Eliminate the Impossible: An Examination of the World of Sherlock Holmes on Page and Screen by Alistair Duncan and Steve Emecz
|Eliminate the Impossible: An Examination of the World of Sherlock Holmes on Page and Screen by Alistair Duncan and Steve Emecz|
|Reviewer: Ruth Price|
|Summary: An analysis of the Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, with a brief story synopsis provided, along with a discussion of each story. Additionally, the world of Sherlock Holmes characters is explored, along with a fairly brief overview of screen portrayals of arguably the world's most famous fictional detective. This is a useful reference for Holmes fans and accessible to the casual reader, but a lack of index makes it occasionally frustrating.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 260||Date: February 2008|
|Publisher: MX Publishing|
Eliminate the Impossible is rather a curious book in many ways, as while it goes into considerable detail about inconsistencies and errors in the Sherlock Holmes stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, it only gives a cursory glance at their literary merit – it won't be a Sparknotes-style primer for a student taking a reading shortcut. Instead, it's more like a case history of the various Holmes stories, providing many interesting details, why mistakes might have been made, speculation about the stories, and so on.
I did rather enjoy this approach, but having only read some half-dozen Sherlock Holmes stories (and that some time ago) it would have been helpful to have some kind of star rating provided by the author. There are occasional hints – ..one of the duller of the series – but I get the impression amongst ACD fans, that much of the pleasure is to be gained not so much from the thrill of the story but from where the tales fit in the Sherlock Holmes universe - a vast case-book stuffed with theories from different authors.
In addition to the analysis of the stories as mentioned above, Alistair Duncan provides neat descriptions of the main Holmesian characters, some thoughts on the influence of Sherlock Holmes on crime fiction, a timeline of the stories, and a section on the depiction of Holmes on screen.
I particularly enjoyed the section on Holmes on screen – I suspect, like the vast majority, I have seen far more of the detective on the television than I have read in print - not surprisingly, as Sherlock Holmes is the fictional character most depicted on screen – even more than Dracula. Duncan's approach to Holmes on screen is rather quirky – he selects a few actors to demonstrate The best and worst film portrayals but I was left uncertain on what criteria his selection is based, or if the worst portrayal was included (Jeremy Brett, is, not unreasonably, Duncan's best). While I did find this section both interesting, amusing and informative, it was very brief – and he did strongly dislike the Hammer version of The Hound of the Baskervilles, which while somewhat lurid, I am quite fond – though I did find myself agreeing about how wonderful Christopher Lee would have been as Holmes (he would have then portrayed the top-two most portrayed screen character – Dracula and Holmes). Overall, I found this section thought-provoking and entertaining.
One reason why Holmes fans dislike certain screen adaptations is when the story differs, without justification, from the original story – however, for most viewers, as Duncan admits, errors and inconsistencies only cause issues for the dedicated fan – something I was glad the author acknowledged. Nevertheless, it was fun to learn about some of the differences between page and screen. Duncan by no means attempts a comprehensive coverage of screen adaptations in this volume, and self-effacingly recommends a book by another author.
All in all, there is a lot to enjoy for fans of Holmes on screen and in print. Alistair Duncan doesn't have the most brilliant literary style, but his enthusiasm for his subject is without question, and he appears to have researched his topic thoroughly.
I do feel a comprehensive index would have helped this book, which is, after all, a reference work. A few nights before completing this review, I was watching the 1979 film, Murder By Decree, which features Christopher Plummer. My sometimes-better-half said – What does that book you are reviewing say about this film? As it happens, I recognised the actor, but if I hadn't, I wouldn't have been able to find this film easily, as there is no index, and films aren't listed under title, but the actor who portrays them – so that was a little frustrating in a book which contains so much useful reference material.
Thanks to the publisher, MX Publishing, for sending Eliminate the Impossible to the Bookbag. It has certainly inspired me to read more Sherlock Holmes stories.
The Bookbag has reviewed a number of books for the ACD fan - highly recommended comes The Adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle by Russell Miller. For more committed Holmesians, try On the Trail of Arthur Conan Doyle: An Illustrated Devon Tour by Brian W Pugh and Paul R Spiring. For a more general volume for the crime fan, Crime & Mystery: The 100 Best Books by H R F Keating is a useful reference work.
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