The Emily Series

Emily of New Moon, Emily Climbs, and Emily's Quest are a three part series covering the life of Emily Byrd Starr for over a span of 15 years. When Emily is orphaned, she comes to live with her mother's family - a family from whom her parents had been estranged after they married each other against their wishes. Now, she has nowhere else to go and must live at New Moon with her mother's two unmarried sisters, Aunt Elizabeth and Aunt Laura, and Cousin Jimmy, a distant cousin.

Enigmatic, mysterious, charming, intense, and sensitive to love and beauty, Emily changes the lives of those who live at New Moon forever. She comes to them with her heart ready to give love and receive it. But life at New Moon isn't easy. She has to go to school and make new acquaintances, suffer many heartbreaks and learn not a few rules. In short, she must adapt to the changing conditions around her.

Books I read in October:
Murder on the Orient Express
The Lord of the Rings
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
The Mysterious Mr. Quin

This month hasn't been really productive reading wise (although The Lord of the Rings does count for more than one novel!!), but I have added quite a few pages to my blog!

My trip to the bookshop for November was mostly about re-reading and reading books I've seen movies of. With that in mind I bought The Chronicles of Narnia series by C. S. Lewis (although I couldn't find the first of the series.) and The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. After the South Pacific Book Chat on Gothic Literature, I was inspired to read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley so I bought that as well (Belle from Belle's Bookshelf got me interested in it)! That's going to be my reading for next month (along with a few others I'll pick up next time).

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Recently, I've decided to start reading the books of all book based movies I've seen. I started off with The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien and decided to move on to a novel by his close friend, C. S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the first novel of the series, The Magician's Nephew, so I had to start where Walt Disney begins the movie series, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy are sent to live in a house in the country while the war lasts. The four children find themselves in a huge house with complete freedom and decide to explore. On a rainy day, they stumble upon a room with a huge wardrobe in it. Uninterested, Peter, Susan and Edmund leave, but Lucy decides to take a look inside the wardrobe. What she finds there leaves her amazed: a whole other world called Narnia.

She excitedly tells her siblings about Narnia. No one believes her, until one day they all step inside the wardrobe and find themselves in the woods of Narnia. According to a prophecy, the fate of Narnia lies with them and they must free it from the rule of the White Queen, an evil sorceress who has put a spell of eternal winter on Narnia. The children are led to Aslan, the true King of Narnia, a lion whom even the White Queen cannot withstand, and prepare for battle.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a nice, light read and I went through the 200 large print pages pretty quickly. This is my first venture into fantasy and I enjoyed the depiction of another world and its talking creatures. Lewis also managed to show the personalities of the four siblings in this short novel rather well (especially Lucy and Edmund). This is the type of book that I would enjoy reading out loud with children on a rainy day.

Why haven't they made the movie: Child of Awe?!

Child of Awe
Set in the mystical highlands of Scotland, Child of Awe traces the life of Muriella Calder, a young girl with the power of second sight. The Roses and the Calders, two warring families, marry their children hoping for peace. But after her father's premature death, Muriella inherits the vast fortune of the Calders while still a baby. With peace in the highlands never attained, Muriella's life remains in danger.

The King of Scotland entrusts her guardianship to the strongest clan in the Highlands: the Campbells. At the age of 13 she is brutally uprooted from her home and taken to the Earl of Argyll - Archibald Campbell; she is to marry the Earl's second son, John Campbell. Her inheritance is a way of ensuring the young man's future who would have nothing as the second son. With so much wealth, Muriella remains the target of all in the Highlands. All know that an alliance - forced or otherwise - with her would bring them inconsiderable wealth.

Soon, John and Muriella get married, but that is only the beginning of their problems. Muriella's second sight gives her visions of the future and what she sees is her own fall. This keeps her away from her husband never trusting or loving him. Knowing that the marriage was inevitable, they both bear a grudge against the other: John for the necessity of marrying for money, and Muriella from being taken from her home. Guarded within the walls of the castle, Muriella is no better than a prisoner. She must try to break free not only from these walls, but those of her own making, overcome her mistrust and open her heart to love.

The movie:
This novel would be a great period piece with all the props and wonderful costumes. The book is extremely detailed on the various clothing and the customs of the time blending them in with all the fantasy. Muriella and John Campbell were real people (although this story is fictional) which adds more romance to the story, for who wouldn't wish to live the life of a Highland princess? Besides the main story, the side story of Elizabeth Campbell and her husband Hugh Mclean is also moving. It almost rivals the main plot and should be played up in a movie.

