1001 Books, 2012 Challenges, 2012 Classics Challenge, 2012 TBR Challenge, Detective Novel, Epistolary, Mystery, Sensation Lit, Victorian, Wilkie Collins

Review: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Final Verdict: 4.0 out of 4.0

YTD: 8 


Plot/Story:
4 – Plot/Story is interesting/believable and impactful.

Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White is widely accepted to be one of the first –and best- mystery and sensation novels.  The main character, Walter Hartright, is also considered to be one of the earliest literary detective characters – one who later inspired the development of mystery/detective genres (Hartright’s investigative techniques, for example, are later employed by private detectives in mystery novels that followed this one).  The story revolves around a few characters who are at first drawn together by chance, but then become involved in an elaborate plot of deception, orchestrated by the ingenuous Count Fosco and his cold-as-ice wife, who just happens to be the slighted aunt of our main character’s love interest, Lady Glyde.  Lives are threatened, identities are stolen, and more than one man’s (and woman’s) place in the world is in jeopardy.  How are Lady Glyde and Anne Catherick’s (The Woman in White) destinies intertwined – and why do they look so strikingly similar?  When Lady Glyde and Marian are doomed by the devious count, will Walter – a simple art teacher with no resources and no friends- manage to piece together enough evidence to vindicate the unfortunate women – before it’s too late?  


Characterization:
4 – Characters extraordinarily well-developed.

The range and depth of characters in The Woman in White is impressive, to say the least.  If Collins has one advantage over Dickens, it is that his characters are a bit richer – a bit more interesting and realistic than Dickens’s characters, who often become grotesques.  Count Fosco is perhaps one of the most brilliantly drawn characters in literature – ranking along-side Nabokov’s Humbert Humbert in the perverse, unpleasant yet satisfactory enjoyment he brings to the reader’s experience with the story.  Collins has a way of creating characters that are downright evil, but with intermittent, surprising bits of good – or genuinely good, with moments of badness.  He writes truly human characters, flawed but perfect in the same breath.  Drawn thusly, the mystery aspect of the novel is further richened because one can never be entirely sure that we are seeing the true nature of any character at any given moment – after a few hundred pages of wondering just how dastardly  a character can get, he suddenly surprises the reader with a moment of genuine sensitivity or compassion.   Minor characters, too, such as Anne Catherick’s mother and Mr. Fairlie, Lady Glyde’s uncle, bring additional elements – like comic relief or historical significance, to Hartright’s narrative, increasing the complexity of the story while simultaneously further committing the reader to the main characters and their destinations.  Ultimately, the dénouement –beautiful as it is – could not have been achieved without clever assembly of characterization throughout the entire story, which is finally realized in a final letter, written by Count Fosco himself.


Prose/Style:
4 – Extraordinary Prose/Style, enhancing the Story.

In my experience, 600-pages of Victorian literature can amount to one of two things:  transcendent literary genius, or a mentally exhaustive torture device.  In the case of Collins and The Woman in White, the prose was far from prosaic (Haha… get it?).  Okay, jokes aside, this is one of those pieces of literature you could recommend to someone who doesn’t read literature.  The style and language are just that good, and the story just that engaging.  The pace is well-measured, so even though there is plenty of description and flushing out of details, the story rarely, if ever, stalls.  Something in the way Collins has designed the tale (perhaps in large part due to the multiple narrators, who pick up the story as ‘main character’ while it advances) makes these 600-pages flash by as if there were half as many.  The narrative voice(s) is engaging, the language is substantive without being overwrought or lofty – finishing this book is like having enjoyed a piece of gourmet cheesecake, garnished with just the right amounts of fresh fruit and chocolate sauce, and maybe even a dash of warm caramel (getting hungry yet?).  Each bite is a delight to be savored and the story as a whole, when finished, is satisfying – so much so that the reader might be licking that dessert plate clean.    


Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
4 – Additional elements improve and advance the story.

