The Blog's Mission

Wikipedia defines a book review as: “a form of literary criticism in which a book is analyzed based on content, style, and merit. A book review can be a primary source opinion piece, summary review or scholarly review”. My mission is to provide the reader with my thoughts on the author’s work whether it’s good, bad, or ugly. I read all genres of books, so some of the reviews may be on hard to find books, or currently out of print. All of my reviews will also be available on I will write a comment section at the end of each review to provide the reader with some little known facts about the author, or the subject of the book. Every now and then, I’ve had an author email me concerning the reading and reviewing of their work. If an author wants to contact me, you can email me at I would be glad to read, review and comment on any nascent, or experienced writer’s books. If warranted, I like to add a little comedy to accent my reviews, so enjoy!
Thanks, Rick O.

Saturday, June 27, 2015


Scott Martelle wrote a nonfiction book about a tragic occurrence that happened over 150 years ago...and yet he made it seem like a current event. Welcome to the world of Erik Larson’s narrative nonfiction. What I mean by that is this book was not your typical monotonous history book. It read like fiction but was factual. Yes, history can be written with verve. It’s the story of Boston Corbett (the madman) and John Wilkes Booth (the assassin). There have been many books written about Abe Lincoln, but this book focuses on the above mentioned men. By the way, the best book that I ever read about our 16th president was Gore Vidal’s 1984 book, Lincoln. Anyway, the author gives us a good lowdown on Corbett and Booth before they meet on 4/26/1865 at Garrett’s farm. The author has a knack for writing about interesting and unusual historical occurrences. In 2014, he wrote a book on the search in Paris, France for (the father of the American Navy) John Paul Jones’s body and gravesite in The Admiral and the Ambassador. The continuity and prose of the author kept the Sandman away from me for the entire 226 pages of the book.

Okay, Who is this Boston Corbett guy? He is a slender 5’ 4” New Yorker with a scraggly beard who was so religious (Methodist) that he castrated himself so he wouldn’t be tempted by another woman after his wife suddenly died. Since he was in the hat making business and inhaled the mercury infused mist that stiffened the fur, he was prone to fits of paranoia. Thus the term...mad as a hatter. How religious did he get? Well, “By the summer of 1858, Corbett-already converted-had followed his trade to Boston, where he fell in with members of the Methodist Episcopal Church and found a religious home and a calling. He became a proselytizer and street preacher, exhorting fellow sinners to heed the word of God and avoid the temptations of drink and sin.” When the Civil War broke out, he went back to New York and joined the Union Army. He served many terms and was ultimately captured by the Confederate Army and sent to the disgraceful Andersonville stockade. There he suffered from bouts of scurvy, chronic diarrhea, and rheumatism that would stay with him for the rest of his life. This is the man who would put a bullet in John Wilkes Booth’s head...almost in the exact headshot location as Booth's to Lincoln.

I can’t say, who is this John Wilkes Booth guy? Since every American knows that he was Lincoln’s assassin. He was a well known actor from a renowned acting family, who was a Southern sympathizer and Union adversary. During Lincoln’s run for reelection, Booth became very resentful, “Before the election, Booth was contemplating an audacious act: he would put together a group of fellow defenders of the South and kidnap Lincoln, spirit him away to Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, and hold him as a bartering chip to gain the freedom of Rebel prisoners of war.” This plot fizzled, but others cropped up. With the aid of Mrs. Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, George Atzerodt, David Herold, Dr. Mudd (here’s mud in your eye), and three other minor accomplices, Booth envisioned that he would kill Lincoln, and his co-conspirators would kill Vice President Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward. Two out of the three plots failed. After Booth shot Lincoln, he jumped awkwardly from Lincoln’s booth and fell ten feet to the stage where he broke his leg. The audience didn’t know if his jump was part of the play or not. Booth and Herold escape on horseback.

The rest of the book will answer the following questions: How did the Union Army corner the twosome? How did Corbett become the Booth killer and did he earn fame for his deed? What punishments did the co-conspirators get in their trials? What happened to Boston Corbett after he was mustered out of the Army? What judgement did Harry Wirz, the top Rebel at the horrendous Andersonville prison get? Okay, enough questions, but I only whet your appetite for the rest of this interesting publication. I’m a bigtime fan of historical anything, no less nonfiction that reads like fiction, so i say, “Congratulations, you got it right.”

