Book Review: Warlock Holmes (Book 2) – The Hell-Hound of the Baskervilles by G. S. Denning

Publisher:  Titan Books

Publication date:  16th May 2017

Never on this earthly plane would I have thought I could encounter what I have just experienced at 221B Baker Street.  But the game is afoot a hoot, and it is most satisfyingly odd.

As the great fictional detective is reduced to a rotting corpse with the ethereal ability to solve crime, a carnival of reinvented Conan Doyle short stories are combined to propel us toward a sorcerous crusade. Rather than provide a quick resolution to a problem, when Warlock Holmes’ unique talent manifests itself it generally makes matters much worse before they get better.

Unresponsive and ‘unofficially’ deceased Holmes is not causing any further trouble, other than reeking out his rooms. Watson is keen to conceal his friend’s demise for fear of eviction or conviction, as the bachelors are in arrears for their rent which is payable to Mrs Hudson. The distressed doctor goes to great lengths to mask the foul odour before she twigs, as Mrs Hudson appears to be channelling a cockney serving wench and would have absolutely no problem chasing her money as forcibly as any bailiff.

The deceitful dilemma has hilarious consequences for Watson and begs the questions: has Holmes suffered at the hand of one of his own experiments? Perhaps Moriarty finally got his revenge? Nope. The answer is a little closer to home.

Holmes ‘recuperates’ during the contorted serialised stories that follow and the bare bones from these five existing Sherlock escapades are cultivated into a brute of a crescendo, The Hell-Hound of the Baskervilles.

I embraced this Sherlock surrealism and was overjoyed to see the Holmes and Watson bond live on, even if conventional attributes have stepped aside to make way for demonology, a herd of bearded men on tricycles, and a talking horse (no, it’s not Mr Ed). The only apparent constant to tackling these bands of irregular fiends and the seemingly immortal Moriarty is Doctor Watson’s solution to pretty much everything – his trusty Webley Revolver. 

Anyone with a flamboyant imagination and a pinch of eccentricity would enjoy this chorus of calamity without boundaries. We mere mortals can only observe at the awe that is, Warlock Holmes.

Note: This is the second book in the series starring ‘Warlock Holmes’. Although I have not read the first (A Study in Brimstone) it’s pretty obvious it didn’t affect my enjoyment of this title. 🙂

Rating:  4/5

(My gratitude to the publisher, Titan Books and Philippa Ward, for providing a copy of this title. It was my pleasure to read it and provide this unbiased review.)

The game’s afoot once more as Holmes and Watson face off against Moriarty’s gang, the Pinkertons, flesh-eating horses, a parliament of imps, boredom, Surrey, a disappointing butler demon, a succubus, a wicked lord, an overly-Canadian lord, a tricycle-fight to the death and the dreaded Pumpcrow. Oh, and a hell-hound, one assumes.

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G.S. Denning was born in Seattle, Washington. He has published articles for games company Wizards of the Coast, worked as an editor, written a video-game script for Nintendo, and written and performed shows at the Epcot Center, Walt Disney World. With a background in improv, Gabe has performed with Ryan Stiles and Wayne Brady, and he currently has a play running in Seattle. He now lives in Las Vegas with his wife and two children.

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Book Review: The Reader on the 6.27, by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent

Publisher:  Panmacmillan

Publication date: 10th March 2016 (Paperback)

the-reader-my-review

the-reader-on-the-6-27By immersing myself in The Reader on the 6.27 I found a little corner of the world where words, either spoken or written, bridge the gap between loneliness and hope. For the briefest moment it can be the most rewarding experience there is.

Every morning during his commute, Monsieur Guylain Vignolles voluntarily reads aloud from the collection of single pages of books that have been orphaned from its parent. A random yet captive audience of strangers listens intently waiting for the next paragraph to begin, and Guylain willingly obliges until the words on the page run out.

This smallest of reprieves is more sustaining than a hearty breakfast. It sets Guylain up for his endless days at the book pulping factory where he works, like a prisoner in his orange overalls sentenced to hard labour. The only crime he commits from Monday to Friday is destroying tonnes of unsold works which he feeds to the machine they call The Thing.

