It’s been raining Sherlock Holmes in the Kelly household the past few weeks, but you won’t hear me complaining. With news that filming on the third season of BBC’s Sherlock is wrapping up and a teaser video making the rounds, I’ve been sinking myself into a variety of Holmes-related reading and viewing that I’d like to share with you. I’m going to start with something for the younger crowd, a series of stories that follow a pair of young descendants of the famous London detective.
The Sherlock Files: Cases Unsolved written by Tracy Barrett
It’s hard to put an age-range on this series, but I know that I would have enjoyed reading them as young as age 8 and maybe even up to age 15. (And that’s really a complete un-truth because I’ve actually enjoyed reading them now, decades later.) The first book in the series, The 100-Year-Old Secret, is a 157 page mystery that is perfect for kids even if they’ve never heard of Sherlock Holmes. There’s plenty of action and suspense, and the scares are not over the top for the intended audience. There’s no violence, but plenty of tense moments and lots of red herrings to chase… basically a typical Holmes adventure.
Xena and Xander Holmes have had to relocate to London for a year to accommodate their parent’s jobs. When a man shoves a piece of paper into their hands that begins to disappear, they have to quickly figure out the clue left for them by the Society for the Preservation of Famous Detectives (SPFD). The two curious kids have been trained by their father to observe and deduce, just as their great-great-great-grandfather did with his trusty sidekick, Dr. John Watson.
Once they discover their place in the organization, they are presented with a journal of Sherlock’s unsolved cases. Filled with strange notes and drawings, the young sleuths come up with a plan to fight boredom by trying to solve some of the unsolved cases by taking advantage of tools such as the Internet, GPS, mobile phones, and more. For their first case, they choose to investigate the disappearance of a painting from a famous artist. As with typical mysteries, the investigators must follow the clues left by Holmes as well as find new ones. Along the way they encounter a number of characters with their own agendas and mysteries, some helpful… others not.
As with all Sherlock Holmes mysteries, everything is revealed by book’s end. From page 1 to the end, however, the kids find themselves trapped, chased, confused, and surprised — making for a fun ride for any young reader. The solution to the story is well-done, and I absolutely enjoyed how it unraveled in a logical and believable manner.
I’ve just completed Book 2, The Beast of Blackslope, and once again Xena and Xander find themselves facing a mystery that baffled Sherlock. They find themselves consulting his journal for clues as they race to discover the origin of a strange howling beast that appears to have returned to the Blackslope estate where the Holmes family is vacationing temporarily. There are plenty of strange characters, red herrings, ulterior motives, and unusual clues that take the siblings on a wild ride that once again culminates in a fun solution for readers to try and discover.
Note: I’d like to thank Courtney with Macmillan for providing the review copies of all four books.
Sherlock Holmes: The Stuff of Nightmares written by James Lovegrove
Okay, now one for adults. The Stuff of Nightmares is a traditional Holmes tale that opens with the bombing of Waterloo Station. It’s grizzly stuff, and Dr. Watson has sustained some minor injuries after a train ride into London. That doesn’t stop the doctor from assisting with the injured and making observations that he knows will be of interest to his friend (and now sole tenant) at 221B Baker Street.
There are two stories going on in this tale — the bombings, of course, need to be investigated. The body count is growing and New Scotland Yard has no suspects. But there’s also a shadowy figure who has been making appearances in East London and causing trouble for the criminals in the area. His name is Baron Cauchemar (nightmare in French), and while the police believe him to be myth, Holmes isn’t so certain. He surprises the police when he chooses to focus his work on the Baron and not the bombings, but as any Holmes fan knows… Sherlock’s got his own reasons.
While Baron Cauchemar will remind many readers of a most-obvious modern day comic book hero who strikes terror in the hearts of villains, that’s really where the similarities end. While not quite a steampunk tale, Lovegrove has definitely taken some engineering liberties to give the Baron some amazing tools to fight crime. After a brief encounter with the Baron, Holmes and Watson begin to gather the clues that will lead them to discovering the link between the Baron and the bombings.
There’s plenty here: lots of nods to previous adventures, some new villains, and one really great returning villain. I don’t want to go into too much detail here for fear of ruining a couple of nice surprises for true Holmes fans, but Lovegrove has one particular chapter where Watson addresses some of the inconsistencies in the canon’s dates, events, and details. It’s a well done explanation that I suspect would get Doyle’s nod of approval.
The almost 300 page story kept me on my toes. Just as Watson is often kept in the dark when it comes to Holmes’s thinking, the story manages to offer bits and pieces that gave me just enough to keep me wanting to read another chapter. Early in the book, I had one idea… by mid-book, I was on a different path… and by book’s end, I was smiling because like any good Holmes tale, I was kept guessing for most of The Stuff of Nightmares until all the clues and personal stories began to come together for a very satisfying conclusion.
Note: I’d like to thank Tom with Titan Books for providing the review copy.
