As I walked into Cafe 164 this morning; I could instantly tell who was there for book club. No great deduction on my part - they all had the book in front of them! We grabbed our coffees, colonized the sofas and began our discussion. We all agreed that the book was structured into two distinct sections - the first providing the context of the story. Here, Sherlock's fame and talent were established along with his working relationship with Watson. This section also introduced us to the client - Sir Henry and the myths that surround the Baskerville heirs. The latter section is situated at the Hall in the middle of the oh-so-atmospheric moors. A far cry from the earlier authentic depiction of turn of the century London; this is a wild mysterious place where any number of impossible things seem not only possible but indeed likely. Although Sherlock Holmes is not present for much of the story - his place being filled by the delightful Watson, his presence remains dominant throughout the book. We all agreed that as a character, Holmes remains fascinating despite the numerous depictions we couldn't help but be aware of. Although we all of us enjoyed the book; there were a few false starts. One member had just completed a Dorothy L. Sayers novel featuring the delicious Peter Wimsey where the mystery was maintained until the very last page. Here we were once against overly informed - already familiar with the style and methodology of Holmes. Aw, heck, who am I kidding - nearly all of us went into reading this book totally aware of who the killer was, why he was killing and how he was eventually apprehended. The writing - by turns descriptive and action filled - kept the momentum building throughout.
Another clubber mentioned her relief when Watson took over the narrative, finding his sections far more readable. In this case, the first section fell very flat, with the reader longing for the story to kick in faster.
Totally relevant picture of yummiliciousness
A second complaint was that characters other than Holmes and Watson were utterly deprived of any scenes beyond exposition. It was though every person existed to go 'oh look, there is a CLUE' or 'I told you it didn't matter earlier but I've changed my mind; here is the MOST ESSENTIAL PIECE OF INFORMATION YET'. Here we seg-wayed for a bit, comparing and contrasting modern detectives - primarily as depicted on television and their literary counterparts. Even where we enjoy forensic science; crime drama's nowadays tend to focus on the science over deductive reasoning. CSI and NCIS depict teams that are always directed by the evidence; Holmes, Poirot (Agatha Christie) and televisions Inspector Columbo use their deductive reasoning to direct the police to the evidence. Sherlock works when set in a contemporary setting precisely because his methods do not rely on the equipment available - mobile phones, laptops and scientific advances can all be added in now, because his brain is still the primary tool worth employing. The change in style was a refreshing one.
(And now I want to read more crime.
I have to stop doing this to myself!!)
We returned to the book to look at the world it was set in. There are only three female characters in the book of any significance, with only one receiving a serious - albeit passive - role. Of course, in the 1890's that would have been exactly so(still, the BBC version fans missed Molly Hooper and her lab). With no Mrs Hudson, Sherlock was humanized by Watson. There were a plethora of willing children wandering the streets of London just waiting to be set off with a letter or a task for only a shilling. *shrugs* The world has changed, it was really interesting to read something where the fundamentals are so different but the story remains relevant. Here again we wandered far away - James Bond, Sebastian Faulks, Austin Powers, P.D. James and Anthony Horowitz were all mentioned. We then happily nattered on for a bit about the serialization of books at the time - speculating on how this influenced the structures and pace of the story. While the cliffhanger ending must have seemed a logical choice, we were delighted to find that instead we were satiated at the end of each section. Again, the writing is just that solid. I mean, don't get me wrong - it's not that the writing is utterly absorbing or compelling or must-stay-up-till-4am...ish - however, it is solid, engaging and fluid. The reader is able to sink in, or pick up and put down as needed. We did all have one or two significant quibbles with the book. It seems far fetched to the point of daftness that Sherlock is able to look at a portrait then later identify someone as an heir to the family riches. It also makes ridiculous the character of the doctor who must have surely seen that portrait and indeed the man next to it many times and never made the link. This - from a man who is able to identify skulls as though they came with labels! Additionally, we were amused to find that the Hall in the middle of nowhere was actually teeming with potential visitors - the shack, the neighbour, the village, the island - loads of places a person could go. Again we couldn't help but mention the TV series. The addition in that version of the story of the hallucinogenic drugs did in fact make the scary dog as potential killer much more compelling. I mentioned a book I've heard of which goes through various fictional murder mysteries coming up with very different antagonists. If anyone knows what the heck I was talking about, please let me know!
Completely gratuitous picture for @L1nds
Then we lost the plot entirely - moving onto a number of different topics - from Elemental to Basil the Great Mouse Detective before ending up discussing the Chalet School. In fact, I might have inadvertently arranged to borrow the first three from a true fan. Dammit! Again!
SCORE - 7/10
August Read -
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
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