Saturday, November 28, 2009

Love and Rockets: New Stories # 2

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded, and maybe you'd like to think about reading them as well. This time, a review of Love and Rockets: New Stories # 2 (Fantagraphics, 2009).

Maybe complaining that an anthology series like Love & Rockets isn't bringing you what you want is less a reflection on the material than on the reader's expectations, and maybe it isn't, but I honestly didn't enjoy this latest 100-page collection at all. It's much the same as last year's predecessor, with fifty pages of Jaime Hernandez revisiting the weird SF-n-superhero world that's long existed just on the other side of the hills from his Locas stories, and fifty pages of brother Gilbert being as surreal and demented as he likes.

This time out, however, the Ti-Girls adventure makes even less sense than the first outing. Dense with references to untold stories and parallel timelines, it almost does a good job in showing modern superhero epics up as the wastes of time that they are, but it does so at the cost of its own narrative. In six months, I'll remember the details of this story about as well as the last time I tried to read JLA or Legion of Three Worlds: just some convoluted, well-drawn mess.

As for Gilbert, he's made the mistake of introducing us to his new character Killer, while using the technique, perfected towards the end of the Luba saga, of jumping around in the narrative's timeline. I suggest that only works well once readers know the characters and their situation and understand the relationships that he is straining. Two story chunks in, and I do not know who these people are, because he hasn't lingered on any one place and time long enough for them to impact us.

There are fewer than ten pages of Killer this time out, though. Sadly, the bulk of Gilbert's contribution is a 42-page dialogue-free dreamlike mess called "Hypnotwist," in which a blonde cutie wanders from one surreal shocker of nudity, violence and bizarre landscapes to another. I couldn't follow it.

I have a lot of goodwill towards the creators, but the latest iteration of L&R just hasn't rewarded my patience at all. Not recommended.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Big Sleep

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded, and maybe you'd like to think about reading them as well. This time, a review of The Big Sleep (Knopf, 1939).

Well, now that I've wrapped up all of Laurie King's Russell & Holmes novels currently available in paperback, I've decided to read all of Raymond Chandler, which I've never done before. His first novel, The Big Sleep, followed more than a dozen short stories churned out for one pulp adventure magazine or another in the 1930s, where he perfected his vibe of a weary, downcast world of ugly people and shady secrets. Then he used plot elements from these stories to fashion longer novels, which startled the critical establishment when they learned anybody who wrote for those sorts of magazines could turn out to be one of the finest wordsmiths in the English language, and one of the most important of all American writers.

The great thing about reading this book is how it shows up the film version with Bogart and Bacall to be hopelessly miscast and wrongheaded. Oh, don't get me wrong, it's a terrific movie. So is the 1970s Long Goodbye, but it's not a faithful adaptation of its source either, and neither Elliot Gould nor Bogart were right to play Philip Marlowe.

There's a scene towards the end where Marlowe reflects that either creating or believing in fiction is much easier than relating or accepting the truth, a maxim that I wish I had remembered some four years back when my life got turned upside down by somebody's lies. It was an event which really changed my life for good, and made it so much more difficult for me to trust or embrace anybody. I wonder whether Marlowe experienced anything similar. The bulk of the book is based around his search for the truth; his obligation to General Sternwood is concluded pretty early on, and most men in his position would drop things, but there is much more in good detective fiction than simply closing cases. Marlowe gets his hands dirtier and dirtier as the bodycount rises, but he has to. Nobody else will.

It's a great pleasure to reacquaint myself with the master. I've never read the next three books in the series before, and am really looking forward to it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Bart Simpson #50

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded, and maybe you'd like to think about reading them as well. This time, a review of Bart Simpson # 50 (Bongo, 2009).

Earlier in the week, Chris Butcher, manager of Toronto's simply superb bookstore The Beguiling, published a fascinating essay on the problems of "all ages" comics in a marketplace dominated by child-unfriendly superhero stories. As a dad whose son beat a hasty retreat from the increasingly desperate DC Comics into the more sensible climes of Bongo ages ago, I found it a truly interesting read. And with the fiftieth issue of Bart Simpson, Bongo has come up with something flatly unmissable for anybody who likes fun comics, regardless of your age: they've got Sergio Aragonés onboard to write and draw the title.

