The Continued Relevance of Sherlock Holmes in Modern Crime Fiction

sherlock and watson

Recently, following the release of Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, (read my review of the film HERE), I’ve been on a bit of a Golden Age binge. Alongside my usual re-read of some of the best Christie novels (not Murder on the Orient Express, because it’s not a great novel with a really crappy ending), as well as some more modern novels which either mimic or eco the era.

These include Guy Fraser-Sampson’s enticing novel A Death in the Night, (my review can be found HERE) and a number of Kerry Greenwood’s brilliant Phryne Fisher mysteries (my top five can be found HERE). It was whilst reading Greenwood’s most recent Miss Fisher novel Murder and Mendelssohn that I realised the influence that Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s eccentric detective.

In Murder and Mendelssohn, Greenwood depicts two characters who are obviously based on Sherlock and Watson; Rupert Sheffield, an enigmatic mathematician lecturing about the science of deduction, and his travelling companion, Dr John Wilson, a former army Doctor who was invalided during the war. Sound familiar?

I thought the similarities only coincidental until I read the following passage, in which Dr Wilson tells Phyne’s family about how he came to be Sheffield’s roommate and travelling companion:

‘I was slowly dying of boredom. And grief. My friend said he knew I was looking for an apartment to share and this Rupert Sheffield, a mathematician, was looking for a roommate. They were very nice rooms, we have a housekeeper, and he warned me that he played the piano all night long, and didn’t speak for days on end, and writes equations on the wall, and I didn’t mind those things, because I was moody and still so sad, and angry, because Arthur had left me after only a few years.’ Murder and Mendelssohn page 191.

It was then that I realised just how far Holmes has infiltrated into modern Crime Fiction. Later in the novel, Greenwood depicts a sex scene between Wilson and Sheffield that must have been incredibly fun to write, and is so utterly bizarre that I can’t decide if it’s genius or a contender for the Bad Sex Awards.

In the micro-essay at the back of the novel, Sherlock Holmes and me (a love/hate relationship), Greenwood discusses the fact that she believes that the deductive powers Holmes posses are akin to women’s intuition, and that the idea of Holmes and Watson’s homosexual relationship stemmed from her reading of other books which touched on the subject, as well as some of the inferences made in the stories, such as in The Adventure of the Three Garridebs, in which Watson gets shot during the investigation and Holmes becomes distraught at the prospect of harm coming to his dear friend.

Kerry Greenwood is not alone in her desire to bring Holmes and Watson into modern literature and cinema. Not only are many authors and filmmakers still reinventing the character today, but also he is often integrated, in some way, into detective novels. The character remains a key influence in detective fiction, despite the fact that he was created in the Victorian era, and therefore could be considered out of date.

The character of Sherlock Holmes is based on C. Auguste Dupin, Edgar Allan Poe’s detective who appears in three short stories. Despite this, Dupin is not the popular figure in pop-culture that Conan Doyle’s character has become.

This got me thinking about why Holmes and Watson remain such popular influences whilst Dupin is often forgotten. Granted, Dupin is the inspiration for Holmes, but Poe’s stories are not referenced so obviously in modern fiction as Doyle’s are. Partially, this could be put down to the number of Sherlock Holmes stories Doyle wrote, which far outstrips Poe’s three Dupin novellas, but there is also more to it than that.

Fundamentally, it is my belief that Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson embody key characteristics that everyone sees in themselves, and have, thanks to these characteristics, achieved the excitement and adventure that many readers crave. After all, Holmes is a bizarre, often unconventional detective, whilst his companion is a reliable Dr who is as baffled by his friend’s brilliance as Doyle’s readers.

Also, the pair make for the perfect template on which many writers can base their detectives. Duos often consist of one bumbling action man and one awkward eccentric; think of Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings, Bulldog Drummond and James Denny, and, in television, the likes of Jonathan Creek and his various female companions. This is because each member of the pair offers skills that the other lacks, with the more reliable companion usually relaying the narrative and translating the detective’s actions for both the reader through the guise of doing so for other characters.

Ultimately, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson remain entrenched as cult figures in the Crime Fiction space, and as the media continues to remember and reinvent them they will continue to grow and evolve as characters. Although I always lament the loss of fresh ideas to reinvention (Hollywood and the constant remakes), it is always interesting to see new interpretations of classic characters.

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Santa’s Little Secret: How to Make Sure Every Book Lover Gets the Gift They Adore This Year

Secret Santa

Secret Santa is always a bit of a minefield- there’s always one person who’s impossible to buy for, and there’s the risk that you’ll just get some piece of tat that you don’t want. This is particularly true of those secret santas that have small budgets, as unless the person really knows you well then you tend to just get edibles or pens.

As such, when I was running the University of Chester’s Literature Society, I invented a really cool way to make sure that everyone gets something they want. I thought I’d share it with you so if you’re all out of inspiration then you can set this up and have a bit of fun!

The idea is that everyone writes their name, alongside the titles of three books that they’d like to receive on a slip of paper. The books should’t be anything new off the bestseller list: usually people pick classics that they’ve never had the chance to read but have always wanted to.

