Category Archives: Sherlock Holmes

One Day in the Arabian Nights…

The Desert of Souls
Howard Andrew Jones
Thomas Dunne Books
tpb $14.95
ebook $9.99  Kindle Epub

So there’s this guy, Howard Andrew Jones, see?  He’s done a lot of things in the field.  He’s held some editorial positions, most recently with Black Gate.  In addition to publishing some well received S&S short fiction (often in the aforementioned BG), he’s the author of a novel in the Pathfinder Tales.  Mr. Jones has also edited an 8 volume series collecting much of the short fiction of Harold Lamb.  These are accomplishments which should make any man proud.

But Nooo.  This isn’t enough.  The guy has to go an be an overachiever.  What do I mean by that?

Allow me to enter into evidence as exhibit A the novel The Desert of Souls.

This is a novel that gathered a great deal of attention when it was published last year.  If you’ve read it, you know why.  If you haven’t, get thee hence and obtain a copy.  (Use the handy link at the top of the page if you like.)

To set the tale, Asim is the captain of the guard for Jaffar, a high ranking official in the Caliphate of Baghdad.  (He’s also a real historical personage, as is the caliph.)  In order to take Jaffar’s mind off the death of his favorite parrot, Asim and his friend, the scholar Dabir, accompany Jaffar on an anonymous outing into the city.  Or to put it another way, they go slumming.  Jaffar decides to visit a fortune teller, but the fortune the old woman tells isn’t one he wants to hear.  As they leave her house, a man fleeing a group of thugs collides with them.  Asim and Dabir fight off the thugs, and discover he’s carrying an unusual door pull. 

It’s not just any door pull.  Between the fortunes given to them by the old woman and the number of people seeking this door pull, Asim and Dabir will find themselves on a dangerous quest across more than one world.  This was grand adventure in the old style.  Lots of action, chases, thrills, humor, and excitement.  In short, it was a heck of a lot of fun.

I’ve already mentioned that Howard Andrew Jones edited a set of Harold Lamb books.  If you’re familiar with Lamb, you’ll know what I mean when I say this book is very much in that vein.  If you’re not (and why not?), then get thee hence and obtain copies.  Lamb was one of the greatest adventure writers of the 20th century.  He was also a major influence on a guy from Cross Plains who was also named Howard.  I haven’t read all of the Lamb volumes yet, but I saw echoes of them here.  I mean that as high praise, not to imply that The Desert of Souls is in any way derivative.  It’s not. 

There are other influences here as well.  The Arabian Nights, obviously.  There’s also a strong element of Sherlock Holmes running through the book.  Dabir is the Holmes figure, observing and using reason, whereas Asim plays the role of Watson.  The book is narrated by Asim many years after the events he transcribes. 

Jones takes these influences, and others I probably missed, and combines them into something that’s greater than the sum of its parts.  I know that phrase has been overused to the point of cliche, but in this case I think it applies.  This is a rich novel, full of wit and heart, that treats its source material with respect.  It carries on the tradition of fantasy adventure and takes that tradition into new territory.  Jones writes like an old pro, not a relatively new author.  You care what happens to the characters; you hurt with them when they hurt; and you want to know more about what comes after you close the last page.  Jones gives enough hints that you now there are other stories yet to be told.

The sequel, The Bones of the Old Ones, came out this past Tuesday (December 11).  My copy is on order.  Look for a review soon.  There are also some short stories starring Dabir and Asim collected in the ebook The Waters of Eternity.  My original intention was to review Desert a couple of months ago, Waters last month, and Bones sometime this month.  I was foolish enough to mention this plan in an email to Howard, and I apologize for not keeping with my schedule.

So I rest my case.  The evidence shows that Howard Andrew Jones is an overachiever.  Pretty shameless one, at that.  And that’s fine by me.

The Desert of Souls and The Bones of the Old Ones are featured books at Adventures Fantastic Books.

A Review of Brad Sinor’s Where the Shadows Began

Where the Shadows Began
Bradley H. Sinor
Merry Blacksmith Press
tp, 182 p., $13.95

I’d intended to run this review in conjunction with an interview I conducted with Brad and his wife Sue.  Unfortunately, Brad suffered a stroke about the time I finished transcribing the interview, so he hasn’t had a chance to check it for accuracy (there were a couple of places where the recording isn’t clear).  I have no intention of rushing him.  I’d much rather he focus on getting back on his feet.

In the meantime, I will run this review, partly as a show of support for Brad and partly because I try to find things I think the readers of this blog will enjoy.  And there’s plenty here to enjoy.

Bradley H. Sinor is mainly a writer of short stories.  This volume contains 15 selections, plus an afterward telling a little about how each story came to be written.  There’s a wide variety here, from Lovecraftian horror, to alternate history, to Arthurian vampires.

Rather than give a synopsis, even a one line synopsis, of each story, I’ll highlight some of my favorites.

 “The Adventure of the Other Detective” was one of the best, although I did have some issues with it.  In this tale, John Watson, M.D., finds himself in a parallel universe in which the master criminal Sherlock Holmes is pursued by the great detective Professor James Moriarty.  This one involves Jack the Ripper.  At one point we’re given the information that the Ripper was captured in July of 1888.  I’ve read quite a bit about the Ripper, and this threw me out of the story.  The Ripper murders took place in the autumn of that year.  But then I remembered that this was an alternate timeline, so they very well could have been committed earlier than in our timeline.  And I was back in the story.  This was one of the longer entries in the collection, and Sinor does a great job of capturing the voice of Watson. 

