Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Book "The Adventure of the Priory School" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

About the Book: "The Adventure of the Priory School", one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of 13 stories in the cycle collected as The Return of Sherlock Holmes. Doyle ranked "The Adventure of the Priory School" tenth in his list of his twelve favorite Holmes stories.

About the Author: Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle was born on 22 May 1859 at 11 Picardy Place, Edinburgh, Scotland. From 1876 to 1881, he studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, including a period working in the town of Aston (now a district of Birmingham) and in Sheffield, as well as in Shropshire at Ruyton-XI-Towns. While studying, Doyle began writing short stories. His earliest extant fiction, "The Haunted Grange of Goresthorpe", was unsuccessfully submitted to Blackwood's Magazine. His first published piece "The Mystery of Sasassa Valley", a story set in South Africa, was printed in Chambers's Edinburgh Journal on 6 September 1879. On 20 September 1879, he published his first non-fiction article, "Gelsemium as a Poison" in the British Medical Journal. In 1882 he joined former classmate George Turnavine Budd as his partner at a medical practice in Plymouth, but their relationship proved difficult, and Doyle soon left to set up an independent practice. Arriving in Portsmouth in June of that year with less than £10 (£900 today) to his name, he set up a medical practice at 1 Bush Villas in Elm Grove, Southsea. The practice was initially not very successful. While waiting for patients, Doyle again began writing stories and composed his first novels, The Mystery of Cloomber, not published until 1888, and the unfinished Narrative of John Smith, which would go unpublished until 2011. He amassed a portfolio of short stories including "The Captain of the Pole-Star" and "J. Habakuk Jephson's Statement", both inspired by Doyle's time at sea, the latter of which popularized the mystery of the Mary Celeste and added fictional details such as the perfect condition of the ship (which had actually taken on water by the time it was discovered) and its boats remaining on board (the one boat was in fact missing) that have come to dominate popular accounts of the incident. Doyle struggled to find a publisher for his work. His first significant piece, A Study in Scarlet, was taken by Ward Lock Co. on 20 November 1886, giving Doyle £25 for all rights to the story. The piece appeared later that year in the Beeton's Christmas Annual and received good reviews in The Scotsman and the Glasgow Herald. The story featured the first appearance of Watson and Sherlock Holmes, partially modeled after his former university teacher Joseph Bell. Doyle wrote to him, "It is most certainly to you that I owe Sherlock Holmes ... Round the center of deduction and inference and observation which I have heard you inculcate I have tried to build up a man." Robert Louis Stevenson was able, even in faraway Samoa, to recognize the strong similarity between Joseph Bell and Sherlock Holmes: "My compliments on your very ingenious and very interesting adventures of Sherlock Holmes. ... Can this be my old friend Joe Bell?" Other authors sometimes suggest additional influences—for instance, the famous Edgar Allan Poe character C. Auguste Dupin. A sequel to A Study in Scarlet was commissioned and The Sign of the Four appeared in Lippincott's Magazine in February 1890, under agreement with the Ward Lock company. Doyle felt grievously exploited by Ward Lock as an author new to the publishing world and he left them. Short stories featuring Sherlock Holmes were published in the Strand Magazine. Doyle first began to write for the 'Strand' from his home at 2 Upper Wimpole Street, now marked by a memorial plaque. In this period, however, Holmes was not his sole subject and in 1893, he collaborated with J.M. Barrie on the libretto of Jane Annie. Doyle was found clutching his chest in the hall of Windlesham Manor, his house in Crowborough, East Sussex, on 7 July 1930. He died of a heart attack at the age of 71. His last words were directed toward his wife: "You are wonderful." At the time of his death, there was some controversy concerning his burial place, as he was avowedly not a Christian, considering himself a Spiritualist. He was first buried on 11 July 1930 in Windlesham rose garden. He was later re-interred together with his wife in Minstead churchyard in the New Forest, Hampshire. Carved wooden tablets to his memory and to the memory of his wife are held privately and are inaccessible to the public. That inscription reads, "Blade straight / Steel true / Arthur Conan Doyle / Born May 22nd 1859 / Passed On 7th July 1930." The epitaph on his gravestone in the churchyard reads, in part: "Steel true/Blade straight/Arthur Conan Doyle/Knight/Patriot, Physician, and man of letters". Undershaw, the home near Hindhead, Haslemere, south of London, that Doyle had built and lived in between October 1897 and September 1907, was a hotel and restaurant from 1924 until 2004. It was then bought by a developer and stood empty while conservationists and Doyle fans fought to preserve it. In 2012 the High Court ruled that the redevelopment permission be quashed because proper procedure had not been followed. A statue honors Doyle at Crowborough Cross in Crowborough, where he lived for 23 years. There is also a statue of Sherlock Holmes in Picardy Place, Edinburgh, close to the house where Doyle was born.