The only thing I would change for the movie is the ending which doesn't do justice to the rest of the novel. It is almost like a let down after all the intensity and drama of the rest of the story.

Who to play the characters?? For John Campbell I imagine Chris Hemsworth. But since I recently saw The Lord of the Rings again, I can also imagine the actor who played Eomer, Karl Urban.


Muriella Calder is a little more difficult. Delicate, ivory skin, red, curly hair, green eyes and petite with a frail physique, I can't think of anyone that would fit. I leave that to the Hollywood producers! I don't think any of the existing faces would do, someone new and fresh would look best.

I'm hoping for a movie, Hollywood!

The Old and the New: Book Shops in Islamabad

For an enthusiastic reader, the most important thing to know is the location of the best book stores. When you move, make sure you find all the best shops in the area - if their aren't any, don't move! Sometimes you don't have the option (alas, no libraries here T_T )....Ahem - anyway, as far as book shops go, Islamabad is not the worst place. We have many in Jinnah Super, Super-Market etc... but the best is still the best. I have a few places I haunt regularly. The shop owners know me and always show me the latest books.

Book stores that sell new books are good for gifts and if you want to make a collection of books from the same edition, but in my opinion, old book are the best. They have a homey feel and are soft and old and familiar. You never know what you'll find in an old book shop. The best in Islamabad are:

The "Old Book Shop" which is located at the back entrance of Jinnah Super. It's not in plain view, you have to hunt it down, but trust me, it's worth it. The prices are good and they have a lot of the classics. You will of course have to search through the piles of books for the one that you want, or you can just rifle through for an inspiration (and aren't great books discovered that way?). I like this book shop because it's prices are moderate and affordable for anyone.

Old Book Shop located at the back of Jinnah Super

Another great book shop is the "Old Books Collection" right in the front of Jinnah Super. You just turn in to Jinnah Super from the main entrance and there it is on the left!

The Old Books Collection on the left hand entrance of Jinnah Super

Inside the Old Books Collection: Criticism books
This book shop is a bit more expensive, but the books are in better condition and they do have more variety. It was here that I found most of the criticism books for my masters course in English Literature. They have a whole collection of very expensive Cambridge Companions from Aristotle to Eliot. I was tempted to buy the whole lot but my purse forbade me. The assistants at this shop are extremely helpful and if you tell them to look for a book, they hunt it down or order it for you!

Old books in the "Old Books Collection"

Finally, the last old book shop that I have discovered is in Super Market - also known as F-6 Markaz - the "Old Book Corner". This shop doesn't have a lot of variety in fiction books, but it has plenty of study books for A-level and O-level courses.

Old Book Corner in Super Market

Now, if you're the type that hates second hand books, "Saeed Book Bank" is the place you're looking for. New and pristine books in tons of book shelves all shiny and ready to be bought. I admit, a new book does have an appeal, and the best in Islamabad are available here.

Saeed Book Bank located in Jinnah Super

Look below for the locations of the bookstores in Islamabad. I've labelled them all on the map and I will update it whenever I discover another great store!

Map of Jinnah Super. I have marked the location of the book stores

Unfortunately, Pakistan doesn't get the latest books. No matter how much reading has expanded over the past ten years, readers are still scarce here and the market is not booming for books. This causes unavoidable delays and book shop owners don't tend to spend so much money on new books. Plus, only the well-off go for new books because the average man would not be able to afford a new, recently published book at its normal price. 

The Lord of the Rings

On a drive home from a wedding, my cousins and I began discussing the books we had read and our favourites. Imagine my consternation when I turned out to be the only one who hadn't read The Lord of the Rings! I, who love classics, who love magic, who love anything fantasy! I hadn't read it. I decided to remedy that the first opportunity I could get. Consequently in a weeks time, I marched myself to a book shop and bought the book!

That is the story of how I began reading the greatest fantasy/magical/epic adventure tale ever.

It took longer than I expected. The world of Tolkien has a whole new reality - not the reality of another world, but a new reality of the world we live in. He has sketched a whole history and made it plausible to assume that Middle-earth's history naturally led to the realm of men - here and today.

I never really appreciated the movie until I read the book, and vice versa the book was enriched by the movie giving it an extra depth - especially The Return of the King. In today's world, despite globalisation, stories of valour and courage are less heard and remembered. We may have become a global village but the stories pass out as quickly as they come, and courage and loyalty is not revered as it used to be. The Lord of the Rings is just that - a story of courage and freedom and the lives that went into the building of a new world. Nowadays, one could wish for such a story that linked the people across Earth and unified us in such a way.

