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Monday, December 14, 2015

Sherlock Holmes - The Missing Years: Japan - Book Review

For my just past birthday, the wife picked me up a pair of book with a Japanese theme to them... the first time anything like that has happened, as I think she finally understands now that I enjoy writing about things related to the old country. But she still doesn't read this blog because I don't think she likes my writing.

At this time... I would like to give a big shout out to my buddy, Matthew, who introduced me to the written adventures of Sherlock Holmes, loaning me his collections as we resided (separately) in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme as junior high school AETs (assistant English teachers). Thanks! I did return the books, didn't I?

Released earlier this year by Poisoned Pen Press (as well as in 2013 by Harper Colins - Hmmm) , Sherlock Holmes - The Missing Years: Japan is written by Vasudev Murthy... and not, let me make this perfectly clear, not by creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Is the book a good read? Absolutely. Does it capture the spirit of Holmes and Watson - with certainty. One is infuriating, the other simply along for the ride. The language is spot on, and I even found myself cringing to the archaic attitude of Dr. Watson towards women - especially women who work. All spot on for the characterization, as well as for the era.

Is it a tale worthy of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? Sure, why not. He's dead and isn't giving us anything new.

There's this thing that every single critic seems to forget when doling out points about why something is good or is not... Does it entertain?

In this case - yes.

The novel takes place in 1893 in the time just after Holmes and his arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty apparently tumble to their deaths at the Reichenbach Falls (German: Reichenbachfall), a series of waterfalls on the Reichenbach stream in the Bernese Oberland region of Switzerland.

In the real world of you and I (don't awaken the Red King!!), creator Sir Arthur had decided to kill off Sherlock Holmes and work on other more serious literary projects... perhaps fearing he had nothing left to give the world's greatest detective - with apologies to Batman (That is what Batman is, by the way... a detective - not a super-hero).

"The Final Problem" in which they 'die' is a short story by Doyle that was published initially in the December 1983 issue of Strand Magazine.

Doyle, however, was beset by upset fans who begged him to continue writing stories of Holmes and Watson, and finally, years later he did, first with a backdated story called The Hound Of The Baskervilles (1901-02 in Strand), and then actually resurrecting them in story called The Adventure Of The Empty House (1903 in Strand).

So... rather than wonder how the world's greatest detective could simply be inactive for the 10 years in between, one would assume he wasn't.

That is where Murthy comes in, offering us this apparent first of a series of adventures featuring Holmes and Watson, that given the nature of the first effort would suggest that they will continue to travel about the world.

First stop - Japan. Sort of.

The biggest problem I had with this 266-page story (I'm not including the four pages written by someone else), is that it's not really so much about Holmes (and Watson) in Japan, but rather is mostly about the trip getting there.

In fact, it wasn't until page 191 that they arrive in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Lest that be a complete detraction, let me instead say that while disappointed at first, I realized that like any trip, arriving at one's destination isn't as important as the journey one undertakes to get there.

From London to Liverpool to Bombay to Russia (a country, not a city) to Hong Kong (both city and country) to Cambodia and Alexandria and eventually to Nagasaki and Edo (old name of Tokyo), author Murthy takes the detective and the doctor on an exotic journey where time is off the essence, but so too is secrecy, as Moriarty is quite aware that the game is afoot.

Is there murder? Yup. Betrayal? Yup. Confounding clues like a locked room with Watson sleeping and a dead body nearby - yup.

Murthy takes around the world through the exotic climes to the less exotic, showing that despite the prejudices of the western world, places outside of Europe possess culture and high (and low) society all their own.... it's just different.

Outside of the muggings and the murders and the drug trafficking, it could easily have been a monologue written by Holmes himself on places to go and places to see 'round the world.

Murthy even provides a great - absolutely great - description of Ankor Wat in Cambodia, describing things people could once do, but can't do any longer owing to safety or whatever. But consider, if you will, that the 12th century religious complex was only restored and conserved officially beginning in 1908... so when Holmes and Watson find themselves there, it was still raw, and wet, and covered in jungle.

The only negative I will ply upon the Missing Years: Japan, is that after providing the reader with such color descriptions and depictions of cities and countries around the world, Murthy fails miserably to do the same for Japan.

Why? Because the clues were all laid out prior to that for Holmes to have gathered, thus Japan was not only the scene of the global crime, but the scene of its closure.

Is this Holmes at his best? Perhaps. The crimes solved, Moriarty slowed down, and Japan in Holmes' gratitude and debt.

It ain't Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (May 22, 1859 – July 7, 1930), but considering he's been dead nigh on 85 years, it's good enough.

Having said that, fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle will pick the book to death.

Fans of the fictional character Sherlock Holmes, however, will rejoice that there's a new story to read.

It's a new author with a new tale on a beloved character whose creator is long wormfood. Shut up, have a drink of Absinthe and enjoy Sherlock Holmes - The Missing Years: Japan.

Andrew Joseph
PS: The concept isn't completely new, of course... filling in empty spaces with stories of what could possibly occurred. Ever wonder what Jesus did from the time he was say, two-years-old, until the stories began anew when he was about 30? Where did he learn and create his "Christian" philosophy? Did he travel through India and Asia learning and assimilating the best of their religious ideologies as a means to live his life? You know there are books about it. Some serious fiction, some comedic, and some purporting it to be the gospel truth. Take it all with a grain of salt and enjoy the story. That's what all those wonderful books are: The Koran, The Holy Bible, Torah et al... stories - written by some of the best, but ultimately financially poor writers.
You know that the New Testament was written anywhere from 70 to 150 years after Jesus died, right? So perhaps writer's embellishment is acceptable.
While I have read all three books (I like knowing stuff), I do not know enough about the history of the Torah and Koran to comment intelligently enough.
Heck, even I wrote a story about the scion of Jesus when I was in Japan... maybe I'll publish that humorous quickie here one day.
PPS: I did return the books.

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