Sidney Paget for The Strand

“The Adventure of the Crooked Man” begins with a late-night visit by Sherlock Holmes to Watson’s new home, a short time after Watson’s marriage. Holmes wants to take Watson on an adventure the following morning and after making a few (kind of annoying, to be honest) deductions about Watson’s smoking habits, home repairs, and lack of visitors, he settles down with a pipe and tells Watson the particulars of the case, which involves the death of James Barclay shortly after a verbal altercation with his wife. Mrs. Barclay is suspected of his death, but Holmes isn’t so sure. He has deduced there was a third party in the room—a third party, moreover, who had a mysterious animal Holmes can’t identify with him. He invites Watson to skive off doctoring and escort him to Aldershot to investigate the case further, and Watson readily accepts.

I am at a loss to explain why this story is in the twelfth position chronologically, as Watson is married, and we haven’t even met Mary Morstan yet in our chronological reading. I’ll keep going with the chronology as posted (and it is no conjecture of the challenge host, but rather that of Brad Keefauver of Sherlock Peoria), but this is the second time I’ve noticed a reference to Watson having married already and no introduction yet to Mary. In fact, I just don’t think this story takes place in 1887. That would be the earliest date for the story, but it doesn’t work out in other ways. It’s likely set a couple of years later.

Some fun trivia: Holmes never says his famous line, “Elementary, my dear Watson” in any actual story, but he comes fairly close in this one when, after Watson praises Holmes’s deduction as “Excellent!,” he tells Watson it was “Elementary.” Another interesting bit of trivia: this story has one of the few examples of biblical allusion I’ve seen in the stories. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for more, but Sherlock surprised me by deducing this allusion Nancy Barclay made while fighting with her husband.

Why wouldn’t Holmes know what a mongoose is? That is a question I still have after reading this story. He seems to have encyclopedic knowledge in a variety of fields. One would think he would have at least have heard of the mongoose, but Henry Wood’s explanation of what a mongoose is seems to be necessary, so it stands to reason Holmes has no idea what they are. This story is set before Kipling wrote “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi,” but I should still think Holmes would have heard of them at least. And if not Holmes, why not Watson? I looked into it, and while they are not widespread in Afghanistan, they do live in the southern part. Would Watson never have heard of them while serving in the military in Afghanistan? I suppose it’s possible. I don’t know why I have such a mental block around believing Holmes and Watson are both completely unfamiliar with the mongoose. It’s probably just me.

I found no references in the Sherlock series to this story, either, and in my humble opinion, it’s a bit of a throwaway. For one thing, Holmes has just about solved the entire case before he ever visits Watson. Spoiler alert ahead: Holmes isn’t really investigating a murder after all, and as such, the case doesn’t really have anywhere to go. I suppose Holmes does make the correct deduction about the events involved, but it’s mostly Holmes and then Henry Wood who tell the story through exposition. It was interesting enough, but it doesn’t rank up near the top in memorable Sherlock Holmes stories for me, and once again, it contains some troubling racist attitudes among some of the characters. I suppose we are meant to give Conan-Doyle a pass because of the times, but he showed some remarkably different thinking in “The Yellow Face,” so I don’t know that he gets a pass regarding his depictions of Indians, even if that depiction matched the prevailing attitude of Britons at the time the story was written and in which it was set.

Rating: ★★½☆☆

The Chronological Sherlock Holmes ChallengeI read this story as part of the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. It is the twelfth story in the chronology (time setting rather than composition). Next up is “The Five Orange Pips.”

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Review: Reckless: My Life as a Pretender, Chrissie Hynde

Before I discuss the contents of Chrissie Hynde’s memoir, Reckless: My Life as a Pretender, I need to get two things out of the way: 1) I am kind of a sucker for rock memoirs, which is something that started in my teens when I checked several books on the subject out of the library, and 2) I really like the Pretenders. I started really listening to them in college. I especially liked earlier records—their first two eponymously titled albums and Learning to Crawl. I once got a haircut I really hated, but then someone told it made me look like Chrissie Hynde, and I didn’t hate it anymore. Enjoying Chrissie Hynde’s music, however, didn’t mean I thought she walked on water. Quite the contrary. Before I picked up this book, I had certainly read enough about her and read enough of her interviews to know she isn’t someone I’d necessarily like very much. I don’t need to like someone’s personality to enjoy their art. I read an interview with Martin Freeman, for example, that left me scratching my head and wondering if he is truly a jerk or was just in bad mood. But I love him on film.

