David Stuart Davies: Sherlock Holmes and the Hentzau Affair

David Stuart Davies: Sherlock Holmes and the Hentzau Affair

Author: David Stuart Davies
Title: Sherlock Holmes and the Hentzau Affair

Colonel Sapt of the Ruritanian Court journeys to England on a secret mission to save his country from anarchy. He is to engage the services of Rudolf Rassendyll once more to impersonate the King while the monarch recovers from a serious illness. But Rassendyll had mysteriously disappeared. In desperation, Sapt consults Sherlock Holmes who with Watson travels to the Kingdom of Ruritania in an effort to thwart the plans of the scheming Rupert of Hentzau in his bid for the throne.


It was one of Holmes’s most annoying treats that he would keep vital information to himself until it suited him to reveal it, usually at a moment when he could create the most dramatic effect.

Davies does a good job imitating Doyle’s writing style. Die-hard Holmesians might be able to tell the difference but casuals enthusiast will have a hard time telling if a paragraph has been written by Doyle or Davies. Holmes’ manners and his relationship with Watson is also well described (especially the latter is something pastiche authors often fail to do).

However, this isn’t everything because the story as a whole feels everything but Holmesian. It’s more like a Victorian James Bond with a hero who rushes from one dangerous situation into the next and then has to shoot/punch his way out of it. And Davies’ Holmes has no qualms about this. I genuinely don’t know how many people get killed in this 120-page story but I think it’s somewhere around 10. And only one of those gets murdered by the bad guys, the rest are killed in fights with Holmes and his associates. But don’t worry. They are all –gasp– traitors and anarchists.

I don’t object to a bit more action in Holmes-stories. And after all The Prisoner of Zenda is quite a swashbuckling novel full of fights (and also with quite a high body count which only bothers the heroes tangentially) so you can’t fault the book for taking some inspiration from there. But the reason Holmes (and Watson) get in half of these fights is their incredible stupidity:

Just imagine: You are on a very dangerous case. You know your opponents don’t shy away from anything and have already tried to kill you twice. Now you meet someone new. You feel there is something fishy about him but you can’t quite put your finger on it, yet. He offers you a drink. Do you

a) Drink it
b) Wait a moment and try to figure out why you have such a bad feeling

If you answered b) congratulations! You are cleverer than Holmes is in this book!

Gif: Russian Watson is judging you


Then there’s the fact that this is also a sequel to The Prisoner of Zenda and…it’s not a good one. In the original Rupert Hentzau works for the Black Michael, the main villain but while they get Michael, Rupert gets away at the end. As a reader, you can’t help but feel happy about it because Rupert is such a fun villain. He’s definitely bad: he has no issues with killing unarmed men if they stand in his way, and he has no sad backstory as a reason for it (not that sad backstories excuse murder…but there are people who think that) and his ulterior motive is power and money. But he has glorious one-liners, is charming and dashing (even the narrator says so) and gets played by Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in the movie.


I mean:

Once again he turned to wave his hand, and then the gloom of thickets swallowed him and he was lost from our sight. Thus he vanished–reckless and wary, graceful and graceless, handsome, debonair, vile, and unconquered.

Is an actual quote from the actual Prisoner of Zenda and not the queer retelling The Henchman of Zenda by KJ Charles that will come out in May.

In other words: Rupert is a bit of a magnificent bastard.

In The Hentzau Affair, he’s a mustache-twirling villain who abducts children to blackmail their relatives into helping him and has the rhetoric talent of a playground bully.

And then there is the end. The Prisoner of Zenda does not have a very happy ending and it seems the author wants to ‘fix’ this with his book. Now that in itself isn’t wrong but in doing that he ignores all the reasons why there wasn’t a happy end in the original. He seems to think there was only one obstacle and by getting rid of that everything will be fine but there were more reasons.

What now follows are ramblings that spoil this book, The Prisoner of Zenda and its actual sequel Rupert of Hentzau so proceed at your own risk.