Elementary — CBS DVD
I have a strong feeling there are folks out there debating endlessly the existence of the two modern-day variations of Sherlock Holmes. On one side of the fence are the Sherlock fans, those who enjoy the BBC television show with Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as John Watson. On the other are the Elementary fans, those who enjoy the CBS Television show with Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock and Lucy Liu as Joan Watson. I am also certain that are dozens of websites where fans of either show hang out, compare notes, complain, and basically try to convince others that their show is the right one.
Thankfully, I don’t find myself allying with either group. For me, I’ll take as many new Holmes adventures as I can get. The more the merrier. That said, I don’t want junk. I’ve read some horrid Holmes fiction in my day… and I know I’ve seen a few instances of Sherlock on TV and film that probably didn’t help increase the fan base.
So, let me state right now: BBC’s Sherlock? Awesome. Flat out amazing stuff. Fan or not, if you haven’t seen them you’re missing out on some great dialogue and acting. (And one unbelievable second season cliffhanger!) Hunt down the DVDs or grab them online and watch them; you won’t be disappointed.
But I’m here to tell you about CBS TV’s modern day version called Elementary. It’s about to drop on DVD, and I snagged an advanced copy of the DVD set that also contains a large number of behind-the-scenes extras that any fan is going to want to own. And I’m going to open up my discussion by stating how utterly disappointed I am…
… in myself. You see, I’m one of those time-shifting show watchers who dislikes starting a new TV show because I fear getting too involved in a show that may ultimately be cancelled before its first season even expires. I knew of Elementary, but I kept telling myself that I’d catch it in reruns mid-season once I got word that ratings were good and it looked like the season would finish. Well, The New York Times called it the “Best New Show” and it was ranked the #1 new drama for 2012-2013. Dummy me. Not only has the show been well-received, but its second season is starting up at the end of September — perfect timing for me to go on a binge viewing rampage with the new DVD set that releases on August 27. Yes, I watched them all. Twenty-two one-hour episodes plus a two-parter 23rd/24th episode to wrap up Season 1.
What can I say? Yes, when I first heard the show would feature a female Watson, I went “Huh?” And the choice of Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock? I only knew the man as Zero “I don’t play well with others” Cool from Hackers. What was CBS doing?!
I do enjoy surprises, and that’s exactly what I got with Elementary. First off, the casting is perfect. Jonny Lee Miller nails it as Holmes vs. New York. Throughout the first season, Miller carves out his own version of post-heroin-addicted Holmes. The show doesn’t dance around the fact that Doyle’s most famous detective dabbled in drugs, and this version of Holmes was broken. The reasons for his crash aren’t revealed early on, but the event does allow for the introduction of former surgeon Dr. Joan Watson, Sober Companion. She’s been hired by Holmes’s father to make certain that Sherlock stays clean and doesn’t start using again. The conditions of her employment require her to stay close to Sherlock for six weeks, with random drug tests and observation of his behavior at the top of the list. It’s a forced partnership (at first) that completely lends itself to helping the show get its footing by allowing Watson to discover Holmes’s methods, his odd behaviors, and ultimately the work he chooses to do.
You won’t find Lestrade here, but you will find Captain Gregson (played by Aidan Quinn) and Detective Bell (played by Jon Michael Hill) providing Sherlock with plenty of cases to help solve. Unlike Lestrade, however, these detectives have brains and are less resistant to including Holmes in their cases.
The episodes are completely new adventures. These aren’t based on existing canon, so the writers of the show have developed some new mysteries as well as some new characters. That’s not to say the show completely ignores canon — by the end of the first season, a small number of familiar characters will make an appearance (and make true Holmes’s fan smile wide). (Spoilers can be found in the comparison between Sherlock and Elementary at the end of this post if you absolutely must know more.)
There’s some great storytelling here (and a bit of humor, often quite dark). The fish-out-of-water description really doesn’t fit here, but having Holmes in New York definitely opens up some new options for stories that allow the British detective to show off for an American audience. It’s also been enjoyable watching Joan Watson’s character evolve from the sober companion role into a true partner to Holmes… (and the final episode proves that Holmes sees Watson that way.)
Favorite episodes? Too many to list. And I’ve enjoyed the snippets from one episode that don’t come into play until a later episode, often in either funny or dark ways… or both. I also like that the minor characters get their screen time, too… not just showing up to scratch their heads and say “What do you think, Holmes?” And there are a number of questions raised (Holmes’s father, for example) and left over that may still be answered in a later season. The writers of Elementary are definitely fans of Holmes, with lots of little nods to the details from the original stories for fans.
I’ve enjoyed each and every episode of Elementary’s first season, and I’m looking forward to more mysteries and secrets. I definitely won’t be letting Season 2 sneak by me like I did with Season 1!
Note: I’d like to thank Courtney for providing me with the Season 1 Elementary DVD set.
Comparison: Elementary and Sherlock
Interestingly enough, when Elementary was announced, I do recall reading one or two online discussions concerning whether the show would be direct copy of Sherlock. There were questions about whether it was an outright copy of the format (modern-day Sherlock versus Victorian London Sherlock) and whether or not it could even succeed given Sherlock’s head-start on television. I don’t have answers… I’ve enjoyed both shows immensely, and I’m happy to have two different takes on a modern version of Holmes.
That said, now that I’ve watched both shows (Sherlock Season 1 and Season 2 and Elementary Season 1), I thought it might be fun to do a bit of compare-and-constrast — SPOILER ALERT most definitely. In no particular order, here are my short summaries of various elements found in one or both shows:
Sherlock (S): Male buddies, played by Cumberbatch and Freeman. Cumberbatch is British, as is Freeman.
Elementary (E): Male/female partners (no romance, not even hinted), played by Miller and Liu. Miller is British, Liu is American (playing an American).
(S) nods to Doyle stories such as A Study in Scarlet and Hound of Baskervilles, but with updates/modifications to give the mysteries more up-to-date solutions.
(E) completely new stories, no apparent play on existing Doyle stories.
(S) Not including Season 3, only six complete stories so far, each running about 1.5 hours in length
(E) Season 1 has just over 24 hours of storytelling
(S) Lestrade, Moriarty, Irene Adler, Ms. Hudson, Mycroft, Baker Street Irregulars (London homeless), some shared names/events of other singularly occurring characters, (Was the single sniper shown at end of Season 2 Moran?)
(E) Moriarty, Irene Adler, Miss Hudson, Moran, ex-criminals/drug addicts substituting for Baker Street Irregulars on occasion, (no hint of Mycroft… yet), Sherlock’s father (unseen)
(S) John Watson is an ex-Army doctor, back from Afghanistan (nice nod to canon), Sherlock refers to himself as a Consulting Detective
(E) Joan Watson is an ex-surgeon, no military background, Sherlock refers to himself as a Consulting Detective
(S) Sherlock addicted to nicotine, messy, plays violin, extremely cocky and condescending (described self as “high-functioning sociopath”) Watson has physical injury (psychosomatic)
(E) Sherlock addicted to heroin, messy, gave up violin (for a bit), also cocky and condescending, Watson has “emotional injury” (ex-surgeon story hinted at, but not fully resolved — patient died on table, but very little else is known… yet)
(S) Sherlock is most definitely a British television show. The sites, sounds, slang… pure London. Much of each episode starts or ends at 221B Baker Street, but the show does offer up various locations around the city. One episode had them traveling for some hours to a military base (South Wales, possibly?) but remaining episodes are London-based. One fun bit is Sherlock’s putting the infamous VR initials in wall.
(E) New York, New York! A variety of locations scattered around the city, but definitely no 221B. The base of operations is Holmes’s father’s brownstone, where Joan Watson takes up residency in early episodes as the sober companion but later is offered a paid position by Holmes to be his trainee and allowed to stay in the brownstone. No bullet holes in wall, but the upright grates where Holmes hangs his collection of defeated locks is a nice set piece.
Here’s the thing. Both shows stand quite well on their own, and while the concept of a modern day Sherlock certainly originated (of late) with Sherlock, that’s about all a fan of Sherlock could be said to have a reasonable grudge. But why? As with the The Office, fans can exist for both UK and American versions. You can’t have Elementary without the basic elements of the Holmes mythos — Holmes, of course, Watson (or a version of Watson), a police force that needs his help, his unbelievable skills of observation, Moriarty, Irene Adler… maybe a few more. But where Elementary has really proven itself to be an original version of the Holmes character is in the stories — Sherlock does a great job of taking the older Doyle stories and updating them with some surprising twists. Elementary goes with new adventures. And both are great! (And let’s not forget that we’ve got Robert Downey Jr.’s version of Holmes on the big screen — and a third film is currently being scripted if the rumors are true.)
I guess I just don’t really see a problem with having two modern variations of Holmes going at once. If someone likes Elementary — great! You’ve got another 24 episodes coming up for Season 2. Prefer Sherlock? Great! You’ve got Season 3 starting up soon that’s going to answer The Big Question. (Confused? Go watch Sherlock.) I think Freeman does a knock-out job as Watson… and I think Liu has done an amazing job at portraying the growth of her own character from Episode 1 to the BOOM finale of the Season 1 ender. Cumberbatch as Sherlock was a genius casting decision and the actor’s got some serious chops to boot, of course. Miller’s facial expressions, mannerisms, and the pace in which he explains to Watson or Gregson or even the bad guy(s) how the clues all fit together… it’s slick and entertaining and quite often humorous.
I’m most envious of any readers who haven’t seen either show. What are you waiting for? Sherlock Season 3 will hit the US early next year, so you’ve got some time to catch up on Seasons 1 and 2, but you better get cracking if you want to be ready for Elementary Season 2 that starts towards the end of September 2013. Pick one and enjoy. When you’re done… grab the other one and enjoy.