Nov. 16th, 2008

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The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars by Anthony Boucher

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
Boucher's writing has a warm, friendly, accessible quality that is relatively rare in modern detective fiction. But then, it's not exactly modern, any more; The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars comes from a unique period of time, just before the US became involved in World War II (or possibly just after Pearl Harbor - but I don't think so, since that event isn't mentioned).

It's set in Hollywood. And as any mystery fan would probably guess from the title, Sherlock Holmes is a major focus of the book - although not as a character. Rather, it follows a group of devoted followers of Holmes - five members of the Baker Street Irregulars, which is a real organization of Holmes fans - as they attempt to solve a murder.

It's a simply delightful book, witty and charming. Although there are inevitably elements which root the book solidly in its now long-gone era, it has enough of a modern feel and sensibility to still be eminently readable. The characters are interesting and lively, the deductions and adventures are clever and exciting...all in all a very enjoyable book, one that I'll happily read again in a year or two.

It may be worth mentioning that the book has a connection to Boucher's best-known detective, the red-headed Fergus O'Breen. Fergus himself does not appear in the book; instead his sister Maureen plays a major role. Although Fergus may be best known for his appearance in some crossover light mystery/fantasy short stories, The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars is firmly grounded in reality. There are no werewolves or magicians here.

Boucher had a lovely, light and warm-hearted writing style combined with a truly rare wit. It's a pity that he didn't write more, but his impact as a reviewer and particularly as an editor on the fields of science fiction and mystery was incalculable. For those who enjoy his style, you'll find that the mysteries of Fredric Brown (particularly the Ed and Am Hunter series) are comparable in many ways. So are many of the Ellery Queen books by Ellery Queen, particularly those from roughly the same period (the 1940s). It's worth noting that several of the Ellery books are set in Hollywood too.

If you enjoy Boucher's mysteries, I also strongly recommend his science fiction - although alas, there isn't much of it.

View all my reviews.
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Top Ten: The Forty-Niners (Top Ten) Top Ten: The Forty-Niners by Alan Moore

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars

Call him what you like, but there's no denying it; Alan Moore is brilliant. And in Top Ten: The Forty-Niners, he proves once again that he can grip a reader without the usual "big name" comic-book characters.

That's not to say that the characters in TT:TFN are completely original. In fact, that's a large part of the charm; finding and recognizing characters who can't be identified within the text by name for copyright/trademark reasons, but who are identifiable nonetheless. Look carefully, and you'll swear you see Kal-El, or possibly his well as his earthly secret identity. You'll catch a glimpse of a certain Friendly Ghost, if you're sharp. Not to mention a well-known large-forearmed sailor man and his rather enormous nemesis.

I even spotted a rather ghoulish couple who frequently graced the pages of the New Yorker in days gone by, and were later adapted to television.

But that's just the frosting on the cake. The cake itself is a cracking good story; the story of a city after the end of World War II, a new city filled with the various super-powered and otherwise incredible characters who participated in the war (including to my amusement an analog of comic strip adviser Mary Worth).

I won't spoil the book for you. But the characters and plot are up to the usual high standards of Moore at his best. The art is also quite good, with a unique and memorable style that makes the search for familiar characters (on the second or third re-reading) a pleasure. This was a book that I didn't want to return to the library. And when I finished reading it, I wished there was more.

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