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Thursday, 29 September 2016

One Piece: Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island.


One Piece: Baron Omatsuri and the
Secret Island.



Full disclosure: This is the only One Piece thing I've ever watched. In all likelihood, it's the only One Piece thing I will watch in my entire life, and I'm primarily doing it to cap off the Mamoru Hosoda series, because while it's all very well to talk about his tie-in work in series that I know, it's also worth looking at his tie-in work in series that I don't. Still, I recognise that I am a very long way from the intended audience for this film.

In spite of that, I did actually quite enjoy it.

The film follows main character Luffy and his pirate crew as they follow a mysterious invitation that promises unparalleled festivities on a secret island. When they arrive and meet the island's owner, Baron Omatsuri, however, they discover that they must go through his Trials of Hell before they can enjoy the island. While the Baron and his trials initially seem light-hearted and ridiculous, both become more sinister as time goes on, and it slowly becomes apparent that there is a dark secret to the island, centered around the Baron and a mysterious flower, the Lily Carnation. As more and more of Luffy's crew members go missing, Luffy must face off against the Baron and unravel the island's mystery.

The main cast.

I've seen people compare this film to Our War Game, and in all honesty, while the animation style is certainly superficially similar, toting Hosoda's quite distinctive thick-outlines-and-flat-colours aesthetic, the five year difference, and the different source material, really shows in how he approaches the details: Our War Game was a film characterised by long moments of stillness and  brief periods of frenetic energy; Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island is all frenetic energy all the time, with nearly every scene involving very deliberately over-the-top action. It's all beautifully animated, and Hosoda makes sure that all that action is very visually interesting, which is good, because wacky hijinks-filled action is very nearly in every scene.

Nearly. While Our War Game tries to highlight its quicker, busier, more action oriented moments by contrasting them with a film that is predominantly character interaction oriented, Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island instead keeps its stiller moments few and far between, utilising them primarily to increase the feeling of dread that pervades the entire film.

(That's actually a pretty neat feat, as far as setting tone and atmosphere goes -- managing to have a film which is simultaneously full of zany, over-the-top action sequences and also consistently sinister and full of dread.)

Not creepy at all.

One nice callback to Our War Game, though, was when the Lily Carnation assumed its true form, with its lines done in the same reddish-orange that Diablomon had. Possibly a reference, maybe just how Hosoda likes drawing villains, who can say.

As is the case with a lot of Hosoda's work, the pacing could use some adjustment, but interestingly, this actually isn't because of his usual problem of being a slow starter: The film has a very fast, well-paced start, and instead it lags somewhere around the middle, where the mystery hasn't yet reached a head and the Trials haven't yet become overtly sinister. There;s a period in the film where the pacing doesn't quite slow to a crawl -- after all, there's still a lot of sharp, well-animated action scenes to keep us interested -- but it does start to stall a little, only to then eventually pick up for the final half an hour.

Other than that, the writing is pretty strong -- I got a good sense of all of the characters pretty quickly, despite the fact that it's a film very clearly marketed towards people who are already fans; and despite only being vaguely familiar with the cast or the world, I never felt like I couldn't keep up with what was going on. The writing is concise, interesting, occasionally even pretty touching, and it plays with the idea of friendship in an interesting way -- not a unique way, certainly, because 'guy loses his friends/crew/people and becomes obsessed with keeping facsimiles of them alive' is not a remotely new plot, but nevertheless an interesting one.

See? Thick lines, flat colours. I'm not crazy. You're crazy.

Covering other technical stuff quickly: The OST is fine but, in all honesty, nothing special. The opening and ending theme are, you know, fine but won't stick in my memory for longer than a few hours. 

The voice-acting is pretty great across the board -- Hiroaki Hirata is much in evidence, playing Sanji with exactly the same voice that he plays Tiger from Tiger and Bunny with (or -- possibly he plays Tiger with his Sanji voice), and Yuriko Yamaguchi also does a standout job as Robin. Mayumi Tanaka plays Luffy with the same voice she uses for every shounen protagonist -- god knows she has enough practice with it by now -- but I don't think anybody could claim it doesn't fit the character, or that she doesn't manage to imbue it with a fairly impressive range of emotions.

