The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Title: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Pages: 317
Recommended Ages: 12 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★★

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

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All hail, Holmes!

The Stories.

A Scandal in Bohemia. The King of Bohemia has come to Holmes in great distress. Unless Holmes is able to recover a compromising portrait from one, Irene Adler, not only will the King’s marriage be jeopardized, but all of Europe will suffer from the repercussions. Will Mr. Holmes take the case?

The Red-Headed League. Mr. Jabez Wilson is in some distress. He was accepted into the League of Red-Headed men and appointed a job in the club – with a tidy remuneration – only to receive word this morning that the club has been dissolved without a trace. What is this league all about, anyway?

A Case of Identity. Miss Mary Sutherland is entirely confused. Against her domineering step-father’s will she has become engaged to marry a Mr. Hosmer Angel. But on the morning on which they were to be married, Mr. Angel disappeared and has not been seen since. Where can he have got to?

The Boscombe Valley Mystery. A man, Charles McCarthy, has been found lying in a pool of his own blood. The obvious suspect – indeed the man the police have arrested – is McCarthy’s own son, James, who was engaged in a savage argument just minutes before McCarthy was killed. But Miss Turner, who has known James since he was a boy, is convinced that he could never commit murder. So Holmes is called in to sift the clues, to weigh the facts, to name the murderer…

The Five Orange Pips. John Openshaw is scared. Scared out of his wits. And the horror of it is, he doesn’t know exactly what he scared of. All he knows is that it exacts death – mysterious death – of its victims. See, his uncle died shortly after receiving an envelope containing five orange pips. The experience was repeated with his father. And now, he has received five orange pips of his own…

The Man With the Twisted Lip. Several days ago, Neville St Clair disappeared. His wife is frantic to find him and is certain that she saw him in the upper story of a shady business. But when she entered there, fully expecting to see him and demand an explanation from him, he wasn’t there. Instead, an old, decrepit beggar greeted her. Has St Clair been murdered? Or is he still alive?

The Blue Carbuncle. ‘Tis Christmas – the season of happiness and goodwill. But it’s also the season of mystery and robbery. For a shabby hat and goose have thrust upon Mr. Holmes – complimentary of a squirmish in which the owner of both took to his heels – and a priceless blue carbuncle has been stole from the Hotel Cosmopolitan. Will Holmes be able to draw any connection between the two?

The Speckled Band. Two years ago, Julia Stoner stumbled out of her bedroom and collapsed upon the floor writhing in pain. The only words she managed to utter before dying were these – “the speckled band!” All of her doors and windows had been locked from the inside at the time that she was seized, and the only clue to her mysterious death was her previous mention her hearing whistles in the night. Imagine then, her twin sister, Helen’s, horror when, after being moved to Julia’s now vacant room so that repairs may be done in her own room, she hears whistles in the night. What does it mean, Mr. Holmes?

The Engineer’s Thumb. It is not often that Watson is able to bring an interesting case to Holmes’ attention. But in this instance, the case is not only interesting, it is unforgettable! It involves a mysterious mansion, a gang of very clever forgers, and an engineer with a missing thumb…

The Noble Bachelor. Holmes never bothers to read the society papers. But this case comes straight out of society gossip. It seems that Lord Robert St. Simon has been deserted – jilted – by his wife just hours after their wedding ceremony was completed. She has completely disappeared! Can Mr. Holmes track her down?

The Beryl Coronet. Mr. Alexander Holder of the banking firm, Holder & Stevenson, is distraught. He was entrusted by an illustrious client with the invaluable beryl coronet as security for a loan. But several of the gems have been stolen from the coronet while in Mr. Holder’s possession – and the only suspect is his own son!

The Copper Beeches. A young lady, Miss Violet Hunter, wants to consult Mr. Holmes on a very important matter. She wants to know if she should accept a position as governess at the Copper Beeches. Although Holmes is initially disdainful – considering such a problem to be below him – he changes his mind when he hears what is troubling her. It seems that amongst her employer’s requirements are that she would cut her beautiful hair quite short and occasionally wear a dress of electric blue. Holmes foresees danger in Miss Hunter’s future!