Being both prisoner and executioner the only comfort of his job is when he aides the escape of the pages that are lucky enough to break free of The Thing, so he can recite from these random leafs on the train at 6.27.

This rail connection offers a man with only his goldfish for company an abstract sanctuary. Even though the paragraphs are cut short, the story forever unfinished, it doesn’t matter. It’s the art of reading, irrespective of the content, that makes the reader and his eager audience take these fleeting intervals from their lives. And yet, as the pages turned I could see that the rut he was stuck in was deepening – the skipped meals, his empty home, the endless unchanging routine.

Be it by chance, fate, or pure luck, the lonely operative finds an abandoned USB stick containing the diarised account of a young woman’s life. By candidly recounting all of her own mundaness this unfamiliar woman, known only as Julie, would rescue him from the madness of his own daily grind. As he shares portions of her writing to those who are listening, Guylain and the other thirsty souls lap up every word.

This entire story is something to be cherished, I adore it and I mean everything about it. The tragedy of destroying books, only being able to save a fragment of them like a macabre souvenir of Guylain’s tiresome days, is balanced with renewed optimism as his journey to track down the illusive writer of the diary gives him the courage to step back into the light. And his relationship with the previous operator of The Thing is simply wonderful – I raise a glass of champagne to Monsieur Vignolles and the discreetness of his unwavering emotional generosity.

With its quirky humour giving a second chance to everything that is thought to be lost, The  Reader on the 6.27 is a pure delight.

Rating:   5/5

(Source: My own purchased copy.)

the-reader-book-summary

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

An international bestseller from French author Jean-Paul Didierlaurent, The Reader on the 6.27 is ready to take you on a journey …

Guylain Vignolles lives on the edge of existence. Working at a book pulping factory in a job he hates, he has but one pleasure in life …

Sitting on the 6.27 train each day, Guylain recites aloud from pages he has saved from the jaws of his monstrous pulping machine. But it is when he discovers the diary of a lonely young woman, Julie – a woman who feels as lost in the world as he does – that his journey will truly begin …

The Reader on the 6.27 is a tale bursting with larger-than-life characters, each of whom touches Guylain’s life for the better. For fans of Amelie and Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore, this captivating novel is a warm, funny fable about literature’s power to uplift even the most downtrodden of lives.

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the-reader-author-profile

(Courtesy of Publisher’s website)

Jean-Paul Didierlaurent lives in the Vosges region of France. His short stories have twice won the International Hemingway Award. The Reader on the 6:27 is his first novel. ” ” ” “Ros Schwartz has translated over 60 works of fiction and non-fiction from French including a new translation of Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince. In 2009 she was made a Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres for her services to French literature.

PUBLISHER’S WEBSITE

A Robot in the Garden, by Deborah Install

Publisher: Doubleday / Transworld |  Published 23rd April 2015  |  Edition: Kindle (via Netgalley)

What an amazing story that’s perfectly formed in every way, just like Tang. Being utterly adorable and thoughtfully constructed, you won’t want to put Tang, sorry, this book down.

It’s unexpectedly amusing and also touching. Although, it’s not without its serious side, it’s an altogether delightful tale about relationships, expectations and, well, life in general.

Robot in the garden

A story that’s perfectly formed. There’s no missing components here…

There’s no time period mentioned in the book, but it is set in our seemingly ordinary, everyday world, only in this book technology has moved on from our own. AI (Androids / Artificial Intelligence) perform servant’s duties to take the pressure off humans who choose to utilise their services.

Whoa, before you switch offthis isn’t some futuristic, sci-fi affair, appealing to addicts of the fantasy genre, far from it. It’s a down to earth story of everyday life, the only exception is having a rusting robot called Tang as the star attraction – and he is undoubtedly every inch a star (all four feet, two inches of him!).

The main characters feature a failed trainee veterinary student, the unemployed Ben, his high-flying and perfectly preened barrister wife, Amy, and a mysterious addition to their family, a one of a kind robot that behaves like no other.

Tang This one

Fall in love with Tang.

