Category Archives: Books

Book Review: DISPLACEMENT by Anne Stormont

Anne Stormont Displacement

“Displacement,” the recent novel by Anne Stormont, brings us close to a woman in crisis. Rachel’s son has died in combat in Afghanistan. That tragedy has spun her life out of control. She is recently divorced. Her daughter, Sophie, is estranged from her. And, now, with her own mother’s death, Rachel feels cast adrift with a loss of self and purpose. She feels utterly displaced. Perhaps one negative form of displacement can be countered with a positive form of displacement. And so Rachel decides to awaken her Jewish roots and make a pilgrimage to Israel. But not before she’s put her affairs in order at the small family sheep farm in rural Scotland. And not before her she meets an intriguing new man, Jack. So much going on in the life of someone who felt at the end of her rope!

I love fiction that brings me into the lives of vivid characters, especially from different backgrounds and cultures. That is what drew me into Stormont’s novel. It is on that first night back on the family farm that Rachel nearly drowns during a torrential storm and flood. And it is Jack who saves her. If Rachel’s life had been more in balance, this could have been the start of a new relationship for her. However, Rachel is in dire need of meaning in her life. And so off she goes to Israel. It wasn’t as if Jack was exactly available either but, whatever the case, Rachel is following an internal flood of turmoil that won’t release her anytime soon. And, in Israel, Rachel will find many opportunities to be out of her element and test herself.

Stormont has an assured way of rendering scenes and creating engaging exchanges between characters. It is easy to get swept up in Rachel’s journey. I share here with you a scene midway deep into the novel as Rachel navigates Israel and a potential new beau:

“Now, come and see the view.” Eitan, grabbed me by the hand. He led me first to the western edge of the crag’s flat summit. There below was the Judean Desert with its terraced golden hills. Then we looked east out to the Dead Sea and I was surprised at the water’s colourful beauty. To the south, Eitan pointed out how the crag’s tail led eventually to the Syrian edge of the African rift valley.

“Enough!” I said, laughing. “I can’t take in any more. This place is amazing!”

“Better than home?”

“Hmm, I don’t know about that. We have some ancient and very bloody sites too, even just in my tiny patch.”

“Ah, yes, your island–Skye?”

“Yes, Skye.” I was caught by a sudden twinge of emotion. Was it homesickness? But homesickness for what exactly? I wasn’t sure. I pushed it away.

Stormont favors a straightforward naturalism to her narrative that she handles quite well. One layer builds upon another. We get to see our protagonist Rachel Campbell at her worst, at her best, and everything in between. It is a pleasure to see where she goes and what she makes of it. All things considered, I would welcome another book on the next journey that Rachel takes.

“Displacement” is a 352-page novel available in print or on Kindle at Amazon right here.

2 Comments

Filed under Amazon, Amazon Publishing, Anne Stormont, Book Reviews, Books, Kindle

Review: ‘A Year of Movies: 365 Films to Watch on the Date They Happened’ by Ivan Walters

Watching "Groundhog Day" on Groundhog Day! Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

Watching “Groundhog Day” on Groundhog Day! Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

On February 2nd, Groundhog Day, if it’s cloudy when the groundhog emerges from its burrow, spring will come early. If it’s sunny, then the groundhog will see its shadow and there will be six more weeks of winter. So goes the folktale. What better way to celebrate this holiday than by viewing 1993’s “Groundhog Day,” starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell? It’s an idea that totally makes sense to author Ivan Walters. He takes that even further by offering you a movie for every single day of the year. He provides vital info on his featured choice, a synopsis, plus an alternate pick. The book is entitled, “A Year of Movies: 365 Films to Watch on the Date They Happened,” published by Rowman & Littlefield.

It’s quite a brilliant concept. The trick is to find an explicit mention of a date in a movie. Inevitably, the date is either crucial to the plot or is part of a pivotal moment in the movie. For instance, say you wanted to view a movie that has a significant attachment to the day that this review is posted, January 18th. That date leads you to 1976’s “Logan’s Run.” and a pivotal scene. To quote the book: “Logan, Jessica, and the old man return to the city on January 18th, 2274 (1:43:40 to 1:56:39), for a confrontation that will change their world forever.”