While reading the book, I was amazed at the amount of detail Tolkien put into each and every character's history, lineage and culture. We see how the legends of the Elves, their songs telling of a time long past, and Aragorn's history as King converges naturally with his love for Arwen, and his journey to "The Path of the Dead". All the little pieces of the puzzle slowly fall into place as we read along. Throughout the novel the role Gollum is to play is emphasized although none of us see it until his role is fulfilled. Nothing seems as if it were added on a whim, and the history flows so naturally that we can't think of it as anything but that - history.

Frodo's journey to Mordor, Aragorn's and Gandalf's journey to the Black Gate, the journey through The Paths of the Dead, the journey through Fangorn; that's what the whole book is, a series of desperate, life-threatening yet necessary journeys all to destroy the ring and stop the rising power in Mordor. Every step of the way is excruciating because the fate of Middle-earth depends on it.

The story:
The ring. That is what lies at the center. Forged in the crevices of Mount Doom by Sauron, it heralds the power of evil. It beckons and calls out the worst in all and no man can command it but Sauron.

But that is the story of a time long ago. Since then Sauron has lost the ring. Defeated in battle he vanishes. But soon he returns again, and now he seeks the ring. It is rumoured that it has been found - by a Hobbit. Frodo Baggins becomes the "Ring-bearer" when he becomes the heir to his cousin, Bilbo Baggins. As of yet no one knows of its true power. Gandalf the Grey, a wizard, suspects and fears its true origin. Convincing Frodo they set out with a group of travellers that become known as "The Fellowship of the Ring" to destroy the ring in the place that it was forged. It is the only choice they have because no living man can resist its allure and yet none can wear and control its power.

The books follow the journey of the nine men of the fellowship: Gandalf the Grey their leader, Aragorn son of Arathorn a Ranger, Legolas an elf, Gimli a dwarf, Boromir the son of the steward of Gondor, and the four hobbits Frodo, Sam, Pippin and Merry. Frodo must travel into Mordor, the realm of the enemy, and under his very nose throw the ring into Mount Doom. The burden of the ring is heavy and no one knows whether his quest will succeed, yet the men of the West must fight Sauron and his allies if only to give Frodo the chance to do his task. At the brink of ruin will Man succeed? Whether he does or not, the time of the Elves is over, and they must give place to the Third Age and the rise of the dominion of Men.

Why haven't they made the movie: The Emily Series?!

The Emily Series
Look for my reviews of the books soon.

I imagine a movie for almost every book I love. But the only reason I want this series to be turned into a two-part film is because I want to see how Hollywood would portray Emily. While not Montgomery's most famous heroine (that honour goes to Anne from Anne of Green Gables), Emily Byrd Starr is based a lot on her creator. An aspiring writer, raised by relatives, and sensitive to beauty and love, the two women have much in common; Emily's moods, her actions all mirror L. M. Montgomery's. The Emily Series was actually preferred by the author to her other novels. Critically the series has a more mature writing style and plot structure.

The movie:
For the last two books of the Emily series, Emily Climbs and Emily's Quest, I have the Puffin Books edition; and the cover photographs drawn by Fiona Pragoff are how I have always imagined Emily. Last year, I began watching Downton Abbey, a British television period drama series, and saw Michelle Dockery - see any resemblance?

OK, so maybe it's not a hundred percent, but it's pretty close. Michelle could play the older version of Emily Starr perfectly. Frederick Kent or "Teddy" as he is called by his friends is tall, slim and handsome, but above all he has grace and elegance. I can't think of ANYBODY so you guys choose for me.

I would say Kate Hudson as Ilse Burnley - who could be more vivacious? But it seems to me that someone younger and fresher would suit better. And I thought Ilse would be the easy one to cast!

Hayden Christensen as Perry Miller no doubt - the enthusiastic, impulsive, go-getter who claws his way up in the world! That clean cut jaw, those grey eyes and tawny curls - seems perfect to me.

And then we have Dean Priest. How I hated Dean in the book. I thought of who I had hated in a series, and came upon Robert Carlyle (from Stargate Universe). I don't know whether he's too old for the role or not, but what else is make-up for?!

