A collection of stories by Alex Prior
Firstly, I need to ‘fess-up. The only thing I’ve ever read by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was ‘The Lost World’ when I was a kid. It had dinosaurs in it and kids love dinosaurs don’t they. I think I always feared the Sherlock Holmes books would leave me confused at the end. Like those episodes of ‘Vera’ when after two and a half hours the murderer is revealed to be some Polish bloke or someone, who appeared for ten seconds at the start, and you have completely forgotten about since. Of course, they’re not like that at all. The plots are fairly straightforward, and it’s all about the deduction isn’t it. The movies should have given me a clue really. Doh!
I met Alex for the first time at an Ampthill writers club meeting in September. He came across as a decent chap and bless him he gave me a copy of this book to have a look at. Therefore, my first experience of reading a Sherlock Holmes story has been one written, not by the guy who invented the character, but one, or in this case several, written by Alex. Have to say, I think this is an incredibly ballsy thing to attempt. This really is ‘sacred cow’ territory, and woe betide the author if there are any historical inaccuracies or uncharacteristic styles of speech. There will be an army out there just waiting for him to trip up. Well, I’ve checked out his reviews on Amazon, and to his credit they are pretty positive. And he’s sold a lot of these books too. Big thumbs up then to his painstaking research, understanding of the writing style. love of the original stories and being able to dream up new and interesting mysteries.
So, you’re not going to get any of that ‘Watson would never have said that’ or ‘Holmes would have focused more on the garden shears’, droning on from me, ’cause I wouldn’t know would I. What I will say is I really enjoyed these six stories. Like I’d finish one, spend some time thinking it through, and then be eager to start the next one. It surprised me how much I enjoyed reading them, being as they were a genre that was not my usual go-to at all. And the writing seemed authentic enough to me. I was completely transported back to the time they were set. And I particularly loved Watson’s description of the RMS Teutonic arriving in New York, with the fireboats accompanying her there, firing up their spray ‘the droplets creating rainbows much to the delight of my fellow travelers.’ It beautifully sets the scene, and you are back in a time when New York was the exciting new city in a hurry to get vaster and definitely taller, and electricity was still ‘a mysterious force of which we understand very little’.
And what I found particularly inspired was the sequencing of the six stories. You could see straight away there were two ‘larger’ stories, just by the page length. These dealt with threats to the Empire (hard to believe now but there was a time when us and the Germans didn’t get on too well), and sinister global societies hell bent on avarice at the expense of human life if necessary. The stakes were definitely higher in these two stories, but that in no way detracted from the more compact mystery of the other four. They were a delight in themselves. Ooh, why was the thief more bothered about the two small figurines of nominal material worth than the main event statue ‘made from the highest quality marble, inlaid with precious and semi-precious gemstones’? Why was the market fountain in rural Hitchin ‘running with blood’?
So, to my one grumble. And it isn’t about Alex’s writing or the stories themselves. My beef is with one of his reviewers who noted that the book appeared to be self-published, and this was usually a bad sign. This has annoyed me for weeks. You ever tried to self-publish…pal? You don’t just chuck out some scribblings, pass them on to Amazon and sit back and wait for the monthly pay-cheques to start rolling in. There’s all the same processes and craft that this twat’s ‘proper’ authors have to go through, if they haven’t got someone to do all that for them that is. I had guidance and support from the lovely Diana and the indie publisher Eventispress, and it was still hours and hours of re-reading and checking and paying out for professionals to go over your manuscript. And then the ball-ache of dealing with Amazon’s protocols, page sizes and ‘cover errors.’
Alex’s book is terrific. And my next review will be about another self-published author’s book which I really enjoyed. And then I’m going to review one of Diana’s Eventispress novels which I loved. And in the meantime, that Amazon reviewer can go nuts with his bloody Richard Osman books or some similar guff. Just knock yourself out mate.
And then I might even read some Arthur Conan Doyle stuff. Apparently, he wrote some Sherlock Holmes stories too.