Category Archives: Fiction

The Game’s Afoot: A Holmesian Miscellany

The Game's Afoot: A Holmesian MiscellanyBooks about fictional detectives—especially Sherlock Holmes—keep reproducing in my pile of books to be read. Much the same way as tribbles did in the original Star Trek TV series. (Anyone remember that besides me? Or am I really dating myself?) Novels, anthologies, what have you, about Sherlock Holmes multiply while I’m not watching. One such book is a slim short story collection by Bradley H. Sinor entitled The Game’s Afoot: A Holmesian Miscellany.

Three stories in this collection do not feature Holmes or Watson at all but feature other characters in the Holmes milieu. One such story includes Colonel Sebastian Moran, erstwhile associate of Professor Moriarty. Two other tales highlight Mycroft Holmes as detective/spy master. All of the adventures are of sufficient length and detail to give the reader an enjoyable view into the world of Holmes, Watson, et al. Unusual subject matter, such as vampires and alternate universes, enlivens a few of the tales. In “The Other Detective,” Holmes and Moriarty switch roles as the World’s First Consulting Detective and the Napoleon of Crime.

Precise prose enables these adventures to move along at a steady clip. Holmes inhabits his position as a man of few words but is somewhat less curmudgeonly than in Conan Doyle’s canon. Watson, a widower in these stories, meets the woman of his dreams for a second time in one of these narratives.

The Game’s Afoot: A Holmesian Miscellany is a nice change of pace considering the subject matter and change of worlds and lead characters in some of the stories.

The Game’s Afoot: A Holmesian Miscellany
by Bradley H. Sinor
© 2016
Pro Se Productions, LLC

Additional Investigations of Sherlock Holmes

Additional Investigations of Sherlock HolmesThe Additional Investigations of Sherlock Holmes is a repackaging of seven tales written by Arthur Hall, a British author. David Marcum, a noted writer and editor of Sherlock Holmes pastiches, novels and anthologies, edited this volume. The specific stories contained in this volume were previously published in various editions of The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories.

Although “The Adventure of the Disappearing Prisoner” is rather straightforward and offers a minimum of mystery, some of the other stories are more curious and puzzling. “The Adventure of the Drewhampton Poisoner” includes an Asian poison with which Holmes is unfamiliar, which is quickly rectified. Holmes’ familiarity with tattoos and the inks used in such also plays a role in that story. “The Adventure of the Returning Spirit” reveals Watson as a widower. This story incorporates an attempt to deceive him into believing his wife’s ghost had returned. Holmes, of course, debunks that theory. This adventure encompasses pure Watson and Holmes with Watson acting as a decoy while accompanying Lestrade in his duties. Holmes, meanwhile, follows in disguise.

Admirable Depiction of Holmes and Watson

Hall portrays Holmes and Watson in a fashion similar to Conan Doyle. Watson narrates the tales and shines a complimentary light on Holmes. Both characters are well-rounded, intelligent, and well-defined. The adventures are fairly quick reads and entertaining. The precise prose of Arthur Hall recalls the clear-cut, decisive prose of Conan Doyle. Most of Hall’s adventures elicit the same enjoyment at the denouement as the stories in the original canon. Such is the case in “The Adventure of Miss Anna Truegrace,” for example. With an unexpected twist, this case illustrates Holmes capturing a murderer involved in a very cold case. Thus, the seven cases rereleased as The Additional Investigations of Sherlock Holmes deserve a second reading if you’ve enjoyed them in their previous incarnations. They most definitely deserve a first reading if you are new to Arthur Hall’s incarnation of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson.

I received a free copy of this book from www.reedsy.com/discovery in exchange for an honest review.

The Additional Investigations of Sherlock Holmes
By Arthur Hall
Edited by David Marcum
© 2022
MX Publishing

Kernels: Stories by Mary Behan

Kernels: StoriesProse that’s precise and incisive defines Mary Behan’s treatment of the stories in Kernels: Stories. The characters who populate her stories exhibit unique and specific traits and mannerisms. For example, the unnamed narrator of “Dangerous Building” has buried memories of her younger years. She does so because they interfere with the pleasant way in which she wishes to remember aspects of her childhood. Things about the local manor house near where the narrator grew up are more than half forgotten. Memories of that long-ago time are not quite accurate.

