Thursday, September 18, 2008

Death by Gaslight

My current "keep in my backpack for spare reading moments on campus" novel is Death by Gaslight, by Michael Kurland. In fact, if I have deciphered the scribble on the title page correctly, it's even an author-autographed copy.

I never thought I would say this about a book, especially a book involving Sherlock Holmes in some way, but I'm on page 98 (of 279), and I can't tell if I like it yet.

Kurland has, in fact, turned one of my favorite stories (those featuring Sherlock Holmes) on its head. The cover reads "Professor Moriarty Leads An Underworld Army Against Unspeakable Evil -- And His Arch-Foe, Sherlock Holmes." As expected, this leads to something quite different from Conan Doyle's works.

*note, in case you're not a Holmes fan: Moriarty is the big, bad-guy mastermind from the original stories*

For one, the Prof. is fleshed out more as a character here, which I do like. Some of the additions are enjoyable. Moriarty as a Man of Science Who Leads a Crime Syndicate to Finance His Experiments is an interesting take. Giving him a Watson-like partner is expected, but nicely executed. However, I think naming his housekeeper "Mrs. H" is a bit silly (Mrs. Hudson is Holmes' landlady).

And, oh, Kurland's Sherlock Holmes. I've been trying to get past his take on Holmes for almost 100 pages now. I knew we were going to have trouble when Holmes called a client "my lord" a dozen times within the space of one conversation -- I think this is more than he uses the phrase in the entirety of Doyle's works.

Even better, this Holmes is a Man Obsessed. He is, in fact, so obsessed with the idea that Moriarty is behind "every crime committed in the greater London area," that he makes a lot of stupid mistakes. The line "without Moriarty, Sherlock Holmes is merely a detective" made me die a little inside: Sherlock Holmes' claim to fame, as it were, is as The World's First Consulting Detective, not as That Guy What Hates Moriarty.

Even worse, there's a subtle sort of made-up tension that's been added. Mrs. H takes Holmes to task at one point:

the debt of gratitude that it might be thought you owe to your old friend and mentor Professor James Moriarty -- the man who took you in and treated you like a son.

"Aaaaah," said my brain, "this is not right at all!"

In any case, the random moments of "NO he did not just do that to my Holmes!" aside, I'm enjoying the book. The verbiage is a bit more than I've been used to lately, considering that Douglas Adams was the last item on my reading list, which makes for a nice challenge. And, the mystery seems to be moving along nicely -- enough so that I want to make it to the end.

I get the feeling that the ending is going to make or break my opinion of this book. I hope it's a good one :-)

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