Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession by David Grann

Once on a summer day I had a large cup full of a delicious iced beverage.  For some stupid reason I thought there was tea in the cup.  When I went to drink said beverage I was surprised and disgusted to taste grape juice.  It isn't that grape juice is bad.  It is simply that when one expects and anticipates sweet tea a sudden gulp of grape juice is a shock. 

The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession by David Grann hit me much like the unexpected grape juice.  I was expecting something completely different and, therefore, felt disappointed when I realized I wasn't at all going to get what I expected.

I picked up Devil and Sherlock Holmes on a whim.  The title intrigued me.  Sherlock Holmes? Murder? Madness? Obsession?  Sounds perfect!  I thought I was getting a collection of true stories riddled with mystery.  I thought they would be mostly literary or obscure whodunits.  I expected these mysterious obsessions to span through different time periods.  The first story satisfied all my expectations; in "Mysterious Circumstances: The Strange Death of a Sherlock Holmes Fanatic" Grann seeks to uncover who murdered a prominent Doyle scholar.  There were lies and books and antiques and papers and mixed up wills and millions of dollars and evil family members.... In short it was riveting.

From that point on everything changed.  In fact there was a general decline in mystery and intrigue.  There are interesting articles about impostors, gangs, stickup men, and mobs, but none where really mysteries.  They were merely interesting pieces of journalism.  I kept waiting for the intelligent, cerebral whodunit to come back around.  How do I explain this?  It was like reading 60 Minutes or Dateline

So I'm really disappointed.  The book was well-written and fascinating if you want to read articles about crime, but it isn't at all what I wanted or expected.  In fact, I have a feeling it is the fault of the title. The title implies erudite and mysteries tales of a strange nature.  I can think of several people who would actually have enjoyed this collection of journalism, but might not pick it up because it looks like tales of oddities. 

Of course, if I had read the inside flap more thoroughly I would have known what to expect.  Lesson learned.  But I think the answer to this mystifying disappointment is that one should be infinitely careful when choosing titles for one's book.

1 comment:

youngbibliophile said...

Thanks for reviewing this book. I've seen it over the summer and considered reading it, but now I don't think it would really be my cup of tea. Btw, I've been reading your blog for a while and I really like it!