Discussion.

I love Holmes. I love his world. I love his art. I love his cold calculation, his indefatigable spirit, and his mysterious languid spells. I love his sometimes snobbish but ever companionable relationship with Watson. And, of course, I love 221b Baker Street.

It was so good getting back into the Holmes canon. I’ve watched so many adaptions of his character in the past few years that I’d somehow lost sight of the real Holmes. Because every adaption only presents a facet of the true Holmes – the full complexity of his character somehow eludes the screen.

This particular collection of short stories – one of five – is, I think, the happiest of them all. It occurs before Conan Doyle kills Holmes, and presumably while he still likes him. Holmes isn’t quite as light-hearted as he was in A Study in Scarlet, but neither is he so brooding as in the later stories (His Last Bow, The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes). And the stories themselves are fine.

I don’t mean fine as in ‘okay’. I mean fine as one means ‘fine china’. These stories are finely crafted and populated with believable characters. One thing that I love about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes canon is that it proves that a mystery need not be based around a murder to be intensely fascinating. Of the twelve mysteries contained in The Adventures, only three deal directly with murder.

In fact, the whole book is remarkably clean. Really the only story of the lot which parents need be concerned with is the first, which concerns the indiscretions of a king. But even here, the word mistress is used only once – the relationship is referred to as an ‘entanglement’, not an affair. It is, considering the topic itself, clean.

Various forms of God’s name are used a total of eighteen times, most in serious situations which could be considered forms of prayer.

Conclusion. Excellent! Buy it – read it.

Unsolved! II: More Famous Real-Life Mysteries

Title: Unsolved II
Author: George Sullivan
Pages: 119
Recommended Ages: 10 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

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I find mysteries absolutely fascinating. So, when I found this book of unsolved real-life mysteries, I was more than intrigued.

The Cases.

Murder at Random. On September 29, 1982, a man named Adam Janus took the prescribed dose of Tylenol to relieve chest pain. He died before the doctors could determine the cause of his illness. Later that same morning, Mary Keller felt a cold coming on and took the proper dose of Tylenol to ward off the symptoms. Minutes later she was taken seriously ill and she too died before the day was out. There was a rash of similarly mysterious and unconnected deaths. Unconnected, that is, until someone noticed that each of the cases involved Tylenol… Could someone have slipped poison into the capsules?

The Brief Life of a Superhero. Bruce Lee, the King of Kung Fu, was beloved by millions when he unexpectedly died on the set of his latest film. A few doctors thought that they had explanations – all contradictory – but each explanation left questions unanswered. Why did Bruce Lee really die?

The Hindenburg Disaster. It was a glorious moment. The Hindenburg, the biggest airship ever built, was preparing to land in Lakehurst, New Jersey. Its passengers were waving from the windows, the press was gathered in force to observe the landing of the giant aircraft. And then, the unthinkable happened. While still hovering in the air, the craft burst into flames! How was this fire started?

Movie Star Mystery. Natalie Wood was not an unhappy woman. And she had no enemies – at least none who would’ve had the opportunity to push her off of her husband’s yacht and leave her to drown. But that’s exactly how she was found – floating in the water, dead. Was it an accident? Murder? Suicide? No one knows.

A President’s Mysterious Death. President Warren G. Harding, the first president to be elected after the completion of World War I, found himself in an administration that was being engulfed by corruption and scandal. Rumor had it that he, Warren Harding, was involved in the dishonorable intrigues. Two years into his presidency, Harding was taken violently ill and died. The official report was that he had died from food poisoning, but his wife, a power-seeking woman, refused to allow an autopsy on his body. Many still believe that she poisoned her husband to avert guilt being placed upon him.

