Review: The Sherlockian, Graham Moore

Harold is the youngest ever member of the Baker Street Irregulars, a secretive group of Sherlock Holmes devotees. At his first ever meeting, the preeminent Sherlockian in the world has come to present the lost diary of Conan Doyle, the holy grail of, you know, of Sherlock Holmes dudes. But when the body of the scholar is found strangled in his hotel room, Harold becomes obsessed with finding out the Truth. Meanwhile, a hundred years ago, Arthur Conan Doyle receives a letter bomb, apparently related to his decision to chuck his hero, Sherlock Holmes, off a waterfall. Trying to trace it back to its source, he finds himself in the slums of Victorian London on the trail of…a serial killer!

Books are so mysterious, aren’t they? They can have all the aspects of an awesome books without ever actually blossoming into an awesome book. How does that happen? Or more importantly, how does it happen that the book does blossom into brilliance? What is the thing that happens? Why are most boarding school/university books just fun because of the setting, but then The Secret History is rereadable four times in one year? Why is that?

As you may have begun to suspect, I was not satisfied with The Sherlockian. It had all the things! And it was fun! But why, why, why was it not amazing?

Poor old Sherlockian doesn’t deserve to bear the brunt of my wrath. It was, you know, fine. The mysteries had perfectly reasonable resolutions. Sometimes it got a bit show-your-worky with the awkward exposition, like, “As you know, the term suffragette was coined as a mockery of the women’s rights movement, whereas we call ourselves suffragists.” But mostly it was a good old lark.

The thing is, I’m having a small crisis. I haven’t been blown away by a new book in, like, months. Boo! What the hell, books? Why have you become so very lame? I finish reading them and I don’t even care whether I tell y’all about them or not. Will your lives be changed by anything I’ve read? NO. Will you even be transported to a place of minor joy? NO. Ou sont les putains de livres de putain d’antan? Is what I rather profanely want to know.

40 thoughts on “Review: The Sherlockian, Graham Moore

  1. I keep reading that The Night Circus is awesome. So I am hoping, hoping, hoping. But I am afflicted with this same book ennui right now, so I am solving the problem (or ignoring it) by rereading many comfort books.

    • I keep reading that too about The Night Circus. I fear that the hype will prove too much for me and my expectations will be too high and I won’t like it like I want to.

      • Jenny, the author was apparently inspired by the Punchdrunk Theatre Company, which is the only thing I’ve heard that has made me seriously consider reading it. (I’m always skeptical of hype and tend to wait for a reliable friend to read any hyped book before I think about reading it.)

  2. I saw this on the new books bookshelf at my library and felt that I should not pick it up. I hate it when a book is alright, but should be much more; that mechanical, formulaic feeling makes my brain feel fuzzy.

    I’m sorry you’re having book ennui; that sucks. I recommend either comfort reads or something that will blow your mind—the latter is much more difficult. I recommend Michael Chabon or Jacqueline Carey.

  3. Oh that’s a shame. Maybe try walking away from the books that are being touted and try something you’d never have considered if you weren’t in the mood for a totally different kind of thing. I find lit fiction (the kind that is not about how a man has to leave his middle aged wife to be true to his soul and rescue his libbido) very refreshing during reading mehs.

  4. I have to disagree with you. I reviewed the book a while ago (

    I thought the stories were well told. The modern story captured the obsessive nature of Sherlockian societies, which I enjoyed. The writing was strong. I would recommend this to any Sherlock or mystery reader.

    I do agree with Mumsy that Night Circus is fantastic. I also have hopes for The Art of Fielding.

    Happy reading.

  5. I read and reviewed The Sherlockian a while back and wasn’t much impressed.
    Things are really dreadful when you go through a blah reading phase–I’ve been there frequently. However, it makes you appreciate the wow phases more, though.

    • I must not be a good reader, because when I’m in a wow phase, I always forget that blah phases exist. When I’m in a wow phase, and somebody else talks about being in a blah phase, I feel super tolerant and condescending like, You should just stop being in a blah phase and be in a wow phase instead!

  6. I have this book, and have been sort of scared to try it. It promises great things, but I haven’t always been sure it can deliver. It sounds like perhaps this is a book better avoided, at least for the time being. I need something juicy and wonderful, and it doesn’t sound like this one is it. I do really appreciate your honesty in this review though. Now I really know what to expect with this book.

    • As usual when I’m in a blah phase, I feel I’d have liked this book better — and found it juicy, if not altogether wonderful — if I’d read it when not in a blah phase. Blah phases make everything blah.

