Tag Archives: Sherlock Holmes

100 Words, 100 Days: Day 72. On Smiley.

No, not the emoticon but the character: John Le Carre’s famous spymaster, George Smiley. Coming out of a screening of the recent adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, I thought about fictional characters authors are most famous for. Fleming has Bond, Lee Child has Jack Reacher, Conan Doyle had Sherlock Holmes.

For people of a certain age, Sir Alec Guinness’s portrayal of Smiley was the benchmark by which Gary Oldman would be judged. But now Le Carre’s creation has a new lease of life, and  I would love to see him return for another adventure.

Classic characters will live forever.

 

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The Case of The Porterhouse Queen

The following is a story I wrote on WEbook.com a couple of years ago. It’s a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, fan-fiction if you would. It’s not very accurate in a historic sense, so take its claims with a pinch of salt. Just read and (hopefully) enjoy. Thank you.

 

“I think we’ve been rumbled, Holmes,” I said, casting a quick glance at my companion. We’d been sitting in the Stag’s Head near the south bank of the Liffey, the river that runs through Dublin, the principal city of the Irish Free State, for nearly seven hours. Holmes was nursing a brandy and port. I was drinking a Gold Label.

“Never fear, Watson. I daresay our stipend will cover another round. Would you do the honors?” Holmes did not look at me while he talked. Instead he was carefully examining a large oil painting that hung on the wall behind the serving counter. It was, I estimated, seven feet in length across and four feet down. It had been hung dead centre and was the only decoration the proprietor had deemed suitable for his premises. The rest of the public house was bereft of any such embellishment, save for the obvious and necessary gas-lighting.

“If I must. Are you staying with the brandy? I have to admit I’m not really taken with Irish whiskey and I don’t feel too comfortable asking for scotch.”

“Nonsense, Watson. The Irish and Scottish are linked in history. They are but one people divided by a sea. I would assume our good host would stock a fine range of malted, if you would but ask. In fact, ask for two Glenfiddich. That should brighten up his day.”

I went up to the counter. The proprietor was busy polishing a tray of stemmed champagne flutes. He was making quite a fuss of it too. I caught his eye and ordered for myself and Holmes. Indeed he did stock the bottle my friend had suggested and poured two generous measures. I paid the man and was on my way back to our table when he called me back.

“Your friend,” he said. “He seems very curious about my painting. He hasn’t taken his eyes off it since the two of you came in.” The proprietor, who was a stocky man in his mid-fifties, spoke with a Dublin brogue that was very rarely heard in London. His shaven head reflected the gas-light above him. “Is he a buyer or a seller?”

“Neither, I should imagine. He knows what he likes. He has a painting almost like that back home in his flat.”

“In London?”

“Yes. My accent gives it away.”

“Not just your accent, sir. I’ve been expecting you, Dr. Watson. Your good self and the gentleman with you, the famous detective Sherlock Holmes. I must say it’s quite an honor having you both in my establishment.”

I was stunned speechless, but managed to squeeze out a muted thanks.

“What’s wrong, Watson?” Holmes asked when I returned with our drinks. “You look like someone told you the Baskerville hound was outside waiting for us.”

“Holmes, this is no time for your attempt at humor. I told you we’d been rumbled. Our host has been expecting us. Why is that? And why is it that you don’t look in the least bit concerned?”

“Sit down, Watson, there’s a good chap. We’re in no immediate danger here. We’re on a mission for His Majest’y’s Government.”

I was perplexed to say the least. Holmes had once again neglected to tell me the full nature of our visit to Dublin. I was disappointed with my close friend’s behavour. I really didn’t think he was the same man when he came back from near death at the Reichenback Falls. Moriarty had perished that fateful day while trying to murder Holmes, and a part of me believed that Holmes was actually missing his insane nemesis.

“Do you care to explain more?” I asked. “He knows who we are. He even referred to you as the ‘famous detective’.”