Tang got my attention from the get-go. It’s impossible not to find him endearing, without being sickly sweet. Deborah Install has written THE perfect little character to tug at your heartstrings; the way this vulnerable, little metallic creation sits its corroding carcass in the garden of the couple’s home one day, causing havoc on arrival is brilliant. Tang is barely able to communicate, but Ben sees he’s clearly in a state of confused distress.

Lack of communication appears to be the order of the day. While Ben concentrates on treating Tang like a new project to fill his days, it passes him by that he’s waving farewell to his relationship with Amy.

Life soon becomes more complicated for Ben when he’s faced with accepting his new responsibility, in more ways than one. What can two of life’s rejects possibly learn from each other?

Their story becomes a whole global affair, which takes you on a journey of more than just miles.

With the writer’s flair for anecdotes, which could only apply to ‘team Ben and Tang’, their daily scramble through seemingly innocent situations is humorous, if somewhat compromising at times!

THOROUGHLY RECOMMENDED: Go buy a copy and instantly raise your spirits…

Rating: 5/5

(I’m very grateful to the publisher for providing a Kindle Copy via Netgalley for review @BenWillis @Transworldbooks)


You can follow ‘The Robot Lady’ author on Twitter:  @DeborahInstall  |  The ‘odd couple’ even have their own twitter account at @BenandTang

 

Galina Petrovna’s Three-Legged Dog Story, by Andrea Bennett

Publisher: The Borough Press |  Published 12th February 2015  |  Edition: Hardback (own copy)

Galina Petrovna's Three Legged Dog story

Russian comic caper and yes, that’s right, a three-legged dog.

You’d be forgiven for thinking, ‘how on earth can a story set in a Russian village that time forgot (with elderly people clad in head scarves and unattractive pop socks) be remotely entertaining?’

Well, I’m sorry. I can’t shed any light on it either.

It’s just a magical read and reminds me of an alternative version of ‘Allo ‘Allo. There are some thoroughly hammed-up shenanigans to whip up quite a storm, and I absolutely loved it.

Let’s get some quick intro’s out of the way. The stars of this comic caper are:

  • THE star is undoubtedly: BORODA, a 3 legged dog (with a beard). Loves scraps of fat and the occasional scratch under the chin.
  • GALINA PETROVNA, a stereotypical Babushka and NOT the owner of Boroda (despite allowing the dog to live in her apartment). The widow appears hardened by life and shows little emotion, except when she offers scraps of fat to Boroda.
  • VASILY SEMYONOVICH VOLUBCHIK (or Vasya to his friends). An elderly resident and neighbour and chairman of the Azov House of Culture Elderly Club. Vasya has at least five of his own teeth and would also like a scratch under the chin, as he holds a torch for the old Widow.
  • MITYA the exterminator. A hateful character if ever there was one.
  • With special mention to the Kommandant Krapivin of the SIZO, who is convinced he’s running a Butlins style holiday camp for hardened prisoners (strangely, he was my favourite).

THE STORY:

Between the consumption of vast quantities of gherkins, vodka, and tea served with jam, the residents of Azov are set for an unexpected turn of events. And it all surrounds a scruffy dog called Boroda.

The little canine might only have three legs but she’s a perfect companion for Galina Petrovna, who has been widowed from Pasha for some while now.

There’s not much to do in Azov, except visit the entertainment factory that is: ‘The House of Culture Elderly Club’. You just can’t contain your excitement, as they talk about crop infestations, play chess and sometimes they watch the old folk throw punches when things get heated over a triviality. A typical member resembles this lady:

The oldest old woman stood up with a clearly audible creak, her mosaic face cracking open to produce a voice that rumbled up from her belly, or perhaps her boots, which were fashioned from the same stuff as her face.

Only Mitya seems to have achieved any delight in his life. He’s a vindictive animal exterminator who you will loathe from the first breath he draws on the page. When he encounters little Boroda waiting for Galina outside the House of Culture, he has a big grin on his face.

You get the impression that Mitya just can’t bear to see anyone, or anything, happy. He is spiteful and vile – however, throughout the story we are given an insight as to why he’s so cruel, and his character evolves considerably.

One of the children playing outside raises the alarm, but it’s too late, Boroda is missing…

(…SHARP INTAKE OF BREATH…)

From then on, each turn of the page allows the perfect caper to unfold. With a cast that is well past its expiry date, it’s lends itself to all manner of situation comedy moments.