My Review: In this story, Holmes receives a visit from Dr. Thorneycroft Huxtable, the founder and principal of a preparatory school called Priory School in Northern England. He beseeches Holmes to come back to Mackleton with him to look into the kidnapping of one of his pupils.
The boy's father, the Duke of Holdernesse, has offered a reward of £5000 to anyone who can tell him where his son, the ten-year-old Lord Saltire, is, and a further £1000 to anyone who can tell him who his kidnappers are.
James Wilder, the Duke's personal secretary, has also been indiscreet enough to mention something to Huxtable about the young Lord's unhappy home life. His parents no longer live together, his mother having moved to Southern France. Wilder has said that Lord Saltire's sympathies were with his mother in these matters. Upon arrival at the school, though, Lord Saltire seemed to be quite happy, and in his element.
Less than a fortnight later, however, he suddenly disappeared from the school. He could only have left by climbing out of his window at night and down the thick ivy to the ground. Curiously, the German master, Heidegger, is also missing, along with his bicycle. Lord Saltire had received a letter that very day from his father, but Huxtable has no idea of the contents. The boy has taken it with him. He was fully dressed, too. However, Heidegger left his shirt and socks behind.
Holmes decides to accompany Huxtable back to Mackleton, even though he is quite busy with business in London. He tells Huxtable first that if he is going to telegraph home, it would be wise to let the rumor of progress in Liverpool persist.
Once in the North, Holmes asks the Duke a few questions. His Grace does not think that his estranged wife has anything to do with his son's disappearance, nor has there been a ransom demand. He can also think of nothing in the letter that he wrote, posted by James Wilder along with dozens of others, that could have upset Lord Saltire.
Holmes establishes that the boy and his kidnappers could not have used the nearby road without being seen, suggesting that they went cross-country. As if to confirm this, the police find the boy's school cap in some gypsies' possession. They swear that they simply found it on the moor, but the police lock them up.
Holmes and Dr. Watson go hunting for clues. They find a bicycle track, but it is not Heidegger's; it does not match his tires. Holmes observes, however, that one tire has a patch on it. Most anything observable has been obliterated by cow tracks, making sleuthing rather difficult. Indeed, the only marks on the ground anywhere nearby are cows' hoof prints.
Eventually, Heidegger's bicycle tracks are found, and they end where he apparently had his head smashed in. There he lies, quite dead.
A number of things may already be deduced:
  • Lord Saltire left the school of his own free will;
  • Heidegger hurriedly went after him, having seen him climb down, which explains his less than complete dress;
  • The boy had a swift means of escape, for Heidegger would not have bothered with his bicycle if the boy had been on foot;
  • The boy had an adult companion, for he himself could not have smashed Heidegger's head in;
  • No other cyclist, nor another man on foot could have anything to do with the murder, for there are no marks on the ground to indicate this;