I quite enjoyed this film -- enough so that it almost made me want to look up One Piece and watch it. Almost. If I ever find myself with the free time and energy necessary to watch however many hundreds of episodes are in this series, maybe I'll consider it, but I probably won't.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Virginia.


Virginia.



I actually found out about this game entirely because of weird GamerGate-oid fanboys screaming about 'the SJW agenda' because they couldn't cope with the idea of a game with a black woman as the protagonist, so thank you, guys, for your contribution in a week when I was struggling to find things to review. It is appreciated.

Set in Kingdom, Virginia in 1992, Virginia puts you in the shoes of Anne Tarver, a graduate FBI agent who is partnered with Maria Halperin, a seasoned investigator with a strained history with the FBI. As the two investigate the disappearance of young boy Lucas Fox, Tarver is also ordered to investigate her partner for Internal Affairs. As Tarver's investigation becomes more and more sinister, she begins suffering from strange dreams and hallucinations.

We'll get the good stuff out of the way first: This game is beautiful, kind of fascinating, and does a superb job of establishing atmosphere.

The graphical style is pretty simple (and can be a little jarringly so when focusing on characters' faces -- it does much better with landscapes) but also colourful, gorgeous to look at, and surprisingly versatile, able to pretty easily create a range of different environments, moods, and tones.

The totally not suspicious gang.

That's pretty key, since so much of this game runs off atmosphere. There's an enduring atmosphere of dread and foreboding throughout the entire thing, enhanced by how surreal and dreamlike the story is, consisting mostly of short sections in one place, with abrupt transitions to other times or scenes to create one smooth, fluid narrative. There's no dialogue to speak of, so instead all of the atmosphere is created with visuals, music (played by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, who do a great job), and environmental sound, and that actually works out pretty well.

The story can get confusing at times, but a lot of the time, that's intentional, the result of a knowing overlap between dreams and reality that muddies what is real and what isn't. By the end of the game, while you'll understand the story better, a lot of it will still be up for interpretation (when Anne and Maria pass Lucas on the road at the end, is that really him, or a hallucination? Is the cult/conspiracy real or not? Is the future where Anne sells out more and more of her co-workers and eventually becomes director real or imagined?), and much of it is intentionally left mysterious -- for example, we never find out exactly what was in the box Anne's father gave her: Rather, the fact that Anne burned it rather than look inside is a smaller version of the issues that hover over the entire story.

(There are, however, times when it isn't intentionally confusing, and those present something of a problem. In a way, it might have worked better in that regard if it had had some dialogue, although I recognise that that might have detracted from the atmosphere.)

The letterboxing is just part of the game, by the way.

One other problem is that Anne feels a bit like a non-entity as a character. She's meant to be at least somewhat an everyman, but the hallucinations and extraordinary situation kind of push her away from being an everyman and towards 'just not being a very well-developed character.'

This game was a fun, interesting, and very engaging thing to watch. Which is rather where its main problem is.

Because this is a game -- and, in fact, it's a game that markets itself on having a choice element, so there's a certain expectation already there -- but you yourself never actually do anything of importance. You'll walk down corridors, and occasionally interact with objects (and there is only ever one object you can interact with at a time), and that's basically it. It's not a game, so much as it is a film with very brief, perfunctory moments of audience interaction.

Landscapes.

You don't have any influence on anything, let alone any choices (and remember 'your choices will affect the outcome of this game' was part of its marketing spiel, and seemingly an out-and-out lie). While other so-called 'walking simulators' attempt to have some element of exploration involved, some measure of 'finding your own way through the story,' Virginia has nothing like that, and in fact pretty forcefully eschews any attempt to explore. One particularly on-point Steam review described it as interactive in the same way that turning the pages of a book is interactive. 