There’s a motor bike chase, a sickle-brandishing crazy mother, MANY officials to bribe, underground connections to be made, while all the time there’s a canine rescue to organise. But it’s not all fun and games. As the plot develops, plenty of home truths crawl out from their deepest, darkest burrows concerning Galina’s husband, the chairman with a crush, and there’s just a whole heap of trouble for the exterminator man.

Babushka

“Hey you. Yes you. Go buy this book. We’re pretty funny, yes?”

You can’t help but connect with every single character and the oddities that accompany them. Without creating an entirely depressive atmosphere, Andrea Bennett describes their grim, simple lives and how they’ve each settled for whatever little happiness they possess at that moment in time. We learn more about their friendships, their loves (or lack of) and their bizarre living habits.

There’s some cracking dialogue exchanged between them, which makes their personalities sing – by the time I was a quarter of the way through I found I’d developed a comfortable Russian accent whilst reading, albeit a bad one!

But all the while my heart was in the wringer, forever wondering whether the witless rescuers would find Boroda and bring her home…the dry humour in this often surprising tale held my attention until I found out.

Best devoured as a chunk, rather than several nibbles (the book, not the gherkins).

Rating: 4.5/5

FYI: It should come as no surprise that there are quite a few Russian words, place names and hard to pronounce surnames in the story, but there’s a small glossary at the back of the book. And no, I didn’t find it until I’d finished. Should have gone to Specsavers…


You can follow the author on Twitter: @andreawiderword |  Publisher: @BoroughPress

The Final Testimony of Raphael Ignatius Phoenix, by Paul Sussman

Publisher: Transworld Publishers  |  Imprint: Black Swan   |  Publication date: 4th December 2014 | Edition: Paperback

“My name is Raphael Ignatius Phoenix and I am 100 years old – or will be in ten days’ time, in the early hours of January 2000, when I kill myself. Observant readers will notice that my initials spell R.I.P. A most fitting coincidence, as you will shortly discover…”

The Final Testimony of Raphael Ignatius Phoenix 15.12.14

‘Deadly’ humorous and utterly brilliant.

This is a dark, comical and stark-raving bonkers book, and I really couldn’t help but like it!

It’s a unique and bizarre story narrated entirely by a serial killer who decides take his own life on his one hundredth birthday, which happens to fall on the dawn of the new Millennium, 1st January 2000.

Before he leaves this world he starts to prepare an unusual suicide note, which will serve as a detailed account of his ten victims over the last ten decades. But Raphael Ignatus Phoenix (initials uncannily spelling R.I.P) doesn’t undertake this task in a traditional manner, such as writing it down on paper – nope, he embarks on writing his ‘testimony’ neatly in felt tip pen on the walls of a remote, old castle that he’s been staying in for the last 15 years.

The most recent death is recounted first, until we reach his very first murder.

Each ‘death’ takes up a chapter in the book itself and subsequently a wall or two of the castle in its own right. Despite sounding like a gruesome read, each section includes humorous anecdotes surrounding these events.

With the exception of killing some of the more annoying people he meets in his life, not always intentionally I might add, there are three constants throughout: a small pill, a photograph, and his childhood friend, Emily, who turns up to assist him at opportune moments in his life. You get to learn more about each of them as the book progresses – the realisation is unexpectedly sad.

You also learn his father was a wacky inventor, Emily’s father was a chemist (hence, the pill) and his entire life has left him stumbling from one freakish event to another.

The ending is a little surreal, but there’s a cracking rhythm to the story matched only by the exceptional humour.

Overall, there are circumstances in this book that ordinarily you really shouldn’t find amusing, but the writing’s just so damned brilliant it’s impossible not to titter at them. If you like quirky, dark humour and feel like reading something completely different from the norm, I’d definitely recommend this one.

If I may, I’ll just share one last thing from the book with you before you go. This one is from the Nannybrook Residential Home:

The unfortunately named Mrs Yurin celebrated her 106th birthday whilst I was there, although somewhat to my amusement, she died in middle of it. Just keeled over into her birthday cake whilst trying to blow out the candles. Her 88 year old daughter, also a resident, was inconsolable, not least because she’d spent four days icing the thing…

Simply brilliant.