It is important to split the series into at least two movies because the books chronicle Emily's life from childhood to her late twenties; the same actress could not play both the roles and the story is too long to be made into one movie. The thing I would hate more than anything is if they cast "young" Emily wrong. To make her precocious, or overly mature would ruin the whole effect. Her innocence along with her intensity and her love of beauty are the qualities that make her so unique. Oh, why are books so hard to depict?! 

The books have a lot of entries as from a diary - this would mean that a lot of the script would have to be re-written. The most important thing is to catch that atmosphere - everything else falls into place as long as the director gets the gist of the story, what its people feel, who they are, and how they seal their fate. Check out my review to see my take on the novels.

So, can we hope for a movie soon, Hollywood?

Plays and their role: Ibsen, Brecht and Miller

Galileo Galilei or Life of Galileo is a play written by German dramatist Bertolt Brecht. I first read this play during my studies in English Literature, and although initially I didn't like it (maybe studying it had something to do with it) it soon became one of my favorites next to Ibsen's Hedda Gabler and Miller's The Crucible.

One of the things drama does for you is that it helps you make connections between problems in the play and the ones in your own society bringing them to your notice. Hedda Gabler had already introduced me to the repressed side of woman sexuality and how Hedda crumpled under its weight and her own denial of it. It also dealt with the fact that people don't always accept what they don't understand. Hedda was an anomaly in the time Ibsen wrote the play and many critics were in horror of such a woman even existing. But the fact is, that although now women are less repressed in western society, I saw how that 18th century Norwegian woman was still a reality in many parts of the world. 

Therefore, perhaps it was not unusual for me to connect Life of Galileo with the world of today. The point that interested me was not the real message of the play, but I found it important. What I saw most clearly was people's refusal to use their eyes and see things from a wider perspective. Galileo has discovered that the earth is not the centre of the universe; he has proof; but what stumps him is that his proof is of no use unless people choose to acknowledge it. Human reason was what had pushed Galileo towards discovery - the belief that man will reason and move forward with the evidence of his own eyes - and reason let him down. In Scene 4 we see how Galileo invites the scholars of the Venetian court to view his invention and with it his theory on the movement of the planets (Galileo presented the theory that the planets revolved around the sun - not the earth). With the scholars' refusal to even glance through the telescope and see the evidence with their own eyes, Galileo is defeated before he even started. It is just this obstinate refusal to look, to understand and to give others a chance that I still see around the world. 

Why haven't they made the movie: The King's General?!

The King's General
For my post on the book, go HERE.

The King's General is one of my all time favorite books. I recommend it to anyone who loves to reads and have re-read it myself many times. Now, all that is left is for Hollywood to make a movie!

OK, so I know that movies based on classics never quite live up to our expectations. There is the expectant wait, the excitement when the cast is revealed, the hype when the trailer is released, and the disappointment when the movie is finally seen. I know all that, and still, I want a movie! The King's General has gotten under my skin; I love the characters so much that I want them shown on the silver screen. I want to see who Hollywood would choose for the cast - although I myself have already imagined them in my mind. It's just that kind of book; and that is why most movies based on popular books are such flops: the fans of the book have already filmed the whole book in their mind, and leaving out even a single scene or the slightest change in the plot, is such a jar. We know the movie already - who changed the script?!

The movie:
Menabilly: Source
My idea of the movie strictly follows the plot. But following the plot doesn't mean showing each and every scene in the book. Many of the scenes would probably be irrelevant in a movie due to the fact that a book must describe a lot in detail which isn't needed in a movie. I would not change any of the essentials of the plot though: the characters, the important events, the outcome of their lives, and their personalities - only the length would be shortened.

Another point about book based films is that, many times, the dialogue is copied word for word from the book. For some fans this might be a plus point, but not for me. The reason is that the dialogue has become just that: a dialogue. Actors begin to sound like mannequins who lifelessly repeat what they are told. It's like a useless prop that jars the uniformity of the set. The writer of the script should have freedom in rewriting the novel to some extent. The essence of the dialogue should be the same, but the script of a movie is quite different from other reading material.

As for the cast, for Richard Grenvile, I imagine someone hard and cruel but charming, careless but an intense lover. I've so far thought of Taylor Kitsch. He's perfect for the role in my mind. If only he were a couple of years older for when Richard is above 40.
Rose Byrne might suit the role of Gartred Grenvile - Richard's stunningly beautiful, hard, grasping and greedy older sister.  The only thing I would say is that both the siblings are supposed to have auburn hair - but they can dye their hair right?! :P
I don't know about Honor. Actresses are always more difficult to cast because they are usually described in such detail in books. Maybe Kirsten Dunst would fit.

