A Scandal in Scarborough – Stuart Fortey

It is a pretty cover, though

What a strange book. What a very odd book indeed. The premise is that Sidney Paget is the illustrator of the Sherlock Holmes stories in the Strand (true), a job he received accidentally – the publishers intended to hire his brother Walter (also true). Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock can blame Sidney for the deerstalker. Scandal in Scarborough begins with Sidney trying to help Walter stabilize a bit with a trip to the seaside, because, whether Walter became unbalanced after the wrong brother was hired or was always a bit loopy, he is most definitely a little unhinged now. It probably doesn’t help his state of mind that Sidney uses Walter as his model for the Great Detective (which he apparently denied).

Whatever the cause of the loopiness, Walter is compelled to fling himself into an investigation of a missing man he reads about in the newspaper. Having been used as the image of Holmes, being recognized by all and sundry as Holmes, he is under the impression that he can solve the disappearance. Sidney, naturally, tags along to try to contain him. He does not do a very good job, and is sucked into the sorry excuse for an investigation – though I suppose the “make assumptions and ask kind of random questions” style is rather accurate to what Doyle wrote, without the genius Holmes supposedly had.

These two brothers … Sidney proudly proclaims that before he illustrates a story, he actually reads the story. I marveled. I don’t know, maybe habits among artists were different then, but … truly, this is nothing to brag about. It’s common sense. He reproves his brother for playing detective, then goes off and investigates things on his own in hopes of being able to show Walter up, and then drags his feet about whether they should be involved, then spends hours trying to decode a message which … well, really, if he actually did read all the Sherlock Holmes stories as he claimed he ought to have cleared it up long before. And both he and his insane brother enjoy the whole thing far too much for a case in which bodies begin to pile up, including that of a friend.

“In my heart of hearts I did not merely want to rein in Walter, I wanted to surpass him. I would decode the message and solve the crime – not just to bring my brother down a peg or two, which it undoubtedly would do, but to become myself the man of the moment, the hero of the hour…”
– Ass.

The writing became a little awkward at times, though it seemed to stick to its period pretty well. Still, the lighting fixture swaying above the dancers in that one chapter was a chandelier, not a candelabra. Sidney lapsed into visions or nightmares or something every now and then which reeked of sloppy writing more than anything else – unless they were supposed to demonstrate that both brothers needed psychiatric help. And the book also suffered from RealiltyShowItis – that tendency to, now and again, recap everything that has gone before for the inattentive reader.

I have to give credit where it’s due for one thing: “Punch took up his slapstick”. I never heard where slapstick comedy got its name before – so thanks for that.

I received this book through a LibraryThing Member Giveaway in exchange for an honest review


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10 Responses to A Scandal in Scarborough – Stuart Fortey

  1. Stuart Fortey says:

    I’m the author of A Scandal in Scarborough, and I’d just like to point out that I deliberately used ‘candelabra’ instead of ‘chandelier’. A candelabra is a holder for candles or lamps with branched arms. It usually stands on a table, but it can also be fixed to the ceiling like a chandelier. Google ‘candelabra hanging from’.

  2. stewartry says:

    Interesting. I also did a search for the word origin of “chandelier”, though, and it’s been in use since possibly 1736, so I am left wondering why you would choose a word which at first blush a large percentage of your readers is going to assume is used incorrectly. Thanks.

  3. stewartry says:

    The definitions I’m seeing don’t specify whether it’s meant to refer to a tabletop or ceiling (or handheld or piano-top) fixture. Just for fun, I did a Google image search for “candelabra”. Out of over 400 images on the screen, two are of hanging fixtures. Again, I would have assumed they were incorrectly labeled.

    Just sayin’.

  4. Stuart Fortey says:

    I don’t see how I can be held responsible for what my readers are going to assume. I try to use words accurately, and I believe in this case I have done. A chandelier evokes for me an elaborate construction, perhaps with glass shapes attached, and probably using electricity. The fixture in the book is a simpler construction, using lighted candles on branched arms, which come to a point in the centre, This is a candelabra. The Oxford English Dictionary gives, under ‘candelabra’, the definition ‘a chandelier’. If this doesn’t convince you, we shall just have to agree to differ.

  5. stewartry says:

    Hi again. I’m not sure why you’re this fixated on one line of my review; it was only one small thing which contributed to my opinion of my book.

    I don’t have ready access to the OED, but:
    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/candelabra (please note illustration)
    http://www.thefreedictionary.com/candelabra (please note illustration)

    I’m not a scholar of lighting. In decades of reading fiction and non-fiction in all genres I’ve never seen the word used in the way you used it.

    “I don’t see how I can be held responsible for what my readers are going to assume.” Now, I know this is pointless, but I’m going to tilt at the windmill anyway: You’re professing to be a writer. One major aspect of being a writer is being responsible for what your readers are going to assume. In creating a work of fiction, all you have are the words you use to create your world, so they have to be used carefully and specifically. You’re technically correct about what this word means, but if you were to poll all the potential readers of your book to pick the image they think of when they hear the word “candelabra”, I would expect most of them to – as I did – think (assume) tabletop rather than ceiling, which causes dissonance between what you’re trying to say and what your reader is reading. I could well be wrong; I don’t have time or desire to take any sort of poll; I’m simply saying that in this case that one thing (repeated several times) landed with a dull thud and was a detrimental distraction from the story. If a writer whose work I enjoyed and whose narrative voice I trusted had used the word you did in the way you did, I might have looked it up and learned something. Unfortunately your writing did not inspire that kind of trust. As an apparent fan of Holmes, you’ll be familiar with Occam’s Razor: here the simpler answer was not that a familiar word had another unknown definition, but that it was being used wrong.

    And now I hope never to read or type the word “candelabra” again.

  6. Stuart Fortey says:

    I agree that I have to use words carefully to create a coherent world in the reader’s mind, and I try to do that, but I am not responsible if the reader misunderstands something that is clear, am I. How can I be?

    By the way, I don’t profess to be a writer. I’m just trying my hand at a crime novel. I’m actually a professional playwright.

    Glad you like the cover. I’m going to use something similar for the next book in the series, if I write one.

  7. stewartry says:

    And again I’m confused. A playwright isn’t a writer? I am learning new definitions today…

  8. Stuart Fortey says:

    The point is: I don’t profess to be a writer. I am one already.

    Thanks for the review anyway, even if you didn’t much like the book. As a writer it’s hard to get noticed at all, so in that respect all feedback is good. Thanks for taking the time to write in such detail.

  9. stewartry says:

    *sigh* Profess: “To affirm openly; declare or claim”. “I am one already” = profession of being a writer. Can we PLEASE stop now? I wouldn’t have read the book if I knew it would involve slow torture over semantics. You’ve already caused me to lower the rating I’ve given the book.

  10. Stuart Fortey says:

    Here ends the discussion.

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