Thursday, March 3, 2011

Crime Fiction Alphabet 2011: Letter H

When I think of the Letter H in the context of mystery/crime fiction/thrillers, there are two possibilities: Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes. For the Crime Alphabet Meme being hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise I'm choosing Holmes. Simply put he has been and will always be my favorite fictional character as well as the best and most brilliant detective (consulting or otherwise) in the entire history of crime and detection.

I began reading the Sherlock Holmes stories early and just quietly and easily fell under their spell. Of the novels, I am a major fan of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES. THE SIGN OF FOUR and A STUDY IN SCARLET, not so much. I also love most of the short stories though I haven't, lately, read them as frequently as I used to and my memory is not what it should be. (I see though I could have just as easily chosen The Hound for my letter H. But I'll stick with Holmes.)

For whatever magical reason, the stories continue to capture the imagination these many years, these many readings later. Holmes is just one of those eternal characters. If you ask me to list chapter and verse why this should be so, I don't know that I could. But once you fall under the spell of his personality, his oddities and eccentricities, you are his forever.

I always say that I fell in love with Holmes when I was a kid and I just never fell out. One of several reasons I am an Anglophile is because of Holmes.

When I traveled to London many years ago, I even went so far as to stay on Baker Street at the Sherlock Holmes Hotel. Yes, I can see you all rolling your eyes. But you know, once I saw the name of the hotel I really had no choice. I even brought home a deerstalker cap. Ha!

If you have the entire Holmes canon (as I do) in one or two volumes, it's fun to dip in now and then and pick up one of the stories. Occasionally I will listen to an audio version which is just as much fun. I've never grown tired of listening to THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES. The audios are much better than any of the filmed versions unfortunately. For whatever reason, they always muck up the story one way or another when it's filmed. So I'll stick to the audio or the written word.

I am still, to this moment, thrilled when I hear or read the words: "Come Watson, come! The game is afoot!" This is my favorite line in literature.

I am fond of watching Jeremy Brett play Holmes in the series he did for PBS in the 80's. (Available on Netflix instant play which is really most accommodating of them.) They're as faithful to the stories as you're going to find - especially the first two seasons. Just beautifully done. Brett is the ultimate Holmes. Later the shows veered away from the canon and the series suffered, as of course, it must.

Another good choice for Holmes-watching are the films done by the second best Holmes of all time: Basil Rathbone. I am an unabashed fan of Basil Rathbone and he can do no wrong in my book, so take care if you are in the mood to criticize. These films are kind of a mish-mash, of course, since they never followed any of the actual Conan Doyle stories but merely took bits and pieces of a few and spliced them here and there to make 'new' stories.

Most are dreadful. But I never minded because I had a good time watching Basil and Nigel Bruce giving their all to the definitive (until Jeremy Brett) portrayals of Holmes and Watson. The films are watchable ONLY because of these two actors and that's why, in spite of my misgivings, I still recommend them. (I also had a great crush on Basil, but let's not go there.)

There have been, of course, hundreds of attempts by various writers over the years to capture the 'magic' of Holmes, continuing the character in 'newly discovered' stories written by Watson. Most of them I haven't read. Of those I have, I've liked THE GIANT RAT OF SUMATRA by Rick Boyer and THE REVENGE OF THE HOUND by Michael Hardwick. But my very favorite interpretation continues to be that of Laure R. King's. In her series beginning in 1994 with THE BEEKEEPER'S APPRENTICE she has taken Holmes and turned him into a flesh and blood man, something even Doyle had trouble with. The series will now be 11 books along with the publication in September 2011 of The Pirate King. I can't wait. This is my favorite historical mystery series over-all and I recommend it highly.

For a full list of Laurie R. King's Sherlock Holmes books, please check out this link.

For those of us fortunate enough to have fallen under the spell of Holmes and Watson, nothing much else needs to be said, I'm preaching to the converted here. For those less fortunate: you don't know what you're missing.

For links to all the bloggers participating in the Crime Fiction Alphabet Letter 2011 Meme please go to Kerrie's blog MYSTERIES IN PARADISE.


  1. I just started reading The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes and finished the first story. Getting read to start the second one.

  2. Sherlock Holmes was one of my first mystery detective series, when I was a teen-ager. I liked the logic of it all; everything had an explanation, a place. It was scientific.

    And I liked the early movies.

    I can't say that I continued reading them, as I moved on. Susan Conant has a nice book in her series which is about characters devoted to the Holmes canon.

    I will look for movies at this point--classics or new. But I'd rather hear the scientific explanations than see violence, so the older ones may be better.

    I remember The Hound of the Baskervilles, and The Case of the Speckled Band, a great locked-room mystery, with an imaginative murder weapon.

  3. Ryan: Better late than never, I always say. I'm so glad you've decided to give Holmes a try. :)

  4. Kathy: Yes, THE SPECKLED BAND was an especially frightening one. You should see the Jeremy Brett episode - very well done. I like listening to THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, it always cheers me up.