Something caused the boy to leave school at night, either homesickness (unlikely) or the letter he was mentioned to have received.
Holmes and Watson find themselves at the Fighting Cock Inn, and meet the innkeeper, Reuben Hayes, who seems startled indeed to hear that Holmes wants to go to Holdernesse Hall, the Duke's nearby house, to tell him news of his son. The two men have lunch there, and Holmes suddenly realizes something: He and Watson saw lots of cow tracks out on the moor, all along their line of investigation, but never at any time did they see any cows. Furthermore, the patterns of the hoof prints were quite unusual, suggesting that the cow in question walked, cantered, and galloped – very unusual behavior for a cow. Holmes and Watson sneak out to Hayes's stable and examine the horse's hooves. As Holmes has expected, there is evidence of recent shoeing, but with old shoes and new nails. Examining the nearby smithy, Holmes and Watson are rather belligerently asked to leave by Mr. Hayes. A short way down the road towards the Duke's house, Watson tells Holmes that he is convinced that Hayes knows all about the sordid business at hand.
Shortly afterwards, the two men hide as a cyclist comes along the road from the direction of the Duke's. It is James Wilder, and he looks agitated. He arrives at the inn. Soon afterwards, a trap pulls out of the stable yard and goes along the road towards Chesterfield. A while later, someone else – it is getting dark and only a fleeting glimpse of the new visitor is caught – arrives at the inn.
Coming closer, Holmes observes Wilder's bicycle tires and notes that they are the same make as the first ones encountered on the moor, and as expected, one tire has a patch. Holmes uses Watson as a stepladder to have a look at the meeting. His look is very brief, and then they leave.
The next morning, they go to Holdernesse Hall, where they find that the Duke is not at all well. Nevertheless, Holmes demands from him a check for £6000, saying that he has earned the reward. His son is at the Fighting Cock, and the accused is the Duke himself.
Holmes has not, however, deduced the whole story. He has found Lord Saltire, and seen the Duke with him while standing on Watson's shoulders, but the actual mastermind of this crime is James Wilder. He conceived a plan to kidnap Lord Saltire to force the Duke to change his will. Wilder has always felt cheated, because he is, as it turns out, the Duke's son, born out of wedlock to the Duke's late lover, before he married the Duchess, who bore the Duke a legitimate heir. Wilder knew very well that his father would not call the police on him, as he abhorred the very idea of scandal. The plan began to unravel when Wilder hired Hayes – who has now fled, but been caught on Holmes's information – to do the actual kidnapping. Hayes killed Heidegger, and when Wilder heard the news, he confessed all to his father. So anxious was the Duke to avoid scandal, he agreed to let his younger son stay at the inn for another three days, and to keep quiet, so that Hayes could flee justice.
All ends well, except for Hayes, who faces the gallows. Lord Saltire is brought home from the inn and the Duke writes to his estranged wife asking her to reconcile with him. This he feels she will be willing to do, for the source of the friction between them is going away: James Wilder is being packed off to Australia to seek his fortune there.
As for the cow tracks, they were accomplished by shoeing the horses with special shoes shaped like cow's hooves.
An splendid plot, I recommend this story to any reader that appreciates a very well written mystery.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Book "Gameland - Episode 8 - Jacker's Code" by Saul W.Tanpepper

About the Book: The shocking conclusion to the high-tech horror thriller, GAMELAND.
Jessie and the remaining gamers and hackers struggle against all odds to escape Gameland and Long Island alive, even though some of them have been infected with the zombie virus. Determined to do whatever is necessary, they have yet to face the most difficult decisions of their lives, not knowing if they will ever be able to return to the lives they so recklessly left behind.
The world is suddenly a very different place, where monsters aren't always kept behind walls. They can be anywhere.

About the Author: Saul writes in several speculative fiction genres, including horror, cyberpunk, biopunk, and straight science fiction. A former Army medic and trauma specialist, he earned a PhD in molecular biology and genetics; his works are heavily informed by these past experiences.
Saul spent his formative years in a century-old house overlooking the Erie Canal in Upstate New York. He shared an attic room with all manner of creatures, not all, he is convinced, flesh and blood.
After several years spent overseas and working his way to executive positions in biotech, he returned to his true passion of storytelling.
He now writes full time from his home in the San Francisco Bay Area. He continues to be haunted by a variety of creatures, including a wife, kids, three dogs, three cats, twenty chickens, a wayward rooster, and one very grumpy possum. They are all flesh and blood.
Except for the possum, which he's sure is the reincarnated spirit of Jack Torrance.
Visit him at tanpepperwrites.com
Subscribe to be notified of new releases and exclusive deals at tinyletter.com/SWTanpepper