Ultimately, while this is certainly one of the more interesting games I've seen in a while, it takes the idea of an un-interactive game to entirely new and, in all honesty, kind of unacceptable levels, and that ruins the experience somewhat. It looks like this is the developer's, Variable State, first game (or 'game,' as the case may be) so I do hope they make something else that has, perhaps, a little more interactivity, and something more in the way of, you know, gameplay.

Or they could just make a film, that would also be okay. A kind of animated David Lynch type affair. It's just about long enough, too. 


Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Minecraft: Story Mode E8: A Journey's End?


Minecraft: Story Mode
Episode 8
A Journey's End?



Minecraft: Story Mode has brought us some magical moments -- like an obscene amount of genuine gaming news outlets not doing any research and writing articles about how it was an exciting new DLC for Minecraft; or its popularity plummeting after the Adventure Pass was announced; or the bizarrely long delay between episode four and episode five.

I've been pretty open about not liking the Adventure storyline -- the standalone stories didn't really work all that well, especially when coming after a pretty strong (well, at points, at least), and much more serialised arc. It didn't help that occasionally they felt rather pandering (looking at you, episode that inexplicably had famous Minecraft youtubers as the supporting cast), in quite a condescending way. I did, however, have some hope that the final episode would turn out good. It'd be a great opportunity to cap off the storyline, having a finale that tied into both the Adventure storyline and the Wither Storm storyline.

That's not what we got.

Continuing on immediately from the end of episode seven, A Journey's End? sees Jesse and company entering the world of the Old Builders, a place of deadly games where those who die are respawned and sent to work in the quartz mines. Offered both their freedom and the Atlas they need to find the portal to their own world, but only if they should win the games, Jesse and his team must unite the various teams against the Old Builders.

Jesse and some guy whose name I've already forgotten.

You know, I'm mostly just kind of offended at how little effort was put into this one's story. Episode seven at least was a slightly interesting take on the 'rogue AI' concept, and episode six, while gimmicky, at least had a clear idea of what it wanted to do. You can experience basically the same story as episode eight by going and watching half a dozen sports films. Or three sports films. Or one sports film and one The Hunger Games installment.

Lava.

I could basically wrap this review up here, because I haven't been given anything else to talk about. It is a very standard, very generic plot which plays out exactly how you'd expect, and it feels less like a finale and more like another Quantum Leap-oid episodic adventure that just happens to end on the characters returning home. There's no gameplay or technical innovations talking about, and none of the new voice actors really stand out, so -- that's it, right? I can just take the rest of the evening off?

It's particularly odd, because at least episode six and episode seven made an attempt, however token, at innovating on the standard Telltale formula, with episode six giving you the opportunity to miss clues or fail to communicate them properly to lead to a different ending, and episode seven having a body swap mechanic that was at least cool on the surface, even if it mostly just amounted to a quick-time event.

Oh, yeah, Olivia and Axel return, as well.

A Journey's End, meanwhile, feels mostly like it was very quickly put together just to get it out of the way. It doesn't really tie in to the themes of the series at all, it's not very original, and even playing it felt more tiring than enjoyable.

No second series has currently been announced -- and likely we won't hear anything about one until Batman: The Telltale Series, The Walking Dead: A New Frontier, and Game of Thrones Season 2 are out of the way -- but I do hope we get one, in large part because I'd like to see Telltale Games end this series on a more fitting note than 'just another random, unoriginal adventure story.' Time will tell if I get that wish, but in the meantime, I'm just kind of sad that the series ended on such a disappointing note.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Orange E13.


Orange
Episode 13.



It's finally at an end, and to be honest, I'm pretty relieved. My feelings on this series progressed over time from enjoying it, to not knowing what I could actually say about in reviews, to being bored, to being out and out enraged, so it's admittedly somewhat nice to finish it off once and for all. Now I need never think about it again, and that's a sort of success story, in a way.