In a way, it's almost like symmetry to have him working on The Simpsons. I'm of the opinion that the last really watchable season of that show, over half its life ago, was the one with the episode where they went to New York and Bart ever-so-briefly visited the offices of Mad.

I've been reading my son's Simpsons collection for quite some time now, and the comics are only sporadically great, but they're certainly good enough to pass the time without frustration. This issue, which features several short stories, is easily the best of Bongo's titles I've ever read, even bettering the one that pretended to be an anthology of other countries' Simpsons comics. The lead story starts with a bored Bart and Milhouse spitting on passing cars before tedium leads them to start designing a rocket. Professor Frink offers well-intended assistance, but, in much the same way kids will lose interest if you try and direct them towards particular comic books, grown-ups ruin everything, building up to a wonderful double-page spread packed with dozens and dozens of interested parties surrounding the house on Evergreen Terrace. I know that Aragonés is billed as the world's fastest cartoonist, and having seen him prove that for the crowd at UGA earlier this year, I believe it, but this double-page spread must have taken him at least the better part of an hour.

Put simply, this is a comic so fun that I'll happily buy two copies: one that I have ordered to have for my son's collection when he returns home after a few months with his mom, and one to give him to read while he's up there. It's one of Mad's greatest artists drawing the ultimate middle school boys' comics. Setting aside the reality that kids that age, as I say, tend to lose interest in anything you suggest for them, if you've got a middle schooler in your life, you've no business not buying this, for them or yourself.

(Note: Normally when I post a review, I include a link in the image so curious readers may order it from Amazon, or, if not, a link to the publisher. However, Bongo Comics does not appear to operate a web site (?!?!), so the link goes to the SNPP fan site. If you'd like to read this comic, and you should, please stop by a local comic book shop and ask for it by name!)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pluto volume 5

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded, and maybe you'd like to think about reading them as well. This time, a review of Pluto volume five (Viz, 2009).

I'm behind again, but not too far! Naoki Urasawa's Pluto has been blowing my mind all year long. The sixth volume (of seven collected editions) should be in American stores this week and I believe the conclusion is due in January. If you have not been reading this, you are missing one of the two or three best comics of the year, and you would do well to hop on now so that you can enjoy the mayhem as it wraps up next year with everybody else.

Now, if you haven't been following along, Pluto is a contemporary adaptation of a 1960s Astro Boy story called "The Greatest Robot in the World," in which some unseen force starts wiping out the planet's most powerful robots. Several years previously, most of them saw combat during a war in the Middle East that saw the region devastated and a hated dictator in UN custody. Now working civilian jobs and beloved by the public, the robots and human scientists must discover what force is targeting them before it's too late...

Pluto is structured like a murder mystery and much of the action follows Gesicht, an indestructible humanoid who works as a police detective for Europol. Gesicht's chief concern is that a robot has found a way to violate its prime directive against killing humans, because whatever this thing that's attacking robots might be, it's leaving a trail of corpses in its wake as well. Simultaneously, Gesicht is targeted by a hate group that's out to avenge a human death that the detective once caused himself in the course of an investigation, and has found a willing patsy: the dead man's brother.

Urusawa has really mastered a style of slow-burn storytelling where every revelation and development feels like a kick in the stomach. There's a overpowering sense of doom on every page, with a situation that just gets worse and worse. He's crafted such vibrant, sympathetic characters in his story that I found myself turning pages frantically in worry, particularly when two of the robots, Hercules and Epsilon, meet on a clifftop, preparing to confront their enemy.

It's a stunning mix of genres which will appeal to fans of literary SF or detective fiction as well as traditional action comics. Gesicht's storyline, for example, reminds me of the novels of Isaac Asimov that starred Elijah Bailey and his robot partner Olivaw. Urusawa tells his story beautifully and the artwork is just amazing. He's clearly one of the major talents working in modern comics, and I highly recommend you check out his work.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Nothing at the End of the Lane

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded, and maybe you'd like to think about reading them as well. This time, a review of Nothing at the End of the Lane (Lulu, 2009).