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: Andersonville was a deplorable stockade and a cesspool of disease. More than 13,000 Union soldiers died because of no food, shelter, or clothes. The survivors would live the rest of their lives with major disabilities. The following are quotes from survivors courtesy of The Civil War Trust:

Sergeant Samuel S. Boggs said, “Two guards seized me, took my knife, hat, blanket, and shoes; this was done quickly, and I was ordered to keep quiet and go to the further end of the pen, where some guards had my stripped comrades herded in a corner like a flock of shorn sheep; some had lost all but their shirts and drawers; they skinned us of all the clothes that were not too much worn; then put us on a freight train, gave us some corn-bread, when we started for Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy.”

Volunteer Eugene Forbes said, “No improvements in our condition-terrible coughs and cramps in the bowels, verging on to chronic diarrhea and inflammation of the bowels.”

John L. Ransom said, “Can see the dead wagon loaded up with twenty or thirty bodies at a time, two lengths, just like four foot wood is loaded on to a wagon at the North, and away they go to the grave on a trot. Perhaps one or two will fall off and get run over. No attention paid to that; they are picked up on the road back after more. Was ever before in this world anything so terrible happening? Many entirely naked.”

Brigade Quarter Master, John L. Ransom said, “I walk around camp every morning looking for acquaintances, the sick, &c. Can see a dozen most any morning laying around dead. A great many are terribly afflicted with diarrhea, and scurvy begins to take hold of some. Scurvy is a bad disease, and taken in connection with the former is sure death. Some have dropsy as well as scurvy, and the swollen limbs and body are sad to see.”

Andersonville Prison:

Friday, June 26, 2015


This is a guest review from my eleven year old grandson, Kai O

Gulliver’s Travels isn’t your typical “stranded on an Island” book and Jonathan Swift isn’t like most classic authors. Unlike most authors of his time, who try to teach you new things while entertaining you, Jonathan Swift writes purely to entertain you and excludes any part that is boring, such as, the educational parts.

This book is in four parts. The first part includes the tiny people of the Island of Lilliput. The second part is about the land of giant people. The third part features the floating island of Laputa, which is inhabited by a race of people devoted to the arts. Finally, the fourth part is about an island inhabited by civilized horses, which is the last island landed on by the unfortunate Ship Surgeon, Lemuel Gulliver.

This book is really four different stories about the same topic and the same character. The topic being stranded on unique islands and having to figure-out a way off. The character is Ship Surgeon/Captain Lemuel Gulliver. Every time Mr. Gulliver gets stranded on a island, it will glue you to the book and make you want to keep reading. Gulliver always finds a way to get out of a problem, like when he was almost executed or when he nearly drowned in a wooden box.

I really loved this book and would give it five golden stars. But I also have to say how much I loved the author, Jonathan Swift, because of how unique he was compared to other authors of his time. I would recommend this book to sixth graders and above because of some high level vocabulary. In conclusion, I really hope that you read this book and if you do...I hope you enjoy it!

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

From the movie:

Monday, June 15, 2015


Is this 1898 ghost story by the great American writer Henry James the best ever? I don’t think so. Since American writer Henry James spent most of his life writing his stories in England, I taste some of the boring droplets of the seventeenth century English writers, such as John Bunyan (Pilgrim's Progress ) and John Milton (Paradise Lost ). I would have thought that James would have been greatly influenced by Charles Dickens, a more contemporary author to emulate. I would submit Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1851 novel, The House of the Seven Gables (see my review of 11/17/2012) as a spookier novel. I’m not saying that James’s novel wasn’t a quality story, but it was put together rather strangely. First of all, we have an unknown narrator telling the story of someone else reading a manuscript from a governess (he says that he knows her) to some friends sitting around a fire. The manuscript tells of her encounter with two ghosts while in charge of an eight year old girl, Flora, and a ten year old boy, Miles. Most of the novella’s composition is in the form of very long and semi-boring paragraphs with very little discourse amongst the characters. I didn’t nod off, but I thought about it. Wow, I must think that I’m the numero uno reviewer to disparage a classic work by a masterly writer like Henry James. I didn’t say that I didn’t enjoy the novella; it’s just that I looked forward to reading this book, and it wasn’t as great as I expected it to be. No harm, no foul. We all know that the ageless writers can sometimes be a tad boring. They tend to want to teach us something while telling the story, like Herman Melville in Moby Dick wanting to educate us on whales and harpoons. While some writers like Mark Twain just wanted to tell us a good old fashion yarn, like Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (see my review of 12/17/2012). Anyway, enough said about that.