As Valentine's Day approaches, Naho's letter instructs her to give Kakeru her Valentine's Day chocolates and to tell him all of the things older Naho wishes she could have said before he died. As Naho struggles to get Kakeru to stick around for long enough to give him the chocolates, she becomes increasingly concerned. The next day, the gang prepares to intercept Kakeru, following the details in the letter about how he'll commit suicide -- only to discover that, as they have now changed the past, the letters no longer have accurate information about the time and place of Kakeru's death.

You both look awfully peaky here.

In all honesty, having watched this episode last night, I've already forgotten chunks of it. It just wasn't that memorable, and that's kind of a big problem for a final episode -- whether for good reasons or bad, a finale should stick in a viewer's mind for a fairly long time after the fact, given that it's almost always the culmination of weeks of story.

A few things stuck out in my mind, though -- for starters, we get the triumphant return of Ueda, in full moustache-twirling vaudeville villain mode. Her appearance is oddly jarring, given that she's not even been glimpsed for a fair few weeks, but absence makes the heart grow fonder, I suppose, so it was nice to see her for a few minutes, being generally mocking and evil and basically only being there to give Naho a moment where she actually stands up for herself.

The incredibly callous futurepeople.

(I probably shouldn't be so derisive about that, since I've wanted Naho to be proactive and stand up for herself for a while now.)

We get some future sections as well, but they're mostly committed to Hagita explaining that the best case scenario is that they create a parallel universe where Kakeru survives. I'd kind of assumed this was what they were all presuming was the case anyway, but the fact that it apparently wasn't is pretty alarming, since it means that they were all willing to sacrifice Naho and Suwa's infant child in exchange for Kakeru. Yes, granted, he would never have been conceived in the first place, but to their minds, it would be the same as killing him -- and as Azu remarks that there'd be nothing wrong with changing the timeline, and they all nod in agreement, nobody mentions that the changes to the timeline they propose would see that child never born. Naho and Suwa don't even mention it, and it's their kid! 

The other big part of the episode is the gang all searching for Kakeru, hoping to find him before he commits suicide, before eventually arriving in time to watch him step in front of a van. The episode does a pretty good job of making this a pretty tense sequence, and there's even a few moments where it seems like Kakeru might not be okay after all.

He is, and in a slightly odd turn, the characters then all show him their letters, which seems like a -- pretty terrible idea to me? I know if I was feeling miserable or suicidal, the last thing I'd want is to find out that my only friends were having their actions dictated to them by letters, over the entirety of our friendship.

Group hug! Hagita, what's up with your face.

The series ends on a somewhat ambiguous note, cutting forward to a future where Naho and Suwa are married with a child, but never clarifying whether that's the alpha timeline's future, or the new timeline's future. Really, the only solid conclusion we get on that subplot is Suwa remarking that he hopes there's a timeline out there where he and Naho get married, and Naho saying that she also hopes this.

This series was always on slightly shaky ground, because its premise was fundamentally pretty flawed: You can't cure depression with friendship, and when you spend thirteen episodes explicitly linking the idea of saving someone from suicide with a romantic entanglement, you basically set up a situation where viewers are left to feel that Naho literally can't not be romantically attached to Kakeru, or he'll die. Add to that that Naho has spent the entire series being horrendously passive, and that the pacing of the series was often pretty poor, and you end up with something that is really just coasting by on high animation quality, nice music, and good voice acting.

It was somewhat disappointing, to say the least. Anyway, so that's Orange. Interesting, I guess, but kind of a mess.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Digimon Adventure Tri: Confession.


Digimon Adventure Tri:
Confession.



It has been a long, long wait, hasn't it? Determination came out in the first half of March, so we've had some six and a third months to wait for Confession to come out. Luckily, at exactly five months, the wait between this one and the fourth film will be a lot shorter, which I'm sure is a relief to everyone -- especially as Toei's constant dripfeed of marketing information every few weeks or so has meant that we've all been in something of a heightened state of anticipation for quite a while now.

