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Sherlock Holmes

Saturday 4/1/23

There were a lot of Sherlock Holmes stories in which the detective did very little and didn't do much in the way of solving. In "The Stockbroker's Clerk," for instance, he just goes along for a ride on a train with the title character and Watson. In "The Engineer's Thumb," his sole contribution is to deduce how far the bad guys had really traveled in a carriage. In "The Five Orange Pips," he gets his client killed by not taking the slightest, most obvious precaution to stop the guy from getting killed ("A singular case of my bad, Watson"). He doesn't do anything in "The Resident Patient." He gets everything wrong in "The Missing Three-Quarter" and causes pain.

Other times he solves cases. "The Speckled Band," for instance, which is maybe one reason why Conan Doyle liked that story so much. "The Empty House"--but that wasn't really a mystery. There was no case to solve--just a bad guy to apprehend, knowing what that bad guy was going to try and do, just not when, exactly, he was going to do it, or from where, but that also wasn't that hard to come up with a reasonable guess. He doesn't solve anything in "The Blue Carbuncle," but he does put leg work in. Solving happens in "The Red-Headed League."

In the very first story, "A Scandal in Bohemia," Holmes is outsmarted by "the woman." This story has always bothered me. Holmes usually had a kind and caring way with women. He was protective but not condescending. But in this story, his job is to rob a woman. Not solve a mystery, but rather break into someone's home, if he has to--not a bad person's home, as he does with that of Charles Augustus Milverton--and steal from her. He has no problem with this. Doesn't that seem like an odd gig to take on for a brilliant consulting detective? "Go rob this lady for me," says an arrogant dick of a monarch. "Okay," Holmes agrees. Holmes wants the big payout, though of course he opts instead for a photo in the end.

Mrs. Hudson is one of the my favorite characters who is barely a character. She is though, isn't she? What would you call her? A lesser character? I don't like that. Doesn't do her justice, though she's barely there. She has moments of participation in the stories. She is also the source, in part, of the biggest plot hole in the canon.

Both Holmes and Watson become friends with Mrs. Hudson. Holmes pays her what Watson describes as enough money to buy the whole house, on account that he realizes what a difficult tenant he is, with things like the indoor gun practice and the crazy people and murderers coming over at all hours. You always have the sense that these three are close. We know that Holmes' death (not that he was really dead, but no one knew that, not even Doyle, who considered him fully dispatched) rocked John Watson. I've seen and heard so many adaptations of "The Final Problem," and read the story many times.

But each time it comes up, I always think, "Oh dear, not this one." It upsets me to go through what Watson goes through wth him. Holmes' death also would have rocked Mrs. Hudson. Watson and Mrs. Hudson would have continued to know each other as friends. But for over three years, Holmes' rooms were left intact--the rent paid by his brother Mycroft--as if it were a shrine or waiting for his return, and Watson had no clue? That's just not likely, is it? I feel like there was a much better way to handle this in "The Empty House," but I also don't think Doyle really liked these stories that much. He could rank them and pick favorites, but didn't want to spend more time on them than he had to. He probably thought, "That's good enough."

These are my favorite stories: "The Blue Carbuncle," "The Musgrave Ritual," "The Red-Headed League," "The Five Orange Pips," The Hound of the Baskervilles, "The Engineer's Thumb," "The Stockbroker's Clerk," "His Last Bow," "The Lion's Mane." The last two are bittersweet. "His Last Bow" marks the end of period of time--it is the eve of the Great War--and all that was a part of it, including the friendship and lives of Holmes and Watson. "Mane" is when Holmes lives on a cliff by the sea, keeping his bees, alone, far from London. In the BBC radio adaptation with Clive Merrison and Michael Williams, Watson--whom he rarely sees--makes a visit, whereas Watson doesn't appear in the original story. These friends shared so much, including a home. Now they're so far apart in various ways, but still close in the ones that count the most. It's an attempt to be there at the moment of, if not their farewell, a visit that is close to being that farewell. I am quite sad when Watson and Holmes part at the end.

I think I can officially say that Carleton Hobbs is my favorite Sherlock Holmes. I like Clive Merrison, but he tries too hard to be different, chews the words too much searching for a "fresh" way of saying them. Basil Rathbone appeals to me primarily for sentimental reasons. I've spent a lot of time with him as Holmes and he was the first Holmes I knew well. I'd put Jeremy Brett second after Hobbs.

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