In other stories, hopes and dreams are dashed only to have other dreams take their place in some cases. In “Imagined Scenes” Jennifer Fowler dreams of riding the Trans-Siberian Railway on its lengthy trip. For her, “each scene along the way had its own vivid color, smell and sound.” But due to imagined time and work constraints, “the Great Railway Bazaar scenes faded gradually as the years went by.” Jennifer ends up taking a totally different ride that opens up other dreams and vistas. In “All that Glitters is Not Gold,” Ellen drifts from loving Peter to having a friendship with Peter’s wife, Julia.

Location, Location, Location

Location is a character in several of Behan’s stories. In “Buried Treasure” location throws a distinct shadow. The pine woods and rocky ridge near Kate’s property throw a shadowy, slightly sinister chill over the story. Kate hears voices and smells cooking from a bygone era while walking on her property and the local nature preserve. In “Dangerous Building” the reader can visualize the broken-down manor house with its driveway bordered by rhododendrons and beech trees.

I enjoyed all of the stories in Kernels: Stories. These stories shone a light on different lives and circumstances. Behan’s prose provides the right touch to illuminate her characters and their background. Very well done.

I received a copy of this book from readersfavorite.com in exchange for an honest review.

Kernels: Stories
By Mary Behan
© 2021
Laurence Gate Press

Finding Napoleon

Finding NapoleonMargaret Rodenberg’s Finding Napoleon is a lush, slow-burn romance between Napoleon Bonaparte and his lover, Albine de Montholon. Rodenberg’s historical novel examines Napoleon’s life after his defeat at Waterloo through life in exile on St. Helena. Narration alternates among Napoleon, Albine de Montholon, and Rodenberg’s take on the novel Napoleon wrote while in his 20s.

Napoleon shines in a clear, kindly light. Love for his son, sired with Marie Louise, his second wife, and esteem for his mother mark Napoleon as very human. He hides, or tries to, his stomach ailment. Napoleon, the regal emperor in front of his troops and the public, is likeable and flawed behind closed doors. According to Albine, “Before we’d shared a bed, I had thought he would be remote, noble, a romantic painting. Instead, I got warm flesh, a chuckle, a fart between the sheets. Human, yes, but a better species.”

Albine de Montholon, the wife of an aristocrat, deals in treachery and plays both sides—those supporting Napoleon and those against. That is, before she follows him into exile, becomes his mistress, and loves him. “There I was, forty-three years old, on my third husband, countless men in between. Far too late to be enchanted. Not a time to fall in love.”

With hints of treachery, whiffs of lust, Rodenberg draws the reader into her story. She embodies the characters with totally believable human traits. Napoleon realizes his loneliness, even among his followers, hangers-on really, in his last exile. “The Emperor swallowed the burn in his throat. He might lead these people, but not a one of them was his friend.” How prescient. Some of those French hangers-on sold secrets to the British who monitored Napoleon’s exile in St. Helena. “Over the years, he’d grown accustomed to living among traitors.” But in this fictional narrative, Napoleon had devout friends in an American gardener and an African slave boy.

My one dislike is that the pace is slow and delves too much into minutiae. But ultimately, this is historical fiction at its best. Rodenberg’s prose brings Napoleon to life as well as those hangers-on that lived with him in his St. Helena exile.

I received a copy of this book from www.readersfavorite.com in exchange for an honest review.

Finding Napoleon
by Margaret Rodenberg
© 2021
She Writes Press

Gunslinger

Gunslinger by Jeff Ridenour

Gunslinger by Jeff Ridenour sizzles. One murdered bookstore owner, two disgruntled employees, and rumors of more extramarital affairs than you can shake a cactus at. Petra Barcotti, owner, with her husband, Antonio (Tony), of It’s A Mystery! Bookstore in Scottsdale, AZ, is murdered. Was it because she refused to take Preston Silvernale, an employee, on as a partner in the bookstore? Or was it because of the affairs in which she engaged? Did a jilted lover see red enough to bludgeon and shoot Petra? Or was it someone or something else? Suspects abound, including two detectives with the Scottsdale Police Department. Also among the suspects is Petra’s husband, Tony, who makes plans to marry Vera Crenshaw, Petra’s sister, before Petra is barely cold in her grave.

Ridenour sets the right pace with his easy, spare prose. His characters are believable, especially Stu Fletcher, the private investigator brought into the current case by a local detective. Fletcher sums up the suspects and other locals he meets with considerable insight. He catches the murderer through the process of elimination and ingenuity. He also catches the eye of a few of the local women. That makes his stay in Scottsdale more enjoyable. This is the fourth installment in Jeff Ridenour’s Stu Fletcher series. But it’s the first one I’ve encountered. I enjoyed Gunslinger enough to find and read the first three books in this appealing saga.