First – one minor issue.  The edition I read was the Penguin Classics Clothbound edition, pictured above (which, incidentally, I won in a giveaway from the awesome Allie at A Literary Odyssey).  I love the edition and I love the footnotes (although I do much prefer footnotes to appear at the bottom of pages, rather than in the back – I hate having to flip back and forth).  What I discovered from the footnotes, though, was that Collins, while a fantastic writer and an even better storyteller, was not too concerned with historical and/or legal accuracies.  This is a common pitfall with serial novels that often needed new installments to be completed quickly, to meet magazine/newspaper deadlines.  So, there were frequent mentions of things Collins got wrong, usually because certain things he described (laws, inventions, etc.) were not yet in place at the time the story takes place.  Now, without the footnotes, I would not have known the difference – so it is a small complaint and not much to dwell on, considering none of the “mistakes” impacted my enjoyment of the story.  That aside, the elements that were interesting and which added to the story include:  the examination of the rights (or lack thereof) of women in the 19th century; perception of foreigners by English natives; isolation; identity theft and the legal process (thank goodness for the discovery of DNA!); fine arts and the craft of writing; hereditary rights to income and property; secret societies and politics; and, of course, love – revenge – and the nature of family.   What makes a good story a great story is not just that it is enjoyable or entertaining, not just that it is written well, with interesting content, but that all of these elements come together seamlessly – that the reader can learn about a time, place, or culture while also being entertained.  The Woman in White achieves all of this, and how.


Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: Adult

Interest:  Epistolary novels, Victorian literature, Gothic novels, Sensation novels, Mystery/Amateur Detective novels, Law and justice.


Notable Quotes/Excerpts:

“Where is the woman who has ever really torn from her heart the image that has been once fixed in it by a true love? Books tell us that such unearthly creatures have existed – but what does our own experiences say in answer to books?”

“Our words are giants when they do us an injury, and dwarfs when they do us a service.”

“I sadly want a reform in the construction of children. Nature’s only idea seems to be to make them machines for the production of incessant noise.”

“Let the music speak to us of tonight, in a happier language than our own.”

“Any woman who is sure of her own wits, is a match, at any time, for a man who is not sure of his own temper.”

“The woman who first gives life, light, and form to our shadowy conceptions of beauty, fills a void in our spiritual nature that has remained unknown to us till she appeared. Sympathies that lie too deep for words, too deep almost for thoughts, are touched, at such times, by other charms than those which the senses feel and which the resources of expression can realise. The mystery which underlies the beauty of women is never raised above the reach of all expression until it has claimed kindred with the deeper mystery in our own souls.”

“The best men are not consistent in good– why should the worst men be consistent in evil.”

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1001 Books, 2012 TBR Challenge, Arthur Conan Doyle, Book Review, British Literature, Fiction, Mystery

Review: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Final Verdict: 3.50 out of 4.0

YTD: 06


Plot/Story:
3 – Plot/Story is interesting and believable.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is the third installment in the series and, unlike the first two installments – which are novels- this one is a collection of ten short stories.  The rating I apply here encompasses the collection as a unit, though some stories are naturally “better”/more effective or more entertaining than others.   The collection starts with “A Scandal in Bohemia,” a story that – to lovers of the series (be it in book, film, or television form)- is of utmost importance and excitement, because it is the introduction of Ms. Irene Adler, the one woman who gets the best of Mr. Sherlock Holmes.  I was delighted with this story, although it – like many others in the collection- was rather easy to figure out.  Some other favorites in this set include “The Five Orange Pips,” which has the Ku Klux Klan as its villains; “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” which is one of the few in this set that I actually misjudged a bit; and “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches,” which is just so creepy, one wonders if this is where a bit of Poe influenced Sir Doyle (even though Doyle openly derided Poe’s detective stories).   All-in-all, I enjoyed the set of stories quite a bit – they provide for interesting and entertaining glimpses of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in various cases, without necessarily needing to develop a single story over an extended period of time, as the novels do.  I believe the inclusion of the short stories in the timeline adds much to the Holmes Universe – I look forward to the next set (The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes) and following that up with the next novel in the series (The Hound of the Baskervilles).