My Review: This is a very well written series with a very intense story-line.  This particular episode is the last book, so it does not stand by itself as a story. It starts where episode seven ended and finishes the series. The plot is interesting and will keep you reading on the edge of your chair for most of the book. The characters are well developed and the scenario is so richly described that you feel you are inside the story. In episode one we saw a group of game hackers deciding to break into Long Island's Gameland, a place where nobody lives, because of an outbreak that happened twelve years before. All population that survived the outbreak were evacuated. Now the only entities that inhabit that wasteland are the zombies. Their adventure starts with a poorly planed trip idea and tension escalates during preparation for the trip and execution of the trip. They soon figure out that it is easier to enter than to leave the Island... In episode two, after trying to leave the Island, Jake is trapped and left behind, so Jessie wants to return to rescue him. Kelly anticipates her move and goes alone for the rescue. Then the whole group unite again, trying to bring them home. It fails badly and the whole group is back in the Island and facing some more mysteries. In episode three, Steven is an employee from Arc, doing some experiments on our group with new drugs to create an improved version of zombie. But before all were injected, they manage to escape from La Guardia Airport and go in the direction of Gameland. When arriving there (after lots of incidents and twists in the story), they find out some answers to questions they had from Steven and they were not happy about what they discover. In episode four, the group is in the heart of Gameland, trying to break the failsafe mechanism that could allow them to go back home. One of the members of the group is bitten and infected. More revelations happen. In the fifth episode, Jessie goes in search of a treatment to contain the disease, but she needs to return before it is too late. Other characters are introduced into the story, some that were left behind when the outbreak happened. In the sixth episode, Jessie finds other characters when trying to return to her group with the treatment. Things get out of control and these new characters ended up kidnapping one of the original group and they leave in search of the source of the treatment. An intense end leave us in suspense, and the seventh episode brings us to a battle for survival more intense than any previous one. This last episode comes with the promise of a rescue that starts with a disaster and ends up with the core of the group going back to the real world. Some missing members that did not make it are remembered. But life is not completely back to normal, as normal is a very subjective notion. But the series ends up in a positive tone, with unexpected hope.
This book was written by Saul W.Tanpepper in December of 2012. I recommend this book to the permanent library of all thriller lovers, young adults or not. But be aware that you should read the previous episodes before reading this one, so you can understand what is going on and the interaction among the characters. If you enjoyed the first seven, you will love this final book in this series.

If you read my review, feel free to leave a comment!



Monday, October 20, 2014

Book "The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

About the Book: "The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist", one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of 13 stories in the cycle collected as The Return of Sherlock Holmes.

About the Author: Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle was born on 22 May 1859 at 11 Picardy Place, Edinburgh, Scotland. From 1876 to 1881, he studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, including a period working in the town of Aston (now a district of Birmingham) and in Sheffield, as well as in Shropshire at Ruyton-XI-Towns. While studying, Doyle began writing short stories. His earliest extant fiction, "The Haunted Grange of Goresthorpe", was unsuccessfully submitted to Blackwood's Magazine. His first published piece "The Mystery of Sasassa Valley", a story set in South Africa, was printed in Chambers's Edinburgh Journal on 6 September 1879. On 20 September 1879, he published his first non-fiction