“My brother Mycroft believes there is something hidden somewhere in that painting. Something of national importance to both British and Irish govenments. I can’t tell you as yet.”

“Holmes, I thought you had retired from all that. I haven’t written of your adventures for over ten years now. Your loyal followers are convinced you’ve died again. Even the Baker Street Irregulars have grown up and gone into banking.”

“A reference from Sherlock Holmes is worth its weight in gold, Watson. Children have to be allowed to leave and pursue careers. I’ve been following Lestrade’s progress. He’s still a pompous ass, but he’s made considerable progress up the ladder in Scotland Yard. He’s an Assistant Chief Constable now. What are you smiling at?”

“Lestrade being a pompous ass. I wonder sometimes from whom he learned that particular trait. It most certainly wasn’t from me.”

“Careful, Watson. I may just leave you here in this den of iniquity.”

At this point a group of travelers came through the door. There were ten of them. They congregated at the serving counter. The landlord busied himself serving them porter from a barrel he kept out of sight. It was jet black with a thin head of creamy foam. All ten had the same in large tankards. I turned my attention back to Holmes.

“I won’t have you keep me in the dark. Why is that painting so damn important? It’s just a steamer.”

“Not just any old steamer, Watson. It’s ‘The Porterhouse Queen’. It was being built in Belfast around the same time as the ‘RMS Titanic’. It made only one journey, but fortunately didn’t meet with the same fate as her more illustrious elder sister. She lies idle in Southampton however. Her owners can’t find anyone to take her out again.”

“The ‘Titanic’ sunk 25 years ago, Holmes. I’m still not seeing any connection.”

“The two ships are not why we’re here, Watson.”

“Come on Holmes. Out with it.” I was starting to lose patience with my companion.

“Do you see our fellow travelers?” he said, meaning the group that had just come in. They were enjoying a lively discussion and I noticed that one particular gentleman was paying close attention to Holmes and myself. He was quite tall, over six foot, thin but athletic. He wore a small pair of round spectacles, resting at the top of a nose that could only be described as Roman. Caesar would have been proud of it.

“Have a look at the tray with the champagne flutes, Watson. How many glasses do you see?”

I counted them from where I was sitting. “A dozen,” I said.

“There are ten of them, are there not?”

I thought for a moment. “And two of us.”

“Correct, Watson. That’s the first piece of the puzzle.”

“What’s the next?”

“The gentleman looking over at us is the next piece. His name is Eamon de Valera.”

“De Valera? Isn’t he………?”

“The President of the Irish Free State? Yes, he is. He is also the man we have come to see. The man Mycroft wants to do business with. He owns the painting. The landlord is minding it for him.”

Holmes raised his hand to de Valera. The President lifted his glass of porter in salute to Holmes and myself. He turned around to his own companions, spoke with them for a bit and then beckoned us over to join him.

Holmes was first to greet him. “Mr. de Valera, it is an honor for me to represent my King and government on this historic day.”

“Mr. Holmes, Dr. Watson, the pleasure is all mine. You’ve been a bit quiet of late. Have you retired?”

“For all intents and purposes, yes. Occasionally I take up smaller cases to alleviate the boredom I sometimes feel. Isn’t that correct, Watson?”

“Yes, but you never take me along on these so-called ‘smaller cases’.”

“Inconsequential matters, Watson. Today, though, is a different matter. I’m sure the President would agree.”

“Mr. Holmes,” said de Valera, ‘your brother gave me some assurances that this matter would be dealt with today. Am I correct in that assumption?”

“I would need to closely examine the painting to be sure. But if all is in order, the agreement stands.”

“What agreement, Holmes?” I was completely at a loss to explain to myself what was going on.

“All in good time, Watson. Landlord, if you could help me with the painting please.” Holmes and the landlord stood on either side of the painting and removed it carefully from its position. They laid it face down on the cobbled floor. Holmes took a swiss army knife from his coat pocket and, in small deliberate motions, removed the painting from its frame.