There's just something about the production of Doctor Who that inspires so much more curiosity than any other television series. Anything else, we just take it for granted that it was being filmed in some dingy studio or backlot somewhere, and its cleanup for DVD is a matter of boring technical necessity. Nothing about removing grains from old 35mm prints of, say, The Saint strikes me as being essential reading. But give me 15,000 words about finding some new frames that were once cut from a 1967 Nigerian repeat of episode three of "The Faceless Ones" and I am totally hooked.

Nothing at the End of the Lane is a very sporadically-published fanzine devoted to the specialist minutiae about the restoration of black and white Doctor Who. It's not a read for fans who think they have an iron in the fire about whether Martha or Rose was more in love with our hero; it's for people who want to know about the 108 missing episodes and their "telesnap" reconstructions. The two lengthy issues of the zine are long out of print, but the editors have put together a very nice reprint in a single omnibus bookshelf edition, and it is just fascinating reading.

This could have ended up being pretty dry reading, and certainly some of the articles veer towards the eye-punchingly introspective. Worst among them is a questionnaire-styled interview with several of the fans who recreate lost episodes via filmstrip-like slideshows and a capture of the audio. I concede that I just don't have the patience to sit through these, no matter how laudable and praiseworthy the work put into them is, and I certainly don't care about their adherence to the original camera script of the televised episode. Thankfully, for every moment of too-deep-for-the-small-screen navel-gazing, there's something much lighter and equally loving, like David J. Howe's nostalgic memories of a Cyberman serial called "The Invasion," or a bizarre comic strip in which the TV Comic Dr. Who and his two grandchildren help Big Name Fan Ian Levine rescue lost episodes from the Wicked Witch of the West!

With contributions from notable fandom names like Richard Bignell, Richard Molesworth, Andrew Pixley and Stephen James Walker, the book is packed with interesting stories, and bizarre, trivial items coming to light after days spent researching copyright clearances and payments to actors' agents to try and source a print of some 1965 serial. It's probably not for everybody, but if the facts of Doctor Who are just as interesting to you as the fiction, then this is certainly a book for your own library.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 13

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 13 (Rebellion, 2009)

Back in the summer, Rebellion issued the thirteenth in their series of Judge Dredd Complete Case Files. This reprints all the Dredd episodes that originally appeared in 2000 AD from March 1989 to January 1990 in one very nice package. Most of them are in full color, although these originally saw print back when 2000 AD only had a single color episode each week out of five stories. For ten weeks in the period, the Slaine storyline "The Horned God" got the color slot, kicking Dredd to the front of the comic in black and white. So now you know, it's been twenty years since Dredd was a black and white comic. Lotta pages under the bridge in all that time!

The first of those episodes is the classic "In the Bath," in which Dredd reflects on his battered and bruised body while trying to enjoy one of his rare moments of scheduled downtime, only to find he still can't escape the crazy, ultraviolent city for even a few moments of peace and quiet. The episode, by John Wagner and Jim Baikie, was instantly praised as a classic, expertly mixing quiet pathos with absurdist comedy.

Most of the book is written by Wagner. By this point, he and Alan Grant were working individually, and Grant doesn't contribute quite as many episodes as before, but he does bring some real gems, best among them "A Family Affair." This is a really mean-spirited, hilarious look at things spiraling way out of control when Dredd goes to inform some citizens that a family member was killed in a police shooting. Steve Yeowell paints the episode, and there's a two-panel moment when someone realizes exactly which policeman did the shooting which is the funniest thing ever. Yeowell's third series of Zenith was running about the same time, and it's very interesting to see him apply the same style, but with color.

There are no major storylines or epics in this collection, but Wagner does touch on some earlier threads that carry on from earlier volumes. At this stage, there are still comparatively few recurring characters in the series, but Anderson and Hershey show up again briefly, and we have a return for the disturbed Judge Kurten, now in his new base of operations south of the border, along with Rookie Judge Kraken, who will become a major player in the fourteenth book.

There is a small, unfortunate printing error in this edition. The Colin MacNeil-painted "Dead Juve's Curve" repeats an error from its original printing and has a couple of pages out of order. It's an unfortunate hiccup, but one easily overlooked among so much really good material. Don't let the number 13 on the book deter you if you're new to Dredd: this is a perfectly fine starting point for new readers, and it might do you well to begin here before the apocalyptic events of the volume which comes next...