article, "Gelsemium as a Poison" in the British Medical Journal. In 1882 he joined former classmate George Turnavine Budd as his partner at a medical practice in Plymouth, but their relationship proved difficult, and Doyle soon left to set up an independent practice. Arriving in Portsmouth in June of that year with less than £10 (£900 today) to his name, he set up a medical practice at 1 Bush Villas in Elm Grove, Southsea. The practice was initially not very successful. While waiting for patients, Doyle again began writing stories and composed his first novels, The Mystery of Cloomber, not published until 1888, and the unfinished Narrative of John Smith, which would go unpublished until 2011. He amassed a portfolio of short stories including "The Captain of the Pole-Star" and "J. Habakuk Jephson's Statement", both inspired by Doyle's time at sea, the latter of which popularized the mystery of the Mary Celeste and added fictional details such as the perfect condition of the ship (which had actually taken on water by the time it was discovered) and its boats remaining on board (the one boat was in fact missing) that have come to dominate popular accounts of the incident. Doyle struggled to find a publisher for his work. His first significant piece, A Study in Scarlet, was taken by Ward Lock Co. on 20 November 1886, giving Doyle £25 for all rights to the story. The piece appeared later that year in the Beeton's Christmas Annual and received good reviews in The Scotsman and the Glasgow Herald. The story featured the first appearance of Watson and Sherlock Holmes, partially modeled after his former university teacher Joseph Bell. Doyle wrote to him, "It is most certainly to you that I owe Sherlock Holmes ... Round the center of deduction and inference and observation which I have heard you inculcate I have tried to build up a man." Robert Louis Stevenson was able, even in faraway Samoa, to recognize the strong similarity between Joseph Bell and Sherlock Holmes: "My compliments on your very ingenious and very interesting adventures of Sherlock Holmes. ... Can this be my old friend Joe Bell?" Other authors sometimes suggest additional influences—for instance, the famous Edgar Allan Poe character C. Auguste Dupin. A sequel to A Study in Scarlet was commissioned and The Sign of the Four appeared in Lippincott's Magazine in February 1890, under agreement with the Ward Lock company. Doyle felt grievously exploited by Ward Lock as an author new to the publishing world and he left them. Short stories featuring Sherlock Holmes were published in the Strand Magazine. Doyle first began to write for the 'Strand' from his home at 2 Upper Wimpole Street, now marked by a memorial plaque. In this period, however, Holmes was not his sole subject and in 1893, he collaborated with J.M. Barrie on the libretto of Jane Annie. Doyle was found clutching his chest in the hall of Windlesham Manor, his house in Crowborough, East Sussex, on 7 July 1930. He died of a heart attack at the age of 71. His last words were directed toward his wife: "You are wonderful." At the time of his death, there was some controversy concerning his burial place, as he was avowedly not a Christian, considering himself a Spiritualist. He was first buried on 11 July 1930 in Windlesham rose garden. He was later re-interred together with his wife in Minstead churchyard in the New Forest, Hampshire. Carved wooden tablets to his memory and to the memory of his wife are held privately and are inaccessible to the public. That inscription reads, "Blade straight / Steel true / Arthur Conan Doyle / Born May 22nd 1859 / Passed On 7th July 1930." The epitaph on his gravestone in the churchyard reads, in part: "Steel true/Blade straight/Arthur Conan Doyle/Knight/Patriot, Physician, and man of letters". Undershaw, the home near Hindhead, Haslemere, south of London, that Doyle had built and lived in between October 1897 and September 1907, was a hotel and restaurant from 1924 until 2004. It was then bought by a developer and stood empty while conservationists and Doyle fans fought to preserve it. In 2012 the High Court ruled that the redevelopment permission be quashed because proper procedure had not been followed. A statue honours Doyle at Crowborough Cross in Crowborough, where he lived for 23 years. There is also a statue of Sherlock Holmes in Picardy Place, Edinburgh, close to the house where Doyle was born.