  5. Thanks Yvette. Great contribution to this week's CFA

  6. You're welcome, Kerrie. It was great fun to write.

  7. I first encountered Holmes when I was 10. Our friend the Macy's bookseller gave me the complete Holmes - all 4 novels and 56 short stories in a single volume.

    I then proceeded to infuriate my parents on our family trip across the U. S. that summer - which they had set up so they could show me the wonders of the U. S. Instead, I mostly sat in the back seat and read Holmes, only glancing out the window when forced to do so.

    My priorities, alas, haven't changed - I'd still rather read (and read Holmes, for that matter) than do almost anything else. Almost.

  8. Lucky you, Les, being able to read in a moving car. That's one of the few places I simply cannot read ANYTHING.

    What is it about Holmes that so continues to intrigue some of us? MOST of us? One of these days we should have a blog post about it. Maybe on Conan Doyle's birthday? I'll have to check when that is. :)

  9. How is it possible that I didn't realize that The Beekeeper's Apprentice was a Holmes book? Or that it was part of a series? Did you catch the modern version of Sherlock Holmes that was recently on Masterpiece? We quite enjoyed it but were disappointed there weren't more episodes.

  10. Lisa, that is what I'm here for. To let you in on these little secrets. HA! Oh are you in for a treat. THESE ARE WONDERFUL BOOKS! If you go to the fantastic fiction website you'll get a list of ALL the Holmes/Russell books by Laurie R. King. They should be read in order.
    You are going to love them!

  11. Great post, Yvette! I've always wondered what the Sherlock Holmes Hotel is like - I've walked past it a number of times on visits to Marylebone. If you like Holmes on audio, have you ever listened to the 90s Radio 4 adaptations with Clive Merrison as Holmes and Michael Williams as Watson? They are magnificent, as good, if not (gasp!) better than the Granada series. Highly recommended!

    Like you, I love the Rathbones too. I'm a little more tolerant of their eccentricities though! I love the way actors recur across the series, the curious Victorian/modern setting and those stirring conclusions, with Basil declaiming beautifully!

  12. Might I suggest "The Barker Street Regulars," a dog-lover's book, plus a group of Sherlock Holmes devotees. It is fun to read in all respects, including references to "the canon."

    It's by Susan Conant, a writer who features two Malamutes in her series about a writer about dogs. The dogs themselves don't talk or think other than what dogs do.

    It's light and fun reading.

  13. Holmes is proper for H, Yvette. Here's a fun idea to throw into your hopper. I was reading "The Red Headed League" recently and suddenly realized that you could read the whole story as an expression of homophobia and anxieties about sodomy. Enforcing that reading is Freud's (and others') theory that money and excrement are related. At the end of the story, a very masculine Holmes defeats the effeminate bankrobber to insure that order, and heterosexuality, are restored. Of course, this may also to assure us that there's nothing untoward in his relationship with Watson.

    Hope this isn't a too off-the-wall response to your entry. Oh, and you can reserve "P" for Poirot, right?

  14. Kathy: Thanks for the tip. This one sounds like something I'd like. Will definitely look it up. I've heard of Susan Conant over the years, but I've never read her stuff. Will do.

  15. Robin: Hmmm, I must say I've never seen The Red Headed League in quite that light before. I'll have to read it again to see what's what. Actually this is one of my favorite of the stories primarily because I'm taken with the whole idea of a bunch of red headed men and the preposterousness of the plot. Also love the first name Jabez. Also love the title. Lots to love here.

    I'll tell you what though, I don't think it ever once occurred to Doyle that anyone would think there was anything ever 'untoward' between Holmes and Watson. Just a feeling I have.

    Yes, P will definitely be for Poirot. For sure. :)

  16. Thanks, Nicolas. Oh, don't get me wrong, I have a great deal of affection for the Rathbone films - I just wish they'd made more sense. Really if you take the plots apart (I guess I do this because I've only seen the films about a million times) they make very little sense. I also loved the guy who played Lestrade.

    I've never listened to the radio programs you mentioned. Can you send me a link? I'd love to listen to them.

    Yes, I too loved the repeat of the same stable of actors. Sometimes one played the villain, then it was another's turn. Fun.

    Unlike many, I enjoyed SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE VOICE OF TERROR. Even if it moved Holmes up to the 'modern' age. After all, Holmes is 'eternal.'

  17. You could be a Sherlockian like the hero in Graham Moore's book.

    I enjoyed the early Laurie R. King books on Holmes and Russell. I have not been excited about the most recent books in the series. Have you enjoyed the last in the series as much as the earlier books?

    I recently read one of the compilation of new Holmes stories by Donald Thomas and really enjoyed the collection. In the review on my blog I wrote about how it was nice to read Holmes stories rather than a full length novel.

  18. Hi Bill, thanks for dropping by. I hadn't heard of the Donald Thomas stories. I'll see if I can find them. Over the years I've not really been too impressed with many of the 'pastiches.' As for the Laurie King books: while it's true I loved the earlier books and those are my favorites, I still enjoy reading every Holmes/Russell story. I still look forward to each book. It's still my favorite historical mystery series.

    The Graham Moore book looks mighty interesting, by the way.


Your comment will appear after I take a look.