Characterization:
3 – Characters well developed.

While the Sherlock Homes stories are almost assuredly interesting and entertaining (and even confusing or mysterious for some), and while Doyle’s writing is surprisingly engaging, particularly for a detective/crime genre, one thing that is usually “good” without being “great” is Doyle’s characterization.  Holmes and Watson are certainly identifiable, as are some of the regular minor characters, such as Inspector Lestrade.  Still, after two novels and 10 short stories, now, one would hope to see not just identifiable characters, but ones which are growing, changing, evolving, or surprising us in some way.  Although Holmes does get bested a few times in the short stories – and admits to it- this is the only minor growth in character throughout the collection.  Many of the stories follow the same format, thus Holmes and Watson react and quip in the same ways.  The antagonists and/or auxiliary characters in each story are interesting, too, but since the crimes are often easily solved, characterization suffers here as well.  Still, I am interested by these characters and I still enjoy following their stories and interactions – they are likeable (and not), which makes me want to spend more time with them again in the future.


Prose/Style:
4 – Extraordinary Prose/Style, enhancing the Story.

The one element of the Sherlock Holmes series which has yet to fail me, after three consecutive parts, is the writing itself.  Doyle is an incredibly talented writer – he crafts stories well and executes them even better.  Even when the mystery is not so mysterious – and when I have figured it all out by the mid-way point of the story, I still want to keep reading it, and I still enjoy finishing it, because the prose is just a joy to follow.  The dialogue is well-done, too. One of the most enjoyable parts of the series is witnessing the back-and-forth between Holmes and Watson (particularly when Holmes is chiding Watson for his “dramatic” way of retelling the cases in narrative form – Holmes believes the stories should reflect more on his methods, whereas Watson believes the stories should present the crimes/cases themselves, and the seemingly extraordinary way that Holmes manages to solve them).  There is also clearly a growing relationship between the two men – Watson writes into his narrative how disappointed he is whenever Holmes seems to overlook potential happiness (typically the presence and disappearance of a beautiful woman), for example – this relationship is demonstrated more in the prose and dialogue than in the actual characterization itself (as they grow more comfortable with and accustomed to one another, their way of speaking to and about the other also changes), which is intriguing.


Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
4 – Additional elements improve and advance the story.

I was initially impressed by Doyle when I read the first installment of the Sherlock Holmes series, A Study in Scarlet.  This primary novel helped me to realize that Doyle knew much more about the world – history, politics, religion, etc. – than I ever realized.  He does it again here with the short stories, particularly in terms of American politics/sociology, as well as science and British colonization.  These stories are not just entertaining, but also instructive – and, to me, no story is better than one which is simultaneously enjoyable and educational.  In addition to examining larger, global issues, Doyle also exposes his readers to philosophical arguments about the nature of crime and punishment – there are many instances in this set of stories where Holmes, after solving the crime, lets the criminals go free, even when the crime committed was murder.  One might agree or not with Holmes’s reasoning for why he lets certain criminals go, and what he believes their ultimate punishment to be (or to be valued at), but that the question is raised in the first place is certainly daring and unique, particularly for a time and a culture where every crime has its punishment, and vigilante justice was not looked kindly upon.  Further, Doyle explores the human elements of friendship, marriage, family, and relationships.


Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: High School+
Interest:  Detective Stories, Mystery, Crime, History, British Fiction, “1,001 Books to Read Before You Die.”


Notable Quotes:

“It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

“The lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.”

“You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear.”

“To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name.”

“There is nothing so unnatural as the commonplace.”

“A man should keep his little brain attic stocked with all the furniture that he is likely to use, and the rest he can put away in the lumber-room of his library, where he can get it if he wants it.”

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2011 Challenges, 2011 TBR Challenge, Book Review, Fantasy, Fiction, Jasper Fforde, metafiction, Mystery, Science-Fiction

Review: The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

Final Verdict: 3.5 out of 4.0

YTD: 67

Plot/Story:


3 – Plot/Story is interesting & believable.