Rating: 4/5

Note about the author:  This book was published posthumously as the author, Paul Sussman, sadly passed away in 2012. In the foreward of this book his wife tells us how the manuscript came to light to enable readers to finally enjoy it.

(Huge thanks to the publishers for sending a copy of the book from a competition they were running – without which I’d never have discovered this amazing story.)

The Notable Brain of Maximilian Ponder, by John Ironmonger

Publisher: W & N | Publication date: 3rd January 2013 | Edition: Paperback (own copy)

Maximilian Ponder is lying face up, dead, on the dining table in his own front room…

The Notable Brain of Maximillian Ponder.jpg

A thoroughly quirky and original read.

A thoroughly unusual tale about a man who chose to lock himself away in an attempt to record the existing contents of his brain for future scientific analysis.

It’s an especially clever and heart-warming book. I really can’t explain to you HOW the writer made this story work, it just does – and I loved it!

To briefly give you an idea of the story, during a project that was supposed to last just three years, the young Maximillian Ponder has decided to isolate himself from the outside world to recall and write down every memory he’s had, every person he’s met, food he’s eaten, places he’s visited, conversations he recalls – well, you get the idea!

Don’t be fooled that this is some boring, straightforward run-of-the-mill diary – Maximillian Ponder’s random ‘ponderings’ are anything but boring.

It’s an outpour of everything the man has ever experienced, or to be precise, what he remembers. Travelling through the pages of the book with Max and his good friend, Adam Last, you sense his past, present and future. The timeline flits back and forth to allow the story to be told by both Max, via his journal, and Adam, who’s telling the story. Yet there’s an odd order to it all. The writer really knows how to draw you into this ‘pondering’ world he’s created.

I’m not going to say anymore about the plot, as the whole experience will be YOU reading Max’s ramblings. It’s funny, even though it’s heart breaking in places, and it’s thought provoking without losing its ‘entertainment value’. Some upsetting moments are tackled by John Ironmonger’s brilliantly quirky writing style. For this reason alone he’s quickly becoming a favourite author of mine (see The Coincidence Authority, also fabulous)

Well then, if you like something different without it being totally bizarre then try this. I’m very glad I did.

Rating: 5/5


You can follow the author on Twitter: @jwironmonger

The Coincidence Authority, by John Ironmonger

Publisher: W & N | Publication date: 4th September 2014 | Edition: Paperback (own copy)

Mr Bond, they have a saying in Chicago: ‘Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action’.  Ian Flemming, Goldfinger

Co incidence Authority

I’m loving this cover!

Can coincidences always be explained, or does everything happen for a reason?

This book entertains that very notion, and the storytelling is so perfect I have no choice but to offer five stars.

I do like a ‘different’ read and this book didn’t disappoint. It flicks backwards and forwards through various points in time, but this is handled well and it’s really easy to follow. I must admit, it’s quite the contender for one of my favourite books of 2014.

It’s not your average, run-of-the-mill book. There’s hidden qualities I couldn’t begin to even try and explain here. It’s fresh, the dialogue has been expertly written and the ending is simply the icing on an already addictive cake.

In brief, it follows the rather unfortunate life of a young girl with the memorable name of Azalea. Her mother, it seems, had abandoned her at a fairground in Devon when she’s just a child, which was awful enough, but she becomes separated from her adopted parents in Africa when she’s just thirteen following a raid at their orphanage / mission…it soon becomes apparent to her that the date of the 21st June is one which she finds herself questioning, as various misfortunes just keep on presenting themselves. So, she decides to investigate this further when she realises what affect this could have on her life, or indeed death…

And no, it’s not all about ramming statistics and mathematical probabilities (or even theology) down your neck, although it does get you thinking. Everything is very cleverly woven into a forever-moving story and is incredibly interesting. Mostly, everything is plausible.

If you’re just a little intrigued, there’s a website that’s been set up to “accompany” the book at: http://www.thecoincidenceauthority.com

And that’s a nice touch to discover after you’ve finished reading. Quite brilliant.

Rating: 5/5


You can follow this author on Twitter: @jwironmonger