When that job was completed, de Valera crouched down beside Holmes. “Take away the backing board. You’ll find what you require beneath it.” This Holmes did.

Underneath were four sheets of paper, slightly yellowing in colour. There was writing on them, as well as diagrams and maps. Holmes put on a pair of black leather gloves that he had retrieved from another of his pockets. He gently lifted up one of the sheets.

“These are written in German, Watson. On them are plans for the invasion of Europe. Hitler intends to take control over Poland, the Netherlands, France and, finally, Great Britain. Can you vouch for their authenticity, Mr de Valera?”

The Irish President smiled. “I’ve had my spies in Germany since we became a state. We worked closely with your government, but had to keep it quiet. As you’d imagine, there is still a lot of hostility between our two countries. There would have been uproar in parliament if word got out. My IRA lads were thorough. The plans are real. Your brother will prove that.”

“I’ve no doubt he will. His office has been keeping a very watchful eye over Hitler and his Nazi party. He thinks, and knows, that a war is coming. Churchill believes him. Chamberlain doesn’t.”

“Chamberlain is a fool,” de Valera said with added malice. “He thinks he can shake hands with that dictator and everything will go away.”

“The Prime Minister is misguided. Churchill will take his place if and when war comes.”

“It’ll come. I can bet my country’s independence on it.”

Holmes folded the sheets of paper and tucked them safely into an inside pocket. “There’s a boat waiting for us at Dun Laoighre harbour. I trust you can provide transport?”

“Already arranged, but first……”

“Ah yes, there is something else. One last thing.”

Holmes had many pockets in his coat. From another one he produced an envelope. With surprise I noted the Royal Seal. King George had written whatever was inside. I had remained silent throughout, but now I couldn’t contain myself.

“Holmes, what in God’s name is going on here?”

It was de Valera who answered.

“My spies found plans that Hitler plans to invade Europe and launch an attack from France onto mainland Britain. My government and yours, without the knowledge of Prime Minister Chamberlain, came to an agreement. We would hand over the plans and, in return, would be allowed to remain neutral should war break out.

“We are a new state, recovering from our own civil war. We can barely afford to be involved in another, more far-reaching one. Your king agreed, in principle, providing the plans were genuine. I believe they are. This letter, which Mr. Holmes holds in his hand, is as important to this country as the Proclamation of Independence was twenty one years ago.

“We will help out if we can, but we won’t be forced into doing so. That goes for both sides. Hitler’s Germany won’t be welcomed here either.”

Holmes passed the letter over to de Valera. The Irishman broke the seal and read its contents. When he was finished he nodded. “This calls for champagne. Harry, I really hope you remembered to chill the Dom Perignon.”

“It would be more than my life’s worth if I didn’t, Eamon.”

De Valera smiled. “Harry and I go back a long time. If anyone else were to call me Eamon, I’d do them an injury. Come gentlemen, join my friends and I for a toast to our sucess.”

We were handed our glasses. We raised them in salute to God, King, Ireland, Great Britain and, above all, peace in our time.

100 Words, 100 Days: Day 40. On Fantasy Sagas.

After almost 2000 pages of brilliant writing, tense set-pieces and searing betrayal, I’m taking a break from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, stopping at A Storm of Swords. I have the next two in the sequence, A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons. Given the length of time it took Martin to write the most recent in the series, I can wait a bit longer before tackling the next one.

I have masses of books screaming to be read. The only problem I have is where to start. Maybe some Sherlock Holmes is in order.

Sherlock: The Great Game…and The Cliffhanger from Hell.

Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch as Watson and Holmes.

All good things must come to an end. I think it was my mother who said that when I decided it was time to move out of the family home. I was 33. The less said about that the better.

