Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Sherlock Holmes: A Study in Scarlet

by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

In this short novel the world is introduced to Sherlock Holmes and his new roommate Dr. Watson. When you've seen dozens of movie and tv renditions of this famous detective, it's a little hard to start reading the books without any pre-conceived notions, but I've wanted to read them to get an idea of the character that Doyle imagined. Here's what you get from the first story: Sherlock is smart, he gathers lots of information, but only that which he deems valuable to advance his profession, he assists the top Scotland Yard detectives, his powers of observation are on steroids and he might possibly be manic-depressive.

The Study in Scarlet presents Holmes with two murders and he determines to take Watson under his wing to prove the power of observation in resolving mysteries. And so in the first half we get it all, right up to the arrest of the murderer, which is abruptly interrupted with part II that fills us in on all the back story that led up to the murders. In this case it stems from issues within the Mormon church, so we learn a great lot about their settling in Salt Lake City and a bit about their hierarchy, which doesn't paint too good a light on the Mormon's, but makes a good motive for these murders. And then, just as suddenly, Holmes is wrapping it all up in a neat little package and passing it off as elementary.

This is a fun and quick introduction to Sherlock Holmes. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Cider House Rules

by John Irving

I'll give John Irving credit, he can weave a good yarn! I'm not sure why it took me so long to read another of his novels after A Prayer for Owen Meany, which I read years ago (actually twice in one year), loved and would highly recommend! I might even rank Irving's story-telling up there with Stephen King, despite their very different subject matter, they can both keep you turning pages. What is a bit amazing about the two Irving novels that I've read is how he intertwines such deep and controversial subjects into a story, making you truly consider all aspects of the point, while not hammering you over the head with his opinion, yet expressing it nonetheless.

On the face of The Cider House Rules is the subject of adoption and abortion, "the work of God and the work of the devil," "delivering babies or delivering mothers." But the underlying themes of love, faithfulness and rules play a big part as well. How can you really love two people? At what point do you give up hope on someone who's gone missing? When in Rome are you expected to do as a Roman? Whose rules are you following?

Another thing Irving has mastered is character development. When you finish the book you know the characters and you like them (or dislike them as you should). Each person is unique and much care is given even to minor appearances. While the main focus is on Homer Wells and Candy and Wally and Dr. Larch, you get to know the nurses and the orphans and the migrant pickers and not only the current stationmaster but his predecessor, and it wasn't a distraction to have met them all.

Cider House Rules was made into a movie years ago, which I never saw. After reading the book I can't imagine it being done well and I'm not sure I'd want to see it anyway. I saw the Simon Birch movie, which was supposedly based off A Prayer for Owen Meany, and was sorely disappointed in the lack of resemblance to the book.

I liked this book, but would recommend Owen Meany first.