Tag Archives: peer review

Peer Review: “A Scandal in Bohemia” by Petr Kopl

(Disclaimer: Petr Kopl is a fellow author at MX Publishing, and MX Publishing gave me a free iBooks version for review.)

A few months ago, MX Publishing ran a Kickstarter to translate a comic. Intrigued, I looked into it, and was blown away. A Czech artist and writer, Petr Kopl had won several awards for his Sherlock Holmes comics, and his artwork was just amazing. Unfortunately I missed the window to contribute myself, but when I got a code to review it myself, I eagerly downloaded it and started reading.

Narratively, Kopl has woven two Holmes stories together (“A Scandal in Bohemia” and “The Speckled Band”), along with references to other stories not written by Doyle (most notably “Around the World in 80 Days”). It’s not a faithful adaptation, and it takes a lighter tone than the original material — for example, Watson once finds Holmes hanging from the ceiling as he tests a new theory. The dynamic between Holmes and Watson, however, is much more the squabbling friendship that is common in more modern interpretations, and there are some genuinely funny exchanges between the two. Plot elements are rearranged to accommodate the new material, but it all hangs together through the thread of Watson working to overcome Holmes’ inherent misogyny. It’s a wonderful, entertaining story.

Artistically, Kopl’s style is unique and evocative. It looks a lot like an old-school cartoon, with hyperbolic character expressions and toned-down images of violence. And yet there’s a level of detail that draws the eye in: colors are rich and textured, backgrounds are drawn with little details that jump out, and even the sound effects look carefully crafted. More than once I caught myself staring at a panel, forgetting the story for a moment as I just soaked in the look and feel of the comic.

The book also has an introduction about the Czech Sherlock Holmes community, and an epilogue from the author talking about why Conan Doyle created a fictional king of Bohemia, and the nature of love and sex in the Holmes canon.

I haven’t been this drawn into a Holmes-based comic since the run of Moriarty. I highly recommend picking this graphic novel up.

A Scandal In Bohemia – A Sherlock Holmes Graphic Novel is available from all good bookstores including   Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Waterstones UK, and for free shipping worldwide Book Depository . In ebook format it is in Kindle, Kobo, Nook and Apple iBooks (iPad/iPhone).

[Peer Review] “The Conqueror’s Shadow” by Ari Marmell

Disclaimer: I’ve known Ari for a few years now, and we have met socially a few times. I purchased my own copy of this, which sat on my Kindle for a couple of years until I finally got around to it in my queue.

I picked up The Conquerer’s Shadow because I liked the premise, and because I haven’t actually had the pleasure of Ari’s prose (although I was familiar with his RPG work). The idea is that an evil overlord tries to overthrow the kingdom, like they all do. This one fails, and disappears with his captive. Many years later, when the warlord has retired under a new name and with a family, a new warlord tries to recreate the previous conquest, and the original warlord has to done his skeleton armor to try and stop him.

I started reading it, and I figured out the plot twist in the first two chapters. I was a little disappointed by this, but I decided that this wasn’t a mystery but a fantasy novel, and I should just enjoy the ride. By around chapter thirty-five, I realized that I was expected to believe the plot twist, and it turned out to be something else entirely.

Let me be clear: Ari plays fair, as per a mystery. Further, he builds in a fake plot twist. And this is not presented in any way as a novel — it’s all a side to the core, strong fantasy story. Which is also funny and has compelling characters who also happen to be part of a plan to overthrow the nation at the behest of an overlord. On top of all of that, each chapter also incorporates flashbacks that slowly build up the history before the events of the story, and in such a way as they build on the story itself.

As a writer, this book is a course in how to accomplish a number of things simultaneously without losing momentum. It’s simply incredible. As a reader, it was an immensely entertaining story that was enjoyable to read.

[Peer Review] The Disappearance of Mr James Phillimore

Disclosure: This is another review of book by a fellow Sherlockian writer, Dan Andriacco. I am not personally familiar with Dan, but I got a free review copy from MX Publishing, our mutual publisher.

This is a bit of an unusual novel. It’s not a book featuring Sherlock Holmes, but rather a mystery novel about a detective who is a mystery writer and avid Sherlockian. And yet, it contains a Sherlock Holmes pastiche within it, which is part of the story. It is also the fourth in an ongoing series, but I haven’t read the other three books. All in all, it seems like it would be a hard book to jump in with, but I found it to be a very easy read, and quite enjoyable.