Movies-Ivan-Walters

This book has a high fun factor to it. Many of the movies are within the last 20 to 30 years with a generous helping of older classics like 1941’s “Citizen Kane.” It is a refreshing and entertaining way to look at movies. It becomes an offbeat game anyone can enjoy while also providing insight. I like how the book kicks off with 1976’s “Rocky.” January is so symbolic, full of hope and fresh starts. I think of “Rocky” as that quintessential shaggy dog story about self-empowerment and beating the odds. Great idea to have set the big fight on New Years Day, January 1st, 1976. Not all the dates are so easy to spot. In the case of “Citizen Kane,” for example, it is attached to December 4th 1919, the date that Kane’s mistress-turned-wife has a nervous breakdown and ends her floundering career as an opera singer. Kane’s world steadily darkens from that point onward.

“A Year of Movies: 365 Films to Watch on the Date They Happened” is a 454-page hardcover. For more details, visit our friends at Rowman & Littlefield right here.

2 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Entertainment, Groundhog Day, Hollywood, Illustration, Logan's Run, Movie Reviews, movies, pop culture, Rowman & Littlefield

Book Review: ‘Perchance to Dream: Selected Stories by Charles Beaumont’

Charles Beaumont on the set of "The Howling Man." Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

Charles Beaumont on the set of “The Howling Man.” Illustration by Henry Chamberlain.

How do you describe the distinctive character of the landmark television series, The Twilight Zone (1959-1964)? Well, it has everything to do with its unique literary quality. And how to best speak to that? Charles Beaumont (1929-1967), one of its celebrated writers, is a perfect example. Let’s look at a new collection of his work, published by Penguin Classics, “Perchance to Dream: Selected Stories by Charles Beaumont.”

"Perchance to Dream" by Charles Beaumont

“Perchance to Dream” by Charles Beaumont

What a treat this book is for any Twilight Zone fan since here you have some of the original stories by Beaumont that went on to become classic episodes. And you also get them in the context of his work for various magazines of the era, a total of 23 stories in this collection. Consider the title piece, “Perchance to Dream,” first published in Playboy, October 1958, and then turned into a TZ script and broadcast November 27, 1959. A distraught man enters a psychiatrist’s office in fear that he will die if he falls asleep. He is certain this will happen since he sees things that tell him so. For instance, if he stares long enough at a painting, the figures will move around and talk to him. Here, perhaps Beaumont borrows a little from “The Golgotha Dancers,” by Manly Wade Wellman, first published in Weird Tales, October 1937. It’s just enough to fuel another strain in the tradition of weird fiction dating back to Gothic literature. In this case, we have a man in a contemporary setting who has been reduced to a quivering heap as his only solace, to dream, has been denied him.

Charles Beaumont Ray Bradbury

Rod Serling was a writer on the rise, already with a reputation for first-rate work like “Requiem for a Heavyweight,” when he decided to try something new. It was to be an anthology series of science fiction and fantasy, the best possible route for him to continue to pursue his social commentary. When Serling approached Ray Bradbury for advice, Bradbury presented him with four books by authors he should know: Ray Bradbury, John Collier, Richard Matheson, and Charles Beaumont. Dark fantasy is what Serling was seeking. Beaumont seemed to be dark fantasy incarnate. He was a brash young aspiring writer when Bradbury took him under his wing. In a year’s time, Beaumont was well on his way. In 1950, at 21, he sold his first story to Amazing Stories. And, in 1954, Playboy magazine selected his story “Black Country” to be the first work of short fiction to appear in its pages. His astonishing trajectory would end by a mysterious condition that would cut his life short, at 38, in 1967. A fascinating documentary by Jason V Brock provides great insight into this unique life and career.