Continue reading “David Stuart Davies: Sherlock Holmes and the Hentzau Affair”

Keikichi Osaka: The Ginza Ghost

Cover Keikichi Osaka: The Ginza GhostTitel: The Ginza Ghost
Author: Keikichi Osaka

Although the Japanese form of Golden Age detective fiction was re-launched in the early 1980s as shin honkaku by Soji Shimada and Yukito Ajatsuji, the original honkaku dates from the 1930s and one of its pioneers was Keikichi Osaka. The Ginza Ghost is a collection of twelve of his best stories, almost all impossible crimes. Although the solutions are strictly fair-play, there is an unreal, almost hallucinatory quality to them.

There were a few stories that stood out for me in Foreign Bodies and Keikichi Osaka’s did it for being much darker than the rest. It wasn’t my absolute favourite but it turned out to be the only one where it was easy to find more by the author in translation.

The stories in this collection are also all darker than what readers of Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie might be used to. The author doesn’t shy away from detailed descriptions of how a body looks after a brutal murder. But it never feels like either goriness for the sake of it (as it often does in modern thrillers) or the slightly condescending Well, murder is brutal and gory and if you are reading about it for your entertainment you have to be able to deal with it-attitude that some crime novels have. It simply fits the overall tone of the story.

And while there still are stories where the motive is plain great or jealousy, there are also many where more complex emotions are behind the events of the story. Some of those make for an interesting change from the often puzzle-focussed (Western) detective fiction. Others veer more into the ridiculous melodrama territory. Part might be blamed on a geographical and temporal culture clash but some of the stories, especially the one the introduction promised to be an incredibly moving tragedy, had me feel nothing except the urge to roll my eyes.

The topic of this collection is impossible crimes so this isn’t a collection of all of Osaka’s stories featuring a certain character or from a certain period in his career. The common denominator of the stories is their apparent impossibility: a dead person commits a murder, someone disappears from an island from which there was no possible escape, a car disappears from a straight road that has no side-streets and other variations of locked room mysteries…

While I enjoy those kinds of mysteries, this collection doesn’t do itself any favours by limiting itself to this theme. There are twelve stories in total; three feature the same twist and three others very similar explanations for why something seemed very different from what it actually was.

Now he isn’t the first writer who recycles ideas (*cough* The Red-Headed League and The Stockbroker’s Clerk) and it is entirely possible that looking at his whole body of work there are only a couple of repetitions and the editor’s attempt to collect these ‘impossible crimes’ meant that he ended up with some similar twist. Since this is his only work that appeared in translation, I can’t tell.

But if I’m honest: even if there were more of his stories translated I wouldn’t rush to read them. Osaka has a rather exhausting writing-style. When e.g. in a Sherlock Holmes story somebody comes to Holmes and tells him about something that happened earlier, they will still sound like a narrator. In other words, Alice telling Holmes about her confrontation with Bob will read like this:

I rushed to his room and slammed the door behind me.
“You fiend!”, I cried, “You were behind it all along!”
He turned towards me and laughed, “Of course I was.”

Osaka lets people tell stories in a much more realistic fashion:

I rushed to his room and yelled at him that he had been behind it all along. He didn’t deny it and just laughed.

(With apologies to both Doyle and Osaka who are much better writers than I am but you should get the gist).

With three or four stories in The Ginza Ghost that have somebody tell the story long after it has happened, that’s a lot of recounting of events with indirect speech etc. And while that is the more realistic way to talk, it makes for more difficult reading. It’s hard to focus on long walls of text.

It was still an interesting experience to read these stories as someone whose idea of detective/mystery stories was formed by (Western)-European authors but I can’t quite sing the same praises for Osaka as the editor of this collection does in his introduction.

This was a read for the Kill you Darlings game: Suspect: Arthur Conan Doyle (Read a book that is a mystery or a collection of short stories)

Suspect: Arthur Conan Doyle

Top Ten Tuesday: Books On My Spring TBR

For me, tbr-pile means only books I actually own so this list contains only those and no upcoming releases.