Last Sunday night was when the final episode of the BBC’s first (but not last) mini-series of Sherlock aired. To say it’s been a critical and rating success is an understatement. In just three episodes, Sherlock’s creators (I don’t mean to dismiss Arthur Conan Doyle – without him we wouldn’t have this brilliant programme) have managed to do what was seemingly impossible: make good, intelligent, well-cast Sunday night television. For crying out loud, even my sister was able to watch it without channel-hopping…and that’s a feat in itself.

So what did the finale have to offer? Well, in the last ten minutes it introduced Sherlock’s nemesis: Jim (not Professor James – just Jim) Moriarty. He was the mastermind behind the previous 80 minutes of the episode. Sherlock underwent three tests of his considerable intellect, tests set by Moriarty himself (though Sherlock wasn’t to know this until the end). Each of these “mini” cases could easily take up an entire episode of any of the C.S.I.s and their clones. Sure, there’s a lot of running around and rapid-fire dialogue, but it’s done in such a masterful fashion that I couldn’t but help get caught up in its slipstream. These little sections, all part of one great whole, were appetisers before the main course.

Moriarty’s appearance surprised me, yet it was entirely logical. He had managed to pull the rug out from underneath Sherlock – and the viewers, too. That is what Moriarty does. He’s a consulting criminal, matched toe-for-toe against the only consulting detective in England.

But, as what always happens with these things, there’s a twist, a cliffhanger that will not be resolved until next year. At 10:30pm last Sunday, I screamed at my TV. NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!! How can I wait until 2011? I need to know how Sherlock and John get out of an apparently unwinnable predicament. I need to know NOW!

Anyone got a time machine?

Sherlock: The Blind Banker

image courtesy of denofgeeks.com

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes

There is danger in reading reviews of your favourite TV shows before you’ve gotten around to seeing them. The Internet is packed to the gills with websites that will give you their opinions on what you’re planning to see. And it’s not just the online community; newspapers, too, throw in their tuppence worth. It’s the job of the critic to evaluate all forms of media, especially entertainment. It’s the job of the viewer to work out whether or not he or she agrees with the critic.

All week I’ve been looking forward the second episode of the BBC’s re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes. I enjoyed the first installment so much, I posted a brief blog about it. (I’m not one for spoiling people’s enjoyment, so I won’t go into too much detail regarding tonight’s storyline.) But my anticipation was marred by reading the TV section in today’s Mail on Sunday. I quote:

“When you think about it, Sherlock Homes’ brilliant deductive powers are perfectly compatible with modern technology, so putting him slap-bang in present-day London was inspired – and anyway, deerstalkers are so last century. However, after last week’s cracking opener, this second episode fails to live up to expectations. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are still terrific as Holmes and Watson, of course, but the far-fetched plot (involving the City and a Chinese circus) is stretched rather too thinly over the 90 minutes – a surprise when you consider that this is the second of only three episodes.”

Already, a sense of doom came over me. It would be the difficult “second episode,” I thought. No way will it be as good as the first. I was waiting to have my hopes dashed. Last week would just be a flash-in-the-pan. So I settled down and quietly expected the worst.

But you what? I don’t give a damn what critics think. Within seconds my doubts flew away. The opening scenes – Holmes fending off an attack on his life; Watson remonstrating uselessly with an automated supermarket check-out – reminded me of why I love this programme. It’s the characters, stupid! Plots come and go. But as long as the characters remain true, you’ll follow them through thick and thin.

Writer Stephen Thompson had a touch job. With the characters introduced from last week,  he had to cover the hour and a half with an engaging  story. Basically he had to hit the ground running. There was a lot to like in this episode: the mystery was complex; the interplay was very much on a par with last week, especially when Holmes gatecrashed Watson’s date with a colleague; the supporting characters weren’t just cogs in a machine, but fleshed out individuals in their own right; and the villain was unmasked in a way that made sense.

