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Decades before Ironside or Longstreet, the handicapped sleuths who enlivened my early TV viewing, there was Max Carrados, the blind connoisseur and crime-solver who gave Sherlock Holmes a run for his money starting in 1914.
I had never heard of Ernest Bramah or of his most successful creation until I stumbled across this collection while searching for vintage mysteries. Tucked away in my wish list in anticipation of the next sale, last August it suddenly appeared as a Daily Deal.
Admittedly, part of the interest was Stephen Fry. Long a fan of his work with Hugh Laurie (Fry & Laurie, Jeeves and Wooster) and his brilliant supporting roles in Rowan Atkinson’s Black Adder series, I wanted to hear what he could do behind a microphone.
At first that presented a problem. I couldn’t help seeing Max Carrados as Stephen Fry. Or Lord Melchett. Or Jeeves. Or simply admiring the way Fry turned a phrase or served up a sentence—all the while losing the thread of the story. I got over it eventually. And when I did the fun really began.
Here we have a superb reader presenting superb stories. This selection of eleven “tales” range from situations that look criminal (but aren’t) to situations that look innocuous (but aren’t). Like P. G. Wodehouse, whose own writing career was starting to gather steam as Max Carrados hit the pages of The Strand Magazine, Bramah likes his characters; he enjoys human nature and can sketch it for us true-to-life without ever getting nasty. There is always—with the exception of one scene of real mortal peril—a gentle humor in this collection that leavens all the crime and duplicity. Fry’s persona is the perfect vehicle for this sort of good-natured craftsmanship. I wonder what he could do with a Wodehouse novel.
And there is craftsmanship of a high order here. Even without Fry’s expert amplification, the writing would be a delight. Unless you jot them down as they occur, it’s hard to recall all the bon mots in an audiobook. But one does stick in my memory—or at least enough of it did so that I was able to Google it up later:
“Now with regard to murder, experience had imbued the blind man with two convictions: the first that it is a very easy thing to do, and the second that it is a very difficult thing to do properly.”
It’s an observation worthy of Lord Peter Wimsey. My hope is that the other Carrados yarns not included in this collection (according to Wikipedia there are still 16 out there) might find their way to a recording booth. Preferably one containing Stephen Fry.
Carrados’ blindness plays an interesting part in these tales. While we stand in open-mouthed admiration of Holmes’ deductions from a bit of mud on a boot or the wear on the back of a watch case, Bramah achieves the same sort of wonder on a smaller (yet somehow larger) scale with Carrados’ feats of navigation about strange rooms or ability to perceive cardinal clues through his other, heightened senses.
Like the Baker Street sagas, these stories happen in a world of men who are gentlemen, women who are ladies and crime that, even when serious, never diverges into the lurid; in short, all the reasons why I prefer my criminal fiction to be of a more reverend vintage. In the shadow of Arthur Conan Doyle, Ernest Bramah created a sleuth more likeable than Holmes with an entirely new way to display a Holmes-like knack for uncanny deductions. And that was a very difficult thing to do properly, too.
45 of 45 people found this review helpful
I found I experienced an expanded imagination during those days I listened to the stories. Each chapter is a complete adventure in itself and it's fairly easy to listen to one episode during one sitting.
14 of 14 people found this review helpful
Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?
Yes, I found the storys very interesting to listen to. How hints as you go along pull the whole investigations together at the end.
Who was your favorite character and why?
Max Carrados, very witty at manoovering situations to benefit his curiostity
What about Stephen Fry’s performance did you like?
Stephen Fry gives all the characters individual voices and gets your imagination working so that you can really imagine what there like.
Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?
Yes bits made me chuckle, I liked that Max does his investigations not for money or work, just purely to entertain himself.
Any additional comments?
If you liked Sherlock Holmes i think this is definitely worth a listen.
6 of 6 people found this review helpful
Enjoyed this, with Stephen Fry's narration it was a great. Logical solutions to various puzzles sit around the period of WW1. Nice comfortable listening.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful