BOOK REVIEW: His Last Bow by Arthur Conan Doyle

His Last Bow: A Reminiscence of Sherlock Holmes (Wisehouse Classics Edition - with original illustrations)His Last Bow: A Reminiscence of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This story collection is the penultimate book in the Sherlock Holmes canon. One sees a shift into the modernity of the twentieth century in the seven collected stories. In particular, “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans,” is about the theft of plans for a submarine, and the final story, the titular finale, “His Last Bow” takes Holmes out of the world of crime and law enforcement and into the realm of espionage. Of course, the Sherlock Holmes books have always taken advantage of both the science of the day as well as offering glimpses into the cultures and peculiarities of far away lands. This blending of the cutting edge with exoticism is part of what gave these books a mystique that set them apart from other detective fiction, and is also partly why they have aged so well.


Two recurring plot devices in the book are poisonous substances and – ever popular with Doyle – the criminal secret society. Poisons play a central role in “The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot” and “The Adventure of the Dying Detective.” The secret society angle plays into the only two stories of the collection that are two-parters: “The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge” and “The Adventure of the Red Circle.” “His Last Bow” isn’t the only departure from the standard Sherlock fare. Given an attempt to kill off Holmes as well as the unsuccessful finality of this book’s title, it seems like Doyle was acutely concerned by the capacity for these stories to become overplayed. Therefore, he seemed to experiment a little with story. Unfortunately for him, the author did too good of a job at creating one of the most intriguing characters ever, and so demand for the stories remained unabated – regardless of the fact that the stories tend to become a bit more predictable as one reads through them in their entirety.


I felt this collection provided a nice mix of atypical and classic Sherlock. It’s definitely worth a read.

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BOOK REVIEW: Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (Dirk Gently, #1)Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency [DGHDA] is the opening book in Douglas Adams’ second series of novels (what would have been a trilogy—at least–had Adams not passed away.) DGHDA was followed by The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, and that would have been followed by The Salmon of Doubt—though the manuscript was released in its incomplete form along with other random works in a collection by the same name—as publishers are want to make their cash cows rage after the dying of the light.

Adams is most famous for the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy [H2G2] series. DGHDA shares the British absurdist humor of H2G2, but is a more genre-bending a work. While H2G2 crosses humor and sci-fi, DGHDA takes those two genres and throws detective and supernatural fiction into the works. The book was billed by the author as a “detective-ghost-horror-who dunnit-time travel-romantic-musical-comedy-epic.” Of these, “horror” is dubious given the fundamental silliness, “epic” is a little grandiose for a work of 300 pages, and the “romantic” and “musical” parts are rather thin.

The title refers to a detective agency owned by Dirk Gently, who believes in the fundamental interconnectedness of all things and is a bit of a con man. Gently is the lead character in a comedic sense, but his straight man–Richard MacDuff–has at least equal claim to being the book’s overall lead. (Just as straight man Arthur Dent leads in the H2G2 books.) Gently gets involve when he discovers Richard engaged in the inexplicable activity of breaking into the window of his (Richard’s) girlfriend’s apartment—a girlfriend with which he has a favorable relationship. This convinces Gently that Richard has either been hypnotized or possessed, either of which makes him a prime customer of Gently’s agency.

The mystery part of the novel revolves around the new owner and editor of a magazine—Gordon Way–who dies, and whose ghost continues to be active in story (even having PoV chapters in this shifting PoV novel.) Richard comes to believe he’s a suspect, although the bungling former editor of the magazine—Michael Wenton-Weakes–is the lead suspect. Of course, the fact that the deceased is the father of Richard’s girlfriend, Susan Way, does encourage the notion that Richard could be involved. Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a who-dun-it if it was a straightforward case of one of these men with motives having done it.

As would be expected of a book by Douglas Adams, it has its moments of hilarity, but it wasn’t as funny as the best of the H2G2 books. The best absurdist device introduced into the book is the Electronic Monk. In an era in which no one has time for believing in things, one can purchase or rent a robot to believe things for one—particularly those outlandish notions that are unsupported by evidence and thus are least worthy of the effort of belief.

The main characters are all sufficiently quirky to be memorable, likable, or both. The characters are one of the strengths of this book. The story is a bit disheveled, probably purposefully so, but it doesn’t make for the easiest work to follow–particularly early in the story when one hasn’t yet got a firm grasp of who’s who and who’s doing what. That said, it’s a decent enough plot, all things considered.

I’d recommend this for those who like humorous speculative fiction.

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