glass harmonica. Holmes has become interested in purported longevity remedies including royal jelly and a Japanese plant called prickly ash. This brings him into correspondence with a fellow enthusiast, Mr Umezaki in Kobe, and the book's third thread concerns his recent trip to Japan to stay with the Umezaki brothers and search out the prickly ash, a visit that takes him to Hiroshima.
It's a sympathetic portrayal of a Holmes who has mellowed into old age into a thoughtful man who is well aware of his own deficiences in relating to people, and is most happy sharing facts and experiencing his surroundings. Cullin has done his research; the book slots beautifully into both the original Conan Doyle stories and the real-world history of Holmesiana. Holmes apologises for dramatists' portrayal of the late Dr Watson as an "oafish blundering fool", and regularly runs into people who are surprised that he looks nothing like the Sidney Paget illustrations and, for instance, smokes Jamaican cigars, not a calabash pipe. The style is very literary, but Holmes explains within the novel that it's his own style, neither Watson's nor the style he used, in imitation of Watson, for The Adventure of the Lion's Mane and The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier. (the two canon stories supposed to have been written by Holmes).
|Huber, 1841 Thomas Tegg edition|
It's a gently-told but powerful and tragic book, and I highly recommend it.
A Slight Trick of the Mind contains several nice illustrations from the 1821 edition of François Huber's New Observations on the Natural History Of Bees, which is worth a glance (see the 1806 edition).
Update, 8th May 2015
Small world! Language Log has a current post by Professor Victor Mair (LL's resident expert on Chinese language and literature) with extensive discussion of prickly ash terminology and cuisine. I've mentioned the Cullin connection there, and added a new post here at JSBlog on the phenomenon of ingredients such as Sichuan pepper, that tickle the nerve receptors in ways more subtle than just causing pain. See Prickly ash revisited.
|Sichuan pepper (Zanthoxylum piperitum) fruits|
Didier Descouens - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license