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!

Enhanced by Zemanta

Book Review: Jason Dark: Ghost Hunter — Demon’s Night by Guido Henkel

Hi all!

Have you ever heard of a “dime novel“? How about a “penny dreadful”? These were short books of pulp fiction popular in the 19th and 20th centuries in the United States and Britain. Each small booklet had a story or part of a series that was inexpensive, costing much less (5 or 10 cents) than a full sized book did during the same time period. Many of these during the 19th century focused on the “wild west” and the exploits of sensational characters such as Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley.

Well, evidently they’re making a comeback! Starting in January 2010, a new series written by Guido Henkel merges the feel of Sherlock Holmes tales with the monster-hunting mentality of TV’s Supernatural. Set on the streets of Victorian England, it seems London is in need of a hero and “Jason Dark: Ghost Hunter” is there to fill the bill.

Demon’s Night is the first in the series, introducing our brave hero. Dark comes from a long line of ghost hunters and he is the “Geisterjäger” of his generation. Armed with a magical sword, Dark hunts for the things in the dark preying on his fellow man. And in this adventure, we find him following the trail of a number of bizarre deaths along the waterfront… each victim somehow drained of bodily fluids and left looking like a mummified corpse.

Along the way, he saves the life of Siu Lin, the daughter of Chinese immigrants who are tragically killed by a demonic entity. Dark and Lin stalk the streets and graveyards of London seeking clues as to the creature’s origins and looking for a way to stop it’s reign of terror…

The book itself is 62 pages and a saddle-stitch binding, basically a stack of 31 8.5″ x 11″ pages folded in half length-wise. It feels much like a small magazine, making it easy to slip in a briefcase or purse to take along for light reading.

It honestly took me a little while to get into the groove as I was reading Demon’s Night. The style aims to be like that of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with a deep feel for the streets, attitudes, and locations of Victorian England. And occasional grammar or spelling gaffes may have been intentional to keep with the writing of that era. But each time I found one (there are a few), it yanked me out of the story and I had to fight to get back into it again. (Update: Heard from Henkel that the spelling issues have been resolved in later copies of the book.)

That said, I felt it really hit a stride about halfway through after Dark and Siu Lin start working together. The camaraderie helped the story, setting, and characters gel more the further I went. It definitely hit me as a fun pulp fiction style adventure that has many avenues to explore in the “monster hunter” realm.

If you’re looking for a quick story in the vein of a lighter Sherlock Holmes-style adventure, I’d recommend you pick up Henkel’s Jason Dark: Ghost Hunter — Demon’s Night. It’s available in hardcopy for a small fee, and on Amazon for the Kindle, but you can find it online at JasonDark.com for free. I have the next story – Theater of Vampires – waiting here to read and will be interested to see where Jason Dark goes next!

This review first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Check out JasonDark.com for more details or get the hardcopy version from Barnes & Noble below!

Enhanced by Zemanta

DVD Review: Tom and Jerry Meet Sherlock Holmes

Hi!

As a fan of the classic Tom and Jerry cartoons from MGM in the 1940s and ’50s, I’ve often been disappointed in recent attempts to revitalize the series. Somehow shows like Tom and Jerry Kids in the early 1990s and Tom and Jerry Tales just a few years ago fail to capture the innocence and fun of the initial shorts from William Hanna & Joseph Barbera.

However, I am surprised and pleased to say that the recent release of the new Tom and Jerry Meet Sherlock Holmes feature on DVD manages to capture more of the classic feel of the early antics of this cat and mouse pair while putting them in an entirely new storyline that also brings in many of their familiar friends along the way…

If you’ve been living in a cave for the last 70 years, Tom and Jerry first appeared in the short “The Midnight Snack” by Hanna and Barbera in 1941 after another of their shorts – “Puss Gets the Boot,” released in 1940 – became a big hit with theater owners. From 1941 until until the end of their careers in 1958, Hanna and Barbera created more than 100 more Tom and Jerry cartoons for MGM. Since then, Tom and Jerry have been a mainstay on television enjoyed by several generations of viewers.

The basic premise behind most of the Tom and Jerry cartoons is that Tom, a lazy housecat with a taste for mice and a knack for getting into trouble, is constantly trying to catch Jerry, a little brown mouse with a mischievous streak and a taste for people food. Scattered throughout the many shorts, Hanna and Barbera created other unforgettable characters as well… Spike, a big not-so-bright bulldog, and his son Tyke… Butch, a rival tomcat who also wants to eat Jerry… Toodles, the beautiful and unattainable girl cat Tom falls in love with again and again… Tuffy, the always hungry little mouse that sometimes appears as Jerry’s nephew who charges in where little mice should fear to tread… Droopy, the small but wily Basset Hound who speaks slowly and can, when angry, defeat the largest foes with ease… The list goes on and on.

In Tom and Jerry Meet Sherlock Holmes, Jerry lives in Sherlock Holmes’ flat at 221B Baker Street in London during the late 1880s. Dr. Watson comes to visit to tell Holmes about another in a series of jewel robberies when Tom appears with a note asking for help from Red, a beautiful cabaret singer. Though Tom and Jerry try to do harm to each other throughout the feature, in the end they, Holmes, and Watson manage to help solve the mystery of the missing jewels and whomever is stalking Miss Red.

Throughout the 50 minute feature, we catch glimpses of some of Tom and Jerry’s classic friends. Droopy makes an appearance as a bumbling bobby with Scotland Yard. He and Spike try to catch Miss Red, as they believe her to be behind the jewel thieves. Tuffy works as a priest at the church and provides sanctuary when the group needs a place to hide. You even see Barney Bear as he installs mirrors all around London and the Big Bad Wolf howling at Red during her cabaret show.

Though this feature is short, I have to admit that I really enjoyed the cartoon with my daughters. We laughed out loud numerous times at the slapstick antics of the cat and mouse. Unlike the recent Tom and Jerry Tales series, there’s a purpose to the characters in the story that provides a structure for the craziness that goes on along the way.

In addition to the feature itself, there’s a “How to Draw Tom and Jerry” feature that is done by Spike Brandt from Warner Brothers Animation. Using a few simple steps, Brandt walks viewers through drawing Tom and Jerry’s distinct portraits on paper. My two girls with art skills are really looking forward to trying out the techniques described. We’ll have to see how it turns out.

If you’re looking for a new way to share the fun of Tom & Jerry with your kids, I’d definitely recommend giving Tom and Jerry Meet Sherlock Holmes a look. We had a lot of fun with the cartoon and look forward to see what’s next for the cat and mouse!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other great DVDs from Barnes & Noble below…

Enhanced by Zemanta