Friday, May 8, 2009

Sherlock Holmes in New York, adapted by D.R. Bensen

I love going into used book stories and finding weird shit like this book, which I read all in one sitting on a plane trip to Arizona (though if it was coming or going, I forget). It's based on a TV movie that starred Roger Moore and Patrick Macnee and isn't on DVD anywhere, much to my chagrin.

Come on people! James Bond and Steed in a Holmes movie! That's video purchase gold, right there.

At any rate, I just have to be content with the text version, picturing their lines of dialog in my head, where it might just be better than the actual product was for all I know.

I am a big fan of Sherlock Holmes, and I'm planning to re-read the entire Doyle series from start to finish later this year. I've watched Rathbone, Brett (my personal favorite), Spiner (via Data), and others play the part to varying degrees of quality. I've listened to the radio shows and even read one of the radio scripts. I've read everyone from Laurie King to Martin Davies have a run at the character, not including parodies or homages.

So when I say that this plot is actually very enjoyable and one of the better non-Doyle stories I've read, that's no small compliment. Based on the script by Alvin Sapinsley, Bensen manages to capture the Holmes-Watson dynamic really well. While Holmes is stunningly brilliant, solving crimes literally from the time he steps on the boat to New York, he needs Watson as his grounding to reality, lest his overly anylitical mind withdraw him too far from humanity. (It doesn't hurt that Watson is shown as fairly competent, part of what makes or breaks a Holmes story for me. After all, why would Holmes hang out with a baffoon?)

The book opens with yet another Holmes-Moriarity battle, this one with the full backing of the police. Holmes, supremely triumphant, has no idea the problems that Moriarity will give him later, which is part of the fun. (Holmes is a great guy, but no one ever called him modest.) A letter calls Holmes and Watson across the sea to meet one of the few people to ever best Holmes, Irene Adler. She's a bit older, with a child in tow, but no less lovely than she was in the past.

Unfortunately, and this is the one part of the book I had an issue with, is that Adler becomes the woman in the refridgerator, as she falls apart because her son is kidnapped by Moriarity as a lever against Holmes interference in his American schemes. (For those not into comics, that's a callback to the imfamous scene where a new Green Lantern's girlfriend is murdered and stuffed into his fridge. Classy stuff, comics, sometimes.) She recovers in time to help aid Holmes, but not in the role of equal that would have made this story sing. But it's a small complaint--if I stopped reading any story where women were not treated equally, I'd sadly read hardly anything at all.

As the American police grow ever-more irate with Holmes, he concots a plan of deceipt to save the day, using Adler and Watson as decoys while Holmes plays master of disguise. Proving more than a match for the men keeping him at bay, it's on to the real scheme and another showdown with Moriarity--perhaps for the last time!

This is where the book really moves, as Watson provides inspiration and essential help, Adler stops being so useless, and Holmes leads the reader through his logical world into a denouncement that gives a nice spin on the locked-room mystery. There's nothing earth-shattering about the main plots--I am pretty sure I copped to both tricks before the big reveal--but they're fun and make sense, which is really all I ask from a mystery. The clues are all out there for the reader, if you're the type who wants to solve it before the sluth does. I don't recall any points where the author kept things from the reader in order to make the resolution somehow more effective. (I hate books that do that, personally--your milage may vary.)

By the end, Holmes and Watson must return, and Adler must fade back into the mist of Holmes' past, but not before giving him something rather important to think about. It's a nice touch that, if someone wanted to and could find the rights, might make into an interesting series of its own.

Bensen does a pretty good job aping the dialog of the Victorian age, though in places it feels a bit clunky and might jar some readers. I'm not a stickler on perfect period writing, as long as I like the story and no one's running around talking about President McKinley when we're still in the age of Chester A. Arthur or something that a simple fact-check by the editor would have fixed. I wasn't able to notice any jarring inconsistencies like that, but I'm sure there's one or two you might spot on a careful reading.

He also has Watson comment--probably a bit too often--on when he's writing about things he couldn't have known first-hand. Those scenes did throw me out of the moment, and I didn't see their point. Watson is of course writing this at a later date, and would have checked up with Holmes on anything he didn't have first-hand knowledge with. Playing around too much (like imagining Moriarity's instructions to his lackeys) hurts rather than helps. But it, like the fact that Adler wasn't stronger as a character, is a minor quibble on a pretty good book.

If you're not a fan of adaptations or writers playing with classic characters, this is a poor choice. But if you love Holmes as much as I do, finding a copy of this one in your friendly neighboorhood used book story should lead to an elementary decision on your part. I had fun with this one, and I think you will, too.

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