I received a free copy of Gunslinger from www.readersfavorite.com in exchange for an honest review.

Sirgrus Blackmane Demihuman Gumshoe

Sirgrus Blackmane Demihuman Gumshoe & The Dark-ElfLooking for a well-written mystery mixed with some fantasy? Then Sirgrus Blackmane Demihuman Gumshoe & The Dark-Elf by William Schlichter is a must read. Sirgrus Blackmane, dwarf, war veteran, and detective, seeks the murderer of Craig Mason. Although Mason is human, Blackmane and Mason fought the orcs together in the world war and subsequently open a detective agency as partners. After Mason’s death, Blackmane investigates a case concerning Doris, a dancer whose death may have been suicide, or murder. Was this death linked to Mason’s death?

Blackmane has a slightly twisted sense of humor. When interacting with a rock giant at The Dark-Elf (a bar), Blackmane thinks, “They’re immune to magic-edge weapons, and I left my howitzer in my other coat.” Blackmane is also an unreliable narrator. He says, “I don’t speak about the war.” But illusions to the Great War are forever creeping into his narration of the story. In fact, it inhabits a lot of the story. Blackmane also declares he hates magic. But magic, in the form of FBI Agent Edgeangel, a mage, helps him solve his cases.

Great Mix of Real and Fantasy Worlds

Schlichter does well at mixing the real world with his created fantasy world. America is a land of humans and demihumans and other creatures. Dwarves, mages, fauns, trolls and other creatures inhabit this world with humans. Although no specific time frame is mentioned, there’s been a world war and Prohibition is still in full effect. Segregation rules, with races confined to different sections of the city where Blackmane resides. Interactions between the demihuman, magical creatures and humans are natural and convincing. Even down to stereotypical attitudes so similar to the ones in our current culture. Schlichter’s solid prose and good characterization kept the plot moving and my interest level high. I look forward to reading more about Sirgrus Blackmane, demihuman gumshoe, in the future.

I received a free copy of Sirgrus Blackmane Demihuman Gumshoe & The Dark-Elf from www.readersfavorite.com in exchange for an honest review.

Sirgrus Blackmane Demihuman Gumshoe & The Dark-Elf
by William Schlichter
©2021
BHC Press

 

 

Sherlock Holmes and the Eye of Heka

Sherlock Holmes and the Eye of HekaDavid Marcum’s prose in Sherlock Holmes and the Eye of Heka recollects the spare but effective prose of Arthur Conan Doyle. Lovers of the original canon are in for a real treat.

Dr. Watson inhabits a larger share of this adventure than in Doyle’s canon and in some modern pastiches. Watson’s marriage to a woman named Constance in this adventure precedes his marriage to Mary Marston. Watson’s marriage to Marston is indicated as Watson’s first marriage in Doyle’s writings about Holmes. Plus, new information is revealed about Watson’s interest in, and relationship with, women. Watson exhibits a range of emotions throughout this adventure, including irritation towards a woman who flirts with him shortly after the death of Constance.

In this exploit, Holmes and Watson team up with men they once thought were adversaries. The goal: to find a foot-tall statue depicting Heka, a minor African deity. This adventure involves some old friends from the ACD canon. Namely, Inspectors Gregson and Lestrade, who team up to help. The Baker Street Irregulars, Holmes’ loosely knit group of street urchins, help out in the background.

Holmes visits the various homes of the main suspects in pursuit of clues. He also requests help from several confederates and sits back like a skilled spymaster in the middle of the web he’s spun. Eventually, Holmes’ trap ensnares the guilty. But not before death comes to some of Holmes’ compatriots.

I very much enjoyed Sherlock Holmes and the Eye of Heka penned by David Marcum. Most notable is the treatment of Watson as a well-rounded character. Marcum’s other numerous writings about Holmes and Watson now inhabit a permanent place on my to-be-read list.

I received a free copy of this book from www.reedsy.com/discovery in exchange for an honest review.

Cosmic Killings

Cosmic KillingsThomas J. Thorson’s The Cosmic Killings delivers. Thorson rewards the reader with relatable characters, snappy prose and a succinct plot. Also, ironic humor appears frequently enough to keep readers chuckling.

Humor sneaks in when a volunteer at the zoo calls the police “incompetent boobs.” Late in the story, the English Department Head at the university where Mal teaches, disparages Mal’s teaching methods. I erupted into outright laughter when Mal says the following to confuse and dismiss him:

“Stuart, no need to be alarmed. I’m sure you’re keenly aware that when it comes to the problematization paradigm of students’ dialectic approach to disputatious engagements, where iatrogenic paths are often the result of idiopathic homogeneity, professorial divagation toward the inapposite, here in the form of a demiurge, can lead to originative solutions. Don’t you agree?”