Browsing through the titles, you’ll find a wealth of creativity spanning many genres, all of them embracing a sense of the macabre. The opening lines to “The New People” (1958) lure you in with the misgivings of Hank Prentice over buying his first home, that embodiment of the American Dream. Instinctively, he fears for his wife and son: “Too late for what? It’s a good house, well built, well kept up, roomy. Except for that blood stain, cheerful.” And so commences a fine piece of horror with a fine bite of social commentary. Conformity has brought each member of the neighborhood together. However, in order to cope with and stave off boredom, we discover this group gives new, and bloody, meaning to the quaint notion of “community.” In the same spirt as Richard Matheson, Beaumont conjures up a fable that questions our so-called dreams and aspirations.

Charles Beaumont’s work has a distinctive style and it is far from formulaic. What he did was follow a certain way of revealing a greater truth. Beaumont confronted that clean wall of 1950s conformity. He looked closer to see the stress cracks forming. He responded with fiction that helped to tear that wall down.

“Perchance to Dream: Selected Stories by Charles Beaumont” is published by Penguin Classics. For more details, visit our friends at Penguin Random House right here.

8 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Charles Beaumont, George Clayton Johnson, Penguin Random House, Rod Serling, The Twilight Zone

Review: THE WALKING DEAD: THE POP-UP BOOK

The zombie book of the season!

The zombie book of the season!

It is ingrained in our DNA to thirst for bloody horror. Oh, wait, I think I just used that opening line recently. Well, it’s a good one and it certainly applies to The Walking Dead. I firmly believe that, when you strike the right balance of evenly spaced blood splatters and evenly paced plotting, it will resonate with an audience. It’s the next phase a horror creator wants to get to and fast just like Robert Kirkman has succeeded in doing. In tribute to horror done right, behold “The Walking Dead: The Pop-Up Book,” published by Insight Editions.

Lots of details and hidden goodies

Lots of details and hidden goodies!

This is no mere pop-up book! Look it over form every angle, there is plenty to look at and marvel over. This masterful work is created by paper engineers David Hawcock (Journal of Inventions: Leonardo Da Vinci) and Becca Zerkin, with text by Stephani Danelle Perry, and illustrated by Sally Elizabeth Jackson.

AMC Walking Dead Insight Editions

Zombie Surprise!

Zombie Surprise!

Based on AMC’s hit television series, “The Walking Dead,” this has got to be the ultimate gift idea for many a friend and loved one into zombies, horror movies, or pop culture in general. It’s big but also compact enough to fit comfortably on your coffee table or wherever you like to keep groovy ghoulies.

THE WALKING DEAD: THE POP-UP BOOK is a hardcover featuring five glorious page spreads and over 20 pop-ups. For more details, visit our friends at Insight Editions right here.

10 Comments

Filed under Books, Gifts, Holidays, Insight Editions, Television, The Walking Dead

Review: WILDFLOWER by Drew Barrymore

Drew Barrymore Wildflower

When writing a book about your life, it’s easy to fall into having the last laugh. With her book, “Wildflower,” Drew Barrymore has chosen to write a book full of laughter, joy, and wise observations. If a book like this seems too idealistic, all one needs to do is dive in and read it and find an authentic voice.

Ever since spending many hours basking in the glow of the last days of a bookstore that focused on cinema, I gained a fuller appreciation of the celebrity autobiography. After you’ve taken the time to study a number of these titles, you just can’t make generalizations. Often, these works are remarkably insightful. You can only take them one at a time. In the case of Drew Barrymore, she consistently writes honestly and vividly. You can hear her unique voice on every page and it’s a story you’ll find refreshingly modest.

There are a number of fascinating moments that come to mind: Drew’s experience in Africa and how she connected that to learning how to heal her relationship with childhood and children.; her frankness about her relationship with her parents and how she learned to create boundaries; and her recollections of growing up in West Hollywood and how she cherished the little touches of nature, especially the bougainvilleas, amid urban life.

With a great sense of irreverence, coupled with a natural spirituality, this is one book by a celebrity, one very unconventional celebrity, that will win you over.