So Hollywood - make a movie already!

Ordeal By Innocence

Rating: *****
"It's not the guilty who matter. It's the innocent." So says Hester Argyle when Dr. Arthur Calgary brings her family shocking news: the news that their brother Jack Argyle was innocent of the crime of killing his mother. The crime for which he was convicted and died while serving his prison sentence.

Dr. Calgary is confused by the dismay with which the Argyles receive this good news. Why aren't they happy that their brother was not a murderer? It soon dawns upon him that Jack as the murderer was the easy solution - the delinquent, the misfit, excuses could be made for his conduct. But with this happy illusion gone, the Argyle family is confronted with the fact that one of their own committed the crime. They have been living among a murderer and never known it. Now the innocent must suffer under the shadow of guilt. Whether the murderer will ever be found after so much time is doubtful. The innocent will never be cleared and will be suspected along with the truly guilty person.

Dr. Arthur Calgary feels responsible. He has destroyed the peace in their lives and shattered the security of the innocent. Now he feels that he must uncover the true identity of the murderer and free the other inmates of Sunny Point. And along the way, you'll discover who he solves the crime for! He is 'The Young Man in Love With One of the Woman Suspects' although he is more middle aged...

Some thoughts
So I know the cover is horrible, but don't don't judge the book by its cover. This novel is one of the best. It deals with the concept of innocence - protecting those not guilty over everything else.

Christie's mystery novels featuring no specific detective, no youthful pair in them are the most different, most intriguing and most psychological. They have a dark and dreary atmosphere to them. The books are a bit odd, more personal and more intricate than the others. Imagine walking from a sunshiny, normal world, into an eerie, shadowy one where things live in the dark. You don't know what might happen, what type of people you may run into, and what the mystery is. It's just queer and so fascinating to read.

I loved the psychological representation of Rachel Argyle, the mother, in this novel. Christie usually portrays crime as hereditary (which I disagree with) but in this novel she has also shown the psychological gap as a result of blood; how the adoptive mother, Rachel has difficulty in connecting with her adopted children. She can't get past the barrier of blood. Although this isn't strictly true, it was so in Rachel's case because she herself was blind to anything but her own psychology. I've seen adoptive mothers find peace with adopted children and even understanding despite the blood barrier, but Rachel was unable to understand her children although she never knew it.

The Mystery of the Blue Train

Rating: ***
Jewels - the cause of so much sorrow and bloodshed. Billionaire Rufus Van Aldin doesn't believe there is any danger when he gives the famous Heart of Fire, the biggest ruby worn by Catherine of Russia, to his adored daughter Mrs. Ruth Kettering. He soon repents his decision when she is found robbed and murdered on her way to France on the Blue Train.

Hercule Poirot, old and now retired is on the scene of the crime. The prime suspects are: Derek Kettering, husband of the victim, who is in trouble financially. The billionaire's daughter was about to divorce him which would have landed him in deep trouble; Comte de la Roche, Ruth Kettering's former lover and a man who knows how to seduce women and trick them into giving him money; the Marquis, an elusive jewel thief whose identity remains unknown to the police. Was the murder committed by the robber? Or are the two crimes separate?

According to the evidence of the maid, Ruth Kettering had an unexpected male visitor on the train. The clue to the murder lies in this evidence along with the fact that Ruth Kettering's face had been disfigured. Why did the murderer feel it necessary to distort his victim's face? Hercule Poirot, as the private detective on the scene, takes up the case.

Some thoughts
With a similar plot to the short story The Plymouth Express, I found myself guessing who the criminal was. I liked the characters in this novel and the small romance. I had forgotten some of the details and re-reading this was fun, although as a first-time read, I didn't really enjoy it. For someone just starting Christie, I would suggest to start with one of my four star rating books.

An interesting feature of this novel is that Katherine Grey, one of the characters in the novel, is from St. Mary Mead! For those that don't know, St. Mary Mead is Miss Marple's village. Although many fans had requested a novel featuring both Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, Agatha Christie felt that they could never work together on a case. But what is so fun about her books is that she has created a whole fictional world in which she re-uses certain detectives, suspects and even places so that we feel that Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot both exist, but in separate spheres.

Cards on the Table

Rating: ****
Mr. Shaitana is no ordinary personality. He is a collector. Approaching Poirot one day, the Mephistopheles-like character invites him to a dinner party in which he will show case his unique collection - a collection of murderers; those murderers who have gotten away with their crimes.