Hynde quite literally begins her memoir at the beginning, with her early years living in Akron. She loved listening to music, and living near Cleveland, which has always been a big rock and roll city, gave her easy access to the music she loved. She describes her misadventures attempting to please her parents and matriculate at Kent State—she knew one of the young men who was killed in 1970. She left Ohio for London just as the punk scene was starting and knew many of the major players, including Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood (she worked in their shop), the Sex Pistols, the Clash, and the Damned, among others. She seems to have spent most of her twenties focused on getting into a band and taking drugs. She does mention that the memoir would focus on her drug abuse, and it does. Caveat emptor for those looking to learn more about the Pretenders. Aside from the first two albums and the early years of the band, she does not tell that story in these pages. One wonders if something of her passion for the band and its music died with James Honeyman-Scott, the Pretenders’ first guitarist, in 1982. Neither of her spouses even gets a mention, and her relationship with Ray Davies rates only a few pages. Hynde waxes most lyrical at the end, when she discusses how “Jimmy’s” death affected her.

I can’t say I really disliked this book, but I didn’t like it, really, either. Hynde’s cast of characters was hard for me to keep straight, and I could have used a glossary of names or something. Hynde has certainly had some interesting experiences, and she is unflinching in her description, even if her story puts her in a bad light. She has said a couple of controversial things about possible rape (and certainly some kind of sexual assault) she experienced, namely, that she blames herself for getting into the situations in which she has been abused.

Now, let me assure you that, technically speaking, however you want to look at it, this was my doing and I take full responsibility. You can’t fuck around with people, especially people who wear “I Heart Rape” and “On Your Knees” badges. (119)

Hynde may indeed have been under the influence of drugs, and she may have made some poor decisions, but it makes me sad that she comes across as feeling like she somehow deserved to be assaulted because of these decisions. She was raised in an era when women were often blamed for their own rapes (Just how short was your skirt?), but she would, one hopes, be more enlightened now. Or maybe not. It would be nice if we lived in a world in which instead of minding ourselves and doing what we can to avoid being raped, men just didn’t, you know, rape people. Victim-blaming seems to be worst when it comes to these kinds of cases, though, and sometimes even the victims blame themselves. I have ready Hynde’s interviews on this topic, and she is quite heated, even insisting people don’t buy her book if they don’t want to read her story as she wants to tell it.

I can’t really figure her out. She comes off in interviews as brittle, and her frequent digs at people who choose not to be vegetarians are also off-putting. But I can’t deny she has swagger, and she did create some good music. I am glad she was able to stop taking drugs. I’m sad it took the deaths of two bandmates to determine she needed to get clean. I wish she had talked more about her experiences after 1982 as well. I also wish she didn’t feel the need to insult teachers every time it’s necessary to her memoir to mention teachers or education. I have read reviews calling this memoir “well-written.” I wouldn’t go that far. It’s not badly written. The prose is passable, with the exception of Hynde’s fondness for exclamation points. It’s also really not well organized. She flits around in time in a way that’s not easy to follow, and individual chapters can be anything from focused on a single event to wildly chaotic romps through years of time. If only she had paid a bit more attention to those teachers she finds it necessary to denigrate. Ah well. She didn’t need to, in the end, because she had a brilliant career in rock. I just wish I’d been able to read more about it. Unless you’re a big fan, I’d recommend skipping this book and listening to the Pretenders’ music instead. Even if you are a big fan, it’s still not too bad of an idea to skip this one in favor of of the music.

Rating: ★★½☆☆

Beat the BacklistI no longer remember how long this book’s been on my backlist, but it’s been a while. Maybe even when it first came out. I decided to count to for the Beat the Backlist Challenge.