My Review: In this story, Holmes is contacted by Miss Violet Smith of Farnham, Surrey about an unusual turn in her and her mother’s lives. Violet’s father has recently died, and left his wife and daughter rather poor. However, a notice appeared in the newspaper not much later inquiring as to their whereabouts. Answering it, they met Mr. Carruthers and Mr. Woodley, the former a pleasant enough man, but the latter a bully. They had come from South Africa, where they had known Violet’s uncle Ralph Smith, who had now also died in poverty and apparently wanted to see that his relatives were provided for. This struck Violet as odd, since she and her family had not heard a word from Uncle Ralph since he'd gone to South Africa 25 years ago. Carruthers and Woodley explained that before dying, Ralph had heard of his brother’s death and felt responsible for his survivors’ welfare.
Carruthers began by offering Violet a job as a live-in music teacher for his ten-year-old daughter at £100 a year, about twice the going rate. She accepted after Carruthers said that she could visit her mother on weekends. That went well until Mr. Woodley came to stay for a week. He made the most oafish, clumsiest sexual advances and boasted that if Violet married him, she would have a life of luxury. He even grabbed her and demanded a kiss, precipitating expulsion by his host, Carruthers. Violet has not seen Woodley since.
The specific thing that has brought Violet to seek Holmes’s services, however, is the strange man who follows her on his bicycle as she cycles to and from the railway station for her weekend visits to her mother. The strange man always keeps his distance behind her and disappears without a trace, never letting her near him, and always along the same lonely stretch of road. Violet does not recognize him, but he has a black beard. Holmes asks her about her admirers, and other than Woodley, if he can be styled as such, she can only think of Mr. Carruthers, who, although a perfect gentleman at all times, seems attracted to her.
After Violet leaves, Holmes observes that it is odd that a household would pay £100 a year for a music teacher but be too cheap to pay for a horse and trap. He sends Dr. Watson to Surrey to see what he can find out. This turns out to be virtually nothing, except to establish that the lady’s story is true, and that the mystery man comes out of and goes back into a local house, Charlington Hall. Holmes upbraids Watson for his lackluster results. They also receive a letter from Violet that evening saying that Carruthers has proposed to her, but she had to refuse since she is already engaged to a man named Cyril Morton, an electrical engineer in Coventry.
Holmes goes to Surrey himself, and gets into a fight in a pub for his troubles; when he returns and tells Watson what happened, he actually considers his experience in Surrey to be hilarious. It seems that Mr. Woodley has been in the taproom at the pub and heard his name mentioned in conversation. He comes out and demands to know who Holmes is and what he wants. The discussion escalates to violence; Holmes emerges with a few bruises, whereas Woodley has to be carried home. The innkeeper has merely mentioned that Woodley is a regular weekend guest at Charlington Hall, which is rented by Williamson, who, rumor has it, is a clergyman.
Holmes returns to 221-B Baker Street with his face somewhat marred, and another letter arrives from Violet, saying that her situation has become impossible owing to Mr. Carruthers’s proposals, and Mr. Woodley’s reappearance. She is quitting. Holmes knows that some intrigue is afoot, and he tells Watson that they must get themselves to Surrey to see that Violet makes it to the station. Carruthers has at last acquired a trap, and she need not ride her bicycle this time.
Through a failure to realize that Violet might take an earlier train than usual, Holmes discovers that he is too late to meet Violet. The trap comes along the road, but by the time it does, no one is in it. Violet has been abducted. Holmes and Watson board the empty trap in an attempt to go after the kidnappers. They come face-to-face with the mysterious cyclist, who pulls a revolver on them. However, both parties quickly realize that they are on the same side; both have Violet’s welfare in mind. The cyclist declares that the abductors are Woodley and Williamson. He evidently knows something of the intrigue.
The group first find an unconscious groom, who was driving the trap, in the bushes, and then they find all three persons that they have been seeking on the Charlington Hall grounds, with the apparently defrocked clergyman performing a wedding ceremony between the other two. The bride is somewhat unwilling, judging from the gag over her mouth. Woodley's boast of having married Violet leads Carruthers, the mysterious cyclist, to pull out his revolver and shoot Woodley, wounding him.
The intrigue does indeed involve Uncle Ralph in South Africa. He was dying when Carruthers and Woodley left; far from being penniless at his death, it is revealed that in reality, Uncle Ralph had amassed a large fortune. As he was illiterate, he would surely die intestate, and therefore Violet would inherit his wealth as Ralph’s next of kin. The two crooks made their way to England in the hopes that one of them would get to marry Violet — Woodley won the chance in a card game on the ship — and they had to draw Williamson into the plot, promising him a share of the lucre. The plan went awry when first, Woodley proved to be a brute, and next, Carruthers fell in love with Violet, and thereafter wanted nothing to do with his former confederates. He took to disguising himself and following her as she rode her bicycle past Charlington Hall, where he knew Woodley and Williamsom might be lying in wait for her.
Heavy penalties await Woodley and Williamson, but Carruthers only gets a few months due to Woodley's less-than-savory reputation. Holmes reassures Carruthers the "marriage" performed by Williamson was void. Not only was it performed against Violet's will, but Williamson had been defrocked and therefore had no authority to legalize a marriage.
I recommend this story to any reader who appreciates a well written mystery story, mainly featuring Sherlock Holmes.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Book "The Adventure of the Dancing Men" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle"