Thursday Next, Special Ops LiteraTec Agent, has a secret or two.  The biggest secret, perhaps, is that, as a young girl, she once met Mr. Rochester inside Bronte’s Jane Eyre.  In doing so, she changed the story slightly, making the meeting scene between Jane and Mr. Rochester slightly more interesting than it had been before.  Now, decades later, Mr. Rochester leaves the book to visit her – when she is in grave danger.  Hunted by and hunting the formidable Acheron Hades, the world’s most dangerous and devious criminal, Thursday Next comes to realize that she and Mr. Rochester are not the only ones who can jump from reality to fiction.  Acheron himself soon learns this secret – and it is up to Thursday to stop him before he destroys some of the world’s greatest pieces of literature forever, by visiting the original manuscripts and kidnapping their main characters.  After a beloved Dickens character is murdered, Thursday is given all the power and money the government can grant her, but will it be enough to stop Hades?  And who, of the many possible options (Thackeray? Shakespeare? Austen?), will be the next target? 


Characterization:

3 – Characters well developed.

Characterization is definitely a strong point for Fforde.  What makes this book stand out in regards to characterization is the fact that, not only does Fforde create his own characters, good and bad, who each have their own histories, relationships, quirks, etc. – but he also must re-imagine some of literature’s most beloved and well-known characters, making them believable in regards to their original works, but also relative to this story’s contemporary plot.  Fortunately, Fforde manages this quite well, and the outcome (Dickens and Bronte characters interacting with people from the 21st Century and 21st-Century folks visiting Victorian England?) is quite delightful.  Some of the minor characters, such as Thursday’s father and Bertha Mason, did tend to overshadow some of the primary characters at times, which was a bit odd.  Thursday, the main character and narrator, was one of the least empathetic, in my opinion, which made it at times difficult to enjoy the story (because, although the reader roots for her as the “good guy,” she is not exactly a champion).  Still, the characters’ stories overall are interesting, as are their histories (many are connected through distant pasts while others are new acquaintances who just happen to have excellent chemistry).  Hades is evil for evil’s sake, as are his henchmen, which is admittedly difficult for me to swallow (I like explanations for my bad guys!) but it works fine in this case, particularly since the primary character, at least, is flawed (if the good guy was purely good in addition to the bad guy being entirely evil, I would not have been able to enjoy the story nearly as much).


Prose/Style:

4 – Extraordinary Prose/Style, enhancing the Story.

The best element of this story is the prose and style.  The story itself is a bit odd.  It is a mystery and a thriller.  It’s contemporary literature and it’s a throwback to the classics.  It’s fiction and it’s meta-fiction.  It is science fiction and realism.  What holds together all this craziness?  The writing.  Fforde is clever enough to realize that, with everything he is attempting here, a linear plot and limited first-person narration is the way to go.  It keeps the story grounded and keeps the reader engaged; all the while the story verges on spinning out of control.  The narrative voice is simultaneously witty and sincere – serious in what it aims to achieve, but light-hearted enough to poke fun at itself.  The reading level is probably high school, but even more experienced readers will appreciate what Fforde accomplishes – although a fun read, it is not necessarily airy.


Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.

4 – Additional elements are present and enhance the story.

The enormity of literary allusions will leave less experienced readers (particularly those who do not read classics or literary fiction) feeling a bit out of the loop (or simply missing out on what others are enjoying, without even knowing it).  As The Wall Street Journal notes, this book is “filled with clever wordplay, literary allusion and bibliowit” and it “combines elements of Monty Python, Harry Potter, Stephen Hawking, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”  What could be more fun for bibliophiles and the literati than reading a sci-fi mystery-thriller all about books?  How many of us would sacrifice ourselves to save the original works of our favorite author?  To protect our favorite book from permanent destruction?  The power of books – the danger of tampering with the classics – the sheer joy of finding oneself immersed in a literary mystery (who really wrote the Shakespearean plays, eh?).  The book was a joy – a page-turner- a carnival ride for book lovers.  This is the first book in a series that I definitely plan to continue reading. 