“Wildflower” is a 288-page hardcover published by Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

If you are in Seattle this weekend, Drew Barrymore will be reading from “Wildflower” at the Center for Spiritual Living as part of the Seattle Arts & Lectures series.

4 Comments

Filed under Books

Book Review: ‘H8 Society – How An Atomic Fart Saved the World’

2Dans-H8-Society-How-an-Atomic-Fart

Transmedia, content that includes more than traditional text and illustrations, is still so new. Basically, it is storytelling on multiple platforms: there’s not only a book but there is video, music, games, social media, and so on. I feel it’s going to take a number of years before the novelty wears off and things integrate more naturally, if they ever do. Take this latest hybrid of book, music, and social media: “H8 Society – How An Atomic Fart Saved the World.” It does not take on the whole transmedia spectrum but it is in the same ballpark. The intent is to bring in young readers and it is designed to be ideally read on a smartphone.

This is a young adult book which has an overall upbeat and dynamic vibe to it so there’s some real potential there to attract new readers. This is a sci-fi adventure of sorts that is meant to appeal to teens. That is absolutely the demographic that is being targeted. It is clearly stated in the title, and not just the idea of farts. The idea of haters is pretty obvious. A lot of buttons are pushed, including all the usual suspects of sex, drugs, and race. The story begins with a satire on a jihadist which is odd at best. There are also scenes you can call sexist at best.

The press release describes this book as “a first-of-its-kind ‘extreme reading experience’ that marries music, graphics, and literature to tell an unforgettable story about an apocalyptic American dream.” Much more to the point, this is light entertainment or contemporary pulp fiction. It is not literature. It’s just light stuff featuring popular music. This book is sort of a contemporary version of Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon singing in “Beach Blanket Bingo.”

An illustration by Bill Sienkiewicz in "H8 Society"

An illustration by Bill Sienkiewicz in “H8 Society”

Something that is strongly in its favor is that the book is punctuated with vivid artwork by master illustrator Bill Sienkiewicz of DC and Marvel Comics fame. And the music peppered throughout this story is an impressive collection of twenty-six indie songs (curated from over 4,000 ReverbNation submissions). You’ll be reading along for a while and then have the option to play a song that sort of goes with the narrative. For instance, Boomer and the gang are right in the middle of an exciting scene. To add to that reading, you may want to listen to Valora’s “Extreme.”

While you read "H8 Society" on your smartphone, you can listen to songs like Valora's "Extreme."

While you read “H8 Society” on your smartphone, you can listen to songs like Valora’s “Extreme.”

The story is a caper involving two rival teen gangs who must confront a global network bent on taking over the world through mind control. It’s not the most cutting-edge scenario but it gets the job done and proves to be as entertaining as any light sitcom you might stumble upon. The choice of music is fun and that’s probably the most intriguing thing about this project. From time to time, a reader, immersed in his or her own reader’s world, is open to supplemental material. If you get that right choice of song, it can have a very moving and lasting effect upon a reader and actually enhance the reading experience.

First, you need a worthwhile reading experience before you can enhance it. In the case of this book, it is what it is: a simple caper story. And maybe that’s just what some readers will want during a commute. One caveat, the creators of this book go by the name of 2Dans. They are two former MTV executives which adds to the sense of this being more of a packaged deal and less of something to take too seriously. But then, atomic farts were never meant to be taken seriously, right? Find out how you can access this book for free by visiting the official book site here.

Leave a comment

Filed under 2Dans, Bill Sienkiewicz, Book Reviews, Books, Mark Z. Danielewski, Marketing, MTV, Music, Transmedia

Book Review: WE INSTALL and Other Stories by Harry Turtledove

Miss Murple astride a caitnop.

Miss Murple astride a caitnop. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain.

“We Install and Other Stories” offers up an impressive showcase of the work of Harry Turtledove, known for his virtuoso writing of alternate history novels. Among all the gems in this 282-page collection of fiction and essays, the one that stole my heart is “Hoxbomb” for its quirky storytelling. It grabbed me right from the start like a cross between “The Wizard of Oz” and “Blade Runner.”