Starting the day after Leomon's death in Determination, Confession sees Koushiro frantically trying to figure out the cause of the Infection, and a way to reverse or cure it. Meanwhile, Takeru discovers that Patamon is infected, and attempts to hide his condition from the rest of the group. As the Infection makes its way into the Earth's electronic systems, a threatening message is played across Japan, and more and more of the partner Digimon show signs of infection, Homeostasis possesses Hikari's body to deliver a message: When Meicoomon next appears, the Reboot will be activated, resetting the Digital World to a state prior to the Infection, and wiping the partner Digimons' memories in the process.

Jyou is too good, too pure.

We'll start with the technical stuff, because this film actually does really well in that department. After a dip in animation quality in Determination (with some jarring re-use of stock footage and some very messy animation at points), Confession sees improved animation not just over Determination, but also over Reunion. The animation team does a pretty good job of portraying the summer heat solely through animation and colour, as well, which is always nice.

The voice-acting remains pretty strong all around (with a special shoutout going to Junya Enoki as Jyou, who is endlessly entertaining), and the film makes pretty good use of music to establish mood and tone -- one great moment has Yamato playing his harmonica (and, in fact, playing that one song of his from 01 that was inexplicably the only thing ever played on the harmonica), transitioning into a piano and guitar theme as we're treated to short scenes of all of the characters and their partners, before finally transitioning again into a slow tune that serves as a recurring musical theme for the film.

Yay Crests.

The story is structured with a much slower pace than the previous two, as the first three fifths of the film or so are devoted to slowly and carefully building up to the film's big battle, ramping up the tension, establishing emotional moments between the children and their partners, and establishing a sense of foreboding and sadness that lets viewers know that no matter what happens, it's not going to have a happy ending.

In fact, it borders on jarring in how miserable it is, with even the comedy beats (such as Takeru ribbing Yamato about his band, or a pretty brilliantly written exchange between Jyou and Gomamon) working to enhance the sense of foreboding and tragedy. It manages to stay just this side of the line between enjoyable and offputting, but only just.

HeraklesKabuterimon is just cool to look at.

When that battle does happen, it works wonderfully. It's drawn out over about twenty minutes of the film, with several distinct phases, and in its latter parts, starts delivering emotional gut punch after emotional gut punch. It's always a bit of a risk to have a fight scene that is that long (and in this case, nearly completely unbroken), but the film manages it, having the fight progress from everyone trying to stop Meicoomon, to them all succumbing to infection one by one, and then finally to Tentomon unlocking his ultimate evolution.

The final twenty minutes of the film, meanwhile, is about equally divided on focusing on the kids in the aftermath of that battle, and on them finally going to the Digital World. Ten minutes or so is not a lot of time to work with when trying to hammer in the melancholy and misery of eight different people in a way that doesn't seem forced, but the film does a pretty admirable job, I thought, managing to communicate both the kids' sorrow and their slow, painful adjustment to something like normalcy -- and by and large doing it without dialogue.

A pretty lightshow.

The last ten minutes of the film is just a flurry of plot points, introducing Jesmon, having Alphamon reappear again, showing that the Reboot wasn't entirely successful, giving us some more hints on Maki's plan, and even introducing what seems to be an evil Gennai, or possibly an evil other Agent? He's wearing black and grinning diabolically at people, at least.

Oh, and pretending to be Ken, too, he does that.

We're halfway through Tri now, and I'd say that Confession is easily the strongest film of the bunch, even if it maybe isn't my favourite (that prize probably goes to Reunion). With the plot apparently picking up in pace, and the cast in the Digital World now, we might well be seeing the series only get better from here. The fourth film has been announced for late February, and will apparently be focusing on Sora, Yamato, and Taichi, with the title 'Loss.' It'll be interesting, I guess, to see how the next film juggles focusing on three characters.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Kamen Rider Ghost E47+E48+E49


Kamen Rider Ghost
Episode 47 + Episode 48 + Episode 49



We're finally at the end! Well, sort of. There's still one more episode, the usual epilogue episode that we've gotten with a fair number of Neo-Heisei series. Generally, I'm not overly fond of those episodes -- the standard of writing tends to be a hell of a lot lower than the rest of the series, just to start, and it only gets worse when crossover shenanigans start showing up. But these three episodes finish off the main plot and wrap up our three major plot threads: Takeru coming back to life, Makoto's doppelganger, Adel and Demia, and the Ganmaizers.