  7. Interesting question–given all the right elements, what does make one book sublime while another falls short? I’m tempted to say it’s heart, a sense of the writer’s passion translating from the page (or not, as the case may be.) But it’s such an individual thing, connecting with a book on an emotional level; what works for one reader will leave another completely flat.

    I’m sorry to hear books have been letting you down. May I suggest Minette Walters to you as an author who writes compelling and satisfying mysteries? The Icehouse is a great place to start–not only do you not know who the murderer is, you don’t even find out who the victim is until the denouement. It’s a real thriller of a book!

    • Yeah, you’re right, it’s down to the reader, not the book. To some extent.

      Minette Walters sounds good! I will add her to my list. I love the idea of not knowing the victim!

  8. I hesitate to make recommendations, because I know our taste doesn’t 100% overlap, but would you consider trying John Crowley’s _Little, Big_? It blew me right out of my socks, for *weeks*, and at least if it didn’t do that for you, it couldn’t make your book ennui any worse. Unless what you want right now is a big linear family epic or something, in which case save the Crowley for later.

    • I feel like I have heard about that author. Did he write other things? I am not in the mood for a big linear family epic. I am almost never in the mood for that. John Crowley sounds good though.

      • I want to build John Crowley a throne. Out of, um, let’s see, what are the best things? Ice cream, obvs, and time browsing in bookstores with a gift certificate, and snuggling. I’ve recently been reviewing his Aegypt series, four books long, which explores the idea that magic and alchemy used to be real, and work, the way physics and chemistry are real and work today, but time shifted and now not only do they not work but they never could have worked. It’s marvelous, but I recommend starting with Little, Big as a one-off to get hooked on.

  9. The Sherlockian was all right but it did have moments where you thought it would be great and it sorta falters and ends up OK. It’s touch when you get in a rut. Maybe try a book you love and see how it goes. It might get your reading karma back.

  10. I was having just this conversation with Memory from Stella Matituna this morning. Yeah, wth books? Why are you not the awesomeness?

    In my experience, perfectly reasonable explanations do not a good mystery make.

  11. Man, I was hoping The Sherlockian would be awesome. I’m going to read it anyway, because of the Sherlock Holmes thing, but I’ll have to forget about it being not-awesome first.

    YOU SHOULD READ THE THACKERY T. LAMBSHEAD CABINET OF CURIOSITIES! It’s short stories, so you you don’t like one you can skip and find one that’s better!

    • I don’t know what that is but I normally do not love short stories and what if I read it and I don’t like it and then you never recommend me another book again? What about that? Eek.

  12. It’s not good when nothing inspires you – you could try a completely different/new genre, or some good non-fic for a few books. Or even gasp, take a short break from reading and do something else instead (I know, impossible)

    I’m currently being blown away by Steinbeck’s East of Eden – Cathy Ames, what a woman!

  13. From personal experience, I am gone through periods where I don’t like anything and the reason was no because the books were bad. Sometimes i just can open my brain up to books.

  14. I hate book dry spells! It makes me feel so betrayed by the written word. I’ve found, though, that when I finally read a good book I love it way more than it probably deserves just because it isn’t as bad as its predecessors. I LOVE A. J. Jacobs’ book The Know-It-All, but I don’t know if I love it because I love it, or because I read it after reading Twilight and the first four books in Michael Buckley’s Sisters Grimm series, all of which made me want to stab myself in the eye. Repeatedly. But then I read The Know-It-All and life was good again 🙂

    • *cracks up* The Know-It-All would be an excellent antidote for Twilight, I can well imagine. I read a really good book late last week, actually, but it has not altogether busted my slump. Only sort of.

  15. As someone who HAS read The Night Circus and felt none of the massive love that everyone else seems to feel about it, I totes understand the ennui. You know the last awesome book I read? SUPER DUPER awesome? Wait for it, you won’t like what I have to say…


  16. Agree that this is an imperfect book but enjoyed it all the same for what it had to say about Sherlock love specifically. That possibility, that comfort that everything can be deciphered and dealt with if one is only smart enough. The contemporary story line did leave something to be desired in parts but found humor in the gentle mockery of Sherlockians.

  17. The books have been treating me the exact same way. They’re all, “I am interesting and enjoyable, but I will not blow you out of the water. Oh no I will not. Instead, I will leave you wondering what’s wrong with you that you didn’t love me to itty bitty bits.” Stupid books. I mean, i’m a picky girl to begin with, but I feel like books used to be so much better than they are now.

    Maybe I’m getting old.

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