For me, there was a lot going on in The Blind Banker. There wasn’t a dull moment. The pace was frenetic but there were some quiet scenes that Thomson provided, scenes that made me sit back and wonder about…well…just wonder. The viewer should wonder about what they’re watching, shouldn’t they? It’s like when you’ve read a particular scene in a book, and then you stop for a moment and think. I don’t like to be spoon fed when I watch TV and read books. I ask writers to give me something to chew on, something to sleep on maybe. And in this episode, I got plenty of that.

Reviewers can only offer their own opinion. It’s up to us, as viewers and readers, to make sure those opinions don’t become our own. They don’t always get it right.

Note: even though the Mail‘s critic was hesitant about tonight’s Sherlock, he still gave it four stars. It was, by far, the best thing on TV tonight.

“Sorry, Must Dash. I Left My Riding Crop At The Mortuary.”

Benedict Cummerbatch and Martin Freeman as Holmes and Watson.Sunday night isn’t usually the best night of the week to stay in and watch TV, unless that is you like reality shows, programmes devoted to the countryside and finding out how much your granny’s snuffbox is really worth. Since 24 went off air, nothing else has taken its place – well, nothing that was worth troubling my DVR for.

Then Sherlock came along. Not another Holmes, I hear you say. He is so last year. Well, he’s not. He’s not even Victorian anymore. Sherlock Holmes is in the here and now. He is in London in the year 2010.

WTF? I hear the purists among you cry. Sacrilege! Blasphemy! Crikey! Or words to that effect. Calm down, people. Let’s look at this rationally. Let me tell you who’s in charge. It’s Stephen Moffat, the executive producer and show-runner of Doctor Who. By his side is his own Dr. Watson: Mark Gatiss, himself a writer on Doctor Who and co-creator of The League of Gentlemen (the British satirical comedy show, not the classic graphic novel – and certainly not the crass movie based on it). These men have what it takes to come up with the goods. And by the goods I mean intelligent writing, cleverly constructed characters, ingenious set-pieces, and the cojones to play around with conventions and well-loved literary creations.

All the necessary requirements for a Sherlock Holmes story are present and correct. There is a mystery to be solved, one that stumps the police. And they have no choice but to call on a consultant: Sherlock Holmes. He and Dr. Watson engage in a cat-and-mouse chase through the streets of London until finally the criminal is caught. Holmes uses his immeasurable intellect and knowledge of forensic science to work out the clues, flabbergasting both the police and his friend at every turn. He is a wunderkind, a sociopath with little time for trivialities, women or authority. He is exactly as Arthur Conan Doyle portrayed him. He is not the womanising swashbuckler Robert Downey, Jr. played (even though I did enjoy the movie), nor is he the man who is intolerably rude to Dr. Watson a-la Basil Rathbone.

Benedict Cumberbatch (now there’s a name that rolls of the tongue) is a revelation as Holmes. He plays him as a manic genius who doesn’t think twice about running off to follow a hunch without telling a soul. But he displays a quiet respect for Watson, played with masterful understatement by Martin Freeman, knowing all the time that even though he’s not the easiest man to get along with, Holmes needs a foil for this thoughts. Freeman’s Watson is no sidekick; he’s not quite Holmes’ equal, but his intelligence and admiration for his new friend become our eyes and ears into the detective’s world.

Mrs Hudson is here, too, as is Holmes’ place of residence: 221b Baker Street. It’s a nice flat; I’d live there myself if I could. Lestrade is around. So is Mycroft, Sherlock’s brother. And so is the spectre of the Napoleon of Crime, Professor Moriarty. We haven’t seen him yet, but he’s there, following Homes’ every move.

Where Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes brought modern policing techniques back in time to the 1970s and ’80s, Sherlock brings a man, very much ahead of his time in the late 19th century, forward in time to the 21st. It shouldn’t work – but it does. See it whenever you get the chance. If there’s any justice in the world you will spend 90 minutes exactly the way I spent mine: grinning like a fool.

If that doesn’t float your boat, there’s always Antiques Roadshow.