Even Mal agrees to himself that this is “pure babble.”

Relevant information about Amish culture and Raelism slow the plot a bit. However, things speed up as Vinn Achison and Malcom Winters’ investigation heats up.

Vinn and Malcom (Mal) help bring down a killer who murders two young people. But they feel that the case isn’t finished. The police officer who oversees the official, but closed, investigation, agrees. So, with the officer’s blessing, Vin and Mal continue their probing and research. And feel like they’re traveling “a path of uncertainty in a crusade without end.”

Great Characterization

Vin and Mal’s deepening relationship rings true. They enjoy everything from cooking for each other to trying to outsmart each other in their investigations. Leo and Ted/Rebecca, Mal’s tenants, make appearances. As usual, they help in the current murder investigation.

Thorson’s new book delves a bit too much into lesser-known religions (Amish, a traditionalist Christian group, and Raelism, a UFO religion founded in the 1970s). But it still charmed and satisfied me.

See my reviews of Thorson’s previous books, Heirs Apparent and Connubial Corpse, here and here.

I received a free copy of this book, but gave an honest opinion.

The Cosmic Killings
Thomas J. Thorson
© 2021

Sherlock Holmes’ Cat

Sherlock Holmes' CatPatricia Srigley has imbued the narrator of The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Cat with ironic humor. This imparts a lively outlook to what amounts to a collection of linked stories. Cat Watson, as the small black cat gets dubbed, shares the narration with Sherlock. So, certain aspects of the stories are discussed from both viewpoints.

Sherlock and Cat Watson go from adventure to adventure. Dr. John Watson is not much involved with these adventures. He’s newly married and taken a rambunctious dog as a pet.

Although the stories/chapters, “The Mystery of the Missing and Presumed Stolen Bicycle” and “The Case of the Wacky Widow,” for example, are not up to par with the Arthur Conan Doyle canon, all are entertaining. However, some of Sherlock’s actions are uncharacteristic for Doyle’s detective. For example, in “Doctor Watson’s Second Case,” “Sherlock rolled his eyes extravagantly.” Needless to say, this mannerism would be abnormal for Holmes. It is well known that Holmes does not particularly like women. But he is especially haughty and standoffish with Mary Watson. Same with Srigley’s portrayal of Mrs. Hudson, who inquires, “Yes, Sherlock dearest?” in the same chapter. She also makes unnecessary nonsense talk to Holmes’ cats (he ends up with two). Plus, Dr. Watson is satirized as a fool, always coming to Holmes with minor, inconsequential problems. And looking bedraggled with a thin, but large, droopy mustache.

These stories are for those who enjoy lighthearted humor and also Sherlock Holmes.

(For another mystery with a black cat as narrator, see my review of Clea Simon’s The Ninth Life.)

I received a free copy of The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Cat. I gave an honest opinion of this book.

 

Wrecking Storm – Civil War

Wrecking StormMichael Ward has done it, again, with his second Thomas Tallant adventure. The Wrecking Storm takes us back to mid-17th century England. This was a period of political unrest, disagreements about religious freedom between Puritans and Catholics, and civil war.

The Wrecking Storm continues the focus on the Tallant family begun in The Rags of Time. The Tallants are well-to-do merchants in the spice trade. The family is slowly drawn into the unrest incited in part by the Puritans engulfs the Tallants. A confrontation with an angry mob occurs at their business’s warehouse. And their home on the outskirts of London is attacked and a friend’s son is killed. Tensions throughout London and the country tighten. All events destined to lead to “the wrecking storm…a vicious, painful civil war, with no escape.”

Puritans sought to cleanse the Church of England of any remaining Roman Catholic practices. Later, the group played a significant role in the Protectorate under Oliver Cromwell. Ward does an excellent job of portraying the tensions of this period as the Tallants have both Protestant and Catholic friends. The research he did into this particular time period is evident and informs, but does not overwhelm, the story.

Again, as with The Rags of Time, Ward’s pacing of the novel is quick but steady. His characters are attractive and engagingly differentiated. Especially the relationships Thomas has with his father, Elizabeth Seymour, and Barty.

This book, like The Rags of Time, is a must-read if you like historical fiction with a bit of mystery thrown in.

For my review of The Rags of Time, Ward’s first Thomas Tallent adventure, visit here.

I received a free copy of this book. I gave an honest opinion of this book.