Since I didn’t think this novella was very scary (don’t get mad, I liked the story), I did some research on the scariest ghost novels and would you believe that this Henry James story keeps popping up on everybody’s list. So there you much can this reviewer know? Charles Dickens’s, A Christmas Carol didn’t show up on everybody’s list. Go figure. I think that the narrator being unknown and telling the story of Douglas (who is sitting around the fireplace with whomever) recounting his friend’s (the governess) manuscript is kinda odd. First of all, I don’t remember if the governess even had a name, although we find that the ghost governess is Miss Jessel. It kinda reminded me of Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 novel, Rebecca, who didn’t have a name until she married. Anyway, I guess this kind of novel is intriguing but a bit awkward. The rich Uncle in charge of the children wants no part in the kids and turns them over to the above nameless governess in his country estate, known as Bly. She strikes up a friendship with the main housekeeper, Mrs. Grose. The new governess occasionally sees a strange man and woman on the property. Mrs. Grose reveals that it is likely the previous governess (who died) and the children’s Uncle’s valet, Peter Quint, who had a sexual affair with Miss Jessel and also died. Is Mrs. Grose suggesting that there maybe ghosts on the property? I’ll bet you are so scared that you are ready to poop in your pants. Anyway, what are the ghosts doing there and have they come for the children? And why did the seemingly lovely ten year old Miles get kicked out of school? Are the children in cahoots with the ghosts? What is eight year old Flora holding back from the governess? And lastly (thank God), how does Mrs. Grose fit in this story? Okay, no more questions. I know that I "whet your whistle" and scared you to death, but I’m not revealing anymore of the story. Buy your own copy of this ghost story and get all the answers to my questions. 

While his prose is excellent, Henry James has a style that is unique to himself compared to the other great writers of the time. Most of the writers, such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Charles Dickens were descriptive writers. James seems to put more emphasis on elongating the paragraphs so the reader could better understand what was happening in the story, while not really caring if the reader knew what the character looked like or how they dressed. When James began his career, most of the descriptive writers were deceased or soon to be. I read that James was the leader of Literary Realism (I’m not fully enlightened), but it must be of the style that I just recognized above. I haven’t read any other Henry James stories, but I did thumb through his short story The Beast in the Jungleand it was written in the same manner as The Turn of the Screw. While I prefer the descriptive writers whilst I’m reading nineteenth century literature, I did enjoy this novella and (no) it didn’t put me to sleep.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: Now what is my favorite ghost story? How about Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol? Who could forget Ebenezer Scrooge being confronted by his former business partner Jacob Marley, now a ghost, in heavy chains warning Scrooge about his miserly past. He says he will be visited this Christmas Eve by three ghosts: past, present and yet to come. As Scrooge sees his life unfold, he realizes that he has been unfair to his office worker Bob Cratchit, who has a invalid son, Tiny Tim. Will Scrooge see his mistakes and turn his life around before it’s too late? You know the rest, unless you haven’t seen the seemingly dozen movies in the month of December concerning this book. Also it was published on my birthday, 12/19, but in 1843.

How about the movie and T.V. series, Topper ? I loved that show that ran from 10/9/1953 to 7/15/1955, starring Leo G. Carroll as Topper. A very conservative bank vice president, Cosmo Topper and his darling wife buy a house in L.A. that was previously owned by the now deceased George and Marion Kerby and their martini loving St. Bernard, Neil. The couple haunt Topper into funny situations, who is the only person who could see them. I don’t know why this show only lasted two was funny.

Lastly, I loved the 1947 film, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. Recent widow (Gene Tierney) moves into a seaside cottage against the advice of relatives. Apparently the home is haunted by a benign sea captain (Rex Harrison). Although Mrs. Muir moves in with her daughter (Natalie Wood), she is the only one that see the sea captain ghost (like Topper). The movie was fabulous.

