The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes: Thorndyke & Pringle

As part of my The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes Project I’m reading other Victorian (and occasionally Edwardian) detectives. I decided to start with R. Austin Freeman who wrote the Dr. Thorndyke and the Romney Pringle stories (the latter together with John Pitcairn (and under the pseudonym Clifford Ashdown)).

Today’s stories – two with Thorndyke and one with Pringle – were all filmed as part of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes ITV-series and can be found in the accompanying book.

I have read Thorndyke-stories before and he is one of the rivals I’ve really enjoyed. Thorndyke occasional shares Holmes’ tendency to tell a man’s life-story from the way his clothes and hands look but most of the time he is more grounded in real science. As forensics/the history of forensics has fascinated me since my mother gave me her Jürgen Thorwald’s The Century of the Detectives-books, Thorndyke does have a soft spot in my heart. Even if he does occasionally share the blandness of many of Holmes’ colleagues.

I haven’t read any of the stories previously, but the two Thorndyke episodes were the only ones I watched from the TV-show. (However, I have forgotten everything about them, except for a memorable but plot-irrelevant scene from The Moabite Cypher).

Romney Pringle, on the other hand, is someone I hadn’t heard of before so I don’t know what to expect at all.

A Message from the Deep Sea (Dr. John Thorndyke)

A young woman is found murdered with a strand of long red hairs in her hand. When the police discover that her romantic rival has long red hair they don’t look further. Dr. Thorndyke, however, does.

Overall, the story is rather average but I do find it interesting that this is a case featuring a murdered young woman when I can barely remember Holmes-stories featuring women as murder-victims. And the women in this story also feel more real. Jealousy is not the most original of plots but a refreshing difference from Doyle’s beloved ‘I never did anything immoral. However, there was this one time I did something I won’t give any details about but which was in no way wrong. And if my husband who dearly loves me but who also is such an honest man would learn about this time where I didn’t do anything wrong he would die of shame.’-blackmail plots. Of course, everybody just wanted to be published in Victorian times and so it’s not like this story is full of juicy details. But I can’t deny that most of Freeman’s female characters feel more real than Doyle’s.

The mystery itself is pretty average. Of course, the police and their experts are useless and of course, only Thorndyke is clever enough to look further than them. Not unusual for these kinds of stories. Neither is Thorndyke’s penchant for a presenting his findings in a very dramatic way. But I couldn’t help thinking that (Spoiler: Highlight to show)

it seems like a bit of a stretch that only Thorndyke noticed that the hair wasn’t torn out does seem.

So: fun but nothing special.

The Moabite Cipher (Dr. Thorndyke)

The police fear that a certain person is part of a group that plans an assassination attempt on a high-ranking person. Unfortunately, their attempt to shadow him misfires and the suspect ends up dead. The only clue he was carrying with him is a message written in an incomprehensible cipher.

A mysterious cipher! An even more mysterious man who is worried about his brother’s health! And of course, it needs Thorndyke’s genius to figure out the connection. (Well, and a Marsh test).

That is exactly the kind of story I love. It has twists and turns and ends up somewhere you would have never guessed at the start. Sadly, it is also yet another instance of ‘this ominous foreigner who is also Jewish and did we mention ominous and probably evil?’, which is a frequent occurrence in Thorndyke-stories.

 

The Assyrian Rejuvenator (Romney Pringle)

By chance, Pringle discovers a company that cons people with a machine called ‘The Assyrian Rejuvenator’ that promises eternal youth. He decides to step in…

Wikipedia describes Romney Pringle as ‘reformed con-artist’ but this story seems to be from a time where he wasn’t yet reformed for all he does here is conning a different con-artist and then continuing that con on his own. And well…that’s not particularly endearing. I enjoy the occasional heist-story about loveable and clever rogues taking money from questionable characters that have more money than they can ever spend but it’s not that kind of con. Pringle isn’t even extraordinarily clever. He’s cunning and at the right place at the right time. His victims are average people who are somewhat stupid.

It seems that this is the first Pringle-story, so I assume the actual ‘reformed’ part will come in the later ones but I’m not exactly burning to check them out.

 

Since all the stories were also filmed for the eponymous series I (re)watched them as well. The Pringle-story manages to make him even more unlikeable: he doesn’t only con innocent people, he also endangers them. I think that this particular flavour of 70s humour isn’t my cup of tea.