Vanished! Helen Brach was a wealthy woman. One day she traveled from a hotel in Minnesota to her home in Glenview, Illinois. Her caretaker, Jack Matlick, reports that he picked Mrs. Brach up at the airport in Chicago and brought her to her home. She remained there for four days before catching a flight to Florida. He is the last person to claim to have seen Mrs. Brach – no one else saw her during the time that he claims she was at home. After her disappearance, the police investigation discovered that Mrs. Brach had written several large checks out to Matlick; but when examined, the signatures proved to be forgeries. Was Matlick responsible for Mrs. Brach’s disappearance?

Death of a Big Shot. Sam Giancana ruled the Mafia in Chicago before being imprisoned in 1965. When he was released in 1966, he found that his power was gone – he had been replaced on the syndicate – no one was afraid of him now. But when the government offered Giancana immunity in exchange for revealing all he knew, the gangsters began to get uncomfortable. The only solution was to get rid of Giancana…

“Remember the Maine!In 1898, the American battleship, Maine, exploded in the harbor of Havana, Cuba. While the cause of the explosion was unclear, it was clear enough to send America into a war with Spain. But experts still wonder – was the explosion of the Maine accidental or purposeful?

Who Killed Karyn Kupcinet? Karyn Kupcinet was an actress; sweet, happy, and definitely not of a suicidal bent. But when she was discovered, dead, in her apartment, there were no signs of a struggle. Therefore, either it was suicide, or her murderer was someone she knew…

Discussion.

As a lover of mysteries, I knew I was going to love this book. And did I? Yes and no. I love the idea of real-life mysteries – real people, real actions – instead of entirely fictional ones. However, in this case, they were unsolved. Yes, that was obvious from the title. No, I didn’t fully realize what that would mean.

For some people, the lack of resolution would fire their imagination, which would thence race at once to seventeen different possible conclusions. (I’m looking at you, Sherlock.) But for me, it just left me feeling a bit unfulfilled. There’s no possible way I can solve the mysteries – experts have tried and failed, I’d have to wade through pages and pages of evidence, conjectures, reports, et cetera, and in the end, I don’t think I’d be smart enough to come up with a theory to fit the facts. However, children love this pursuit of the unknown.

Of the nine mysteries, only two really captured my attention – Murder at Random and Vanished! I would love to do more reading about these two cases.

Cautions.

In the Bruce Lee case, a film is described in which “a murdered rock star, through supernatural power, takes the form of a bird to avenge his girlfriend’s death and his own.” [pg. 25]

In Vanished, it is mentioned that Helen Brach was interested in “automatic writing” – communication with the spirit world.

In Movie Star Mystery, it is mentioned that Natalie dated several famous men and was divorced.

The words ‘hell’ and ‘God’ are each used once. These are in quotations from the actual cases, not inserted by Mr. Sullivan.

Conclusion. Interesting – conspiracy / mystery oriented children will enjoy it.

Great Detective Stories

Title: Great Detective Stories
Author: Various
Pages: 124
Recommended Ages: 12 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

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Mysteries! Yay!

The Stories.

The Boscombe Valley Mystery – Arthur Conan Doyle. A man, one Charles McCarthy, has been found murdered at Boscombe Pool. All of the circumstantial evidence points towards his son, James McCarthy, which whom he had a violent quarrel just minutes before being murdered. But the son denies the charge. Can Sherlock Holmes ferret out the truth with his deductive powers?

Mr. Bovey’s Unexpected Will – L. T. Meade and Robert Eustace. Mr. Bovey has left a singular will. It seems that there are three claimants to his estate – Mr. Wimbourne, Mr. Graham, and Mr. Tyndall – and the will states that whichever amongst these three men’s body weight is nearest to the weight of Mr. Bovey’s fortune shall inherit the lot. It’s a queer proceeding, but Miss Florence Cusack, the most acute lady detective in the whole of London, is there to see that proceedings are fair!