“Hoxbomb” is a sci-fi police procedural and a study in race relations: the Humans and the Snarre’t. We find ourselves a hundred or so years in the future with two competing species who must make nice for the sake of their own survival. Humans and Snarre’t must work together as they colonize Lacanth C, a new planet and a new lease on life for both races. Much like “In the Heat of the Night,” tensions run high but differences must be set aside for the greater good of solving the case of a heinous crime.

That’s really easier said than done since the Snarre’t are so different from Humans. Of course, that begs the question, Are they really That different? Well, yeah, they are. For one thing, there’s a huge difference in technology: Humans favor machines; Snarre’t favor biotech. There’s also a war of the senses: Humans rely upon sight and sound; Snarre’t rely upon smell. And Snarre’t ride strange animals instead of motorized vehicles and enjoy eating the excrement from these animals.

However, Snarre’t prove to be just as capable of being star-struck as Humans. They are also as gullible and prone to being manipulated by the media. When you really think about it, the Snarre’t aren’t that different from their Human counterparts. It’s something that becomes more apparent to the two detectives from opposing races during the course of this story: The Humans’ John Paul King and the Snarre’t’s Miss Murple make for very entertaining frenemies. This fiction is very much at home with other works in this book. There’s a jokey and sentimental quality tempered with just the right amount of thoughtful contemplation.

“We Install” proves to be a great introduction to Harry Turtledove, full of humor and rich in historical and philosophical musing. “We Install” is available as of August 25th and is published by Open Road Integrated Media where you’ll want to check out their Hugo Award Collection right here. You can also find “We Install” at Amazon right here.

4 Comments

Filed under Amazon, Book Reviews, Books, Harry Turtledove, Hugo Award, Open Road Integrated Media, science fiction

Review: ‘Popular Culture: Introductory Perspectives’ by Marcel Danesi

Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

There’s a classic moment I fondly recall from my favorite art theory class. The professor was a true bohemian from his shock of disheveled hair down to his well-worn sandals. We were constantly peppering him with questions back then in that little closet of a classroom. Back when the world was a little slower than it seems today, back in the early ’90s. Someone threw out the latest query: “At what time period would you place the taste of today’s general public?” He shot back with a mischievous look, “No later than 1840!” I appreciated the sarcasm and the point he was making: many people just want traditional portraits and landscapes. However, looking back on this, he must have been having a bad day. If he’d been feeling less gloomy, he would have acknowledged the undeniable power of pop culture. In Marcel Danesi’s book on pop culture, he takes a far more optimistic view and we’re all the better for it.

Marcel Danesi has written an essential book on pop culture, both enlightening and entertaining. The third edition of “Popular Culture: Introductory Perspectives” will be required reading on many a campus this year. And it will prove quite useful whether you take it as part of a course or not. Danesi wastes no time in setting the stage and cutting to the chase: this is serious as well as lively business. He begins with “Runnin’ Wild,” a 1923 Broadway musical that introduced the sexually suggestive, and highly popular dance, The Charleston, that became a national sensation. If you’re looking for a key moment that ushered in the elements of pop culture as we’ve come to know them, then that is definitely a perfect one to focus on. There was no turning back as the energy and the spirit spread its way across the globe.

The question of what defines pop culture is inextricably linked to the question of who owns pop culture. And the short answer is that pop culture is for and by the people. If that echoes a declaration of independence, it is no mistake as all this is caught up in youthful rebellion. To be young, or at least young at heart, is most characteristic of this subject. Danesi guides us through the inevitable cycle, or transference pattern, that occurs as one generation passes the torch to the next. Youth culture gives way to mainstream culture. What was once scandalous in one era will, as that generation ages, transition from fringe to mainstream. It may be hard to believe now but, in the future, even Miley Cyrus’s current antics will eventually be swallowed up by mainstream culture. Each transition holds its own surprises and challenges. As the ’50s gave way to the ’60s, it was wrongly assumed by conventional wisdom that the flames from the “Rebel without a Cause” generation would just flicker out. Instead, it gave way to a firestorm of protest.