(Excerpted from Thrillpowered Thursday.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Black Tower

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded, and maybe you'd like to think about reading them as well. This time, a review of The Black Tower (Faber & Faber, 1975).

The Black Tower was P.D. James' fifth Dalgliesh novel. She had a short detour prior to it with 1972's An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, a novel about a private detective named Cordelia Gray who operates in Dalgliesh's London, but honestly, I didn't enjoy the two Gray stories very much when I read them some time ago and have decided to pass on them for now. Gray is namechecked early in this episode, as our hero is recuperating from an ugly illness. Moody and world-weary as ever, Dalgliesh has decided to retire from Scotland Yard, but takes a month's convalescent leave in coastal Dorset to be certain of his decision, and to follow up on an old friend's request for advice.

Unfortunately, he arrives at the deeply eccentric Toynton Grange, a rest home for disabled patients run by a miracle-believing oddball who has his staff dress in Franciscan robes and observe meditation periods, too late to learn why Father Badderly had sent for him, as the old man had finally passed away a few days' previously. But his wasn't the first death in the isolated community, and naturally, this being a P.D. James novel, there will be more to come in the days to follow.

I found it interesting to see that for the second time in just five novels, James elected to take her hero out of London and force him to work when he's meant to be on leave. This is an interesting case where it certainly doesn't look as though a murderer is at large, but there's such an ugly, heavy sense of brutality and unhappiness in the community that the question of who might be next will certainly weigh on your mind. Her masterful command of plotting and character development, which I noted in an earlier review took a couple of books to develop, is now fully formed, and a harrowing sequence where an invalid decides to take her own life and take a painful climb, hauling herself up several flights of stairs, is really chilling stuff. James also deliciously teases us with information about the last day of a character's life, leading us to believe we're reading the moments leading up to her murder, only to twist things a few pages later and see that she's alive and happy, her death still some time away.

Structurally, it's a very interesting story, set at the tail end of the time when people would communicate their acceptance of a visit of several days' duration via postcard, and simply not follow it up with a phone call. One of the most interesting things about reading detective fiction from various eras, as I am doing, is observing how changes in technology and social etiquette would force a book's plot to move in radically different ways if tackled today. James, sensibly, always seems to avoid using slang or references that tie her pieces to any given era, but more than any fashion or cultural reference in the text, this simple use of the era's rules for social intercourse date the piece as something from England's past, and it's very interesting to me that a book written within my own lifetime feels so much like a period piece. Since the Adam Dalgliesh series spans forty-six years, I think that I'll enjoy seeing how James will concoct the events of later novels in keeping with contemporary culture's mores, and how her hero will reflect them.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded, and maybe you'd like to think about reading them as well. This time, a review of The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga (Abrams ComicArts, 2009).

So everybody reading this knows of Tezuka, right? A longtime favorite, since back in the days when I was glancing through all those lovely untranslated editions of Vampire and Cyborg Big X that I couldn't afford some twenty-odd years back at a shop in Doraville called Nippon Daido, he was the first Japanese comic artist to kick the medium screaming out of its four-panel gag origins and into something long-lasting and meaningful. He wasn't perfect; he was mercurial and prone to leave series uncompleted once he'd met his contractual commitment, and even within an otherwise structured series, he'd become bored and restless and prone to tilt the narrative in wild, unexpected directions. But nobody, nobody in the medium could pull it off as well as him, and nobody designed a world where both humanity and technology could be so equally treated with love and optimism, even in works that explored our darkest possibilities. He's called the god of manga for good reason: not one American would be reading any were it not for his pioneering work.

I've had the huge pleasure of speaking with this book's author, Helen McCarthy, a few times at Anime Weekend Atlanta, and she'd agree that it's possible to go a little too overboard with the praise, and that it needs to be tempered just a little. Tezuka was a rotten businessman, and a good twenty years atop the sales charts probably left him a little complacent, and an easy target for the iconoclasts who started pushing Japanese comics in new directions in the late sixties.

Much brilliant work was still ahead of him, of course: Black Jack, a little more than a third of which is now available in the US thanks to Vertical, and Ayako, which they're said to be releasing next year, would be developed in reaction to a belief among younger artists that Tezuka was past his prime and relying on old glories and character designs. In the late seventies, he even had the indignity of temporarily losing the rights to his iconic Astro Boy, requiring the creation of a substitute character, the terrifically-named Jetter Mars, for a new project.