1-5. I started this series and want to read the rest before I forgot what has happened so far

Lynn Flewelling - Stalking Darkness

Lynn Flewelling – Stalking Darkness (Nightrunner #2)

Naomi Novik: Empire of Ivory

Naomi Novik: Victory of Eagles

Naomi Novik: Empire of Ivory & Victory of Eagles (Temeraire #4 & #5)

KJ Charles: An Unnatural Vice

KJ Charles: An Unsuitable Heir

KJ Charles: An Unnatural Vice & An Unsuitable Heir (Sins of the City #2 & #3)

6 & 7. Review-copies

E.C.R. Lorac: Fire in the Thatch

E.C.R. Lorac: Fire in the Thatch

E.C.R. Lorac: Bats in the Belfry

E.C.R. Lorac: Bats in the Belfry

8. Rose Lerner: A Lily Among Thorns

6. Rose Lerner: A Lily Among Thorns

It’s the last book by Rose Lerner I haven’t read, yet. (Also romances are usually a quick read which is motivating for my project tbr-pile)

Cory O'Brien: Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes: A No-Bullshit Guide to World Mythology7. Cory O’Brien: Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes: A No-Bullshit Guide to World Mythology

This was a birthday present so I feel to show my appreciation for it I shouldn’t drop it behind a shelf for the next three years 😛

10. Gyles Brandreth: Oscar Wilde and the Murders at Reading Gaol

Gyles Brandreth: Oscar Wilde and the Murders at Reading Gaol

I was reminded of that during the Books That Have Been On My TBR the Longest and I Still Haven’t Read-post and as I pointed out there: It’s not even that long so it should be a quick read

Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Surprised Me (in a good or bad way)

Peter S. Beagle: The Innkeeper's Song1. Peter S. Beagle: The Innkeeper’s Song

I had read The Last Unicorn and got curious about what else Beagle had written. TIS was one of the first I got my hands on and WOW. The Last Unicorn is very much an untypical Fantasy novel but The Innkeeper’s Song is even more unconventional (and amazing).



Horace Walpole: The Castle of Otranto2. Horace Walpole: The Castle of Otranto

After Northanger Abbey, I wanted to read some real gothic novels and since The Castle of Otranto was the shortest I thought “Why not start there?” And God it puts a lot in these few pages. It reads more like a parody than anything else. (Long-Lost heirs with conveniently identifying moles, heinous villains, damsels in so much distress…)



James Barclay: Dawnthief3. James Barclay: Dawnthief

When I recommend this book to people I always end up saying something like “It’s so amazing! So many people die!” Which are odd warm words but so many fantasy novels are about people getting from one incredibly dangerous situation to the next but the heroes always survive. Occasionally people get introduced only to die and if one of the actual heroes dies and they get a long and dramatic death scene. In Dawnthief and the sequels, the heroes die. No epicness involved, they’re just a tiny bit too slow or just unlucky.

Kerstin Gier: Rubinrot4. Kerstin Gier: Ruby Red Trilogy

I admit it: the blurb made this book sound horrible. And occasionally I do enjoy reading bad books and then writing detailed gif-filled reviews about their badness. And then I read it…and immediately had to read the sequel…AND THEN THE THIRD AND FINAL BOOK WASN’T OUT YET AND I HAD TO WAIT A FEW DAYS! Reader, the waiting was horrible 😁

Carola Dunn: LDeath at Wentwater Court5. Carola Dunn: Lady Daisy Mysteries

Another book I started with low expectations. Cozies are great but so many are full of tstl-heroines who miss obvious clues and when they miraculously figured out who the murderer is, they decide to confront him alone.

I didn’t have much hope that Daisy would be any different but it was really cheap and the cover kind of cute. I am now on book 23 of the series, eagerly awaiting the next one.


Carola Dunn: Manna from Hades6. Carola Dunn: Manna from Hades

Conversely, I then had very really high expectations for the author’s other series but ended up disappointed. A great thing about the Lady Daisy books is that while they are not some deep psychological studies about what drives a person to kill they still avoid painting things too black and white. Manna from Hades is very black and white…and has really annoying characters (not too stupid to live but still…annoying)


17253127. Tanja Kinkel: The Shadows of La Rochelle

The surprising thing was that in a novel that is otherwise a serious and boring historic novel two ship captains appear that are called Picard and Riker.