From the T.V. series, Topper:   

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Shadow's Fire: A Chance Beginning

The author sent me a copy of his novel to review:

This fantasy novel had a slight herky-jerky start...a tad quick for my hankering. The novel should have elaborated on how and why Erik Eleodum (why the exotic last name?), his brother Befel (another strange name), and his cousin Bryon became disenchanted with farming. Instead, by page eight they were already on the road to adventure. By page 24, they were already gone two years. What? First of all, doesn’t the author, Christopher Patterson, need to develop the story a little more so we can warm up to the protagonists? Second of all, why all the offbeat names (I only mentioned a few)? The Lord of the Rings has already been written. It’s okay to use names of personae and countries that are easy to pronounce and remember. The laborious names don’t add to the flavor of the novel at all, as a matter of fact, it’s an irritation because it’s difficult for the reader to remember all the character’s names. If the writer is going to use unfamiliar names, he or she should provide a cast of characters in the front of the novel with a brief cameo of each character (as an example, refer to Tilar J. Mazzeo’s book, The Hotel on Place Vendome). Okay, enough of my somewhat inane ranting. If I didn’t give my required criticism, it wouldn’t be a Rick Review. Oh, before I tell the reader that I liked the novel...the sketched maps were God-awful. Come on Christopher, hire someone who is an artist. Lastly, how many players do you need in this novel? Is a couple hundred enough? Is this like Stanley Kubrick’s 1960 film, Spartacus with a cast of 10,500? Okay, I can’t stop being a wiseguy and I’m obviously exaggerating. But here is the good news, the novel settles down after a stunted start and becomes enjoyable. What took you so long, Christopher?

The three boys join a caravan of gypsies on their way to the seaport of Finlo. The gypsies are led by Marcus, a giant of a man, who is supported by his beautiful wife, Befel enamored? I think so. Anyway, their trip is uneventful until a man named Fox disappears into the Blue Forest one morning at dawn. Erik, sensing trouble, wakes Marcus and some of the other gypsies. Sure enough the caravan is under attack by slavers. What ensues from page 87 to page 99 is somewhat comparable to fights in Bernard Cornwell’s historical fiction novel, Agincourt. Wow, did I say that? Nobody is better than Cornwell in describing death in battle. But I submit a sample of the slaver battle on page 95, “The blade dug into Befel’s left shoulder, all the way to the handle. Befel cried out, his screams at first silent, and then deafening. He brought his homemade blade up, into the slaver’s gut. The younger man heaved, vomiting blood all over Befel. Befel (note: I don’t like using the same word or name, back to back, such as, Befel) pressed his knife up, rending flesh, cutting bowels. The fighting stopped.” This is only one example of the hand to hand combat scenarios that bleed for 13 continuous pages. Where did this author come up with this prose? I could have easily quit reading this book in the first ten pages, but I’m delighted that I didn’t. Sometimes the reader feels like "throwing in the towel" and discontinue reading. If everybody did that, we would be missing some super classic novels, such as Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (which was super boring at times). Anyhow, after the dead are buried, the three boys continue their trip east (with the survivors of the caravan) to Finlo on the South Sea.

Once in Finlo, Befel seeks help from a barber named Kevon, who is a sometimes surgeon of sorts. Befel needs his shoulder looked at and marginally repaired. This is where I stop recapping the rest of this first novel of a proposed trilogy. What will happen to the three boys (now men) in Finlo...will they board a ship to their great adventure? Or will they get stuck in Finlo at The Drunken Fin? Will the slavers attack them in reprisal? Is that traitor Fox still out there? And who is General Patuk Al’ Banan? Will we see Dwarves in this adventure? Wow, that’s a great series of questions. It seems to me that first time writers like Christopher Patterson feel obligated to start their career with a trilogy. Why? Couldn’t we have closed out this novel and tried something different? If the author retains the dream of writing the great American novel, as his grandmother desires, I don’t think that it is going to be written in the fantasy genre. The author’s first novel is not the great American novel. Other people have tried to write the great American novel, such as, Margaret Mitchell with Gone With the Wind (1936) or Harper lee with To Kill a Mockingbird (1960). Did they? What about Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852)? Which one would you choose? I’ve read all three and can’t decide. The one fact I can determine is that Christopher Patterson has talent. Do I think that he is wasting his talent in the fantasy world? Maybe. I have to admit that I ask a lot of questions in my reviews, don’t I? I recommend this novel and suggest that the author finds a major publisher to promote his future works. How? To quote the great American boxer, Mike Tyson, “These books ain’t window dressing. I think Machiavelli’s the most sophisticated writer outside of Shakespeare. Way ahead of his time. Such a manipulative person. Everything he accomplished he did by kissin’ ass.” Enough said?

