The Devil and Sherlock Holmes by David Grann

Hello my dears! How’s this rainy, cold, delightful, hopefully blanket-wrapped afternoon treating you (also, if you’re not wrapped up and/or snuggled with a pet on a day like today…what is your life like and why did you make it that way?).

David Grann just might be my favourite non-fiction author. I loooooved The Lost City of Z and Killers of the Flower Moon sounds amazing (I’m waiting for it to get released in soft cover though, cause I don’t make that Hardcover money). He’s just got such a good ear for a compelling story. I think it has something to do with his obsession with obsessives (which I touched on a little, in my review for Z), his drive to figure out what drives other people to dive into a subject to the point where it consumes them, where it’s detrimental to their health and well-being. There’s just something about how wrapped up people get that I find really fascinating.

I was a little nervous about this one because it’s a different format, a collection of long pieces rather than a full, book-length story, which is a different beast. I was worried some of the stories would seem condensed, that there wouldn’t be enough space to get into the nitty gritty of a good tale of madness and obsession. But it’s where he started out, where he cut his writers teeth (that’s a weird saying, right?) and you can tell. He seems at home with the form, comfortable with it, and all the stories are just the right length for the medium. So comfortable, in fact, that even though I had intended to read this in piecemeal between other novels, as a sort of palette cleanser, I ended up just binging right through it.

Before I wrap this up I will say that normally with a collection of an author’s shorter works, there are a handful that I don’t connect with, and one or two that I skip altogether, but in this collection I read through and really enjoyed them all. The closest I came in this book was probably the story about the dude who’s hunting giant squids. It was still really interesting, but not quite as up my alley as the one about the man who collected Sherlock Holmes murder mysteries right up until the day that he ended up in one himself, or the Aryan Brotherhood’s stranglehold on American prisons, or a post-industrial ghost town in the States that’s mostly run by the mob.

Recommended for lovers of good, well-researched investigative journalism, people who are looking for a quality, diverse book binge, and anybody that digs a good story about people who tumble a little too far down the rabbit hole.

VBR

The Lost City of Z by David Grann

Continuing my trend of being super contemporary and timely, (does doing something twice, poorly, count as a trend?) I’m going to write a review of this book that I read a few months ago, that was released a few years ago, because of a movie that’s coming out soon(ish? Or maybe it’s already out? I could just google the release date, but I’m not gonna).

I love this book. A lot.

I live in a really rainy, dreary, overcast pacific northwest city (ten bonus points and a hug if you can guess which one) that had a record number of rainy, dreary, pacific northwest-y days this winter. I’ve got a high tolerance, and even fondness most of the time, for that kind of thing, but by the end of this winter even I was starting to drag a bit. Worse than that, I’d been in a major reading slump for months, one of the worst I’ve ever had. No matter what I picked up, I just couldn’t really sink into anything. I’d grab something, read a few pages, and pop it back onto the shelf. Even the old tried and true method of action packed and fantasy oriented didn’t work. Eventually I gave up, increased my TV and podcast intake to fill the gaps, and went about my dreary, bookless days.

It was during one of these podcasts (All The Books. It’s great, you should check it out) I was reminded about this book. They’d talked about it a bunch of times before, and one of them even mentioned it was one of her favourite books. I had it sitting on my shelf at home and I figured it couldn’t hurt to give it a try.
I was instantly sucked in. I’ve never met David Grann before, he has absolutely no idea who I am, but I can’t help but feel, down in the deepest parts of my bookish lil’ heart, that this was designed specifically to delight me. It has an eccentric, larger than life, Alan Quartermain/Indiana Jones-esque main character, an old school society of adventurers, history facts (my favourite!), more information about the amazon than you could shake a stick at, war, intrigue, murder, aspiring movie stars, hapless wanna-be explorers, and just about anything else you could ask for. Did you know that there was actually a group in England called the Royal Geographical Society that trained “gentleman explorers” to head out and explore the world, mapping it as they went, and that these adventurers, loyal to the Empire, often acted as spies for the crown? How fucking cool is that? (And yes, I am aware that they helped to propogate the British Empire, which was most definitely a bad, one of the baddest bads. But you gotta admit, it’s also crazy interesting). By page two I was intrigued. By page fifty I was considering calling in sick for work.

Even though this story is bananas and chock-full of interesting characters and natural narrative hooks, I don’t think it would’ve been the same if anybody other than Grann had written it. The guy’s got a great eye for what makes a story compelling (I will admit that we seem to share a common love for obsessive types. I think all the most intriguing stories are, in one way or another, born out of obsession), and he writes about the people involved with genuine enthusiasm and empathy. As you’re reading you get the sense that he’s just as invested in getting to the bottom of the story as you are.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I loved this book. I’d recommend it for anybody who loves history or adventure or fun facts or even just a good story well told. And i’d especially recommend it for people who are going through a reading slump or a month-long case of the Mondays. I’m not going to pretend that it completely wiped away my blues, or that it caused the sun to shine or the birds to sing. But, for a few hours, it did make me forget about the rain.

Love you folks,

VBR

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