A Bracelet at Bruges – Arnold Bennett. Kitty Sartorius’ beautiful little gold and diamond bracelet has been lost – accidentally dropped into the river by Madame Lawrence, Kitty’s friend and a maker of Belguan lace. Kitty immediately calls the police and they agree to drag the river first thing in the morning. But after a thorough search, no bracelet appears. Where could it possibly be?

Who Stole the Black Diamonds? – Baroness Orczy. The magnificent Black Diamonds have been stolen from their owners – stolen out of a house which was swarming with dinner guests at the only time that they could possibly have been stolen. So who stole them? And how was the theft accomplished so that no one saw the thief?

The Blue Sequin – R. Austin Freeman. Edith Grant is dead. She was violently struck on board a train while traveling from London to Worthing. The only person who had opportunity – or motive – to kill her is Harold Stopford, an artist, who disembarked from the train only minutes before Miss Grant was found dead. But Harold’s brother, Edward, is determined that Harold is not guilty, so he calls in Mr. Thorndyke to see if he can free Harold from these ghastly accusations…

Discussion.

Great Detective Stories was a remarkably clean book. Out of the five stories, only two of them concerned a murder, and these were non-violent.

Obviously, I knew the outcome of The Boscombe Valley Mystery, but I enjoyed refreshing myself as to the details of the case. Also, I was delighted to find this little nugget.

“We have got to the deductions and the inferences,” said Lestrade, winking at me. “I find it hard enough to tackle facts, Holmes, without flying away after theories and fancies.”

“You are right,” said Holmes demurely; “you do find it very hard to tackle the facts.” [pg. 21]

I had read Who Stole the Black Diamonds? from Baroness Orczy’s collection of short stories The Old Man in the Corner. However, it has been such a time since I read it, that I didn’t remember the outcome, although I remembered it being extraordinary.

The Blue Sequin seemed very familiar to me as I read it, and, looking back on my archives, I find that I did read it in June of 2011. It was probably my least favorite of the lot – I felt a little cheated by its conclusion – but I enjoyed Dr. Thorndyke’s shenanigans.

Mr. Bovey’s Unexpected Will and A Bracelet at Bruges were new to me. I enjoyed them, even though they had more levity and felt more light-hearted than Holmes’ and Thorndyke’s cases.

Cautions.

In A Bracelet at Bruges, characters consult a planchette to determine if the bracelet will be recovered. Its response was accurate.

‘Good God’, ‘Lord’ and ‘heavens’ are each used once.

Conclusion. Exciting, clean stories, Great Detective Stories reacquainted me with old friends and introduced me to new ones.

Five-Minute Mini-Mysteries

Title: Five-Minute Mini-Mysteries
Author: Stan Smith
Pages: 96
Reading Level: 10 & up
Star Rating: ★★★

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

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I’d never heard of either Stan Smith or his fictional detective Thomas P. Stanwick before picking up Five-Minute Mini-Mysteries from a Goodwill a couple of months ago. But I’m always willing to try new detectives…

The Story.

The stories, really. There were twenty-five separate mysteries, covering such puzzlers as arson, robbery, murder, forged wills, smuggling, and logic problems. Only nine of the twenty-five mysteries actually dealt with murder and these were done very mildly. Below is one of the mysteries that I enjoyed the most from this collection.

“So – have you found yourself a minivan yet?” asked Stanwick as he took off his coat and sat down.

“Still shopping,” said Walker from across his desk. “It’s a pain, but my family needs the space. Not like you singles.”

It was a Tuesday morning in winter, and Stanwick had dropped by the inspector’s office at police headquarters.

“A surprising number of singles get them too,” remarked Stanwick.

“Actually, that’s true,” replied Walker. “I’ve discovered that in one of my current cases. That hit-and-run last Friday night.”

“Oh? Tell me about it.”