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: So what are the greatest fantasy series ever written? Well, here are a few that will make any reader's top ten list:

How about George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (a Game of Thrones)? says, “George RR Martin’s glorious high fantasy tells the tragic story of treachery, greed and war that threatens the unity of the Seven Kingdoms south of the Wall.” And I say that it is by far the best fantasy series I’ve ever read. I’ve read all the novels and I am waiting with bated breath for the next novel.

How about JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series? says, “Read and find out how Harry discovers his true heritage at Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft, the reason behind his parents mysterious death, who is out to kill him and how he uncovers the most amazing secret of all time, the fabled Philosopher’s Stone.” This was a very enjoyable series, but I have to admit that I only saw the movies and never read any of the novels.

How about Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series? says, “Stephen King introduces readers to one of his most enigmatic heroes, Roland of Gilead, the last gunslinger. He is a haunting figure, a loner, on a spellbinding journey into good and evil, in a desolate world which frighteningly echoes our own.” I just made a mental note to read one of these novels. Oops!

How about Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series? says, “Twoflower was a tourist, the first ever seen on the Discworld. Tourist, Rincewind decided, meant idiot. Somewhere on the frontier between thought and reality exists the Discworld, a parallel time and place which might sound and smell very much like our own, but which looks completely different.” Now, here is a series that I read many of the novels. My favorite being, The Color of Magic. Unfortunately, Mr. Pratchett recently passed away. God Bless.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Rediscovery of Man: The Complete Short Science Fiction of Cordwainer Smith

This is a guest review from Deron O:

I purchased this book of short stories ten years ago and I don’t remember why. It wasn’t because of his name, Cordwainer Smith, that’s for sure. I’d never heard of him, his stories don’t appear in the usual round-ups of the best sci-fi, and there surely hasn’t been a summer blockbuster movie inveigling, “From the mind of Cordwainer Smith…”. I’m glad I finally read this book. It was one entertaining story after another.

The first twenty-seven stories chronicle a future history of mankind spanning over 15,000 years from now through the Ancient Wars that destroyed civilization, through the foundation of utopia guided and governed by the Instrumentality of Mankind, through to the Rediscovery of Man. Rather than “spanning”, I might have said “looping back”. While utopia did end death, hunger, and work, life became bland, each day the same. History ceased. “The nightmare of perfection had taken [mankind] to the edge of suicide.” It was then that “...the Instrumentality dug deep in the treasury, reconstructing the old cultures, the old languages, and even the old troubles.” This is the Rediscovery of Man. The final six stories are unrelated to Smith’s future history, but are just as good.

His ideas are peculiar, and often, the first page or two of a story makes only vague sense. Scanners Live in Vain begins, “Martel was angry. He did not even adjust his blood away from anger. He stamped across the room by judgment, not by sight. When he saw the table hit the floor, and could tell by the expression on Luci's face that the table must have made a loud crash, he looked down to see if his leg was broken. It was not.” Also, terms are used multiple time before being explained, such as “cranch”. When the ideas and terms became clearer, I’d often reread those first few pages and visualize something completely different than I did initially. This adds to the richness of Smith’s universe.

Many stories concern space travel. They generally focus more on the psychological issues that arise from space travel rather than on the technology. The greatest hazard to travellers is the mysterious First Effect that causes, in people, the The Great Pain of Space, a “need for death”. To forestall this homicidal impulse, passengers are placed in suspended animation while the spacecraft is crewed by Scanners and Habermans that have had all their senses, except for sight, disconnected from their brains to stave off the First Effect. This psychological condition forms the latticework on which stories such as Scanners Live in Vain and Think Blue, Count Two are built.

Other stories (The Dead Lady of Clown Town, The Ballad of Lost C’mell) concern the underpeople, human-like beings created from animals that labor for mankind, and their struggle to win equal rights, which is clearly a nod to the civil rights movement.

The stories On The Gem Planet, On the Storm Planet, and On the Sand Planet form a novella of just over a hundred pages. It follows Casher O’Neill as he endeavors to regain control of his home planet where a military coup has overthrown its ruler, his uncle. Alone, he travels the stars seeking aid in his mission. I particularly enjoyed this story as it reminded me of a Jack Vance space opera. Smith’s story takes a turn at the end quite unlike the violent resolution I expected as in a Vance story.