About the Book: "The Adventure of the Dancing Men", one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of 13 stories in the cycle collected as The Return of Sherlock Holmes. Doyle ranked "The Adventure of the Dancing Men" third in his list of his twelve favorite Holmes stories. This is one of only two Sherlock Holmes short stories where Holmes' client dies after seeking his help. The other is "The Five Orange Pips", part of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

About the Author: Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle was born on 22 May 1859 at 11 Picardy Place, Edinburgh, Scotland. From 1876 to 1881, he studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, including a period working in the town of Aston (now a district of Birmingham) and in Sheffield, as well as in Shropshire at Ruyton-XI-Towns. While studying, Doyle began writing short stories. His earliest extant fiction, "The Haunted Grange of Goresthorpe", was unsuccessfully submitted to Blackwood's Magazine. His first published piece "The Mystery of Sasassa Valley", a story set in South Africa, was printed in Chambers's Edinburgh Journal on 6 September 1879. On 20 September 1879, he published his first non-fiction article, "Gelsemium as a Poison" in the British Medical Journal. In 1882 he joined former classmate George Turnavine Budd as his partner at a medical practice in Plymouth, but their relationship proved difficult, and Doyle soon left to set up an independent practice. Arriving in Portsmouth in June of that year with less than £10 (£900 today) to his name, he set up a medical practice at 1 Bush Villas in Elm Grove, Southsea. The practice was initially not very successful. While waiting for patients, Doyle again began writing stories and composed his first novels, The Mystery of Cloomber, not published until 1888, and the unfinished Narrative of John Smith, which would go unpublished until 2011. He amassed a portfolio of short stories including "The Captain of the Pole-Star" and "J. Habakuk Jephson's Statement", both inspired by Doyle's time at sea, the latter of which popularized the mystery of the Mary Celeste and added fictional details such as the perfect condition of the ship (which had actually taken on water by the time it was discovered) and its boats remaining on board (the one boat was in fact missing) that have come to dominate popular accounts of the incident. Doyle struggled to find a publisher for his work. His first significant piece, A Study in Scarlet, was taken by Ward Lock Co. on 20 November 1886, giving Doyle £25 for all rights to the story. The piece appeared later that year in the Beeton's Christmas Annual and received good reviews in The Scotsman and the Glasgow Herald. The story featured the first appearance of Watson and Sherlock Holmes, partially modeled after his former university teacher Joseph Bell. Doyle wrote to him, "It is most certainly to you that I owe Sherlock Holmes ... Round the center of deduction and inference and observation which I have heard you inculcate I have tried to build up a man." Robert Louis Stevenson was able, even in faraway Samoa, to recognize the strong similarity between Joseph Bell and Sherlock Holmes: "My compliments on your very ingenious and very interesting adventures of Sherlock Holmes. ... Can this be my old friend Joe Bell?" Other authors sometimes suggest additional influences—for instance, the famous Edgar Allan Poe character C. Auguste Dupin. A sequel to A Study in Scarlet was commissioned and The Sign of the Four appeared in Lippincott's Magazine in February 1890, under agreement with the Ward Lock company. Doyle felt grievously exploited by Ward Lock as an author new to the publishing world and he left them. Short stories featuring Sherlock Holmes were published in the Strand Magazine. Doyle first began to write for the 'Strand' from his home at 2 Upper Wimpole Street, now marked by a memorial plaque. In this period, however, Holmes was not his sole subject and in 1893, he collaborated with J.M. Barrie on the libretto of Jane Annie. Doyle was found clutching his chest in the hall of Windlesham Manor, his house in Crowborough, East Sussex, on 7 July 1930. He died of a heart attack at the age of 71. His last words were directed toward his wife: "You are wonderful." At the time of his death, there was some controversy concerning his burial place, as he was avowedly not a Christian, considering himself a Spiritualist. He was first buried on 11 July 1930 in Windlesham rose garden. He was later reinterred together with his wife in Minstead churchyard in the New Forest, Hampshire. Carved wooden tablets to his memory and to the memory of his wife are held privately and are inaccessible to the public. That inscription reads, "Blade straight / Steel true / Arthur Conan Doyle / Born May 22nd 1859 / Passed On 7th July 1930." The epitaph on his gravestone in the churchyard reads, in part: "Steel true/Blade straight/Arthur Conan Doyle/Knight/Patriot, Physician, and man of letters". Undershaw, the home near Hindhead, Haslemere, south of London, that Doyle had built and lived in between October 1897 and September 1907, was a hotel and restaurant from 1924 until 2004. It was then bought by a developer and stood empty while conservationists and Doyle fans fought to preserve it. In 2012 the High Court ruled that the redevelopment permission be quashed because proper procedure had not been followed. A statue honours Doyle at Crowborough Cross in Crowborough, where he lived for 23 years. There is also a statue of Sherlock Holmes in Picardy Place, Edinburgh, close to the house where Doyle was born.