As Takeru and Adel fight, Adel reveals that he was the one who killed Takeru's father, before leaving for the Ganma World. Takeru struggles with his desire to both avenge his father and save Adel, while Makoto and his doppelganger become increasingly indistinguishable from each other. But when Takeru manages to persuade Adel to change his ways, the Ganmaizers intervene, taking over Adel's body and preparing to merge with the Great Eye and become a god.

I did actually enjoy these episodes, but I also can't deny that they're rather lackluster. There's no real sense of urgency to anything that happens, and the only thing that adds any urgency is the ticking clock on Takeru dying -- and everybody is so relaxed about that that it hardly feels noteworthy. Compare and contrast with Double's, Fourze's, or hell, even Drive's (and I hated Drive, guys) finales, which had a sense of immediacy and urgency that helped to ramp up tension.

Legit looks better than Extremer.

Nor does it help that a lot of plot threads basically go nowhere. Makoto's doppelganger ends up turning good and merging with Makoto, and while I can't say that wasn't foreshadowed, I can say it came off as rather abrupt, and moreover that it was a rather weak ending to that particular subplot. Other people have already remarked that a better ending to that subplot would have been if Makoto had actually died and been replaced with his doppelganger, and I have to agree. Alternately, I would have been fine with Makoto's doppelganger just being evil, and becoming the new host for the Ganmaizers. That rather seemed to be the direction the story was going in anyway, with the Ganmaizers working to create this perfect copy of a human.

Which reminds me that the Ganmaizer plotline doesn't really go anywhere interesting. They betray Adel, which is great, and basically what everyone has been waiting for, but their end goal ends up boiling down to 'taking the Great Eye for themselves,' which is weird when their big thing throughout the series was that they were slowly becoming more emotional and human-like, and thus more dangerous. At the end, neither their end goal nor anything about the end of their plan had anything to do with understanding emotions.

Wouldn't it have worked better if they had betrayed Adel a little earlier, possessed doppelganger Makoto, and then taken up Adel's 'become the world' cause, espousing the philosophy that while Adel was driven by bitterness and resentment, they're driven by a desire to understand and love everyone, and to achieve their truest potential? Not only would that have been more in keeping with their character arc so far, it would have also contrasted nicely with Takeru, pitting their obsessive, malignant desire to love and empathise with people against his more positive desires.

The Ganmaizers are cute, I like the Ganmaizers.

Instead, we get Adel being redeemed (in kind of lazy fashion, to be honest, as he's redeemed by the power of realising his father loved him), the Ganmaizers becoming a recoloured Extremer (who admittedly looks better than the original Extremer), and Takeru defeating him in a fun, but far from amazing final battle. Then Takeru returns to life, we find out the Great Eye was some kind of spaceship, and we discover that Yurusen was a cat all along.

In all honesty, Yurusen being a cat was my favourite part of these episodes. That said, it's not as if I didn't enjoy them: I did, it was just that they really weren't final three episodes material, and it felt like the writers hadn't put in a tremendous amount of effort to actually giving the series a proper finale.

The obligatory double Specter kick moment.

(Also, Kanon is almost impressively useless in these episodes, as faced with two versions of her brother fighting she just protests that they're both Makoto, and then refuses to intervene at all. This is not only bad writing in general, it's also totally inconsistent behaviour from a character who once jumped in the way of Makoto's rider kick.)

Still, it was fun enough, and I did enjoy the cameo from Kamen Rider Genm, in all his absurd, video-game-ish glory.