I am also counting this one toward the Wild Goose Chase Challenge for the category of a book with a word or phrase relating to “wildness” in the title. You can’t pass up pairing “wild” with “reckless,” and one thing I can say for sure: Chrissie Hynde is wild.

Wild Goose Chase Reading Challenge 2017

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Review: The Surrender, Toni Bentley

So, I debated with myself for a couple of weeks. Should I review this one on my blog? I pretty much review all the books I read, but should I draw a line with books like Toni Bentley’s memoir, The Surrender? Maybe I should. I read it out of curiosity. I had heard about it, and I can’t remember when or how, but it recently popped back on my radar again, if you will, so I just read it. Bentley is known for writing a more conventional and well-regarded memoir about her time with the New York City Ballet. Who knows? Maybe I will not click the publish button. If you are reading this, then you’ll know I decided to be brave because I’m a grown-ass woman in her mid-forties, and I can read and review whatever strikes my curiosity. I guess if Toni Bentley can tell the world about her sexual escapades, then I can at least have to guts to admit I read the ensuing memoir.

Anyway, if this book isn’t on your radar, and you know nothing about it, let me enlighten you. It is a memoir about Toni Bentley’s sexual relationship with a man who introduced her to anal sex. If that squicks you out, I should mention there is not a great deal of detail in the descriptions. I mean, it’s explicit, but more with language than actual description of sex—of any kind, really. It probably crosses the line for a lot of folks. But, I mean, do you pick up a book like this if you aren’t a bit prepared for what its pages will reveal? I should think most of us would know whether reading this would cross our lines or not. However, I will say I didn’t find it titillating—and not because I’m a prude or closed-minded or anything. It’s more (unintentionally? purposefully?) humorous than anything else, and pretty much not sexy at all. Sort of sad? It is not badly written. The prose is a bit purple here and there, but it might surprise you that it doesn’t entirely suck if you decide to read it yourself. But, I mean, if she can write some of the lines she wrote in that book and take herself seriously still… well, I have to give her props.

I will admit I was curious as to how someone could write a whole memoir about the subject. Well, it sort of isn’t. It’s more about Bentley’s sexual exploration in general. Actually, it’s kind of an interesting psychological self-study at its core. She doesn’t even get to the affair with the man she nicknames A-Man (I know, I positively cringed, too) until halfway through the book. Ultimately, I finished it because I was pretty curious how this whole relationship of hers was going to play out. I found her to be fairly… shall we charitably say inwardly focused? She cops to it—one chapter is about how as a ballet dancer, she focused on the mirror in the studio, albeit as a study of her imperfections. But you can’t help thinking it did something to her psyche to be so focused on herself and her movement in that mirror. I found her to be somewhat passionless. She doesn’t come off as likable. Not that she was trying, I don’t think. I mean, do you write a book like this if you care what people think about you? She’s not a coward, however. No one who would put a memoir like this out there can be accused of cowardice. Insanity? Jury’s out on that one. I’ll spare you the details, but if you read it, you will definitely wonder what the hell is wrong with her at some point. Actually, there are some great reviews on Goodreads that go into more detail than I feel like doing. And some of those reviews are pretty awesome.

By the way, this memoir was made into a one-woman play, and it sounds like it was about like you’d expect. However, award for most hilarious thing I have read in connection to this book goes to Ms. Bentley herself. In an interview with Salon, she is asked the following question:

At the end of your book, you have only had anal sex with one other man. Now, years later, have you had other anal relationships?

Her response is pretty brazen:

I would rather not talk about my personal life.

Oh, honey. It’s too late to close that door now. (I resisted a pun here, unlike Ms. Bentley, so you are welcome.)

Rating: ★★½☆☆

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Review: The Horse and His Boy, C. S. Lewis, narrated by Alex Jennings

The Horse and His Boy CD (The Chronicles of Narnia)I know I read the third book in C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, The Horse and His Boy, about 20 years ago when I stalled out somewhere in the middle of [amazon_link id=”0064405028″ target=”_blank” ]The Voyage of the Dawn Treader[/amazon_link], but I had no memory of its plot at all. I think I know why. It’s utterly forgettable.