A wide net is cast in each chapter to scoop up various signs of life and proto-life for the world of pop. Print culture, for instance, goes back to 2700 BC and the first books made from papyrus. You could also look back to 1453 and Johannes Gutenberg taking a wine press and converting it into a printing machine leading to the mass production of books. More to our purposes, a significant signpost of upcoming events would be the advent of the Gothic novel with Marry Shelly’s “Frankenstein” in 1818. Throughout Danesi’s work we see how pop culture is inextricably linked to technology. Marshall McLuhan is often cited regarding his views on how the medium of the time will influence content and how people perceive it and reality itself.

One of Danesi’s best examples on the origins of modern-day pop culture comes from his observations on the 2002 Academy Award winning musical, “Chicago.” It’s the roaring ’20s and a brash new chapter in media is opening up. Using the power of the new celebrity culture, starlet Roxy, hopes to win over the press and win her freedom after being sent to prison for murder. Ironically, the reason she murdered is wrapped up in her desire to be famous. Facing a death sentence, her only hope is to become famous, manipulate the media and the jury. With the new hot jazz of the day playing throughout, pulsating and sexually suggestive, Roxy, and her media savvy cohorts, rule their time and would not seem out of place in our own time.

What the future holds for pop culture is related to its cycular nature and technology. The warnings over content overload have been sounding since McLuhan proposed we have entered into a global village. No longer do we have the thought patterns of print culture. The electronic age has yielded a hyperreality. Today, with Facebook, we sacrifice privacy for instant gratification. And we let Google determine what is relevant through statistics rather than measuring the value of content alone. The current Mashpedia form highlights our focus on the ephemeral. Danesi asks if this all signals the end of the pop culture experiment. If so, what would replace it or will it survive? The answer may lie in a persistent desire to rise above any limitations and the individual’s own quirky need to create. Something tells me we will never see an end to talented, persistent, and quirky, individuals.

The third edition of “Popular Culture: Introductory Perspectives” is published by Rowman & Littlefield. Visit them right here. You can also find this book at Amazon right here.

3 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Media, pop culture

Logan’s Run: Vintage Movie Classics (A Vintage Movie Classic) Release Date – July 7, 2015

Logans-Run-Vintage-Books-2015

The new print and ebook edition of the original novel, “Logan’s Run,” by George Clayton Johnson and William F. Nolan, is now out, published by Vintage Books, a division of Penguin Random House. Check out the new line of Vintage Movie Classics right here. This is the bestselling dystopian novel that inspired the 1970s science-fiction classic starring Michael York, Jenny Agutter, and Richard Jordan. For many of you out there, enough said. It will instantly bring to mind crystal palm flowers flickering red. If that means nothing to you, then you’re in for a treat. Perhaps knowing that such works as “The Hunger Games” and the Divergent trilogy owe much to this novel with pique your interest.

It is a beautiful new edition for longtime fans and newcomers alike. For the longest time, this title was essentially out of print, as far as a mass market printing was concerned. The original novel was a huge hit in its day, only to be magnified by its tie-in with the major motion picture. The novel was never forgotten and, in fact, its legend grew. Special edition print runs came out over the years and you could always find an old copy of the many editions that exist. For collectors, there are many iconic paperback editions to choose from. But the fact remained that the time had come for a new readily available edition and now we have it. I’ve been a big supporter of bringing out a new edition. You can read my review of the original novel and my call for a new edition right here.

The forward is by Daniel H. Wilson, author of several books on possible dystopian futures, including Where’s My Jetpack?, Robogenesis, and the forthcoming, Quarantine Zone. Wilson provides just the right balance of looking back to his own childhood experience with Logan’s Run and observations on the novel’s enduring relevance. Wilson’s enthusiasm for his subject is infectious and adds a contemporary boost to a timeless classic.