Four crime experts; four supposed criminals; that is Mr. Shaitana's idea of a dinner party. Hercule Poirot meets Mrs. Oliver, the celebrated detective writer, Colonel Race, a Secret Service Agent, and Superintendent Battle from the Scotland Yard, all representatives of law and order. The other mysterious guests include murderers Dr. Roberts, Mrs. Lorrimer, Miss Anne Meredith, and Major Despard. At the end of a game of bridge, the crime experts come to take their leave of Mr. Shaitana, only to find him murdered. The only four in the room with Mr. Shaitana were the other four guests playing bridge. It is up to the others to find the murderer from within the murderers.

Some thoughts
The interesting thing about this case was that the authorities had absolutely no evidence to go upon. The deduction had to be purely psychological and Hercule Poirot is the king of psychology. The motive is obviously a previous murder that one of the guests thought Mr. Shaitana had discovered. Poirot reveals the purpose of the party to his law-enforcement friends and now they must discover the guests' previous murders as well as Mr. Shaitana's murderer.

This case also has the interesting feature of including four of Agatha Christie's most famous characters: Colonel Race, Superintendent Battle, Ariadne Oliver and of course Hercule Poirot. Each have starred in other novels but this is the only time when they all come together.

I was so tempted to rate this five stars. The only reason I didn't, was, that although the case was one of the best (even better than some five stars), none of the characters really moved me. It was psychologically intriguing but the story was not as touching as it was in Murder on the Orient Express or Death Comes as the End. But as I said, I'm tempted........

Murder on the Orient Express

Rating: *****
An evil face; that is what Hercule Poirot notices when he first lays eyes on the man at a hotel restaurant. Later, on the Orient Express, he sees him again: Mr. Rachett. When the man comes to him for protection, Poirot refuses and less than 24 hours later, Mr. Rachett is found stabbed to death in his berth. The train is stranded in a snowdrift, and the passengers of the Stamboul-Calais coach fall under suspicion. Oddly, all the berths are occupied in the middle of winter - an unlikely time for travel. Circumstances are such, that only a passenger from the Calais coach could have been responsible.....Who is the murderer? Is it someone on the train? or did the murderer escape before the snowdrift?

The chief difficulty seems to be the identity of the murdered man. Fleeing from a past in America, Mr. Rachett obviously had enemies. Inspecting his berth, Poirot finds many pieces of evidence - almost too much evidence. Among them, a burned piece of paper on which Poirot discerns a name: Daisy Armstrong. The dead man is discovered to be none other than Casseti, the notorious kidnapper, who fled the country after his money successfully saved him from the charge of kidnapping and killing Daisy Armstrong, a three year old child. Is someone related to the Armstrongs on the train? Poirot hunts through the passenger list and interrogates everyone, but can find no connection. Everybody has an alibi, no one seems implicated, and yet.......things seem to be too neatly worked out.

Hercule Poirot, Sherlock Holmes showdown

The Hound of the Baskervilles is my first Sherlock Holmes read and imagine my surprise when I was introduced to Dr. Watson. Perhaps I should explain; I'm an ardent Agatha Christie fan and have read all her novels loving each and every one; in Dr. Watson, I saw how Hastings had been created. Almost point for point the two men are the same. Innocent and naive, believing in ideals and in their mentor, longing for approval from said mentor, believing that they themselves had learned a thing or two about detection and of course that slight annoyance at being used and information being withheld from them because of their beautifully transparent natures. Do I make it clear? Yes, I believe so, because as far as I can see, Dr. Watson and Captain Hastings are one and the same. The only thing they don't have in common is their profession; also, Hastings is more chivalrous than the doctor! I could say that Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes are also identical but there I found some differences - slight, but enough to make them widely different men.

Both Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes are renowned detectives. Even there natures are somewhat similar in that they are both egotistical, and reticent about their discoveries till the last minute (Poirot more so than Sherlock), but in their detection methods I found a big difference. Poirot is forever about the 'grey cells' and arranging 'the ideas' with 'order and method'. Physically gallivanting about on foot and searching for clues is solely Hastings' passion and something Poirot never deems necessary. It is not so for Sherlock Holmes. He examines and looks at every footprint, searchs in every nook and cranny and for every single physical piece of evidence at the scene of a crime. Poirot usually leaves this to the detective assigned to the case. But to Holmes this is important. Nevertheless, both men are geniuses who know the art of deduction.

