Holmes flying solo: The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes (#SFWApro)

The oddest thing about the final Sherlock Holmes book from Arthur Conan Doyle is the decision to have Holmes narrate two of the stories, The Blanched Soldier and The Lion’s Mane. I don’t know if Doyle was experimenting, bored or what — and I do give him credit for changing the formula — but it was a bad call.

First off, I wonder, as other have, why Holmes would even bother. He’s always mocked Watson for turning abstract exercises in deduction into sensational literature (though I suspect he enjoyed them more than he admits), so why would he attempt to write one rather than a scholarly work on How To Do it? The intro to Blanched Soldier implies Holmes was responding to Watson’s double-dog dare to surpass the good doctor, but I don’t buy it — Holmes has ego, but I can’t see him taking the bait. Or conceding that yeah, you do have to write it the way Watson does so people will read it.

And both stories are weak. They suffer from Holmes having to talk to us directly, from the lack of Watson’s style and persepective (they do feel different from the way Doyle-as-Watson writes), from just being bland. Blanched Soldier suffers more from an unconvincing, coincidental happy ending. It’s an odd departure from Doyle’s willingness to give good people tragic fates, as in Valley of Fear. Some Holmesians argue that the stories aren’t written by Holmes or even true (it’s an assumption of fandom that yes, Holmes was real) — perhaps Doyle (who in fan canon serves as Watson’s literary agent) trying his hand at a story.

Despite those poor stories, and several others (The Creeping Man for instance), there’s some good stuff in this book. The Three Garridebs reworks the scheme of The Redheaded League very effectively, and demonstrates how much Holmes genuinely loves his friend. The Problem of Thor Bridge is a good story with a striking scene where Holmes stares down the arrogant American millionaire  Neil Gibson. The Illustrious Client is mediocre, but the scene at the end, where the bad guy has been scarred by a vial of sulphuric acid to the face, is intense and powerful.

And I really love Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s introduction (photo is from the official Arthur Conan Doyle website, all rights to it remain with current holder). In it, Doyle admits that he’s been ambivalent about Holmes for much of his career, writing in response to public demand but always worrying that turning out Holmes stories would interfere with his other literary efforts. Looking back, he realizes Holmes didn’t stop him from working at what Doyle thought of as better fiction, nor from his long late-in-life crusade in favor of spiritualism (the Professor Challenger novel The Land of Mist is a long pro-spiritualist polemic, regrettably unreadable). It’s nice to know that even though Doyle isn’t thrilled that his name is tied with Holmes rather than his other work, he’s at peace with Holmes.

Although this ends the Canon, many writers, filmmakers and TV series would continue the legend of the World’s Greatest Detective. I anticipate looking at some of them in 2018.

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