Suggested Reading for:

Age Level:  High School+

Interest: Literature, Literary History, Mystery, Science-Fiction, Action/Adventure, Meta-fiction.


Notable Quotes:

“Religion isn’t the cause of wars, it’s the excuse.”

“I think that you could have used your vast intellect far more usefully by serving mankind instead of stealing from it.”

“No bond is stronger than that welded in conflict; no greater friend is there than the one who stood next to you as you fought.”

“I’m not mad.  I’m just…well, differently moralled, that’s all.”

“Literary detection and firearms don’t really go hand in hand; pen mightier than the sword and so forth.”

“Ordinary adults don’t like children to speak of things that are denied them by their own gray minds.”

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Book Review, Fiction, Mikkel Birkegaard, Mystery, Uncategorized

Review: The Library of Shadows by Mikkel Birkegaard

The Library of Shadows by Mikkel Birkegaard

Final Verdict: 2.75 out of 4.0

YTD: 41

Plot/Story:

3 – Plot/Story is interesting & believable.

The Library of Shadows by Mikkel Birkegaard is a supernatural mystery thriller, written especially for book lovers.  John Campelli, a promising young lawyer in Copenhagen, is brought back to his family’s home town and his father’s elegant, antique book store, Libri di Luca, after his father, Luca, dies under mysterious circumstances.  Suddenly, despite John’s better judgment, he is drawn into a vast, dangerous war between factions of “Lectors” – persons who have magical reading or receiving abilities.  These Lectors can enhance a story’s potential, simply by reading it aloud.  Scenes come to life – imagery blazes in the mind, blurring the lines between reality and imagination.  The more powerful Lectors can influence others’ actions, simply by reading aloud to them – from planting subliminal messages to causing one to commit suicide.  All of this is news to John but, as it turns out, there is even more to the story, as the two factions of Lectors soon discover.  John’s latent abilities are awoken and he proves to be one of the most powerful Lectors in history.  In short time, a deep, hidden cult, as old as the ancient Library of Alexandria, seeks him out and hopes to use his powers to super-amplify their own, in hopes of taking over the world by controlling its leaders.  John and his colleagues from Libri di Luca must find a way to stop this powerful shadow organization, without knowing who they are, what they want, or where they come from. 

Characterization:

3 – Characters well developed.

While some may have been lost in translation (literally), in general the characterization in this novel was quite good.  A few of the major characters, like John and Katherina, have major conflicts to resolve, with the help (or hindrance) of minor characters surrounding them.  John, for instance, comes to realize his true calling through the help of Katherina and Iversen, two of the remaining employees at Libri di Luca.  While none of the characters have grand epiphanies, such as the “bad” guy realizing the error of his way and fighting for good in the end, there is still sufficient back-story to explain some of the “why” factors for each characters’ decisions.  The villain(s) is/are not immediately apparent, either.  Some of the obvious antagonists and heroes will have the reader guessing, while others may ultimately be just what the reader expects.

Prose/Style:

2 – Prose/Style in need of Development but works.

The book’s greatest weakness is its prose.  Much of the story prattles on rather slowly, particularly for a supernatural mystery-thriller, which one would expect to move with some rapidity and suspense.  There were moments of this, but they were far fewer than necessary, which causes the reader to feel disengaged or to be easily distracted.  Some of this could be due to the translation to English from its original Danish.  This is the first Danish novel in my repertoire, so it is difficult to comment on style without a cultural frame of reference but, for an American-English reader, it is not quite sufficient.  Some of the usual literary techniques are present, such as using short sentences to reflect action or suspense, but they are often taken to the extreme.  For example, much of the novel was written in these types of short-bursts, but the movement of the story was slow – so the pace and the prose did not coincide, which caused some confusion and disorientation (and even frustration, at times).  Fortunately, the story itself was interesting enough, so the rather bland prose is simply an obstacle and not a kill-note. 

Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.

3 – Additional elements are present and cohesive to the Story.