Hercule Poirot is the type to recline in his chair and fit together the pieces of the puzzle. All he needs is some quiet time to organize his thoughts. Sherlock Holmes, to a certain extent, is the same. But as I said before, his detection is more scientific. I don't mean to stress his scientific approach because he was not at all scientific - only as far as comparison goes, he is more scientific than Poirot.

As for physical characteristics, who doesn't know of Poirot's egg shaped head, and his famous moustache? He is not at all a handsome man, but then he plays on that and his insignificance allows him to be taken non-seriously, tricking the criminal into letting down his guard. Sherlock Holmes is decidedly handsome (I think Robert Downey Jr. attests that fact!) and doesn't have the advantage of fooling people into revealing their secrets. Nevertheless, this doesn't keep him back and he is more than enough of a detective to compete with Hercule Poirot.

Then, we also have the styles of the two authors. Conan Doyle likes to reveal the mystery as we move along. That is, we are slowly shown and have it explained to us. At least that was the way it was in The Hound of the Baskervilles. Agatha Christie, on the other hand, creates a sort of atmosphere in which we have all the facts - but are led to look another way. The mystery is only revealed in a gathering at the end of the novel. This atmosphere is detectable on reading the book for a second time. You then begin to see how each fact was presented to us from the beginning, and how we missed it.

Wait till next time to read my opinions on Irene Adler and Countess Vera Rosakoff. So far, I haven't had a chance to read an Irene Adler story. Look for my later comparisons as I read more Sherlock Holmes.

The Hound of the Baskervilles

The Hound of the Baskervilles relates how a family legend begins to kill the members of the Baskerville family. Dr. Mortimor, former friend and physician to now deceased Sir Charles Baskerville, comes to Sherlock Holmes with a story; the story of the hound of the Baskervilles. It is in many ways like a legend that has continued through the family for generations, but Dr. Mortimor has begun to be afraid of it. It seems that the legend is becoming the truth and Sir Charles Baskerville's death was caused by his fear at seeing the deadly hound. Withholding some information from the coroner, the young doctor gives the odd facts to Sherlock Holmes and entreats him to give him his solution. Is the death of Sir Charles Baskerville caused by the immortal hound that is said to have ripped out the throat of their cruel ancestor Sir Hugo Baskerville, or is it a clever ruse used to manipulate the public into thinking the deaths are supernatural?

Sherlock Holmes is intrigued. It is just this type of unique case that he tackles. The Doctor is now worried for the new heir to the Baskerville manor, Sir Henry Baskerville, a nephew of Sir Charles. Holmes sends his colleague, Dr. Watson, along with the doctor and Sir Henry to the manor to keep an eye on things; he advises Watson to stick to Sir Henry and never let him walk alone on the moor - the lonely moor where the deaths occur and the hound is spotted by the locals. If the deaths are not supernatural, who could have it out for the Baskervilles? The motive of inheritance is impossible; no near relations are left as the youngest brother of Sir Charles died without a son. Is it one of the neighbours? or someone with a touch of insanity? Sherlock Holmes believes he is close to the truth, when one day, roaming the moor with his colleague, he is dismayed to find another dead body.

In this dreary place, neighbours are scarce. The only close neighbours Sir Charles Baskerville had were the Stapletons - a brother and sister, and Frankland, the local crank. The only servants at the manor are Mr. and Mrs. Barrymore whose family has served the Baskervilles for generations. It is among these people that Sherlock Holmes must search for his killer if he is to dispel the myth of the hound.

Spoiler alert:
The story was well-written, but I found it a little unreal. The motive though easily guessable (inheritance of the property by Stapleton, whose real name turns out to be Baskerville), was not believable and I found myself rushing through the whole book. I liked how a murder was committed under the cover of a superstition, but it should be obvious to any reader that there would be no immortal hound which specifically targeted the Baskervilles. A mortal hand to guide any hound was necessary.

There were a lot of inconsistencies in the plot that even Sherlock Holmes couldn't explain (though he tries!) How the murder of Sir Henry Baskerville would have been carried out is not explained satisfactorily; Stapleton accepting his inheritance when everyone knew him as Stapleton would raise suspicion. Although he characters were interesting, the plot lacked something: well-roundedness with no loose ends.

Why Didn't They Ask Evans?

