Henry VIII is now Head of the Church of England and Reformation is in full swing. Matthew Shardlake is a lawyer who is particularly liked by Thomas Cromwell and works with him on various cases. When a monastery inspector is found decapitated in the monastery’s kitchen, Cromwell dispatches Shardlake to find the murderer and to get the Abbot to agree to close the monastery down. Though a hunchback, Shardlake shoulders the extreme responsibility and makes his way out of London with his young assistant.
This book was recommended to me by a local bookshop in Grantown-on-Spey and it was a fantastic recommendation. Though it takes place in the 16th century, the reader is almost instantly thrown back into that time, the scenes and characters painted so vividly you feel completely jarred out of reality. When reading a historical fiction book, you want every little detail to feel tangible, and Sansom does that with great aplomb. The concept of a hunchback lawyer solving crimes in the 1500s seemed a bit far out there to me, but I am glad that I gave the book a read.
Shardlake himself is a very likeable, sympathetic character. Self-deprecating because of his hunchback, you never are asked to pity him but you find yourself wanting to give him a hug so that he knows he is loved. He values his intelligence and knows his strengths, but especially because of his place in time sees his physical deformity as an impediment to the possibility of real love. It’s especially this little detail that makes you feel attached to Shardlake and makes him incredibly alive on the page. He is a character of his time, and yet his growing understanding of what really fuels the dissolution of the monasteries and other acts of the Reformation under Cromwell makes his thinking feel a bit more modern, allowing the current reader to connect with him yet again.
Even the “side” acts on the page are well-drawn and fleshed out, and the who-done-it of the story has a great number of twists and turns. I devoured this big book over a few days (in front of a roaring wood fire in the Highlands) and could not put it down. Every time I picked it up I stepped back into the pages so completely that to stop reading it, to stop being in that Sussex monastery with Shardlake, almost felt wrong. C.J. Sansom has done something incredible with Dissolution.
Elementary is a Sherlock Holmes update, with the classic detective now living in New York and solving crimes alongside his sober companion Joan Watson.
For those of you who are fans of BBC’s Sherlock, the announcement of the American update made us all wonder the same thing – why not just broadcast Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman instead? A lot of Holmes fans felt that Elementary was just a way Americans could take hold of another franchise and set it in the States. Not to mention avoiding the licensing fees of importing a show with only three episodes per season. To an American television audience, only 3 episodes is madness, and to an executive, that just doesn’t make enough money. Add that they were taking the bromance and turning Watson into a woman, and the internet was abuzz all summer.
After watching the show now, I hate to say that there was nothing really original in it. Johnny Lee Miller does a great Holmes, but while his manipulation and observations are intriguing, he is nowhere near as captivating as Cumberbatch or even Robert Downey Jr. on the big screen. Instead, he runs around like mad, always on the hunt for some piece of a puzzle, and no different then the other two incarnations that are running alongside him. Johnny Lee Miller’s Holmes shows perhaps a touch more compassion and a touch less self-control, and yet that doesn’t even make him more appealing.
Lucy Liu, on the other hand, has perhaps the most preconceptions to break. One of the main draws of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson has always been their deep friendship. While Watson traditionally stands in awe of Holmes (especially in the books and in BBC’s Sherlock), they have also developed a partnership that puts them on more equal footing. They compliment each other well, there is chemistry in their interactions. I felt this was lacking between Liu and Lee Miller. She seemed put out and annoyed most of the episode, and you do not get a sense that they really connected. I don’t think making Watson a woman made a ton of difference; men and women can have deep, platonic friendships. But I don’t think the actors are perhaps the best together.
It is hard to really judge a pilot, because each one is merely the beginning for a format that could be years-long. However, other than calling the private investigator Holmes, I felt that there was not enough different in Elementary to make it worth viewing every week. Even Aidan Quinn, playing the New York version of Lestrade, basically stood there and repeated his lines. After watching the pilot, I find it hard to really view this show as anything other than CBS capitalizing on the popularity of Guy Ritchie’s fantastic film series and the cult following for BBC’s Sherlock. I am sure that the show will run for awhile. It has strong bones, a built-in fan base, and it plays up the weekly police procedural format that accounts for about 25% of shows on network television (if I really researched, that number would probably be higher). Is it a worthy entry into the long-running Holmes cannon? Not really.
Rating: 6/10 (Mostly because it was simply boring, not bad, just boring.)