Fargate from the Madding Crowd

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If you run a bookshop, you’re a writer or a publisher, or you take part in your own book club in Sheffield, I want to hear from you.

You could feature in a new section starting on February 16 looking at all things reading-related locally, Literary City: The Sheffield Connection.

And keep those reader reviews coming.

Or send me your dilemma for Reyt As Rain Reads, and you could be getting your very own tailored reading suggestions.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Deadline for reader reviews of A Study In Scarlet is February 9.

The next read of the fortnight is Emma Healey’s Elizabeth Is Missing, deadline for reviews is February 23.

Read of the fortnight - A Study In Scarlet, Arthur Conan Doyle

We’re going for a real old classic this fortnight with the first Sherlock Holmes story.

The most recent BBC series of Sherlock divided opinion between those who loved it, and those who thought that it had disappeared into a vortex of self-referential silliness.

So it seems like a good time to go back to where it all began.

Sherlock Holmes is the most famous literary detective, and an almost ubiquitous figure and reference point when talking about crime fiction.

Reading this is like going to Paris and seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time after looking at hundreds of pictures of it over the years.

You have a good idea what to expect, but seeing it first hand is more complicated, more interesting and generally a whole lot more brilliant than all those depictions that were one step removed.

We think we know him, and to some extent we do.

But the Holmes of this original story actually comes across as a fairly nice, amiable chap for much of the book.

Unorthodox, obsessive and egotistical, yes.

But also self-aware, funny and pleasant company from the outset.

Watching Watson and Holmes meet and move into 221B Baker Street feels at once familiar and a revelation.

Their ‘getting to know you’ conversations are absolutely delicious.

Holmes’s descriptions of his brain-attic are particularly entertaining (the information storage system that Benedict Cumberbatch upgraded to a mind-palace.)

Other than our charismatic heroes and their perfectly complementary relationship, the star of the show here is the highly entertaining process of solving a murder mystery.

This may be the most extreme case of stating the obvious there has ever been, but A Study In Scarlet is a very good detective story.

From the mysterious corpse found in a deserted house, to following the plentiful clues, to the final explanation not only of Holmes’ reasoning, but also how the killer came to be a killer, this is a masterclass in crime fiction.

It’s where the incredible legend of Sherlock Holmes all began.

It’s reassuring to see that he does indeed deserve all the success, plaudits, tributes, and interpretations that came after this.

Have a read of this original classic and let me know what you make of it.


A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Fiona says: This book is set in Afghanistan from 1964 to the present day, and it charts the lives of two women, Mariam and Laila. It also tells the story of the daily horrors for Afghan women who lived under the oppression of the Taliban, and highlights their resilience and fortitude.

Mariam and Laila’s story is both heartbreaking and uplifting; unutterably sad and yet full of hope. The two women are of different backgrounds and different generations and are initially mistrustful of each other. Eventually their shared experiences bind them together and they grow to love and support each other, each gaining strength from the other.

Hosseini brilliantly captures the brutality of life under the Taliban and I found it impossible to read the harrowing descriptions of the cruelty, fear and starvation of those times without feeling deep sadness and anger. It is a testament to his writing that I felt a real connection to the characters and the emotions and events they lived through, and I was left with a clearer understanding of Afghan history.

There are some big themes in the book, such as class, religion, gender roles, oppression and education, but ultimately it is a moving celebration of the enduring and deep love between two women. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who would like to understand more about the history of the region, as well as anyone looking for a moving and well-written read.

Reyt as Rain reads... books to make it better

Claire in Bradwell, Hope Valley, says: Being mum to two little boys, I am shattered on an evening.

I often fall asleep reading (and that’s nothing to do with the glass of red wine!) so I need a fast-paced book that’s exciting enough to keep me awake. A book that I can easily pick up where I last left off if I do fall asleep before the end of the chapter.

Anna says: I am going to recommend some young adult fiction books for you. These definitely have the action and pace you’re looking for.

First, a stunningly good trilogy. Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking books start with The Knife Of Never Letting Go.

It has a brilliant, imagination-capturing premise, and despite containing great battles, and conflict on an epic scale, everything in these stories is shades of grey.

There are no out and out baddies, no good and evil, and certainly no easy answers.

The quality is maintained through the second book, The Ask And The Answer. And the grand finale, Monsters Of Men, is a rollercoaster of action bringing it all to a spectacular conclusion. Like the best fantasy writing, this story is really about relationships between people. A moving, but unsentimental, exploration of what it means to know another person, including their inevitable catalogue of flaws, and still wholly love them. Despite there being almost no biological families intact, there is also a lot here about the love between parents and children which should keep your interest, no less powerful for being surrogates.

One word of warning, Monsters Of Men in particular is a tearjerker. We’re not talking delicate lady crying here. This was full on red puffy face, snot everywhere… But a cathartic cry can work wonders after a hard day looking after children, so go for it.

My second recommendation is actually the first in a quadrilogy, although I have only read this book so far.

Philip Pullman’s The Ruby In The Smoke is set in the dark underbelly of criminal and corrupt Victorian London.

This is an old-fashioned tale of adventure, mystery, excitement and derring-do.

Pullman’s cast of characters is also fantastic, from the extraordinary villain Mrs Holland wearing her dead husband’s grotesque false teeth, to Jim the foul-mouthed penny dreadful addict who gets his crime-fighting nous from melodramatic fiction, to the hero Sally Lockhart.

I wish people still wrote books like this for adults. If Robert Louis Stevenson or Alexandre Dumas were writing today, they would probably have to write just for children and young adults. It seems like as grown-ups we’re not supposed to lose ourselves in escapist, brilliantly over-the-top plots any more. But I love them, and I hope you do too.