Tuesday, 29 October 2013

"Sherlock Holmes in Japan" - a book review

Sherlock Holmes in Japan
by Vasudev Murthy writing as Akira Yamashita

The “Great Hiatus” – as the period after “The Final Problem” with the famous Reichenbach Fall until “The Empty House” is called by Sherlock Holmes aficionados – covering three years of the Great Detective alleged death between May 1891 and April 1894 is a time span inviting all apocrypha writers.
It represents a challenge for them. Some handle it in less successfully, others better. However, Vasudev Murthy made a perfect performance and succeeded in rising to the occasion. Like a virtuoso playing his Stradivarius.
Every writer brings into his narration both his canonical as well as personal knowledge, experience, liking... The same is valid for Vasudev Murthy. As an Indian classical violinist he involved India and music into the story. And working for a Japanese company helped him to incorporate Japan and its tradition and culture there, too. All that he shares with his readers in an imaginatively woven story told in a flawless diction using an abundant and poetic vocabulary.
‘Shri’ Murthy thus composed a brilliant and fascinating story about the struggle of Professor Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes ongoing after their presumed death in the roaring waters of the Swiss falls, in which the later escapes all baits and dangers and save the Japanese Empire as well as whole Europe.
Exciting and gripping reading full of dramatic situations as well as imaginative moments. A novel I liked very much, even despite my not being a big admirer of Holmesian pastiches. Very recommendable book for all fans of the Great Detective.
The book has an engaging cover design by Tanaya Vyas and is accompanied by a map of Sherlock Holmes’s two travels to Japan created by Mohan Raj. Nice pieces of artwork.

Published by: HarperCollins India, 2013
Paperback, 276 pages

Book review by © Aleš Kolodrubec, president of the Czech Society of Sherlock Holmes
28 October 2013

Saturday, 26 October 2013

The Reichenbach Fall

From my diary: October 3-4, 2013 at Meiringen, Switzerland.

I had a Reichenbach fall. No, really. Literally. I actually fell.
Now, much as I’d like to say that I felt so overwhelmed, was so overcome by emotion at the sight of the Reichenbach falls, where my hero, Sherlock Holmes, fell to his “death” that my knees gave out and I fell – that would not be the truth. What really happened was that there were some slippery paths on the hike, and I simply slipped and fell.

But it is still “cool” to say that I had a “Reichenbach fall”, however humble it may have been compared to the Master.
Anyway, to begin at the beginning, I arrived at Meiringen on a train (from Zurich, via Luzern, where you have to change trains). The train from Luzern to Meiringen is what they call a “panorama coach” – it gives you a gorgeous view of the Swiss countryside all through the journey.

The wonderful, amazing people at Haslital Tourismus chalked out an itinerary for me (the full itinerary will be put up in the next e-magazine). I was met at the Meiringen station by my lovely tour guides – Anja and Hannes, who then took me on the Reichenbach Funicular.

The stop has a small gallery with some interesting Sherlock Holmes artefacts. Also, there is a Sherlock Holmes cut-out you can put your face in and photograph! We did, obviously.

Then began the hike. Probably the most strenuous thing I have done in my adult life. Fat, lazy, city-creature that I am, I stopped every two minutes, gasping for breath and wanting to take a break. Anja and Hannes were very, very kind and encouraging – and all the credit for my successful climb is owed to them.

The falls are beautiful. Breathtaking. And for us Sherlockians, emotional.

Words from “The Final Problem” flit through your mind as you look down at the forceful water and the abyss below. It is not difficult to imagine Sherlock and Moriarty tumbling down the walls, and then Sherlock climbing up. I can only imagine the amount of perseverance and strength it must have taken for him to make the climb.
The spot where Sherlock and Moriarty fell has been marked with a large white star, which is visible from the other side. There is a plaque, put up by The Bimetallic Question of Montreal and The Reichenbach Irregulars of Switzerland. There is also a wreath, put up by Deutsche Sherlock Holmes Gesellschaft (the German Sherlock Holmes Society).

It was on the way down from the “spot” that I had my little fall. Anja was kind enough to suggest that maybe my shoes were not as suited to a hike – and thus responsible for my fall, rather than my uncoordinated idiocy. Maybe my subconscious decided that I needed to take at least a small fall at Reichenbach to have something in common with Sherlock! Anyhow – a small incident, I escaped without a scratch and barely a bruise or two. What can I say except - Sherlock watches over me?
Anja and Hannes were super-careful after that, and helped me out wherever the grounds were slippery. They even changed the route and took the longer way down – which was a paved road, rather than the trail through the woods.
Hannes had to take our leave subsequently, and Anja took me to lunch at Aare Gorge. By then, it was time for another appointment for Anja, and exploring Aare Gorge would have meant walking a lot more (and I’d really had my quota for the day by then, and was itching to see the Sherlock Holmes statue and the museum) – so Anja very kindly drove me back to Meiringen.
I checked into Hotel Alpbach – the suggestion for which had come from a Swiss Sherlockian, through Ales, the President of the Czech Sherlock Holmes Society. It was a quaint little hotel – quite adorable, really. A stone’s throw away from the Sherlock Holmes Museum.

Of course, I dumped my luggage at the hotel and headed out to the Sherlock Holmes Museum.

The museum is built like a church – it is small, but quite nice.

It has an authentic replica of the living room of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, a replica of Turner’s Falls of the Reichenbach – and many, many Sherlockian goodies. (Needless to say, I picked up a good few.)

Did you know that Sherlock Holmes is an honorary citizen of Meiringen? No, really. There’s a certificate and everything.

The statue of Sherlock Holmes at the centre of the town was made by John Doubleday – yes, the same sculptor who made the one outside the Baker Street tube station in London (which is where 221B Baker Street would have been).
It is said that all sixty canon stories have been incorporated in some obscure manner in the statue and its surroundings – and that this remains an unsolved problem.
(There is a contest for this as well – details in the next e-magazine.)
Just after the museum, there is Park Hotel du Sauvage – which was originally the Englischer Hof where Holmes and Watson stayed during their trip. Now modernised and refurbished, of course – but just like everything else in Meiringen – quaint.

Also, thanks to Olaf Maurer, the President of the Deutsche Sherlock Holmes Gesellschaft, who very kindly drew me a map for the Jeremy Brett walk – I got to see the place which was the Englischer Hof for Jeremy Brett and David Burke.

So, all in all – Meiringen is a must-visit on your Sherlock Holmes Pilgrimage list – and it is undoubtedly one of the loveliest places I have ever been to. It looks like a series of picture-perfect postcard images.


It is easy to imagine why Sherlock Holmes would choose to go to this beautiful place knowing death was imminent. The place literally exudes peace, serenity – and even if Sherlock was in the most melancholy of moods, he would feel better just walking through the town. And really, if you knew you were dying, wouldn’t you want to be in the most beautiful place you could think of so you would die happy?

There are many other things to do at Meringen as well – and thanks to Haslital, I did participate in some – but that did not relate to Sherlock Holmes (the activities are listed in the programme drawn up by Haslital). However, when we plan out the Sherlock Holmes Society of India’s visit to Meiringen, we can do the other “fun” activities as well. I really cannot adequately emphasise how gorgeous this place is.

We must go to Meiringen. Really. I certainly intend to return as soon as I can.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Sherlock Holmes in Japan - review

This has been long overdue – a thousand apologies to Vasudev Murthy, the lovely author of “Sherlock Holmes in Japan”, which is written under the pseudonym of Akira Yamashita. And a thousand more, because I know I promised a formal review – but I just couldn’t come up with it.

Let me present the beautiful cover first (though, I suppose, most would be familiar with the image by now):


Now, of course, there is no dearth of Sherlock Holmes pastiches in the world. The sheer quantum of Holmesian literature, in fact, is mild boggling – especially when you consider how little of the canon there is. And, therein, lies the charm of Sherlock Holmes.

And here comes another problem – I can’t write a “proper” review without giving out spoilers, and I hate giving out spoilers because it ruins the charm for those who are about to read a book. So, how do I go about writing this review? Generic gushing without saying anything is pretty useless and solves no purpose whatsoever – “verbal diarrhoea”, as a friend of mine would call it.

Tricky business. I could, however, try to give a sort of introduction to the book, why I liked it, my favourite quote and keep the major plot elements out of the picture.

Vasudev’s book pertains to the Missing Years (you do know why I’m using capitalised terms here, yes?) – with the one major advantage – post-Reichenbach, Sherlock Holmes does not face evil by himself this time – he has his Watson. Good old Professor Moriarty is as sinister as ever, locked in an intellectual duel (with the fate of the world hanging in the balance) with the Holmes brothers (well, Mycroft’s sort of there in the background – but as I keep saying, I adore Mycroft, and have a tendency to latch on to any mention of him) – and Sherlock Holmes is the only man who can foil his devious intent. Holmes and Watson travel through many exotic places – including but not limited to India, Cambodia and finally make their way to Japan, where the grand showdown happens. Sherlock bedazzles the reader.

Murder and mayhem, of course, follow them around like loyal dogs. There is a scene where Watson thinks he is dreaming of murder, when it actually takes place under his nose. (Sorry, any more details would be spoilers.)

The best feature? The entire book is incandescent with humour. Vasudev has cleverly used Holmes and Watson caricatures. Watson is often bumbling – and infinitely adorable. Holmes is hyperbolically clever, cryptic and cantankerous at times – and it is done so well that you will fall off your chair laughing and people in the vicinity will shoot you OMG-what’s-wrong-with-her-now looks.

Holmes and Watson meet some eminent people on their way, and these meetings are quite fun.

Also, apparently, Vasudev has changed something that conflicted in history and the canon – he did tell me, but I really cannot recall – technical things concerning history usually fly over my head. Now, I know there are some very erudite Sherlockians out there who take their history very, very seriously and who take offence at anything that deviates from actual facts or the actual canon – I salute you guys, and have a lot of respect for your knowledge – but I can’t really empathise.

A book is meant to be fun. We love Sherlock Holmes, and we want to see him in action. We want a gripping story-line which showcases Sherlock’s heroism (for he is our hero) and is fun to read, too. A good book (in my humble opinion) should leave you happy. (Yes, yes, I know most of serious, scholarly literature leaves you in dire need of Prozac and generates nightmares for weeks.)

And “Sherlock Holmes in Japan” does leave you happy. It is a complete story – has all the “happy” elements – action, adventure, cleverness, exotic locations, heroism, humour, mayhem, murder – and a very satisfying ending (which, I think, is very important – all’s well that ends well and all that jazz) – murder mysteries solved, mega-scale crisis averted, Sherlock Holmes hailed as the hero with his best friend by his side (it just doesn’t feel right without Dr. Watson, does it?) – what more can you possibly want?

Go, buy the book and see for yourselves. You will be well entertained, and as you turn the last page, you will smile.

My favourite quote from the book (Context: Holmes is showing off his deductive skills to a Japanese gentleman, and then invites the said gentleman to try deduction on himself, and the Japanese man retorts with this):

“...you have an older sibling who you admire greatly and your energy springs from a desire to keep pace with him...”

Sherlock Holmes is gobsmacked. To find out more, read the book!

Oh, yes, before I forget - the inimitable Ross K Foad has agreed to review this book - so that should (hopefully) be available sometime soon...and that'd be a proper one!