In all, his was an amazing, restless career, the work of an artist constantly adapting to the marketplace on one hand, and forging new paths with the other. McCarthy's lovely coffeetable biography, packaged with a short documentary DVD, is the first English-language bio of one of the comic medium's most influential and important figures. Like Mark Evanier's 2008 biography of Jack Kirby - brought to you by the same publishers - it's heavily, copiously illustrated and will leave any reader desperately wanting to know more. Yet focusing, as I tend to, on Tezuka's comics and films leaves me in danger of overlooking all of the material on Tezuka's personal life. Again, McCarthy really brings a lot of fascinating material to light, with facts about his studies and his legacy, and pages of photos of the artist, in his always-present glasses and beret, always hard at work being Japan's ambassador of comics.

I must say that the overwhelming bulk of the material in this book was completely new to me, a tidal wave of series only briefly seen mentioned in Tezuka's woefully incomplete Wikipedia listing, and much of it sounds completely fascinating. Thanks to this book, you can add quite a few more comics to my already long wish list of series that Vertical or Viz or DMP or Dark Horse or somebody needs to issue in English. Does somebody want to bring out Barbara or Rainbow Parakeet in the next year or two so's I can buy them?

Like the Kirby book, I do think the book is somewhat lacking for the absence of a really comprehensive Tezuka bibliography, the sort of thing that rolls on for endless detail-packed pages of minutiae and facts about exactly which issues of which anthology featured these stories in the first place, but I concede this is the sort of specialist interest not really suited to the work. All of the gorgeous art, reproduced so lovingly, and the tantalizing hints about series we've not yet seen in English just leave me hungry for more about Tezuka: more details, more facts, and more comics. Very highly recommended.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Too Many Cooks

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded, and maybe you'd like to think about reading them as well. This time, a review of Too Many Cooks (Farrar & Rinehart, 1938).

Well, the first thing that crosses my mind to tell you about the fifth Nero Wolfe novel is not to read the thing on an empty stomach. In it, Wolfe reluctantly agrees to leave the comfort of the Brownstone to deliver a speech about the greatness of American cooking to the members of les Quinze Maîtres, the world's greatest chefs, who meet every five years to sample each other's creations and elect new members to replace those who've passed away between meetings. This year, the group is meeting at Kanawha Spa, near Quinby, West Virginia, and Wolfe elects to travel by train for a deeply amusing personal reason: he hopes to persuade one of them to cough up a closely-guarded recipe. (Neither the spa nor the town really exist, but Wikipedia suggests it is based on the world-famous Greenbrier, which is near Quinwood.)

Each of Stout's novels seem to revel in the rich accounting of the greatness of amazing food, and this one really goes, delightfully, overboard. I read a chapter or two on Thursday while waiting for a friend to join me for lunch at a favorite restaurant here in Atlanta and was about ready to kill somebody myself if he didn't hurry the heck up and arrive so we could eat. Speaking of which, yes, somebody gets knocked off in short order, in a "locked room"-style killing, but the group doesn't really pause, and certainly doesn't cancel their meeting like us 21st Century sissies probably would. In the thirties, real men didn't let things like murder get in the way of amazing meals.

This brings me to the second thing that comes to mind, and that's the problem of reading a book written in the thirties, set in rural West Virginia, with a truly unfortunate and dated attitude towards race. It is so prevalent in this book that it gave me pause on many occasions, and you expect going in that some hick sheriff of the period is going to be a bigoted jerk to all the spa's staff. Yet it's simply a little heartbreaking to read Archie Goodwin, our hero and the man with the wittiest narration and quickest, most delicious comebacks in fiction, repeatedly reveal himself to be just as casual in his use of vulgar racial epithets as every character in the book. I cannot reveal how, but when cold cream, gloves and burnt cork make a vital appearance in the narrative, it becomes apparent why the producers of the terrific TV series earlier this decade, the one with Maury Chaykin and Timothy Hutton, never dared dream of adapting this one under any circumstances.