My Review: In this story, Mr. Hilton Cubitt of Ridling Thorpe Manor in Derbyshire visits Sherlock Holmes and gives him a piece of paper with a mysterious sequence of stick figures representing dancing men.
The little dancing men are at the heart of a mystery which seems to be driving his young wife Elsie Patrick to distraction. He married her about 3 years ago, and until recently, everything was well. She is American, and before the wedding, she asked her husband-to-be to promise her never to ask about her past, as she had had some “very disagreeable associations” in her life, although she said that there was nothing that she was personally ashamed of. Mr. Cubitt swore the promise and, being an honorable English gentleman, insists on living by it, which is one of the things causing difficulty at Ridling Thorpe Manor.
The trouble began when Elsie received a letter from the United States, which evidently disturbed her, and she threw the letter on the fire. Then the dancing men appeared, sometimes on a piece of paper left on the sundial overnight, sometimes scrawled in chalk on a wall or door, even a windowsill. Each time, their appearance has an obvious, terrifying effect on Elsie, but she will not tell her husband what is going on. Holmes tells Cubitt that he wants to see every occurrence of the dancing men. They are to be copied down and brought or sent to him at 221B Baker Street. Cubitt duly does this, and it provides Holmes with an important clue. Holmes comes to realize that it is a substitution cipher. He cracks the code by frequency analysis. The last of the messages conveyed by the dancing men is a particularly alarming one.
Holmes rushes down to Ridling Thorpe Manor only to find Cubitt dead of a bullet to the heart and his wife gravely wounded in the head. Inspector Martin of the Norfolk Constabulary believes that it is a murder-suicide, or will be if Elsie dies. She is the prime suspect in her husband’s death. Holmes sees things differently. Why is there a bullet hole in the windowsill, making a total of three shots, while Cubitt and his wife were each only shot once? Why are only two chambers in Cubitt’s revolver empty? What is the large sum of money doing in the room? The discovery of a trampled flowerbed just outside the window and the discovery of a shell casing therein confirm what Holmes has suspected: a third person was involved, and it is surely the one who has been sending the curious dancing-man messages.
Holmes knows certain things that Inspector Martin does not. He seemingly picks the name “Elrige’s” out of the air, and Cubitt’s stable boy recognizes it as a local farmer’s name. Holmes quickly writes a message — in dancing men characters — and sends the boy to Elrige’s Farm to deliver it to a lodger there, whose name he has also apparently picked out of the air. Of course, Holmes has learned both men's names by reading the dancing men code. While waiting for the result of this message, Holmes takes the opportunity to explain to Watson and Inspector Martin how he cracked the code of the dancing men, and the messages are revealed. The last one, which caused Holmes and Watson to rush to Norfolk, read “ELSIE PREPARE TO MEET THY GOD”.
The lodger, Mr. Abe Slaney, another American, unaware that Elsie is at death’s door and quite unable to communicate, duly arrives at Ridling Thorpe Manor a short while later, much to everyone’s astonishment, except Holmes’s. He has sent for Slaney using the dancing men, knowing that Slaney will believe that the message is from Elsie. He is seized as he comes through the door. He tells the whole story. He is Elsie's former fiancĂ© from Chicago and has come to England to woo her back. She had originally fled his clutches because he was a dangerous criminal, as Holmes has found out through telegraphic inquiries to the US. When an encounter at the window where the killing happened turned violent with Hilton Cubitt's appearance in the room, Slaney pulled out his gun and shot back at Cubitt, who had already shot at him. Cubitt was killed and Slaney fled. Apparently, Elsie then shot herself. Slaney seems genuinely upset that Elsie has come to harm. The threatening nature of some of his dancing-man messages is explained by Slaney's losing his temper at Elsie's apparent unwillingness to leave her husband. The money found in the room was apparently to have been a bribe to make Slaney go away.
Slaney is arrested and later tried. He escapes the noose owing to mitigating circumstances. Elsie recovers from her serious injuries and spends her life helping the poor and administering her late husband’s estate.
Another masterpiece from Sir Conan Doyle. I recommend this book to the library of any reader who enjoys well written mystery stories, mainly featuring Sherlock Holmes.

If you read this review, feel free to leave a comment.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Book "Dracengard" by Christopher Vale

About the Book: It has been over a thousand years since the last Realm War, when the forces of light banished the demonic shedom back to the Realm of Darkness. Now a new evil threatens the Middle Realm as a self-proclaimed wizard and a mysterious black knight lead an army of humanoid lizards against the kingdoms of man.
To save her home, Princess Terrwyn will join her twin brother Erec and little sister Taite on a desperate quest to find Dracengard, a mythical place that few believe even exists. They must brave man-eating monsters, demonic knights, and opportunistic pirates as they flee the Wizard's clutches with a magical stone that legend claims holds the power to destroy the forces of darkness.

About the Author: Christopher Vale lives in Florida with his beautiful wife, three adorable children and two fluffy dogs. The idea for his first book series "Dracengard" began when he was in a playwriting class in college in 1995 and evolved over the decades to become what it is now. You can visit him on the web at ChristopherVale.net.

My Review: What a great book! Initially I thought that this would be a variation of Morgan Rice's books from the "Sorcerer's Ring", but this author brings us a completely different new world, full of adventures, monsters, betrayals, plots and counter-plots, sacrifices, all the good ingredients to make this book an instant success. It is a very pleasant reading that will keep you entertained for hours.
The plot is interesting: a wizard tries to reunite some magic stones that would give him power beyond anything imaginable. There is a dark knight helping him with an army of monsters. One of the stones is guarded by a royal family. When under attack, the king send out his three kids (princess Terrwyn, her twin brother Erec and her little sister Taite) to go with the stone to this mystic place called Dracengard. It is a journey full of incidents and they got split in a certain moment. Erec is captured and Terrwyn and Taite proceed their journey, counting with the help of some dubious characters. The book is full of action and you will read it at the edge of your seat.
This is the first book of a series, so it does not end gracefully. It has a hook to the next episode, that definitely I will be reading in the near future.
I recommend this book to the permanent library of all readers that enjoy a well written book, young adults or not. You will enjoy it the same.

If you read this review, feel free to leave a comment.