Next week, we have the final episode, which will presumably be functioning as a sort of epilogue, so it'll be interesting to see what that's like. I'll also be giving my thoughts on the series as a whole, so that's something to look forward to, probably.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Moriarty.


Moriarty.



Before I begin with this review, let's spare a moment to talk about the study questions that come at the end of this book -- it always leaves me a little bemused when authors and publishers elect to leave study questions at the ends of their novels, as if it's simply a matter of course that they will become set texts, but these were particularly interesting, because the first question asks if readers thought the plot twist at the end was fair and well foreshadowed, and the second question immediately opens by telling them that yes, it was, how dare they think otherwise.

A++ work there, whoever wrote those study questions. Given how the seeming insecurity about the plot twists matches up pretty well to how insecure the writer seems about it even in his own narration, I'm presuming it was Horowitz himself.

Set in the universe of Sherlock Holmes (Anthony Horowitz has rather made a living for himself writing what amounts to high class fanfic, these days, but never mind), Moriarty follows a Pinkerton agent, Frederick Chase, as he arrives in Europe to investigate an American mobster, Clarence Devereux, who has taken over Moriarty's business. Teaming up with Scotland Yard detective Athelney Jones, Chase sets about dismantling Devereux's criminal empire. But a mysterious third party continues to interfere with their investigation, and both Jones and Chase soon come to suspect that there is some deeper conspiracy at work.

If you read that synopsis and immediately went 'well, obviously either Chase or Jones is Moriarty,' then congratulations! You're everybody.

That's a problem, because in a lot of ways, the plot twist is the only thing this novel has going for it. The writing style is almost impossibly bland, and Chase makes for an incredibly boring narrator, to the point where I found myself not even caring about anything that happened. It was a story almost completely without pizazz, flair, or anything to maintain a reader's interest, bar a few scenes near the very end.

The writing style is very overtly trying to mimic Arthur Conan Doyle's, without truly understanding any of what makes Doyle's writing interesting to read. Horowitz instead seems to be much more in his element when writing his relatively faster-paced and (perhaps) slightly shallower Alex Rider or James Bond stories. 

It doesn't help at all that our two leads are not tremendously interesting. Frederick Chase could best be described as a workaday everyman, blandly expressing surprise at everything around him but never really displaying any kind of personality of his own; and Jones' personality begins and ends at 'Sherlock Holmes fanboy,' and while the idea of somebody who desperately idolises Holmes but just isn't up to the task of imitating him is an interesting one, it never really pans out into any interesting directions, because by the end of the book, Jones has neither learned anything nor changed at all.

There aren't really any other characters, either. Devereux himself barely appears and has very little presence in the story at all, since he almost never makes any moves against Chase and Jones; one of his henchmen, Mortlake, has more of a story presence, but still not really enough of one to stand out; and there are basically no other characters on Chase and Jone's side bar Jone's wife, Elspeth, who has maybe two scenes in the entire book.

When the plot twist does roll around, we get nearly a full chapter of Horowitz (oh, I'm sorry, Chase) explaining how it was actually brilliantly foreshadowed, and literally walking the reader through all the moments of foreshadowing in the story so far. This is bad writing. This is also unnecessary writing, because the plot twist was obvious from the end of the very first chapter. If you are derailing your entire story to tell us all how clever you are, and to attempt to shut down claims that your plot twist was poorly written (and then doing so again in your study questions), then chances are your plot twist was poorly written.

Oddly enough, the book gets a lot more interesting after that twist -- post-twist Chase is miles more interesting and engaging to read than pre-twist Chase. Unfortunately, the book then ends one chapter later, and while there's an epilogue, it involves neither Chase nor any of the other members of the central cast.

All in all, I have to say, I found this book kind of disappointing. Both it and Horowitz's other Sherlock Holmes book, The House of Silk, have received rave reviews, but in all honesty I have no idea why. This just came across to me as a terribly dull, turgid book, one which had the seeds of something great but was shot in the foot by both its bland writing style and by its author's insecurities over his own writing.