Rating: ***

Bobby Jones is the son of a vicar and his life is at the moment going nowhere. His father disapproves of him and he disapproves of his father. Clearly things are not working. One day, out golfing with a friend, he comes upon a man who has tumbled from a cliff. The stranger is beyond saving, but Bobby volunteers to stay with him until help arrives. That is when the man opens his eyes, says the mysterious words in the title, and dies. Bobby also finds a picture of a woman sticking out of his pocket. Later, remembering an engagement he must keep, he is relieved when another young man who introduces himself as Bassington-ffrench appears and offers to stay with the body.

We are then introduced to Frances Derwent, known as Frankie to Bobby. The daughter of a Lord, she and Bobby don't occupy the same social sphere, but played together as children and have remained somewhat friendly. Meanwhile, the body is identified as an Alex Pritchard by the woman in the photograph which turns out to be one of his sister. Pretty soon, weird things begin to happen: Bobby is first offered a job in South America and after his refusal he is almost killed by being given 8 grains of morphia. It is Frankie who makes the connection; it was only after telling the sister Alex Pritchard's last words that these things began to happen. Obviously, someone wants Bobby out of the way. But why? what do the words mean? what is the mystery behind the dead man? was he murdered? are the people who identified his body really his relatives?

Convalescing in the hospital, Bobby sees a copy of the sister's photograph in the newspaper and discovers a vital clue to the mystery: it is not the photograph he saw. Someone has obviously switched out the photograph with one of the supposed sister. But who? Frankie and Bobby remember the young man who stayed with the body - Bassington-ffrench. Armed with one small clue, the couple plan a dangerous and risky adventure following the photo swapper to his own home.

Some thoughts
Trust me, once you've read Why Didn't They Ask Evans?, you'll be going, "ohhhhh, that's who Evans was." And it makes sense that that's who Evans was! Nevertheless I found a lot of loopholes in the plot. Bobby and Frankie, the detectives of the piece, are amateurs and you can't expect them to be brilliant - but how they manage to solve the crime after so many mistakes is beyond me. Don't get me wrong, they're hugely likeable characters, but they don't know squat about detective work. They don't stick to the facts, are influenced by everyone they meet into revealing all their secrets, and biggest of all - they don't really follow the evidence! Poirot's first rule of detection - each and every fact must fit in with the theory, or else discard the theory! But Frankie and Bobby discard facts right and left, distort them or leave them out altogether to fit in with each new 'feeling'. As it is, they manage to solve the crime by sheer accident or extraordinary coincidences! As I said, not good detectives but really entertaining people.

Don't forget to check out my Agatha Christie page!

Father Brown

In this collection of short stories, Father Brown, a Catholic Priest, is introduced as a small, inconspicuous, somewhat clumsy individual. It suffices to say looks can be deceiving. Father Brown, because he is a priest, knows a thing or two about human nature. (More at any rate, than a spinster living in a small village!) He has come into contact with all types of criminals and has learned some of their tricks - not, of course, to repeat them, but rather to identify certain behaviour. He hasn't made a profession of detecting, but his profession has made him a sort of detective.

Things I liked

The style of detection was different from what I'm used to with Agatha Christie. Her detectives Disapprove of murder with a capital D - as of course they should. But what I liked about Father Brown was how it dealt with the human side of each case. It wasn't labeled from the beginning that a man is a murderer, he is evil, he was born wrong and must be condemned. G. K. Chesterton showed how a man is a man first, who then commits a murder due to his baser instincts. There were also the cases where the murderer had no pity from the reader, but nevertheless, we always saw his human side. Because it's ludicrous to suppose that lines can be drawn. Everyone has the capacity to commit a crime. Father Brown understood that and being a priest judged accordingly.

I also enjoyed Father Brown's beliefs of the supernatural; How he didn't believe in it despite being a priest. It was supposed by many characters that he would, but his clear-sightedness always saw past all that to the reality.

Things I didn't like

Most of the time in the stories I was disappointed that G. K. Chesterton ended up killing off the murderer with suicide. It was as if he didn't want to deal with the character after he had committed a crime. As I said before, the book dealt nicely with the development of the crime, but it was tidied up so as to not deal with the after effects. It wasn't done in every story, but often enough to annoy me.

Father Brown was a very astute detective, but many times, even when he was introduced before the crime or murder had been committed, he failed to solve it in time. I might be asking for the impossible here (although that is precisely what Hercule Poirot does in the short story Wasps' Nest), but if he was able to read humans so well, he might have made an effort to dispel the tension which naturally led to the murders.