The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes

Title: The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes

Enthralled by the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Victorian readers around the world developed a fascination with eccentric detectives and bizarre crimes. Featuring an international array of authors and characters, this compilation of 16 short stories showcases the best of the mysteries inspired by the Baker Street sleuth. Holmesians and other lovers of old-time mysteries will thrill to these tales of dark deeds and their discovery.

Who are Holmes’ rivals? One could argue for different answers to this question: other investigators who are not part of the police force, other genius detectives or other detectives who have a faithful biographer who tells their stories. This collection went for: all of the above and also really all sorts of mystery stories written between the Victorian era and the 1910s (yes, the newest story is from 1914, definitely post-Victorian), including stories about people committing crimes and stories about useless policemen who need to have the solution stuffed in their face by someone else. There’s no recognisable order to the presentation of the stories. It’s not chronological or geographical (the foreword promises stories from all over the world which means UK, US and France) and not by any quirk of the sleuth, either.

There’s also only an introduction to the whole collection (that boils down to “ACD wasn’t the only writer of mysteries”) and nothing for the single stories that would put them in some context or give additional information about the author. Why is this Father Brown story in the collection and not a different one? Who is Headon Hill when he doesn’t write uncomfortably racist story about magical Indians? (Btw, a question to which Google only has a rather unsatisfactory answer). What is going on in that Max Carrados story? It would have been nice to have those questions answered in a few sentences but there is nothing. Though some more googling tells me that many of the stories are simply the first in the series with a particular sleuth which really just adds to the feeling that this was all put together rather sloppily. It’s not that those type of stories need to be read in order for full enjoyment.

Of course there’s still the stories themselves and they are the usual mixed bag. There are well-known names and I admit that I even enjoyed some of those that were by authors I’m usually less fond of. (The Ninescore Mystery might truly be the first Baroness Orczy I didn’t dislike). There are also a few authors in there I have never heard of and those mostly fell in the categories “I have no intention of searching for more” and “I wish I could go back to not knowing about them”.

In the end, I’m again wondering Who is this book aimed at? Because if you’ve dug into Victorian (and Edwardian) detective fiction before, you’ll have heard of most of the authors before (and because so many are first in the series, chances are that you even know this exact story). And if you’re new to this kind of fiction, the lack of organisation and additional information can easily be confusing and overwhelming.

ARC provided by NetGalley

A.K. Larkwood – The Unspoken Name (The Serpent Gates #1)

Author: A.K. Larkwood
Title: The Unspoken Name
Series: The Serpent Gates #1

What if you knew how and when you will die?

Csorwe does — she will climb the mountain, enter the Shrine of the Unspoken, and gain the most honored title: sacrifice.

But on the day of her foretold death, a powerful mage offers her a new fate. Leave with him, and live. Turn away from her destiny and her god to become a thief, a spy, an assassin—the wizard’s loyal sword. Topple an empire, and help him reclaim his seat of power.

But Csorwe will soon learn – gods remember, and if you live long enough, all debts come due.

Csorwe is an orc. You can tell that because it is occasionally mentioned she has tusks. There are also elves in this book. You can tell that because it is occasionally mentioned that they have pointy ears. Further differences between elves, orcs and humans? Ehem.

I wasn’t hoping for Tolkien-esque magical races (I honestly had enough of that), but giving us a non-human race and then basically turning them into humans who look a bit funny always feels like wasted potential to me.

Another thing that threw me off was…how quickly things happened. Look at the blurb: “a powerful mage offers her a new fate. Leave with him, and live. Turn away from her destiny and her god to become a thief, a spy, an assassin—the wizard’s loyal sword. Topple an empire, and help him reclaim his seat of power.” I had expected this to be the book but it isn’t. Most of her training is skipped over (thankfully), she then infiltrates the enemy camp but gets caught and tortured. But because teenagers who had only a crash course military training can withstand everything she doesn’t give anything away, manages to free herself and go back to the wizard who uses the information she collected to take back his seat of power. And that’s the end of part one.

What then follows is quest after quest but with very little time spent on the way to the conclusion of each quest, on the planning, on the finding the way to the place they need to go, on the travelling, on the despair about having no idea what to do…on all the things that lets you see the heroes in different situations. They don’t have to really search for anything. Time is skipped till a point where they already know where to find what they want. The characters are barely ever uncertain about things. Once they made a decision – to obey or disobey an order, to go somewhere, they just do it and then usually quickly land in a situation where they have to fight and almost get killed.

Just like I’m not saying that it should have been Tolkien elves and orcs, I’m not saying that book should have been 95% road travel and then one epic battle but by only seeing them in these high-strung situations made me feel as if I missed important parts of their characters. And as a result of that…I simply didn’t care much for them.

ARC received from NetGalley

The Measure of Malice: Scientific Detection Stories

Title: The Measure of Malice: Scientific Detection Stories

Forensic dentistry; precise examination of ballistics; an expertise in apiology to identify the exact bee which killed the victim?
The detective’s role may be simple; solve the case and catch the culprit, but when the crime is fiendishly well-executed the application of the scientific method may be the only answer.
The detectives in this collection are masters of scientific deduction, employing principles of chemistry, the latest technological innovations and an irresistible logical brilliance in their pursuit of justice. With stories by early masters in the field such as Arthur Conan Doyle and L. T. Meade alongside fine-tuned mysteries from the likes of Edmund Crispin and Dorothy L. Sayers, The Measure of Malice collects tales of rational thinking to prove the power of the brain over villainous deeds.

First of all: It’s much quicker to name the stories I disliked than the ones I liked. Ernest Dudley’s The Case of the Chemist in the Cupboard isn’t a bad mystery but the sleuth is a massive bully who treats his assistant horribly and Meade and Eustace’s The Man Who Disappeared features a bit too much period-typical racism for my taste and apart from that it is a rather odd mix of a serious crime story with extremely pulpy murder methods. But I enjoyed pretty much all other stories (though the science of some of them was…well not very scientific, like C. E. Bechhofer Roberts’ story The English Filter in which the case gets solved with Optography).

However, I can’t say that I really loved any of the stories. There was one by Dorothy L Sayers (In the Teeth of the Evidence), a in a collection with this theme basically inevitable Thorndyke (The Contents of a Mare’s Nest) and a Sherlock Holmes (Boscombe Valley Mystery) and they were all fun but they were by authors I already knew and liked anyway (though usually I prefer Sayer’s novels to her short stories and BCLC have a talent to put Conan Doyle stories I hate in their collections).

Most of the stories are “just” solid entertainment. Fairly straightforward stories about professional detectives and amateur sleuths solving crime (But With Science), which happens to be exactly what I like and I disliked other collections that included too many stories that did not adhere to that basic formula. (Admittedly, experimenting with, or throwing out that formula completely can lead to amazing results. Sometimes).

So in the end…I got what it said on the tin. I didn’t find any gems but I was entertained.