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Danger! and Other Stories (Illustrated) Kindle Edition
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The first, and the one from which the collection takes its title, is “Danger! Being the Log of Captain John Sirius.” This is an interesting work written not long before the start of WWI. Presented as the operations log of an enemy submarine captain, the story describes the ability of a few submarines to harry British shipping and starve the island nation which imported much of its food. Conan Doyle used this story to strongly advocate building transport tunnels under the English Channel. “A Point of View” describes the education of an American journalist into the manners and thoughts of proud and highly professional British household servants. “The Fall of Lord Barrymore” is set in the early 19th century. Lord Barrymore is a boor and the rival and enemy of Sir Charles Tregellis, with each contending to be the social leader of fashionable London. Sir Charles Tregellis is a principal character in Conan Doyle’s excellent novel “Rodney Stone.” The reader’s appreciation of the Lord Barrymore story will be greatly enhanced if he or she is already familiar with Sir Charles from the longer work. “Borrowed Scenes” is a parody or a spoof of 19th century travel writer George Borrow. Before reading this story, I had never heard of George Borrow; so, I had to do a little research. The story describes the misadventures of a somewhat uncomprehending Englishman attempting to follow the guidance of Borrow as he understands it. I personally found this story hilarious and enjoyed it very much. However, I think that most readers will either love it or hate it, with very little in between. “The Surgeon of Gaster Fell” is a good suspense story divided into several chapters. A student, seeking privacy, moves into a cabin that he has built in a lonely part of the Yorkshire moors; however, he does not find the peaceful isolation and quiet that he was expecting. This is a well written story with good tension, mystery and suspense. “The Prisoner’s Defense” is a courtroom narrative in which an accused murderer provides justification for committing the act of which he is accused. This is another well-written suspense story. “Three of Them” really is not a story; it is more of a family portrait in words. It is well written, but it is little more than descriptions of selected events in the daily lives of an early 20th century English family – Daddy, Mother, and their three little ones, two boys of eight and seven years age, and a girl of five. It’s a reasonably well done “home movie” presented as words on pages, rather than images on film. There is not a story or plot, per se.
I assigned a 3-star rating to this collection. It’s OK – but no more than that. It’s worth reading once. But, if you cannot fit it into your reading program, you haven’t missed a lot. However, depending on your sense of humor, you might find “Borrowed Scenes” very enjoyable, as did I. In the free Kindle edition, original page numbers from the optically scanned version were not all deleted and frequently appear in the middle of the text. However, this was a minor nuisance and the price was right.
NOTE: This review is for the title story (Danger!) only and does not include the rest of the book.
Almost all of these ten stories had been published in The Strand magazine prior to being collected in this volume. The title selection, “Danger! Being the Log of Captain John Sirius” is a 1914 story that presages the outbreak of World War I. England declares war on the small European nation of Norland. The minor power retaliates by terrorizing the British Empire with its tiny navy. Conan Doyle wrote the story to warn Britain of a weak spot in her defenses. His choice to tell the story from the point of view of the Norland naval commander is a stroke of genius that injects a dash of humor into this wartime adventure. Another World War I-related tale is “The Prisoner’s Defence.” A British soldier is charged with the murder of his lover. When brought to trial, he recounts to the courtroom how he met and fell in love with the victim, a French woman with a vehement hatred of the Germans. What starts as a courtroom drama turns into a first-class thriller.
“The Horror of the Heights” is a top-notch sci-fi classic that also appears in the collection Tales of Terror and Mystery. “One Crowded Hour” is a fun tale of highway robbery in the early days of the automobile. “The Surgeon of Gaster Fell” offers a mystery with lots of spooky imagery of the remote moors, reminiscent of The Hound of the Baskervilles. Conan Doyle indulges his fascination with the paranormal with “How It Happened,” a macabre tale related by a “writing medium.” The most unusual piece in the book is “The Three of Them,” which transcribes a series of dialogues between a father and his three young children. The topics of conversation range from animals to cricket to God. The subject matter has the potential to be cutesy and annoying, but the way Conan Doyle handles it is quite clever and charming.
Alas, they can’t all be winners. “A Point of View” is a strange little piece of social commentary which discusses the differences in the servant classes of England and America. “The Fall of Lord Barrymore” is a slapstick comedy about a bully nobleman getting his comeuppance. At the bottom of the heap is “Borrowed Scenes,” about a young man who decides to live life in the style of his idol, English novelist and travel writer George Borrow. This consists of asking a lot of bizarre questions and generally acting like an ass. Having never even heard of Borrow before, the humor was lost on me.
Though Conan Doyle doesn’t hit it out of the park with every story, any collection of his short fiction is likely to please more than disappoint, and Danger! is no exception. Its diversity is its biggest strength. Approach this collection ready for anything, and follow the master wherever he leads.