For book lovers, The Library of Shadows is a real charmer.  What could be more endearing to us than a story about the super-charged power of books and the magic of reading?  Rhetorical question; obviously, the answer is “nothing!”  The infusion of the supernatural in this murder-mystery thriller is an interesting twist, particularly the type of magic – which is almost an adult version of Inkheart.  The political and social commentary, too, including the nature of power and the presence of organized sub-governments which control the larger political structure is a fascinating and disturbing inclusion.  The brief history of the Library of Alexandria is interesting, although really just enough to whet the appetite, and the commentary on racism in Denmark was surprising and educational, as this reader was not aware that such racism (particularly anti-Muslim/anti-Islam) was present. All-in-all, The Library of Shadows is an interesting story, which could have been outstanding.  If you love books in general, and are in the mood for a simple supernatural thriller, this could be a fun summer read.

Suggested Reading for:

Age Level: High School, Adult

Interest: Mystery/Thriller, Literary Mystery/Thriller, International, Bibliophiles

 

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2011 Challenges, Arthur Conan Doyle, Book Review, Fiction, Murder Mystery, Mystery

Review: A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Final Verdict: 3.75 out of 4.0

YTD: 6
Plot/Story:
3 – Plot/Story is interesting & believable.

Well, well, well.  I suppose I should have known that enjoying this first book in the Sherlock Holmes series would be elementary, my dear – indubitably!  Seriously, though, I am taken aback by how much I enjoyed this book.  I am not typically a murder-mystery reader or lover, and I took up the Sherlock Holmes collection out of a sense of obligation to the mass popularity it has gained and out of a sense of nostalgia for the old black & white television episodes I watched with my Dad, as a kid; and, of course, to the very amazing (in my opinion) recent film starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law (which I loved, loved).  So, okay, what I am saying is – even though I am not a lover of the genre in general (my only experiences with it are some Agatha Christie and E.A. Poe), Doyle certainly made a believer and cautious-fan out of me.  A Study in Scarlet introduces us to Holmes and Dr. Watson, as well as some of the bumbling London investigators, whom Holmes has a somewhat patronizing contempt for.  A murder takes place, an odd one, and Holmes is called-in to investigate.  Just when certain police detectives believed they had cracked the case, the suspect is found dead!  In what I assume to be typical Holmes fashion, the unsuspected killer is lured to 221B Baker Street, where he is apprehended, and then the reader is afforded his complete back story, including an incredibly detailed and interesting regional history, which brings us twenty years earlier, to the southwestern United States deserts.  The reader learns that so much more is involved than imagined, and what little clues were discovered actually amounted to just about nothing.  Did I have anything figured out?  Nope.  Did I believe Holmes’s deductive reasoning, as he explained how he “analyzes backwards?”  Sure – because there is no other choice.  I’m more of a Dr. Watson – intrigued, capable, sometimes helpful but, more than anything, simply along for the ride.

 

Characterization:
4 – Characters extraordinarily developed.

Doyle does a very nice job of giving the reader a clear understanding of these characters’ personalities and, to some extent, their histories and motivations.  Far more is learned about Dr. Watson than Holmes, though, which is partially frustrating but also extremely clever, because Holmes and his talents are such fascinating mysteries in their own right – it helps to propel the overall mystery of the story.   What is most impressive, though, is the amount of time and attention paid to the “villain” and villains (the supposed and the actual).  Doyle writes an intriguing history for this man – evoking a great sense of empathy from the reader, and a fantastic understanding of time and place.  We learn, just in time, who is this man, and to what lengths he has gone to avenge himself of an unspeakable crime, committed by a deeply sinister group of people (a group who I will not expose in order to prevent any type of religious debate from breaking out in response).  The minor characters, too – the incompetent detectives and their noble counterparts (Holmes’s gang of merry-men – street urchins) are given enough page time to be recognizable as characters long-familiar, though we are meeting them for the first time.  All-in-all, the first meeting is done so well that this reader cannot help but want to spend more time with the characters, to see how they will develop and what type of predicaments they may find themselves in later.

 

Prose/Style:
4 – Extraordinary Prose/Style, enhancing the Story.

For a book published in 1887, I cannot believe how well-paced and easy to read it is, overall.  It does not have simple language or easy prose, by any means, but the narrative voice is so witty and engaging that the pages just turn and turn.  Dr. Watson’s narration via journal form is great and, though it is epistolary in form, it is written as if the reader is witnessing the events in real-time, which allows for a greater depth of involvement and connection to the characters and plot. I also enjoyed the break between “present” narration and the flashback, provided for the benefit of the murderer – that it was separated into two parts to accomplish this was well-planned and received (it kept the main plot from being convoluted or over-powered by the sub-plot).  It was also interesting to get that history and back-story after the crimes had taken place – it was almost as if we were thinking like Holmes – back-tracking from “resolution” to causes, as he claims to do, whenever he is confronted with a mystery.

Additional Elements:
4 – Additional elements improve and advance the story.

The attention paid to modern science and medicine, plus historical criminal studies and psychology, really helps to progress the story and to allow the reader a real sense of Holmes’s genius and tenacity.  Holmes is certainly innately gifted, but A Study in Scarlet does give the reader glimpses of how much time and effort Holmes puts into thinking about clues in each case, and about the vast amount of reading and research he has done, in general, to allow himself to become the greatest crime-solver in history.  All of this did not come from nothing – Holmes is talented, yes, but he is not superhuman, though he enjoys being thought of as such! (See quotes 1 & 2 below).  Also, as mentioned above, the sub-plot and back-story of the criminal in America is just brilliant.  The attention to detail that is paid to the Mormons, the establishing of Salt Lake City, and the very real dangers that dissenters to the religion were faced with was wholly unexpected and almost breath-taking.  I was caught completely off-guard by this sub-plot and, while reading it, I could not believe how much new information I was getting – it took the idea of “mystery novel” to an elevated level.

Suggested Reading for:
Age Level:  Adult

Interest: Mystery, Murder-Mystery, Mormonism, Vengeance, History

Notable Quotes:

“I’m not going to tell you much more of the case, Doctor. You know a conjurer gets no credit when once he has explained his trick, and if I show you too much of my method of working, you will come to the conclusion that I am a very ordinary individual after all.”

“They say that genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains,” he remarked with a smile. “It’s a very bad definition, but it does apply to detective work.”

“There’s the scarlet thread of murder running through the colorless skein of life, and our duty is to unravel it, and isolate it, and expose every inch of it.”

“There is nothing new under the sun. It has all been done before.”

“It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence. It biases the judgment.”

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Book Review, Dan Brown, Fiction, Mystery

Review: The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

Dan Brown has done it again! Though this third novel in his Langdon series was over 500 pages long, I managed to warp through it in less than three days (on a weekend when the Chicago Bears were playing the Pittsburgh Steelers, no less!). While the previous two novels in the trilogy I found to be brilliant, both in style and plot, this third takes the prize for truly ingenious subject matter and theme. We should be used to submitting to Brown’s brilliance in forcing us to question our beliefs of religion and the constructs of history, but in The Lost Symbol, Brown somehow manages to make us question our own humanity – the true nature of our relationship with God. While, I admit to having been a bit turned off by some of the supernatural elements throughout the book (my academic sensibility, like Langdon, was continually butting heads with the plot of the story, but of course Brown made me realize the error of my ways within the last few pages of the novel), I was eventually brought around. Interestingly enough, I was about two-thirds of the way through with the book when I found myself discussing it with a co-worker, who has recently been delving into meditative and yogi practices. I distinctly recall saying that I was truly enjoying the book, but was a bit baffled by Brown’s leaning toward the magical/fantasy – and I stated that I hoped (or anticipated) Brown would reel me in again soon. He did. Superiourly. Brown is a master story-teller, a fantastic researcher, and a brilliant historian. After three incredibly well-done books, he finally managed to puddle my previously tickled brain and make me want to seek out Masonry.

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