There is humor here, too. From Gustible’s Planet recounts Earth’s encounter with the Apicians, intelligent life that “resembled nothing more than oversize ducks, four feet to four feet six in height.” The Apicians follow Gustible, who discovered their planet, back to Earth where they generally make nuisances of themselves through their bottomless stomachs and love of Earth food. I laughed out loud when reading this story partly because of how incongruous the tone was as compared to Smith’s other stories and partly from being genuinely funny. I wondered if this was truly part of his future history or just him poking a little bit of fun of himself.

I’m lucky to have stumbled upon Cordwainer Smith. His unique voice in the world of science fiction makes him a must read. My only regret is that this is his complete short science fiction and only his novel Norstrilia remains for me to be read.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: Cordwainer Smith’s real name was Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger (1913-1966). He was more than just a science fiction writer. He grew up in China and through his father’s involvement in Chinese politics, became a confidant of Chiang Kai-shek. In this book’s introduction, John J. Pierce says, “...he became perhaps the world’s leading authority on psychological warfare.” and that “He wrote the book on psychological warfare - under his own name, as with all his non-fiction.” His interest in psychology is clearly why some many of his stories have a psychological rather than a technological bent, which differentiates him from the crowd.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015


Weaving genuine historical figures into your novel has to be pure artistry. Dan Simmons has done that with almost all his novels, most recently with the 2009 Drood: A Novel, the 2010 Black Hills (see my review of 12/23/2010), and the 2013 The Abominable (see my review of 1/08/2014). This novel is not dissimilar. Imagine writing a novel with the improbable merger of Sherlock Holmes and the great American author Henry James attempting to solve the murder of Clover Adams, wife of historian Henry Adams. Yes, that’s from the family that produced two American presidents. Then, sprinkle in Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), Theodore Roosevelt, Rudyard Kipling, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and then mention Robert Louis Stevenson and the up and coming Junior grade Brussels police inspector Hercule Poirot. Of course President Grover Cleveland, Dr. Watson, and Arthur Conan Doyle are implicated in this mystery. However the novel opens in 1893 Paris with Sherlock Holmes and Henry James about to commit suicide by simultaneously jumping into the Seine River (being there at the same time was pure happenstance). Can you swallow this story? I did with piss and vinegar (is that an idiom?). Anyway James is depressed and Sherlock is on a three year disappearance after a feigned death in a fight with Professor Moriarty (is he in this novel?...of course) at Reichenbach Falls. Sherlock tells James after their aborted suicides fail that, “I discovered, Mr. James, that I was not a real person. I am would a literary person such as yourself put it? I am, the evidence has proven to me most conclusively, a literary construct. Some ink-stained scribbler’s creation. A mere fictional character.” What??

Basically, there is no horse sense to this novel; it’s main function is to please the reader and it does...big time. We all know that Professor Moriarty was created to eventually kill off Sherlock and end the series. But does he ever do it. It seems Conan Doyle wants to but doesn’t have the guts to pull the trigger. Is there any real proof that Sherlock dies? I don’t think so. Dan Simmons writes this novel under the assumption that the great Sherlock Holmes lives and, in fact, arrives in Washington, D.C. to solve a possible murder not knowing whether he is real or a fictional character. Henry James, who seemingly follows Holmes to America without any thought pattern, has trepidations that he is a failed writer (thus his attempted suicide). But, he is easily maneuvered into making the trip back to America. Why Sherlock doubts himself as a real person is puzzling since throughout the novel he demonstrates his brilliant mind and stealth. When they arrive in America, Sherlock briefly goes into disguise as Norwegian explorer Jan Sigerson. Sherlock’s client is the brother of the supposedly murdered Clover Adams but soon finds out that his client has taken his own life. As a matter of fact, everyone in the novel also thinks that Clover committed suicide by drinking her photography chemicals (yucky!). Since Clover Adams’ husband Henry is away in Europe, Sherlock and Henry James stay at John (an American historian) and Clara Hay’s mansion. The Hays are neighbors of Henry Adams (an American statesman) and are also friends of Henry James. Got it so far? As soon as Sherlock unpacks, he heads into D.C. to buy cocaine and morphine. In the 1800s England, it seems like everyone was a drug addict (drinking laudanum, a liquid opium) or had gout or consumption. Anyway, he buys his drugs from some toughs and they make the mistake of trying to roll Sherlock. Ha, this part was funny.

