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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DVD Review: The Addams Family: The Complete Animated Series

Hi again!

Growing up in the 1970s with a black and white television, I was no stranger to The Addams Family. Though the episodes were repeats from the mid-1960s, I always found them to be creative and fun. And the television theme song still bounces around in my head from time to time, finger-snaps and all.

John Astin as Gomez in The Addams Family telev...
Image via Wikipedia

So before I talk about the animated series, I want to provide a bit of context based on the television show.

The show (and the New Yorker cartoon series it was based on from cartoonist Charles Addams) focused on an eccentric family living in an old Victorian mansion near a graveyard. The house appeared a bit run-down with numerous items that would probably be more at home in a museum than in a domicile. It’s not the kind of place you’d really want in your neighborhood because the family is a bit strange and the house sticks out like sore thumb.

Led by patriarch Gomez Addams (John Astin) and his wife Morticia (Carolyn Jones), the family seems to exist in its own little bubble, only finding out what’s going on in the world when outsiders come to visit. Gomez likes to blow up model trains, dabble in financial markets, and smoke cigars, while Morticia tends to her garden, pruning the blossoms from roses and making sure her various carnivorous plants are well fed. Their kids – Pugsley (Ken Weatherwax) and Wednesday (Lisa Loring) – share their parents’ eccentricities. The pair constantly seeks more and more creative ways to kill themselves or learn of gruesome deaths throughout history.

In addition to the four main members of the family are Grandmama (Blossom Rock), skilled in witchcraft, and Uncle Fester (Jackie Coogan), a large, bald man with the ability to light a lightbulb by sticking it in his mouth. When you add in Lurch (Ted Cassidy), the Frankenstein-like butler, Thing, the disembodied hand often sent to get the mail, and Cousin Itt, the short walking wig, you get the impression this house is full of a bunch of crazy people. (And it most definitely is.)

Though the black and white TV series only lasted a couple of seasons and 64 half-hour episodes, the world of the Addams family had its own unique charm about it.

That brings me back to the animated series from Hanna-Barbera that aired in 1973. Unlike the live-action television series, the animated version has the family in a RV that looks something like their Victorian-era house. Though Ted Cassidy and Jackie Coogan were back as the voices of Lurch and Uncle Fester, they used different actors for the voices of the other characters. I was surprised to discover that the voice of Puglsey Addams was done by Jodie Foster (Silence of the Lambs)!

The animated Addams family tours the country in their unique RV – traveling everywhere coast to coast. They visit New York, Louisiana, Hawaii, New Mexico, Tennessee, and Kentucky among others. Everywhere they go, they cause trouble. In one episode they’re buying Central Park in New York City and in another they’re causing grief for astronauts on the moon. To be frank, I found it difficult to watch more than a few episodes.

Though the animation style fits with the rest of the cartoons from the era, including Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, it has a bit of an odd twist to it more in line with the original Charles Addams comics. I think the more stylized character drawings worked to make the animated series more unique to a point. But the backgrounds seem very sparse compared to the other Hanna-Barbera cartoons of the time.

The Addams Family: The Complete Animated Series set includes four DVDs and all sixteen episodes of the one season that aired between 1973 and 1974. Unfortunately, there are no extras included on the DVDs, so there’s nothing to provide any additional context to the episodes.

Unless you’re a die hard Addams Family collector, I’d skip this DVD set to be honest. It really doesn’t capture the Addams charm. If you are looking for that charm – I’d find one of the collections of the John Astin-led The Addams Family or the feature films with Raul Julia on DVD.

For more information about this collection, check out the WB Shop.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. For a few other Addams Family products, check below!

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