Then the papers all go into a container, all scrunched up, and everyone picks another person’s paper. They then pick one book from the list and buy it for the other person, so the gift is both a surprise and a joy. If the limit is higher then you can get a pretty edition bound in fancy fabric or with cool illustrations, if not then you can grab a second hand copy from a bookshop or Amazon. Either way, everyone’s a winner.

Happy Reading this Christmas!

Book Adaptations: Should you Read First and Watch Later?

the men who stare at goats

Recently some friends and I got into a discussion about The Men Who Stare at Goats, a truly hideous film based on an equally hideous book. The book is a depiction of some of the U.S Army’s exploration of the military benefits of holistic techniques, such as the idea that staring at goats could kill them. The film, of the same name, is a fictionalised portrayal of the goat staring project and the sheer absurdity of it.

Much like A Short History of Tractors in Ukraine or Purple Hibiscus, readers expect there to be more to the title of books than first meets the eye; however, with The Men Who Stare at Goats, there is simply a lot of staring at goats, interceded with weird anecdotes about other, equally strange projects that America’s military and secret services have untaken over the years.

When I informed my friends that I have in fact read the book prior to watching the film, they were aghast. Surely, if I knew how dull the subject matter and how dire the execution was already, I was incredibly stupid to waste my time watching the film?

This got me thinking about whether it was better to read the book or watch the film first. As my recent review will testify, I was hugely looking forward to Kenneth Branagh’s recent film adaptation of Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, despite having read the book, therefore already knowing whodunit, which is effectively the point of a crime story.

Despite this, I felt that this does not dampen my enjoyment of the film. Knowing the plot did not change the experience, perhaps because they are different mediums. After all, apart from watching the David Suchet version, I had only ever encountered the story in book form, and even different film adaptations use different cinematic techniques to bring a story to life.

That being said, I do find it difficult to read a book after I have seen it adapted for either film or TV. I find that my imagination automatically strays towards the film’s version of the setting and characters, and I often struggle to accept even minor alterations in plot or characterisation.

As such, personally I believe that books should always be read first, to allow the reader to adjust to the style and characters before they are exposed to the filmmaker’s view of the story. Film and TV are both very visual, whereas with books one tends to visualise depending on how their imagination decodes the words on the pages. I would be interested to hear other people’s opinions on this, and whether you think you should read first, or if you feel that it doesn’t make much of a difference.

 

Books Are My Bag Competition

bamb

Hey! Following on from my post on National Bookshop Day (check it out HERE) I have been told about a fabulous competition being run by the organisers, Books are my Bag.

To celebrate selling 1 million Books Are My Bag tote bags, they are offering book lovers the prize bundle of a lifetime – £250 National Book Tokens, a Golden ticket to the Hay Festival, a picture signed by Quentin Blake, West End tickets… see below for more details. This is the most incredibly gift ever!

To enter, bookshop lovers just need to Tweet #OneInAMillion saying what their favourite bookshop is and why. People will have until 7th November to enter the competition, with the three lucky winners being revealed on 25th November. You can find the Bookseller Association, who run Books Are My Bag and Bookshop Day, on twitter @BAbooksellers

I’ll be tweeting, so get on it and may the best booklover win 🙂

On National Bookshop Day: Do They Still Have a Place in The Digital Age?

bookshop

Happy National Bookshop day! Today marks the day when Books Are My Bag– the campaign to celebrate bookshops- encourages people to celebrate these wonderful shops and the people behind them. Whilst larger stores such as Waterstones, Foyles and WHSmith might dominate the high streets and shopping centres, it is the independent book stores whose star continues to rise despite the pressure from online retailers and industry giants.

It is the simple pleasure of browsing a small book shop, and never knowing what you might find, that is central to the success of independent book shops. In Bridport, Dorset, my hometown, there are numerous brilliant independent book stores all offering something different; whether it be the eclectic, haphazardness that you find in Wild and Homeless Books, or the ingeniously names Book Shop’s exceptional range of new books and brilliant window displays, there is something for everyone.

The attraction of many of the seaside towns in the country comes from their affiliation with literature, such as Lyme Regis’s links to The French Lieutenant’s Woman and, for those of us addicted to Crime Fiction, Dexter’s setting of part of The Way Through the Woods in this stunning costal town. As such, the region is teeming with bookshops brimming with insightful staff, antiquated texts long out of print and shelves bursting with books to suit every taste. If you are ever in Lyme Regis, there is a stunning little bookshop right on the cob (again, imaginatively named ‘The Book Shop’), whose owner is utterly marvellous and boasts a fine collection of books which cannot be bettered.

Charity shops also offer a great selection of second hand books, with the added bonus that when you buy from them you always feel righteous as you realise that the money from the sale will go towards a good cause.