“It was about quarter of eleven.” Walker leaned back in his chair. “A pharmacist named Susan Levine, age 27, left the skating rink on Harpwell Avenue and started to cross the street to get to her car in the opposite lot. According to our witness, a dark minivan that had been parked up the street, with its motor running but its lights off, suddenly peeled out and ran her down. Then it turned on its one working headlight and roared off.”

“Who was this witness?” asked Stanwick.

“Fellow named Townley. An electrical engineer in his early sixties. He was walking to the rink to pick up his granddaughter. After the incident, he ducked into a convenience store to tell the clerk to call 911 and then went out to Levine. Nothing could be done.”

“Could he describe the van?”

“Not in any detail, but he swears he got the license number: N68SXH. A genuine in-state plate, too, he says: the background color and glint were right. A streetlight was in just the right position. Trouble is, the Department of Motor Vehicles has no such number in its database.”

Stanwick fingered the tip of his mustache. “Did the convenience store clerk see or hear anything?”

“Blind and deaf. At least where trouble was concerned. He did make the call, though. We found broken glass by the victim, apparently from one of the van headlights. We also found tire marks where the van peeled out from the sidewalk, but no brake marks.”

“So it looks like deliberate murder.”

“Exactly.”

Stanwick shifted in his wooden chair. “Levine and the driver probably knew each other, then,” he said.

“That’s our working theory,” said Walker. “And that’s where the point about singles having minivans comes in. We checked the address book in Levine’s apartment and found two people listed, both single, who happen to own dark blue vans that had body work done on them this past weekend.”

“Really! That’s remarkable. Quite a coincidence even if there had been no crime. Who are they?”

“One is Judy Magee, a research chemist and a college friend of Levine’s. Works at Genotrom. Says she was watching TV in her apartment Friday evening. She tells us she has a minivan because she likes taking her sister’s kids to events on Sundays when she can. According to her, she dented the van in a parking lot recently. Hatch talked to the sister, who says Magee hasn’t taken the kids anywhere for three or four weeks.”

“Maybe it’s her busy season,” said Stanwick.

“If chemists have them.” Walker continued. “The other repaired van belongs to Michael Caponette, an assistant at an advertising agency. He claims to know Levine from high school, though we haven’t confirmed that yet. Says he was seeing a movie alone at the Cineplex on Friday evening. His minivan, which he bought cheap from a cousin, slid on some ice last week and banged a post, he says.”

“I suppose you have the good Sergeant Hatch out checking with the body shops,” said Stanwick.

“And on a few other leads,” Walker replied. “We have our eye on the pharmacy where Levine worked. It may be involved in a prescription drug ring.”

Stanwick suddenly leaned forward, wrote on a pad of paper on Walker’s desk, tore off the sheet, and handed it across.

“By any chance,” he asked, “is this the license plate number of either of Levine’s friends?”

Walker stared at the number and looked up at Stanwick in astonishment.

“Why, yes,” he said. “This is Caponette’s tag. Tom, how did you know that?”

“Just turning things over in my mind.” Stanwick chuckled. “Caponette’s your man.”

How did Stanwick know the killer’s real license plate number?

You’ll have to guess, too. Can you figure out the killer’s real license plate number? [If anyone comments and begs for the solution, I’ll *think* about posting it.] : )

Cautions.

One of the mysteries is a question of whether or not a woman’s son has won a scholarship. She says,

“If so, he probably won’t tell me,” sighed Amanda. She was divorced, and her son was in high school. “He keeps everything to himself these days.”

“That goes with his age,” Stanwick reassured her. “It’s not you.” [pgs. 59-60]

Since when is reasonable for a son to not communicate with his mother?

One of the murders is proven to have been committed by the victim’s daughter.

Three of the illustrations depict the murdered victims. They aren’t violent pictures, but it’s obvious that they’re dead.

‘My Lordie’ is used once.

Conclusion. Five-Minute Mini-Mysteries isn’t high class literature, but it’s very fun and fairly innocent. Purchase your copy here.