If you are not familiar with the plot, it is the story of a foundling boy named Shasta, who is raised by a fisherman named Arsheesh in Calormen, which seems to be C. S. Lewis’s stand-in for the Arab world. Shasta runs away upon learning that he is to be sold, and he meets talking horse from Narnia named Bree; a feisty fellow runaway named Aravis, who is escaping a marriage she does not want; and Aravis’s horse, Hwin. In their escape, they go to the city of Tashbaan, where Shasta is mistaken for a prince of Archenland named Corin. You see where this is going, right? I figured out most of the rest of the plot at that moment. At any rate, Shasta does meet Queen Susan, Queen Lucy, and King Edmund in his travels, as well as Aslan, who guides him in the night when he is running to tell the king of Archenland of an impending invasion by forces from Calormen.

I thought the plot was predictable. My reaction on finishing the book is really just a resounding “meh.” The characters were fine. I liked them. I just felt the plot was fairly well trodden. I really wonder why the book needed to be included in the series. It feels like filler material. However, Alex Jennings does an excellent narration, and I think I would like to read other books read by him.

Book Rating: ★★½☆☆
Audio Rating: ★★★★½

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The Dream of Perpetual Motion, Dexter Palmer

[amazon_image id=”B003A7I2PU” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft”]The Dream of Perpetual Motion[/amazon_image]Dexter Palmer’s novel [amazon_link id=”B003A7I2PU” target=”_blank” ]The Dream of Perpetual Motion[/amazon_link] is a steampunk reimagining (of sorts) of William Shakespeare’s play [amazon_link id=”0743482832″ target=”_blank” ]The Tempest[/amazon_link]. The protagonist, Harold Winslow, is a greeting card writer from Xeroville. He writes his memoir while trapped aboard a zeppelin—the good ship Chrysalis—with only mechanical servants and the disembodied voice of Miranda Taligent to keep him company. His life becomes inextricably linked with that of Miranda and her father Prospero Taligent’s at the age of ten, when he spends all of his money at the Nickel Empire carnival to obtain a whistle that will secure him an invitation to Miranda’s tenth birthday party. At the birthday party, Prospero promises each of the 100 boys and girls their heart’s desire. Harold becomes Miranda’s playmate until Prospero catches them kissing and banishes Harold from Miranda’s fantastic playroom.

Almost 3/4 through the book, Harold says,

Perhaps you know the kind of man I am, dear imaginary reader. I have never felt as if I have known anyone well. I have never had that sense of instinctive empathy that I am told comes to lovers, or brothers and sisters, or parents and children. I have never been able to finish a sentence that someone else starts. I have never been able to give a gift to someone that they have liked, one that surprises them even as they secretly expected it.

Whenever I looked into faces and tried to discern the thoughts that lay behind them I had to make best guesses, and more often than not it seemed my guesses were wrong. (location 5167 on Kindle)

I think that is the crux of what I didn’t like about the book. The characters were not terribly likeable. They were entertaining, especially Prospero and his servants Gideon and Martin, but no one else brought out my empathy as a reader (excepting Harold as a boy, but he sheds that quickly in the novel). I have no quibbles with Palmer’s writing, which is funny and tragic and at times had me highlighting choice phrases, but the most important thing to me about any book, almost without exception, is the characters. If I do not like any of the characters, it’s hard for me to like the book. The plot of the novel is weird, but I could have let that go if I had been able to empathize with Harold.

Another criticism I have for the book is this sort of underlying misogyny that I see sometimes in science fiction and fantasy. Palmer’s women characters are, without exception, unpleasant and untrustworthy. Shakespeare’s Prospero is concerned with Miranda’s virginity, which is a theme that Palmer takes up in this novel. Prospero seeks to prevent his daughter from becoming sexually active, but when she does, he sees her as ruined. Harold never explicitly says so, but he gives the impression that he agrees with Prospero on that account—sex ruins women, and the proof is in his description of every female character in the novel.

The book improves slightly toward the end as the action picks up the pace, but over all, I can’t say I liked it. The narrative was complex and difficult to follow at times, and the characters did not redeem the story.

Rating: ★★½☆☆

 

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