In the Midlands, my current home, independent bookshops are fewer and further between, however there are still some hidden gems to be found throughout the country, and it is a great thrill to find somewhere with a new selection to delve through. As I mentioned in my recent post Print Publishing: The Surprising Contender to Topple the Kindle, there is a real thrill to getting a physical copy of a book, and the same can be said for buying literature. It is one thing to browse online and read the blurbs, quite another to really get stuck into exploring a bookshop, seeing all the glossy covers and being inspired by the stunning cover art and inventive displays.

It is this fascination with seeing books in the flesh (as it were), and the inspiration that a good bookshop can bring, that is the reason why, in my opinion, bookshops will never truly die. Despite the rise of cheap, online book retailers, there will never be anything quite like diving into an unexplored bookshop and the thrill of finding something new.

Kazuo Ishiguro: A Truly Noble Prize Winner

FILE PHOTO: Author Kazuo Ishiguro photographed during an interview with Reuters in New York

Today’s exciting news that Kazuo Ishiguro has won the Nobel Prize for Literature is great news for both the author and the literature market. I was worried that, with the recent surge in popularity of her novel The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood may take the title. Popularity often wins over true literary prowess, but this latest accolade for the Man Booker winner proves that Ishiguro is a real genius.

I first encountered Ishiguro when I read Never Let Me Go, the eery dystopia in which a group of children uncover their singular nature and try to change the course of their appointed fate. A true experience, I was captivated by the raw bleakness of the novel, and how the author provoked numerous discussions through even the most minor of topics. From there, my passion grew, and I became fascinated by the writer’s inventive story lines and passionate exploration of the consequences of all our actions.

Permanent secretary of the Swedish academy which awards the prize, Sara Danius describes his work as a combination of Jane Austen and Franz Kafka, with a little Marcel Proust thrown in; but the truth is, that Ishiguro is in a league of his own. His works are timeless. Although many, such as The Remains of the Day, are set in specific time periods, the emotions they evoke and truths they uncover can be applied to practically anyone.

Alongside being a novelist, Ishiguro is a screenwriter and renowned short story creator, putting his powers of observation and exceptional flare for creating realistic but thought-provoking dialogue into every piece of art he crafts. In researching the writer, I even found out that he has written song lyrics, which surprises me somewhat, although I can imagine that his taut, tense descriptions and inventive characterisation can transfer to lyrics, where swift depiction is a highly prized skill.

A sharp observer of human nature, Ishiguro truly deserves this prize, and hopefully this will inspire even greater feats of literary brilliance in the future. His most recent novel, The Buried Giant, was a fantastical, invigorating exploration of human nature, which deserves to be followed by another masterpiece.

The On-going Relevance of Stephen King’s Books

stephen king

As the latest movie adaptation of IT continues to be a box-office favourite, his last collaboration with his son, Sleeping Beauties hits shelves and the Netflix adaptation of Gerald’s Game also hits screens, I explore the reasons behind King’s enduring success.

His first published work was a short story which was sold in 1967, and since then King has had a number of hits, with many of his novels and stories gaining popularity with readers before being made into successful TV or film adaptations which garner him international attention. The Shawshank Redemption, based on King’s novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption from his 1982 collection Different Seasons, regularly tops lists of the best films of all time.

Despite having won copious awards, gained worldwide acclaim and amassing a fortune from his vast back catalogue, King, who is aged 70, still remains a great public figure and often publishes multiple books each year, and holds numerous promotional tours and appearances to promote them. According to his publicist, he is so incredibly busy that he doesn’t even have time to do an interview for this blog (the horror!).

Additionally, King also maintains a strong social media presence, with many followers enjoying the tales of his Corgi, Molly, AKA The Thing Of Evil, as well as reading about his latest exploits and seeing trailers for the latest adaptations of his books.

It is this ongoing presence, as well as King’s willingness to embrace the changing publishing market (a number of his books have been run as online series), and his honesty and openness about writing, such as his non-fiction works, that has helped him to remain a key, cult figure in the horror and supernatural writing market.

After all, we know all there is to know about King and his life thanks to his ongoing social media sharing and his non-fiction books, such as On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. He is also known to run podcasts and share his thoughts on social media and his official site has a YouTube channel, as well as pages on some of the most popular social network sites including Facebook and Twitter.

stephen king book

His works themselves are ingenious, varied and unique, and they make for great adaptations. Recently his fantasy series The Dark Tower was made into a film, and his murder mystery novel Mr Mercedes, which mirrored hardboiled detective fiction, was adapted into a TV series with Brendon Gleeson as the protagonist. By writing across genres, King has been able to reach readers with a variety of tastes, and the adaptability of these books, and their enduring popularity on screen, has helped him reach those who prefer to watch rather than to read.

The writer has also created an enduring legacy, with many members of his family now writing successfully, including his children and wife. In so-doing King has creating a writing clan comparable to the Kardashian’s in its influence, with himself firmly ensconced as the kingpin (deliberate pun).

At the end of the day, King’s works remain a strong influence throughout the horror/ thriller genres, and his enduring popularity and influence will, thanks to his extensive back catalogue, continue on for many decades to come.