Tuesday, January 24, 2012

You know my methods

I wouldn't call myself a true Sherlock Holmes disciple (I believe they call themselves Sherlockians), but I have enjoyed the stories as well as fiction inspired or influenced by them. I might be more familiar with Holmes cinematically (or whatever the television equivalent of that is), rather than in print (although I have read some stories). So, when I was perusing the offerings from Audiobook Jukebox's Solid Gold Reviewer program, Between the Thames and the Tiber: The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in Britain and the Italian Peninsula caught my eye. I hadn't heard the reader, Simon Prebble, in many a day, so I requested it ... and received it for review.

Because I must, I made sure that I read the first of Indologist Ted Riccardi's Sherlock pastiches before embarking on this one. The previous volume purported to be Holmes' adventures in the Far East when he was lying low after Professor Moriarty tried to kill him at the Reichenbach Falls.

In this volume of 12 stories, Dr. Watson explains that he was the recipient of an unexpected inheritance and he and Holmes decided to create a second home in Rome (no mention of the sadly neglected Mrs. Watson). The stories are all over the place chronologically, and incorporate real-life events and personages: Brother Mycroft's death precipitates World War I, Arthur Conan Doyle himself shows up at a séance, Richard Wagner is poisoned, and Pope Leo XIII protects a possible apostate. Sometimes the details overwhelm a very slight story, and I was confused on more than one occasion by a case's outcome. A week later, I can hardly remember any of them.

One could argue that most of the Holmes' stories blend together, since they all feature the same elements: Watson's cluelessness, a few red herrings, Holmes' inexplicable behavior, the sudden solution (the pipe, the violin, the opium, the deerstalker, etc., etc.). Maybe I'm not the semi-fan I thought I was ... or perhaps they need to be absorbed the way they were originally written: Once a month (or so) in the Strand Magazine.

I am a fan of Simon Prebble, though (who might be languishing in the shadow of that other Simon, Vance). I've been impressed in the past how he can transcend ordinary material; he doesn't judge the writing but finds the emotion in the story and from that the motivation for the characters which he then translates into the speech rhythms, accent, volume, timbre. His characters always sound like real people, because the voices Prebble creates come honestly. It doesn't hurt that Prebble's voice is extremely pleasant on the ears.

In this book, he does his usual stellar work. The characterizations are interesting and believable. Prebble doesn't fall into the unemotional Holmes trap -- his Holmes speaks rapidly and with a bit of an edge, but he's not an automaton. Neither is Watson an idiotic slowtop, Prebble gives the narrator a softer, yet still intelligent delivery. The stories' many other characters are ably created, the accents sound authentic and are used consistently. It's a fine performance, but truthfully I was never captured by the stories. And, I think -- ultimately -- if a reader/listener isn't captured by a Holmes story (and is predisposed to), then the story isn't very good.

I just scanned our catalog for other books narrated by Prebble, and I see that he does one of my favorite mystery series, featuring tortured World War I veteran, Ian Rutledge. Place hold.

Thanks to Audiobook Jukebox and AudioGO for the copy of the audiobook.

[The view of the Tiber River, south of Rome, was taken by Delbene and was retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.]

Between the Thames and the Tiber: The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in Britain and the Italian Peninsula by Ted Riccardi
Narrated by Simon Prebble
AudioGO, 2011. 9:17

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