Friday, March 10, 2006

Rodney Stone

Rodney Stone (1896) is an example of the rollicking good yarns Sir Arthur Conan Doyle could write even when his protagonist wasn't the great Sherlock Holmes. Indeed, Doyle longed to escape his ties to the master detective, empahsizing to critics and the public alike that his best writing was the historical fiction that shone forth in The White Company, Sir Nigel, The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard and Rodney Stone.

Well, to those who love Holmes (and that covers just about everybody breathing), Doyle's opinions are kindly, quietly kicked into the closet. Still, the keenest among us are able to appreciate Doyle's other characters even as our top shelf remains free for the Holmes collection. With this attitude, such works as Rodney Stone can be read with zestful enjoyment -- and the Notting Hill Napoleons did just that last week at our monthly meeting.

To be honest, Rodney Stone wasn't the hit that either The White Company or Sir Nigel had been when they appeared on the NHN rota a few years back. And, if I were recommending books (which, of course, I'm doing here at The Book Den all the time!), I'd suggest that the two latter books would provide far better fare. Nevertheless, Rodney Stone had its charms. The suggestion was made that evening that Rodney Stone was kinda' three books in one: a mystery; a bare-knuckle boxing story; and a historical survey of early 19th Century England, complete with careful descriptions of the Prince Regent, Beau Brummel, Wellington and Lady Hamilton, Fox, Sheridan and many others.

It was in this "third book" that Doyle really excelled. Always careful in historical accuracy, Conan Doyle brings to life these important personages as well the boxing practices and personalities of turn-of-the-century England. Similarly fascinating are his rich descriptions of London life, coach traveling, drawing room manners, the bravery of English tars in little-known sea exploits, and much more.

So, no...Rodney Stone isn't Conan Doyle's best. But it's good.

Rodney Stone is available through and a whole lot of other places. There is even a Gutenberg text available on the internet if you care for that kind of thing.