The premise is that the narrator, Jeff Cody, is on his honeymoon in Europe. He spends part of that time in London, where he meets with his friends and brother-in-law, Sebastian McCabe, who is an English professor, mystery novelist, and amateur sleuth. They get drawn into a series of murders, etc. etc. etc. As such, this book is operating on a number of layers:

Straight-Up Mystery: As a mystery, it’s not bad. The end is a bit rushed and a little ham-fisted, but it played fair and kept me guessing. Mystery fans will find it enjoyable, I think. The story does shift back in forth a time a lot at the start, but it does settle down pretty quickly.

Sherlock Holmes Lore: Most of the characters are Sherlockians (American Holmes fans), Holmesians (British Holmes fans), or otherwise part of the culture. The narrator, who is not a fan of Sherlock Holmes, ends up as a great foil for the various characters explaining the nuances of the canon and the various references they toss around.

And yet, there’s a strange bit of meta happening here: the characters are all aware of the canon to various degrees, and are aware of how various elements of the main story parallel the canon, but the references are not only between characters inside the story, but also in the story itself (for example, the eponymous disappearance is actually a reference Watson makes to another case in the text of “Thor Bridge”). It’s written off in a sort of “How odd that this seems to match up with the canon,” but it takes a while for the dissonance to resolve within the book.

Pastiche: As I mentioned, there’s a Sherlock Holmes short story pastiche within the novel itself. It’s actually pretty good, and follows the formula well.

Travelogue: The characters are from Ohio and travelling in London. I am also from Ohio and have been to London (my mother was also born in England), so I have a particular empathy for this viewpoint. The narrator knows nearly nothing about England, and his frequent “pip pip cheerio”-style comments and observations are sometimes painful. The writer’s knowledge of the area seems spot-on (since, again, I’ve been to many of those places myself), and I understand that the writer needed to have this perspective to be able to explain the events to readers unfamiliar with London. I also understand that most Americans unfamiliar with London would hold similar opinions and views. But it still felt painful to me, and my personal sympathy for the narrator was diminished. I think this is a highly personal point, and I think many casual American readers would be just fine, but it’s worth noting.

Conclusion

It’s a bit of an odd duck of a book, but it’s a surprisingly light and enjoyable read. If you like amateur sleuth mysteries with a heavy dose of Sherlockania mixed in for flavor, you’ll enjoy this book, and quite possibly the other books in the Cody/McCabe series.

Blurb from the publisher:

The Disappearance of Mr James Phillimore is available from all good bookstores including  Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Waterstones UK, and for free shipping worldwide Book Depository. In ebook format it is in Amazon Kindle, Kobo, Nook and Apple iBooks (iPad/iPhone).

Peer Review: Dinocalypse Now & Beyond Dinocalypse by Chuck Wendig

Time for another peer review. Disclosure: I’ve been friends with Chuck for six years, and I backed the original Kickstarter for the Dinocalypse trilogy (a series of novels based on the Spirit of the Century roleplaying game). Further, Dinocalypse Now and Beyond Dinocalypse are only the first two novels — the third one isn’t written yet. The second book picks up right after the first, and the structure reminded me a bit of Matt Forbeck’s Brave New World trilogy. You could theoretically read the second one without the first, but I think you would miss a lot, so I suggest you read them in order.

These are two pulp novels set in the 1920s (at least to start), featuring the adventures of the Century Club. These Centurions are all people born on January 1, 1900, and as a result are the epitome of humanity and do heroic stuff. They are asked to prevent the assassination of FDR. In the process, Manhattan is taken over by psychic dinosaur people. A lot of action and gripping character development ensues.

Honestly, this is a thing you either get into or you don’t. Personally, I love it. Having read a lot of original pulp novels like Doc SavageThe Shadow, and The Spider, I’ve developed a love for this mix of the bizarre and the gritty, and these two books channel that vibe wonderfully. If you can’t get past the idea of an evil mathemagician who fights an occult detective or a talking ape that teaches at Oxford and it is played straight, these books will be a hard sell. However, I found them both to be utterly charming and wonderfully fast-paced fun, and the clash of bizarre images worked for me.

Like many pastiches of historical genres, there are increased roles for women and people of color beyond what were originally presented in the 20s and 30s. In some books it can come across as excessively political and awkward, but here it is very natural and fluid. These characters feel real, not a find/replace of gender and ethnicity. Granted, when you’re writing about a disembodied brain that wants to take over the world, a little thing like fidelity to traditional gender roles seems minor, but I appreciate being able to root for a character that’s an African-American woman.

If you’ve read any of Chuck’s other work, know going in that you won’t find any of his casually foul-mouthed humor here, as it wouldn’t work with the genre. However, there are certain moments of levity and snark that all almost Whedon-esque that I appreciated just as much, if not more. It may be a little different from Chuck’s usual voice, but it’s very much Chuck’s style. I highly suggest the books if you’re already a fan of Chuck, if you like comic book-style action/adventure, or if you’re a fan of Spirit of the Century.