Picard and Riker Double Facepalm


8. Pierre Pevel: The Cardinal’s Blades

Pierre Pevel: The Cardinal's BladesHere the surprise is that the author could take the concept The Three Musketeers in an alternate universe where dragons exist and make it so incredibly dull that I now fall asleep just thinking about this book. The heroes are all flawless, win all fights and have so little personality that I had trouble telling them apart while reading it.


Andreas Pittler: Tacheles9. Andreas Pittler: Tacheles

Now how do I put this? I was surprised by the cucumber. Or rather where the character had put the cucumber. That way you won’t get any vitamins from it. And now excuse me I have to drink a bottle of brain-bleach.



Lyndsay Faye: Dust and Shadow10. Lyndsay Faye: Dust and Shadow

To finish off, another positive surprise. Dust and Shadow is a story about Sherlock Holmes hunting Jack the Ripper and before reading it I had made many not great experiences with Holmes-pastiches, several bad experiences with Ripper-fiction, and utterly horrible experiences with Holmes-hunts-the-Ripper stories. But Dust and Shadow was great.

Lindsay Jayne Ashford: The Woman on the Orient Express

The Woman on the Orient Express - CoverTitle: The Woman on the Orient Express
Author: Lindsay Jayne Ashford

Hoping to make a clean break from a fractured marriage, Agatha Christie boards the Orient Express in disguise. But unlike her famous detective Hercule Poirot, she can’t neatly unravel the mysteries she encounters on this fateful journey.

Agatha isn’t the only passenger on board with secrets. Her cabinmate Katharine Keeling’s first marriage ended in tragedy, propelling her toward a second relationship mired in deceit. Nancy Nelson—newly married but carrying another man’s child—is desperate to conceal the pregnancy and teeters on the brink of utter despair. Each woman hides her past from the others, ferociously guarding her secrets. But as the train bound for the Middle East speeds down the track, the parallel courses of their lives shift to intersect—with lasting repercussions.


He said that once I’d produced a child, my job would be over. It wouldn’t matter if it was a boy or a girl – as long as there was a baby. That was another condition of his inheriting the earldom, apparently.

This isn’t how this works. This isn’t how any of this works. Earls can’t choose who inherits their title. It will always be the oldest (I think there might be an exception if he has committed high-treason but that is not the case here). Of course, if the author had just spent one more paragraph on this and explained that only some money is entailed to the title and dad threatens to leave his unentailed fortune to somebody else it would have been fine. The son would have worried about ending up a title and a grand mansion he can’t afford the upkeep to. The plot would have still worked in our world and not only in some alternate reality Choose Your Own Earl-England. (It still would have raised the question why granddad would have been fine with a girl who couldn’t inherit the title but you can’t have everything).

But then this is only a tiny part of the book. It mainly is about three women. The three women who all have problems caused by romantic relationships with men: Agatha just got divorced and has body-image/general self-confidence issues brought on by her ex-husband’s abusive behaviour. Nancy discovered very shortly after her marriage that her husband has no interest in her and now she’s pregnant by somebody else. Katharine blames herself for her first husband’s suicide and is now afraid of what will happen if her second husband makes the same discovery her first husband did.

There is nothing wrong with a plot that focusses on these issues. After all, it is set in the 1920 – a time where a woman who didn’t have a husband had a much harder time. And I have yelled enough about historical novels that feature too-modern characters so I’m not saying they all should have said ‘Well fuck men’ but I do wish that we had gotten one main character with a problem caused by something else. No ultra-modern ‘I want to change the world and women’s place in it’-views required, simply a character who’s worried about a sibling or a parent. Just anything else.

And I wish even more that these problems – and them finding out about each other’s problems – hadn’t been presented in such a soap-operific manner but at the end of most chapters, you could almost see the Dramatic Zoom In™ on the Shocked Face™


Dramatic Zoom in from Weissensee
With apologies to Jörg Hartmann who is a better actor than the camera-work in Weissensee makes you believe


We also get a Dramatic Reveal brought on by a poisonous snake, a character who watches another character give a third one a massage, they then immediately assume the others were having sex and rushes off  (and at first tries to block off any attempts at explanations from Character #2)  as well as a character who throws themselves on their knees and buries their head in their hands before revealing their Tragic Past™. Not to mention all the single tears that are cried in this book…really, it’s a wonder the desert, where most of the book takes place in, didn’t turn into an ocean from so many of them.

And to top it all off, at the end, the character who had the most atypical life for a woman at the time suddenly gets some very typical feminine things and it turns out: deep down she wanted them all along and only now is truly happy. Of course.

Disgusted Luise Kinseher as Bavaria


Card: Crime Scene - The Orient Express from the Kill Your Darlings-game

This is also read for the Kill Your Darlings game (Crime Scene: Orient Express, where it actually checks all the boxes: the characters travel, it’s set in the 1920s and it has a train on the cover)

Favorite Book Quotes

1. Curtis Craddoc: An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors

“I still think I should-”
“No!” Isabelle rallied against the automatic male assumption that anything she might do, they could do better, even if they had no experience whatsoever.

We’ve all been there Isabelle

2. Terry Pratchett: Small Gods

“What have I always believed?
That on the whole, and by and large, if a man lived properly, not according to what any priests said, but according to what seemed decent and honest inside, then it would, at the end, more or less, turn out all right.”

I could fill ten posts with Terry Pratchett quotes but to be fair to other authors I’ll keep it at one.

3. KJ Charles: Spectred Isle

“You’ve had a hell of a time, haven’t you?”
“Other’s worse,” Saul managed.
“That is the most specious form of consolation possible. One can always find someone who has it worse. If I’m having my fingernails torn out with pincers, it is unhelpful to observe that my neighbour has been hanged, drawn and quartered.”

This is such an important concept and I love that it came up in the book.

4. Jane Austen: Persuasion

You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope…I have loved none but you.

I also could fill many posts with Austenian love-declaration…

5. Naomi Novik: Uprooted

“They all had stories. They had mothers or fathers, sisters or lovers. They weren’t alone in the world, mattering to no one but themselves. It seemed utterly wrong to treat them like pennies in a purse. I felt the soldiers understood perfectly well that we were making sums out of them– this many safe to spend, this number too high, as if each one wasn’t a whole man.”

Uprooted is a beautiful story that starts off very fairy-tale like but soon turns pretty dark and drops sentences like this.

6. The Iron Ship

He could rarely find his hammers, or his shoes, or his mistress, and therefore had many spares of each.

The whole book is very quotable and has hilarious, meaningful and sad sentences. I choose this because it was the best of all it was the first I could find on my saved Kindle notes.

7. Carol Berg: The Demon Prism

She raises Grapes. I raise the dead.

In which the grumpy necromancer desperately tries to come up with reasons why a relationship with the clever and talented mage who enjoys stabbing people would be a bad idea.

8. Rose Lerner: Sweet Disorder

“I bought you a ham,”
“A ham?”
“Well, I know you don’t like sweets.”

If you do not think ham-presents are the most romantic thing ever you are obviously wrong.

9. Victoria Schlederer: Des Teufels Maskerade (The Devil’s Masquerade)
(badly translated by me)

“Do I believe it? That Duchess Libuša is an ancient vampire who sleeps somewhere in the Hradschin and has tasked a heroic maniac to lead Bohemia to independence? Of course, I don’t believe it!”
From the mouth of an English aristocrat, who has spent decades as ghost, before a magical accident turned him in an otter, this generally reasonable view, sounded rather frivolous.

I love this book. A lot. Magic! Czech history! An adorable couple! An (almost) equally adorable aristocrat-turned-otter.

10. Lyndsay Faye: The Whole Art of Detection: Lost Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes

“I require your assistance, and you suppose you’re too good for my money! Well, you aren’t, Mr. Holmes!”
“On the contrary. I suspect that I’ve been too good for better people’s money as a matter of fact.”

Lyndsay Faye is one of the few Holmes pastiche authors I love and sentences like this are the reason for it.

Anthony Berkeley: The Poisoned Chocolates Case

31678146Title: The Poisoned Chocolates Case
Author: Anthony Berkeley
Series: Roger Sheringham Cases #5

Graham and Joan Bendix have apparently succeeded in making that eighth wonder of the modern world, a happy marriage. And into the middle of it there drops, like a clap of thunder, a box of chocolates. Joan Bendix is killed by a poisoned box of liqueur chocolates that cannot have been intended for her to eat. The police investigation rapidly reaches a dead end. Chief Inspector Moresby calls on Roger Sheringham and his Crimes Circle – six amateur but intrepid detectives – to consider the case. The evidence is laid before the Circle and the members take it in turn to offer a solution. Each is more convincing than the last, slowly filling in the pieces of the puzzle, until the dazzling conclusion. This new edition includes an alternative ending by the Golden Age writer Christianna Brand, as well as a brand new solution devised specially for the British Library by the crime novelist and Golden Age expert Martin Edwards.


You know how at the end of the book Hercule Poirot talks about the skeletons in everybody’s closet? Often enough he will also destroy the seemingly waterproof alibi of one person along with it and when they start protesting Poirot just shrugs and says “Oh, of course, you didn’t do it. You only needed that false alibi because you were visiting your mistress/brother in jail/divorce lawyer. But you deserve that shock for trying to fool me.” before he continues with the next person with skeletons and seemingly waterproof alibi.

Imagine that but for a whole book.

The Poisoned Chocolates Case opens when the murder has already been committed. The six amateur detectives decide to look at the case themselves and do some sleuthing – off-screen. Then the first three present their cases but at the end of each presentation somebody points out a fact that has escaped the speaker and makes his or her theory fall apart.

Then Roger Sheringham does some sleuthing – on-screen this time but also in a way that is typical for mysteries in that the reader doesn’t get much out of it: we see that Sheringham goes round showing certain people a photograph but don’t know whose photograph that is. He’s the next to present his case but it turns out he has also missed something. So it’s on to the next presenter…and then the next.

Now, the idea to write such a mystery is undoubtedly brilliant but the thing is: I don’t deny that the ‘library scene’ with all the suspects together and all the skeletons falling out belongs to a proper golden-age mystery and I’m not saying I dislike them but I really only need one per book. I already find it tedious if it gets dragged out for too long and a book that only consists of these scenes is also…well tedious.

The other thing is the way the wrong solutions are dealt with. The solutions in the first half are the kind of solutions bad mystery writers would come up with. And the characters in the book call them out as such and say that, for example, Sir Charles simply took a few coincidences and claimed that it was impossible that they weren’t connected to the murder without backing that claim up. That kind of lampshade-hanging is fun and I always appreciate it when writers don’t take the genre they write 100% serious all the time.

But the wrong solutions of the second half are actually good mystery solutions. In the introduction, Martin Edwards even mentions that there is a Sheringham short-story in which his solutions is the correct one, only in the novel he gets proven wrong. And the way the other characters react to the wrong solutions? A kind of condescending ‘Oh real life isn’t like mysteries’-attitude.

Newsflash: I know that neither mysteries nor more ‘serious’ police procedurals portray a 100% realistic picture of a murder investigation. If they did cops in books and movies would have to deal with a lot more domestic violence and quarrels between neighbours instead of cunning serial killers who are always three steps ahead of them or classically educated murderers who are inspired by Jacobean Revenge Tragedies. They also would have to do a lot more paperwork (and Agatha Christie would have been only allowed to write about 10 books because the actual murder-rate in small English villages wasn’t that high). Nobody wants to read truly 100% realistic crime novels…and if genre-books get too smug about being not like those other genre books I get annoyed. Especially when the true solution ends up involving just as many twists and turns as any other mystery.

There are also two alternate endings to the novel. One written not long after the original book, one by Martin Edwards especially for this new edition and they are…nice. They fit the tone of the book and I don’t think I would have noticed if either of them had followed the book without a note about the fact that it was done by a different author. They were fun but also not particularly impressive. (They don’t use the already known facts and twist them in a new way, they introduce new ones. Which is exactly what was done with all the ‘real’ solutions so I’m not saying they should have. But simply being able to imitate a style does not awe me so much that I’m convinced this was a necessary gimmick).

I am also reading this for Kill Your Darlings and use it to play the Ariadne Oliver-card (book is set in the UK)