Monday, July 25, 2011

"Whitechapel: The Final Stand of Sherlock Holmes"

This is a wonderful book! I started reading on Friday, and finished on Saturday evening. Really hard to put down.

Whitechapel: The Final Stand of Sherlock Holmes is a telling of the Jack the Ripper history with Sherlock Holmes (and Dr. Watson). The history is accurate, the main suspect is one of the many suspects in the Ripper case and the Sherlock Holmes narrative is not slavishly written as if Arthur Conan Doyle had written it. Bernard Schaffer has his own voice, and it is a good one.

We are introduced to each of the victims and get to know them a little immediately before their demise. This is much like most of the books I've read on the subject. The story surrounding the suspect is changed from his personal history, but that's okay. He isn't one of the suspects that most people even think about any more -- most interest in him was in the 1960's. His fictionalize history is much more interesting anyway.

The 'Sherlock Holmes' in this story is very different from any of the Conan Doyle stories. This story takes place after the last Conan Doyle story. Holmes is deep into his addiction to cocaine and heroine and is definitely not the well-spoken character of days gone by. He is nasty and mean or whiny and self-pitying by turns. Dr. Watson is cast as something of a saint... for a little while. His patience has worn thin, however, and by the time he announces his engagement, which news is summarily brushed off as unimportant, he is ready to let Holmes out of his life. Or so it seems.

Bernard Schaffer did a wonderful job with a story that I've been wondering about since reading the Conan Doyle stories as a teen and watching Basil Rathbone in The Hound of the Baskervilles one Saturday afternoon. This mystery of murder and evil and madness was one that ONLY Sherlock Holmes could solve. After all, he WAS the premiere detective of the age!

I look forward to more books by Mr. Schaffer.

Monday, July 11, 2011

"LIttle Brother" by Cory Doctorow

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow really has a story to tell and a lesson to impart, and it does it well.

Marcus is a normal 17-year-old high school student in San Francisco. The country is still recovering from the shock of the 9/11 attacks in New York City, but like most teens, Marcus has bounced back a bit more quickly than his parents. One day, he decides to skip school. He plans on meeting with some friends when the unthinkable happens: A terrorist attack on San Francisco. In the chaos following the attack, Marcus and his friends are picked up by Homeland Security and held as possible terrorists.

This book speculates on what could happen if one agency is given too much power. Its also a paean to civil disobedience and what happens when seemingly clueless kids are pushed too far. I really liked this book. The central characters are well written, and the premise is chillingly possible. My only problem with this book is that once you get away from the central characters, especially when you get to the adults, they are a tad flat. Possibly this was done on purpose to further isolate Marcus and his friends, I don’t know. They aren’t zombies by any stretch, just not as fully realized as the central players.

I fully recommend Little Brother, it is smart, witty, well-written and timely.

 (I first read Little Brother a few months ago. This review is based on a re-read.)

Friday, July 8, 2011

Witch Hunt by Devin O'Branagan

I read Witch Hunt by Devin O'Branagan this past week. All I can really say is "Wow!"

Ms. O'Branagan turned a deft hand to the difficult subjects of prejudice, fear and hatred and crafted a very fine novel. In real life, this story has been lived again and again in many different forms, we are living it yet again here in the States in the fight for equal rights for the LGBT population. My hat is off to you, Ms. O'Branagan. If the powers that be listen to me, this will be an important book for everyone, not just me.

Witch Hunt is the story of the Hawthorne family. They are witches. They survived the witch hunts of the past in the forms of the Inquisition and Salem among others. They've fought and worked hard and are now an influential family in the town of Montvue in Colorado. This is also the story of Preacher Cody, who survived Afghanistan and found God. And in Montvue, Colorado, has found his calling: He has been called to once again try to rid the world of witches.

I cannot recommend this book enough. The historical portions are accurate and the present day scenes are chilling. In the political climate that we are currently living in, the present day scenes are almost too real. This book scared me, and it should. The idea of anyone choosing how anyone else should live and believe is frightening. The lessons of the past have not been learned and they need to be. We, as a people, are too quick to forget the bad things and that is wrong. We need to remember them so that we don't repeat them over and over again. The Inquisition and the Witch Trials of Salem aren't dead history. They were repeated in the Red Scare of McCarthyism and in today's demonizing of gays, Muslims and women's health care. We need to remember.