Tuesday, June 19, 2018

For Sherlock Holmes Lovers

I’m not only a mystery fan, but I also have a special place in my heart for books based on Sherlock Holmes.  I didn’t read the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories, but through the years, I’ve stumbled on the occasional TV productions and always found them enjoyable.

It may have been Laurie King’s Mary Russell stories that got me hooked on all things Sherlock Holmes. The first in the series, “The BeeKeeper’s Apprentice,” came out in 1994. Mary Russell, a 15-year-old girl, literally stumbles across Sherlock Holmes while out walking, and their unlikely relationship becomes the stuff of fifteen novels. I realize as I’m typing this that I haven’t read them all, so it’s time to add a few to my library wish list.  I wanted to believe the foreword to the first book, wherein the author explains finding letters in a trunk either between or about Mary Russell and Sherlock. Forgive me; it’s been almost twenty years since I read the book. Suffice it to say, I found the premise intriguing.

“The Sherlockian” is another book I couldn’t put down. It features dedicated Sherlock Holmes fans who get wind of a missing Arthur Conan Doyle diary, one which would explain the final chapter in Sherlock’s life. I found the mystery intriguing and also enjoyed learning about Conan Doyle’s life even though the facts were interwoven with fiction.

Next, I discovered Anthony Horowitz’s 2011 “The House of Silk: A Sherlock Holmes Novel” through a review in the Wall Street Journal.  For the first time in its one-hundred-and-twenty-five-year history, the Arthur Conan Doyle Estate has authorized a new Sherlock Holmes novel … The Arthur Conan Doyle Estate chose the celebrated, #1 New York Times bestselling author Anthony Horowitz to write ‘The House of Silk’ because of his proven ability to tell a transfixing story and for his passion for all things Holmes.”  It lived up to its billing.

Bonnie MacBird’s “Art in the Blood” is another novel written as a continuation of the original series.  I may have stumbled across it as an Amazon recommendation.  If you decide to give Sherlock a try, this, like “The House of Silk,” is written in the style of Arthur Conan Doyle.

For a lighter Holmes themed mystery, I picked up “Elementary She Read: A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Murder.” The story takes place on Cape Cod where, at 222 Baker Street, of course, the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium deals in Holmes paraphernalia, books, and collectibles.  This modern day, humorous, murder mystery makes for a fun read. 

Writing this column required a bit of research to refresh my memory, and I happily found yet another Holmes story to add to my list, “The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars.” It promises to be a humorous mystery. I like to mix up my reading—a book with a literary bent and way with words and then one with a lighter, witty story. Once again, I have more books on my “To Be Read” list than I’ll ever get to, but I’ll enjoy the pursuit.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Lord Banjo asks, "Who's Dad's favorite?"

Believe it or not, I wasn’t always Dad’s favorite.  I know my fans find that surprising.  Even now, he has a favorite dog and a favorite cat so I can’t simply say, “I’m Dad’s favorite,” and leave it at that.

Mum has always felt the need to bring a second dog into the family as the first one ages. She never wants Dad to be without a canine companion.  That’s why they started searching for someone like me when Tinker the Wonder Dog turned ten. They claimed they wanted a smaller version of Tinker, forty pounds instead of her sixty.

I love hearing Mum tell the story of how many times they were turned down for a dog because they had an electric fence or made Tinker sleep in the basement instead of in the master bedroom. They were getting desperate when Mum got off an airplane one day and found a Craigslist ad that had been posted just hours before.  It broke her heart because it read, “Dog needs home; house in foreclosure; dog goes to humane society tomorrow.”

When she called and told the owners she couldn’t possibly get out to their house that evening, they offered to bring me to her. She was a bit hesitant because instead of forty pounds, I weighed eighty, but she agreed.

By now, you know how huggable and handsome I am so you can easily believe my parents couldn’t resist me despite my size.  And that’s how I came to reside with Mum and Dad, but I was by no means the favorite. In fact, there were times Dad threatened to take me to the Humane Society himself.

Why? Well, the first threat came when I almost pulled him down the basement stairs.  He has a bad back and was pretty darned upset with me.  It wasn’t my fault no one had ever trained me. At my first home, I was either tied to a tree or in a crate and hadn’t learned manners.  Mum cried and begged and signed me up for doggie school.

While I was enrolled and learning, I had a ways to go before I was the perfect pup. The next two threats came when I sailed out of the yard over the front hedge and loped down the street.  When he tells the story, Dad laughingly describes me as floating over the hedge and setting sail, but he was fit to be tied when I did it. Mostly he was furious that, as he chased me, I’d look back at him and keep going.

Nowadays I’m near perfect; I mean I still occasionally roll in deer poop, eat the cat’s food, raid the garbage can, and bark; but I’m housebroken and lovable. That’s close to perfect, right?

Since Tinker’s gone to doggie heaven, I’ve spent more and more time with Dad. I try hard to split myself in two, so I can keep an eye out for both Mum and Dad even when they’re on separate floors. 

Dad and I do most everything together:  take walks, take naps, eat lunch, work in the yard and the garage, even go on car rides.  He comes in the house calling, “Where’s Daddy’s boy?” I’m confident that means he loves me best. I only need one more thing to make me sure. I want Dad to push the cat off his lap and let me up there instead.  Then there’d be no doubt who the favorite is. 

Thursday, May 17, 2018

All About Books: Author Chris Bohjalian

I am a mystery addict, but I also enjoy an engaging novel from time to time.  The works of Chris Bohjalian fall into that second category.  When I began to think about which of his novels I’d read, I was surprised that I’d read four of his twenty books.

Three of his novels have been made into televisions movies—“Secrets of Eden,” “Past the Bleachers,” and “Midwives”—and another three are in development.

I first discovered Bohjalian when “Double Bind” came out in 2007. I was probably hooked by the references to the “Great Gatsby” in the reviews.  “Double Bind” ranks up there as one of the most intriguing books I’ve read. The lines blur between Gatsby’s tale on Long Island and this story that takes place in Vermont. I was kept guessing until the very end, and even then I questioned what had really happened. 

When I went to Amazon to get a bit of info for this column, I was shocked to see the book’s average review rating was a mere 3.6 out of 5. I guess it’s not to everyone’s taste, but I couldn’t put it down. One review described the novel as evoking Fitzgerald and also channeling Hitchcock.  I think of it as literary fiction.

I enjoyed it so much that I went on to read “Skeletons at the Feast,” a love story set in Germany during WWII. In the book, people are trying to escape from Germany and reach the Allies. The cast of characters includes an aristocratic Prussian teen, a Scottish POW, and an escapee from a train on its way to Auschwitz.  I think it was while reading this novel that I came to realize how fluid the borders were in Eastern Europe in the 1800s and 1900s.  It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like to be Prussian one year and German the next. Reading novels like this one makes me realize just how fortunate we are here in the US.

Off and on through the years, I’ve read quite a few novels set in Europe during WWII, but none set in Italy until I read “Light in the Ruins.” It begins in Tuscany in 1943 with another aristocratic family.  They don’t try to leave Italy, but they do seek to escape entanglement with either side. The story moves between the war and 1955 as it reveals the story of the Rosatis. It’s as much a story of family as it is of the war.

Bohjalian returns to modern times and Vermont in “The Sleepwalker.  I’m not giving anything away when I tell you that the sleepwalker, Annalee Ahlberg, disappears one night.  The plot describes how her disappearance and her sleepwalking play out in the family dynamics. The story kept me guessing.  Was she alive somewhere?  Had she died? 

I suspect I’ll pick up another of his books again one day.  “Sandcastle Girls” has been on my list for a bit.  For some reason, the plot of his latest book, “Flight Attendant,” doesn’t grab me, though it’s getting rave reviews.  Perhaps I’m attracted to his books because they provide not only character studies, but also mysteries.  Whether you’re a mystery fan or a fan of well-written novels, I don’t think you can go wrong with a Bohjalian book.