The novel, first published in 1967, paints a very compelling, and alarming, picture of a society overly dependent upon technology for all aspects of life. Youth has been conditioned to seek out distraction and pleasure over all else, including quality of life. That said, for anyone familiar with the movie, this is also one very entertaining story. The movie echoes the novel as it veers off into its own high level of kitsch. But no harm done. The movie remains a cult classic and an excellent gateway to the original novel.

I have always held a fascination with how movies adapt novels so I am thrilled to discover Logan’s Run is part of a new line of books from Vintage Books. Vintage Movie Classics includes a wide variety titles like “Night of the Hunter,” the bestselling National Book Award-finalist that inspired Charles Laughton’s expressionist horror classic starring Robert Mitchum and Shelly Winters. Other available titles: The Bad Seed, The Bitter Tea of General Yen, Back Street, Alice Adams, Show Boat, and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. This is truly astounding for the broad range and the opportunity to rediscover lost gems.

You can find Logan’s Run over at Vintage Books right here and over at Amazon right here.

2 Comments

Filed under Books, George Clayton Johnson, Logan's Run, Novels, pop culture, science fiction, William F. Nolan

Review: ‘The Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes’ by Zach Dundas

Holmes investigates Holmes. Art by Henry Chamberlain.

Holmes investigates Holmes. Art by Henry Chamberlain.

It is clear that Zach Dundas loves Sherlock Holmes. A quest to explore how and why the interest in Sherlock Holmes has endured is the subject of his new book, “The Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes.” In a highly accessible and conversational narrative, Dundas weaves classic Holmes stories into his own idiosyncratic reportage. The result is jolly good fun and goes a long way in explaining the Holmes phenomena.

Can one really put one’s finger on the Holmes appeal? Well, sure, for one thing, he’s a comfortably familiar character right up there with Superman, Snow White, Snoopy, and Frankenstein. He’s the ultimate brand. Of course, do people still actually read the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? Well, Dundas is here to assure you, if you have not, that it’s fun stuff. Much of the appeal to this book is Dundas’s unbridled enthusiasm for his subject. He makes no bones about letting you know his passion runs deep going back to reading Holmes tales as a kid.

Time and again, Dundas will casually describe to you an adventure from Sherlock Holmes lulling you in until you’re deep into the plot. Then he’ll alternate with one of his own quests such as dragging his family all across the moors of the English countryside or endless searching for the real-life potential counterparts to fictional Victorian London. For Dundas, part of the mystery lies in attempting to understand what all his fellow tourists see in Holmes.

As he waits in line to enter a replica to 221B Baker Street, Holmes’s fictional digs, he can’t help but get a little smug assuming no one else in line has actually read Doyle. This lapse can be forgiven. When the only thing setting you apart from the crowd is the fact that you’ve read something that they haven’t, that’s more of a humbling experience than something to be proud of. And, it’s in that spirit, that Dundas shines as he shares his various facts and insights.

What you get here is a low-key and quirky look at what Holmes meant in his own time and what came soon after-and beyond. As Dundas observes, Holmes went retro rather quickly and embraced his new position, as it were, with gusto. With the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, the Victorian era quite literally came to an end. However, in the Holmes universe, the Victorian era would now enter a perpetual loop as Doyle kept on creating Holmes adventures set circa 1890. In short, Holmes was the original steampunk. And, with that in mind, it makes more and more sense as Dundas explores the myth and mystique of Holmes leading him all the way to Benedict Cumberbatch.

Ultimately, the mystery to Holmes does seem to be that such an esoteric character should have such broad appeal. That said, there are a number of erudite, refined, offbeat, and just plain weird characters that have struck a chord with wide audiences. Doctor Who is one, for sure. But you can rattle off any number of them from Star Wars to Game of Thrones and so on down the line. The general public is not always looking for some obviously populist figure to be the next pop culture superstar. And, with Holmes, you get a ready-made multi-layered artichoke of entertainment at the ready to be peeled back for deeper and richer understanding. That is what Dundas delightfully demonstrates in this quite entertaining book.

“The Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes” is 336-page hardcover, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and available as of June 2. You can find it at Amazon right here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Books, mystery, pop culture, Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle