Book Review: The Devil & Sherlock Holmes by David Grann

Hey!

It’s rare for me to find nonfiction as engaging as fiction. I live in a world of facts and figures and typically want to escape into fiction, usually fantasy or science fiction, when I have an opportunity to read. Yet somehow David Grann‘s journalistic style and storytelling ability managed to cut through that reluctance and capture my attention, just as he did with The Lost City of Z a year ago. However he’s gone about it in a slightly different way with The Devil & Sherlock Holmes.

Where The Lost City of Z was a longer narrative told across several chapters, The Devil & Sherlock Holmes takes a 60 Minutes approach. Diving deeper into several different stories, Gann focuses on “Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession.” This book collects twelve articles from Gann’s work at The New Yorker, The Atlantic, the New York Times Magazine, and The New Republic. The stories run the gamut from the mysterious death of an expert in all things Sherlock Holmes, to the search for a giant in the ocean deep, the possibly wrongful execution of a man accused of killing his family in a fire, and the bizarre criminal world of the Aryan Brotherhood.

My favorite of the articles focuses on the quest of New Zealand’s Steve O’Shea, marine biologist. Beyond the special effects of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Pirates of the Caribbean, I really didn’t know much about the mysteries of the giant squid, sometimes called the “kraken.” China Mieville‘s book Kraken recently took a Lovecraftian-influenced urban fantasy approach to the Architeuthis (scientific name for the giant squid), but beyond the fictional cult-like fascination for these secretive creatures I had no clue there was a real life counterpart.

Now I know bit more about the obsessive search by many people and groups around the globe all hoping to capture a live specimen for study. O’Shea is hardly alone as he and his assistant run out to sea in a little boat in the middle of the night seeking his elusive prey – minuscule baby squid that he takes back to a tank in his lab in the hopes that they will grow to giant size. Grann was a brave man to travel in the tiny boat off the coast of New Zealand as a storm blew in and they struggled to haul in hand-made traps to see what they’d caught. Like Captain Ahab searching for Moby Dick, O’Shea and his peers won’t be satisfied until they’ve found their prey…

Then I gained even more respect for Grann as he showed even more courage diving into the prison world of the Aryan Brotherhood. To not only enter some of the prisons with the most hardened criminals and worst reputations, but to speak in depth with several of them over many visits requires you to be dedicated, brave, and perhaps a little crazy. This is a totally different madness than seeking a giant squid in stormy seas riding in a dinghy. The criminals Grann spoke to are frightening people living in a frightening world and yet I read with rapt attention as I learned how the group began as white supremacists and spread into other criminal enterprises such as gambling and drug dealing bringing in millions of dollars a year within the prison system itself.

Whether you occasionally delve into nonfiction or read it regularly, David Grann puts a face and voice to some amazing stories sure to keep you engaged cover to cover. Be sure to check out The Devil & Sherlock Holmes at your favorite bookseller!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up these great books from Barnes & Noble below!

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Book Review: Eve of Destruction by S.J. Day

Hi there…

A few months ago, I read Eve of Darkness by S.J. Day and I was introduced to the world of Evangaline Hollis. “Eve” as her friends call her was an interior designer who unknowingly crossed paths with the Biblical brothers Cain and Abel. The brothers brought her into the holy war between those Marked by the forces of God and the Infernals of the Devil himself.

So Eve went from being an interior designer to becoming a bounty hunter for Heaven. Quite a severe career change and one that caused her a bit of trouble in the first book as she started to learn the ropes. Of course, she also has to deal with her boyfriend Alec Cain, her handler Reed Abel, and her over-protective mother Miyoko Hollis.

In the latest book, Eve of Destruction, Eve continues her training as one of the Marked with a class of other people picked for the job. Three weeks where the homework involves killing or capturing Infernals on a nearly abandoned military base.

Of course, “the Devil ate my homework” isn’t a great excuse when you run into conspiracies and hellhounds, but anything will do in a pinch, right?

Add to that a crew from a local cable TV show about ghost hunters and you have untrained Marks and civilians running around when there are demons on the loose… not a good combination.

Where the first book in the series involved a bit too much tawdry romance for me, I found Eve of Destruction to be much more satisfying. It builds on the world we’re introduced to in the first book, with the bureaucracy of Heaven working against the chaos of Hell — all in the everyday world we live in. Like Jim Butcher‘s The Dresden Files series, Day lets us explore an urban fantasy world based around angels and demons of the Old Testament, mixed with the myths and legend of folklore around the world.

Eve is simply trying to stay alive to work off whatever debt Heaven thinks she has – so she can return to the real world and lose her Mark. Each day she learns more about what it means to be Marked and finds that it will be that much more difficult to get out of the life before she’s done.

If you like a bit of romance thrown in with your urban fantasy, then S.J. Day’s Marked Novels should be right up your alley. And if they continue to get better, like Eve of Destruction has, I can hardly wait to see what Day has planned for the next novel of the series – Eve of Chaos, out later this year.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up all the books in the Marked series at Amazon:

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More Reaper in 2009?

Reaper Poster CWHi all…

I thought I’d check up on one of my favorite television series of last season — Reaper!

Unfortunately, there’s no firm date for it to begin in 2009. Supposedly the order (back in May, 2008) was for 13 episodes and they’d air mid-season sometime. Hopefully if they get viewers (i.e. this means YOU!), we’ll see more episodes on the network.

The good news is that it appears (according to The Reaper Site) that season 2 will include some new faces, including a new stepsister for Sock. That ought to be entertaining. 🙂

So we’ll just have to hope that a) it shows up (fingers crossed!) sometime during the season and 2) it can get some viewers!

For those of you who haven’t seen this hilarious show about a boy whose parents sold his soul to the Devil and now he’s the Devil’s bounty hunter… It appears to be coming to DVD in November. So keep an eye out for the box set!

That’s all for now… Back to your regularly scheduled programming…

–Fitz

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