On page 47 (you thought that I was giving up too much of the story, didn’t you?...there are 570 pages still to go) we find out about the Five of Hearts, a salon of five people: Henry and Clover Adams, John and Clara Hay and Clarence King (a famous geologist). Did the group’s elitism cause them to acquire enemies? Maybe. Sherlock suspects Clover’s recent friendship with Rebecca Lorne and Clifton Richards is dubious. Are they really anarchists? Is Clifton Richards a deadly assassin who almost killed Sherlock years ago? Is Rebecca really Clifton’s mother? As the plot thickens and the fog clears, it is apparent that President Grover Cleveland is to be assassinated at the 5/1/1893 opening of The World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. (Incidentally, if you are interested in that Chicago Expo, read The Devil in the White City by another favorite author, Erik Larson.) It’s amazing how Dan Simmons ties historical persona and events into all his novels. If you haven’t read a Simmons novel...shame on you. If you read my reviews, you know that I’m a big fan of the three dots (a.k.a ellipsis). Regardless, Sherlock surmises that the anarchists have a list of world presidents and royalty to assassinate. Remember that President James A. Garfield was shot by ‘wacko’ Charles J. Guiteau and subsequently died in 1881 and later in 1901, President William McKinley was assassinated by anarchist Leon Czolgosz. The late 1800s into the early 1900s were very volatile, so Sherlock might be on to something. While I just touched on the beginning of the novel, I’ll let you plow through the last 500 gripping pages or so. It’s going to be a jaunt.

And so what do I like about Dan Simmons’s novels? Well, he kinda over informs the reader like Wikipedia. For instance ,I know that in 1893, Clara Hay was 44 years old when she died, Sherlock Holmes was 38 years old and taller than normal, Henry James was 50 years old and had gout, Clarence King was 5’ 6”, Henry James is 49 years old, Samuel Clemens is 57 years old, William Dean Howells is 56 years old, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr is 52 years old, Rudyard Kipling is 27 years old, and Teddy Roosevelt was a stocky 5’ 8”. This information gives the reader a upgraded character discernment with a hint of the milieu during the time period. Let’s face it, back in the 1800s, if you were 5’ 10” you were considered a semi-giant. I don’t think any writer has a better handle on the reality of the times of their novel than Dan Simmons. But the biggest asset Simmons has is the non-drowsy zone he creates. I have read at least ten Dan Simmons novels and never once did I nod off. This is one of America’s best novelist, and I don’t know why this Science fiction/ horror/ fantasy writer doesn’t get his just kudos. Okay, I know he won the Hugo Award in 1989, but it's 26 years later...where is the current adulation? Do I recommend this novel? Is the Pope Catholic?

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: In the above novel, Henry James, while in his room in John Hay’s mansion, reads about Sherlock’s adventures in The Strand Magazine of the United Kingdom. This is the actual magazine that Arthur Conan Doyle first published his Sherlock Holmes detective short stories in a serialization format. It seems that all writers of the mid 1800s published their stories in this form. Henry James tries to find out if Sherlock is real by asking him questions from some of the stories in the magazine. Sherlock is sharp and, in fact, corrects some of the magazine’s adventures. Are these magazine serials why Sherlock thinks he is not “a real person?” Later in the novel, Samuel Clemens wonders if maybe he is also a fictional character in Sherlock Holmes’s fictional story. He asks Henry James that maybe…” this whole assassination plot is part of some melodramatic tale?”  

Even the great Charles Dickens published his stories in magazines, then later in the form of a novel. According to Prof. Joel J. Brattin, Honorary Curator of Fellman Dickens Collection, “Every one of Charles Dickens’s novels was published serially--that is, the novels appeared not all at once, but in parts or installments, over a space of time. Publishing his novels in serial form expanded Dickens’s readership, as more people could afford to buy fiction on the installment plan; publishers, too, liked the idea, as it allowed them to increase sales and to offer advertisements in the serial parts. And Dickens enjoyed the intimacy with his audience that serialization provided.”

Sherlock Holmes:
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