As for Wolfe, well, he's a condescending bully to absolutely everybody as usual, so you might not mind his talking down, tactlessly, to a group of the spa's servants assembled in his room. Stout, unsurprisingly, attempts to show a sympathetic edge under Wolfe's smug, superior tone by revealing that Wolfe is familiar with the works of the poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar - Dorothy Sayers occasionally employed the same sort of trick to suggest Lord Peter Wimsey wasn't quite as unbearable as his class and position would otherwise make him - but the stunt is revealed by its response - the educated man falls for it - to be part of the same risible, painful attitude that infests the book. I read a Buddy Bradley story from the mid-80s last month where the character tried to claim he wasn't a racist because he liked Jimi Hendrix and was instantly shown up by the other fellow. It's the same argument; that Stout allowed Wolfe to get away with it will remain with me far longer than the details of the murder.

Well, that and Archie charming his way into a European girl's graces with some improvised muck about horses and mares. There's always a lot to love in a Nero Wolfe novel; sadly this one comes with a considerable amount to loathe as well.

Friday, November 6, 2009

James Bond: The Girl Machine

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded, and maybe you'd like to think about reading them as well. This time, a review of James Bond: The Girl Machine (Titan, 2009).

By this point, everybody's familiar with what you get in these Titan editions, right? Three newspaper stories from the mid-70s, full of grandiose villainy, topless ladies, fisticuffs and great artwork by Yaroslav Horak, right? Yeah, but this time there's an extra treat. It turns out that a year or so after the strip was cancelled, the Daily Express considered relaunching it, and hired the great Ron Embleton, whom you may know from Oh, Wicked Wanda! and several Gerry Anderson strips, to illustrate twelve tryout strips.

That the project wasn't continued is a huge shame. With no disrespect to Horak, John McLusky or any of the great artists who did such a fine job with Bond over his quarter-century run in newspapers, Embleton was clearly the man who should have been drawing James Bond since the beginning. The actual content of the book is as interesting as ever - Bond's ally Suzy Kew has an awesome moment modelling undercover as a "big game hunter" - but this time out, the stunning supplementary material completely overshadows everything. Well done, Titan, uncovering this fascinating might-have-been! Recommended for older readers.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Game

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded, and maybe you'd like to think about reading them as well. This time, a review of The Game (Bantam, 2004).

Credit where it's due: with The Game, her seventh novel of Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes, Laurie King succeeded in keeping me worried out of my skull that something really unpleasant was right around the corner for our heroes. The villain of the piece proves to be dangerously demented, and a combination of insanity and infinite resources really looks like it's enough to finally beat the invunerable Holmes.

Getting to the meat of this one takes a little patience, however. I was unsatisfied with O Jerusalem, even as reading the sixth novel, Justice Hall, proved why it was necessary for King to fill in the characters' backstory in that longwinded fashion, because of what felt like research overwhelming the narrative. It seemed like each nuance of the foreign culture, and every minute of the arduous travel, had to be detailed in minutiae. Here, as 1924 dawns and Russell and Holmes travel to India to search for the missing Kimball O'Hara (you'll remember him if you've read your Kipling), King again seems more interested in immersing readers in the culture than getting on with the story. I concede that she's playing by the rules; Holmes' powers as a master of disguise and an undercover operator rely on his ability to completely immerse himself into his new identities, after all, but it can become a little wearying.

It's probably more snobbery on my part than any fault of the fiction. It was always amusing when Doyle had Holmes vanish for weeks on end, only to turn up and startle Dr. Watson with his reappearance somehow. Something about the hoops that Mary has to jump through can't help but bother me. Sure, I suppose being uprooted and forced to learn foreign languages and etiquette at a moment's notice comes as part and parcel of being married to the world's greatest detective, and Mary knew exactly what she was getting into some years previously, and Holmes would never have allowed himself to fall in love with anybody not capable of doing the job.

Still, with one hair-raising adventure after another, and three novels spanning three continents, set across a period of less than five months, I understand Mary's exhaustion and sympathize wholeheartedly with her when she says that the next time her wretched brother-in-law needs some job doing, they should decline and relax for a year or two. Unfortunately, there's enough of a hint dropped towards the end that I'm pretty sure the summer of 1924 will see our heroes in Savannah, of all places, looking for a mysterious woman who was on the steamer to Aden with them. Poor Mary!