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Audio Book Review


The Darker Side of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Volume One


Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Read by: Phil Reynolds

Fantom Films
RRP: £13.99
ISBN: 978 1 90826 357 7
Available 01 November 2010

This is the first of two audio CD releases from Fantom Films. There are five short stories, all read by Phil Reynolds, on three discs, with a total running time of 190 minutes. These are some of the more fantastical or macabre tales written by Sherlock Holmes creator and author of The Lost World, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Phil Reynolds is an experienced actor, writer and voice artist; he narrates these tales with a resoluteness of purpose, neither offering too much annoying inflection, or sleep-inducing low tones. Read on and be transported.

Most people will have heard of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and those who haven’t will surely be aware of Sherlock Holmes, one of the best-loved and most enduring literary characters of all time. Conan Doyle was an astute and intelligent man. His many accomplishments included, serving as a ship’s doctor, building up his own successful medical practice, studying the eye in Vienna, operating as a front line war correspondent, being knighted by Queen Victoria, and being appointed Deputy-lieutenant. He was an all-round sportsman, and extensively well-travelled, as well as being a life-long campaigner for the underdog. His written output is more than prolific. In his later years Conan Doyle expressed a deep interest in spiritualism and the supernatural, and conducted lecture tours on the subject.

The five tales incorporated here cover this period in his life. The Horror of the Heights tells of the rumour of something unearthly seen at an extreme altitude by a pilot who has since been discredited and gone mad. A curious pilot seeks to uncover the truth for himself, and so takes his bi-plane higher than anyone has previously risen. Although an interesting enough idea, it is far too long in the telling, and in a subsequent age of space travel holds little intrigue. Suspend your disbelief big time for this one. Oh, and one more comment: the cover artwork rather gives away what the pilot encounters.

In The Lord of Chateau Noir, certain wartime atrocities are traced back to the Count of a relatively nearby manor house by a sergeant and a handful of soldiers. The potential prisoner doesn’t appear to be at home, but he will materialise and gain the upper hand with motives of his own. This one requires intent concentration; I listened to the story when distracted by other household matters, and found myself having to revisit the plot - a tale of active revenge.

The Nightmare Room, tells the story of an American aristocrat who falls in love with and marries a well-known dancer. She has given up her previous life touring Europe to be with him, and he treats her well. That is until he discovers that she intends to poison him, and has a lover. When the other man arrives at the house an unusual exchange of words takes place, culminating in a most unexpected conclusion. This one is an enjoyable listening experience, grounded in reality. It has the feel of a Tales of the Unexpected episode, but the ending is somewhat mundane - a bit of a disappointment.

The Ring of Thoth, has a scholar studying Egyptian antiquities at an exhibition when he falls asleep, and awakes to find a strange man performing a ritual in the middle of the night. This has the structure of a Sherlock Holmes story, in that a character is discovered and is compelled to tell his back story. It’s an interesting listen, but would have been greatly aided by having been played out rather than told in exposition.

The Brazilian Cat is probably the best of the bunch on offer here. It follows the exploits of a destitute young nobleman who visits his rich cousin in order to ask him for a loan. The cousin is most cordial, unlike his plainly rude wife who wants nothing more than for him to leave as soon as possible. The cousin enthusiastically shows him his prize possession, a Brazilian big cat - and I don’t think it’s giving too much away to reveal that the cat has a distinct bearing in our hero’s peril. There is palpable tension inherent in this story, and a believable motive for the jovial man’s nastiness.

These are a curiosity, if nothing else. Their effect is greatly blunted by the years, so that what would have been astounding literary pieces in their time, are now, at best, average fair. Unlike Sherlock Holmes, these are not timeless classics.


Ty Power

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