The two Thorndyke-stories, on the other hand, make me wish we had gotten a whole series of him. Though they admittedly took some artistic license with canon and ‘Holmesified’ Thorndyke a bit; on the page, he never insisted “You know exactly as much as I do Watson Jarvis, you can also solve this case as well as I can”. They also added a vain streak that isn’t quite as prominent in the books. But they also gave him a snarky Jarvis who has no qualms pointing exactly that out. More episodes with that duo could have been really enjoyable (especially since the also reduced the number of ominous Jewish people in the adaptations…which in one case meant turning a character Irish but…it’s the thought that counts…)

Véronique Enginger: Fables& Fairy Tales to Cross Stitch

cover126557-mediumTitle: Fables& Fairy Tales to Cross Stitch
Author: Véronique Enginger
Create lovely new “once upon a time” keepsakes with these 44 cross stitch patterns, blending the traditional style of France with a charming contemporary simplicity. The designs are eye-catchingly lovely with their subtle colors, gentle humor, and delicate lines. They’re all here: wily foxes, big bad wolves, city mice and country mice…not to mention princesses, enchanted worlds, and fun rhymes. Many include multiple scenes and motifs, offering you dozens more components to use in a myriad of ways. Along with the patterns, enjoy instructions for 22 projects to show off your stitchwork: luggage tags, mobiles, cookie tins, quilts, a cuddly toy with its own sleeping bag, and more.

The book is divided into three chapters: Fables, Fairy-Tales and French Nursery Rhymes, every one offering between 10 and 20 cross-stitch patterns inspired by them. Each comes with a photo of the finished cross-stitch. Most of those are large pictures (ca. 120*130 stitches) illustrating a scene from the story and it would be hard to pick out a small part of it to stitch it as a seperate picture. But a few are more a collection of smaller images, where it would be easy to take out one to e.g. decorate a card (and the fairy tale chapter even includes a set of small patterns for generic fairy tale images like dragons and witches).

The book also offers instructions for projects that can be made out of the finished cross-stitches: a pillow, a sleeping bag for stuffed animals, a book-cover, an apron and much more. The instructions call for one specific pattern for each item but since most of those are for the whole images that are all of similar size, nobody stops you from replacing The Princess on the Pea with Snow White on the pillow.

Now the pattern themselves are…very very cutesy. I don’t think I will make any of the large pictures for myself but stick to decorating smaller items like birthday-cards with butterflies or crowns. I’m not saying that I was expecting a dark and subverted interpretation of fairy tales. But it is possible to illustrate those stories and stay true to them without drowning everything in pastels.

ARC provided by NetGalley

[Podcasts] Deadly Manners

deadly+manners+site+homeDeadly Manners is a 10 episode, dark comedy murder-mystery series set in the winter of 1954. It follows the events during the night of the affluent Billings family annual dinner party with their distinguished, eccentric guests. However, all is not fun and games as shortly after the party starts, a snowstorm begins to rage outside, trapping all the partygoers inside their host’s mansion. When a murderer starts killing off those in attendance, the guests must figure out who is responsible, or at least how to stay alive — lest they be next. 

Listen to it here (or wherever you listen to podcasts)

Deadly Manners‘ biggest problem is that it doesn’t quite know what it wants to do. Poke fun at old-timey country house murder mysteries where the guests are always surprisingly unperturbed by multiple people dropping dead in a short time-span? Because it does that now and then. Guests lament that the dinner will take longer with a body in the kitchen or exclaim that the fourth murder now really makes the hostess look bad and I grinned at a few of these bits. But I also couldn’t help thinking of the older adaptations of And Then There Were None or Edgar Wallace’s Das Indische Tuch which played exactly that ridiculousness completely straight, with stoic butlers asking if Sir already knows how many plates will be needed for the breakfast tomorrow or – if it turns out that after another sudden and unexpected death – there is one plate too many, remove it with the same stoicism. And compared to that Deadly Manners always comes over as trying too hard. It drops these sentences in the middle of a conversation without caring about what comes before or after them.

But perhaps Deadly Manners has a slightly more serious intent and wants to make a point about old-timey country house murder mysteries always being very white and straight as well as very apolitical? Because among the main characters is a black woman (originally from Liberia and adopted by white American parents at a very young age), a Jewish couple and some secret Lesbians and McCarthy’s ghost makes his appearance (not literally). But they never really go deep into any of this. Half the characters drop some casual antisemitic stuff in between finding yet another body and discovering yet another dark secret. Olivia, the adopted daughter, argues about the effects of colonialism on Liberia and gets essentially told not to worry her pretty little head about this. But those scenes also hang in thin air. There are no consequences, nobody has a genuine change of heart.  It feels like somebody had had an all-white script and decided it needed to be more diverse, swapped some characters but not given it any more thought.

And all of this ended in a finale that possibly also wants to poke fun at the kind of mysteries that lay open every character’s past sins in the final chapter but it just didn’t work for me. It was too far-fetched, too ridiculous and silly. Perhaps I wouldn’t have minded it as much if the rest of it had captured me more. But as it is, I’ll give the possibly 2nd season a miss.