“When the Wind Sang”, Oaths”, Central Park”, and “Final Score” all involve the famous vampire Lancelot du Lac.  What’s that you say?  You didn’t know Lancelot was a vampire?  Well, now you know.  On the surface, that might sound like a mashup you don’t need, but I assure you, you do.  These stories take place throughout history, from shortly after the fall of Camelot in the first tale to a ren faire in contemporary Norman, Oklahoma.  Lancelot is an interesting character who hasn’t managed to get Guinevere out of his system.  Not surprising since she’s the reason he’s a vampire.  We get enough of the back story through these tales to whet our appetites and make us want to know more.  In “When the Winds Sang”, Lancelot returns to Camelot not long after its fall to discover there’s another knight impersonating him.  In “Oaths” he meets a serving girl who is the spitting image of his lost love.  Merlin reminds Lance that even the smallest of deeds can carry on the principles of Camelot in “Central Park”.  Lastly, Lance hunts down a serial killer at a renaissance festival in “Final Score”. 

“John Doe #12” takes place contemporaneously with “Final Score”, although the characters and killer are completely different.  This one has series potential, and I’d like to see more of the characters.

This list is by no means exhaustive.  There are fairy tale mashups.  Several of the stories take place in theaters, both the live and the film kind.  There are ghosts and superheroes.

There is one thing all the tales in this book share.  They’re entertaining.  Make that two things.  They’re also fun.  If you haven’t read Sinor, Where the Shadows Began is a great place to start.

Dunsany’s Heir

The New Death and Others
James Hutchings
0.99, various ebook formats (Kindle)(Smashwords-various formats)

About one hundred years ago or so, give or take a decade, there was a fantasy writer named Lord Dunsany.  Some of you may have heard of him.  He wrote a couple of novels, but most of his reputation was built on short stories, many of them about a chap named Jorkens who had all sorts of fantastical adventures.  Other stories, though, the ones that weren’t about Mr. Jorkens, ah, those were a delight.  They were often brief, what would be referred to today short-shorts.  Dunsany was known for his irony and wit.  And while writers who wrote witty, ironic tales, often about chaps who have fantastical adventures, have continued to this day, none have mastered the short-short the way Dunsany did, certainly none with his bite.

Until now.  James Hutchings has taken up that mantle, and he wears it well.  The New Death and Others contains 44 short stories and 19 poems.  And to quote from the promotional copy, there are no sparkly vampires.

Usually in these reviews, I give a run down of the stories, listing them and perhaps saying a thing or two about them.  I won’t do that here.  Not with 44 stories, some of them only about a page in length.  Instead, I’ll try to give you a feel for the book.  For starters, this is the second book I’ve read in the last couple of weeks that made me laugh out loud.  (The first was Giant Thief.) The humor is wry, ironic, and at times biting.  I loved it.

Oh, and puns.  Did I mention puns?  There are number of them.  One example, in “Sigrun and the Shepherd” unkind shepherds are sent to angora management classes.  There are more where that came from; “The Adventure of the Murdered Philanthropist” is a Sherlock Holmes spoof that contains a whole string of them.  Now, there are those who say the pun is the lowest form of wit.  You need to remember that these people only say that because they aren’t clever enough to think of puns themselves.

Four of the poems are retellings of fantasy stories by famous authors, one each by Lovecraft, Howard, Smith and the aforementioned Dunsany.  And they’re good.  I haven’t read all the originals, but the Howard poem, based on “The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune“, captures the spirit of the original exceedingly well.

In fact all of the poems, whether short or long, are worth reading.  These poems have rhyme and meter, and more than once I found their cadences echoing through my mind after I had finished them.

Many of the stories concern the fiction city of Telelee.  (This is a different spelling than the author has on his blog, but I checked the book to make sure.)  These are among the most Dunsany-esque tales in the book.  Telelee is an imaginary city in a world that never was.  Every story (and poem) set there was different, exotic, and fascinating.  I want to visit this world many times.

Don’t think, though, that Hutchings has merely recycled old tropes.  While his love and respect for the source material he draws on is evident, these are stories for the twenty-first century.  Many of the puns and jokes would have been incomprehensible to Dunsany, Howard, or Lovecraft.  Computers and modern technology appear frequently, and a number of the stories are set in present day.  Huthcings has built on what has come before, paid homage to it, and expanded it.  In doing so, he has made this style of writing his own.

One final word regarding the production values of the book.  This is one of the most professional ebooks I’ve seen in a long time.  Certainly more professional than the last ebook I read from a major publisher.  I don’t recall any formatting errors.  There is a fully interactive ToC, which worked every time I used it.  Hutchings has clearly put the time and effort in to produce a superior book in terms of production values.  And the cover fits the book to a “T”.  At ninety-nine cents, it’s a bargain at twice the price.  (No, James, I’m not sending you more money.)

I’ve somehow found myself with a pretty heavy reviewing slate.  Enough to keep me reading for the next six months.  I’ve got half a dozen books I’m committed to review, either to individual authors who have requested reviews or to publishers who have been kind enough to send review copies.  That’s not a bad situation to be in mot of the time, but if I’m not careful, the commitments can take the fun out of reading and make it seem like homework.  The New Death reminded me why I started doing this in the first place.  The humor and exotic settings were a breath of fresh air.  Many of the stories and poems are, like I mentioned, only about a page in length.  This is the perfect book to read when you only have a minute or three.  I recommend the book highly and will be following Hutchings’ blog from now on.