Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Adventure Of The Empty House--Is Watson History's Greatest Liar?

I'm trying to tread lightly here, as I don't want to poop on anyone else's parade.

But honestly, there comes a point when I have to speak up. And that point is The Adventure Of The Empty House.

I have no problem with those who play "The Grand Game," the "gentle fiction" that Sherlock Holmes was real, and the stories actually written by John H. Watson (and published through his "literary agent" Arthur Conan Doyle).

I really don't have time for such things at this point in my life. But I'm not disparaging attempts to put together chronologies and the like. Heavens, I once wasted an entire summer trying to put all of Doctor Who's Dalek & Cyberman stories in the correct chronological order--so I'm not one to question the desires of others to obsess and have that kind of fun.

The problem, of course, is that Doyle himself didn't take the time for any meaningful continuity. He didn't bother to look things up, or even go so far as to consult his own past stories. And so we get Watson's moving war wound(s), stories set on dates when they couldn't happen or in places that hadn't been built when the story was set, etc.

Of course, some of this can be glossed over, elided by, massaged, and interpreted away. No-Prizes for everyone!

But where we get into tricky territory is when some begin to suggest that Watson, either accidentally or in order to protect the identities of those involved, misinforms the reader. He changes the dates or location of the actual events in the stories. Or else they blame "literary agent" Doyle for changing things, or mistranscribing them.

The problem with this approach is obvious, upon reflection. Once you establish that Watson is willing to deceive us, or careless enough to misinform us, the question becomes this: if you insist that Watson was wrong (or lying) about A, than how you you trust him to be accurate about B or C? If the good doctor was willing to fudge the dates in one story, then how do you know that he didn't fudge the dates in every story? If he was willing to lie to protect reputations in one case, how can you know that he didn't do it in many other cases?

By establishing that Watson is an unreliable narrator in some stories--in order to prove your point about chronology or whatever--you open the door to the possibility that he is always an unreliable narrator. It's illogical and self-serving to suggest that Watson was always honest except in the cases that you need him to be dishonest.

Eventually, this leads to people taking extreme positions, such as: all (or nearly all) of The Final Problem and The Empty House are "made up"--they never really "happened." They're just Watson efforts trying to cover something up--Holmes' mental breakdown, his secret mission for Her Majesty's government, the fact that Holmes actually did die and was replaced by a sibling/actor/whatever. Holmes was in Baker Street for the entirety of the Great Hiatus. It's a cover-up for Holmes' cold-blooded murder of Professor Moriarty, for Holmes actually being Moriarty, for whatever arcane theory you can come up with. All of these theories and more are posited by those who suggest that Watson was being completely disingenuous with readers, and he knew the truth all the time--he was part of the cover-up! He was Verbal Kint!

But if Watson "made up" those stories, how can we know that he didn't make up the Hound Of The Baskervilles as well? How can we know that he didn't make up every single story? That he didn't invent Holmes himself--the whole thing was the creation of the good doctor? If you argue that Watson invented stories out of whole cloth, how can you say that argument may not apply to every story?

And so The Grand Game becomes a bit of an ouroboros--attempting to prove the "gentle fiction," that the adventures of Holmes were real, requires painting Watson as a liar; yet doing so ends up opening the possibility the the entire enterprise was completely a lie to begin with. Paradox.

Again, this is just my opinion. I don't want to harsh anyone's buzz. Please keep playing the Grand Game if it increases your enjoyment.

But for me, I'll take Holmes and Watson on a literary level. It doesn't matter if they were "real" or not. What is real is what is on the paper, in the stories. That Sir Arthur made plenty of errors is simply evidence of sloppiness, not real-world conspiracies or incoherent contradictions that need to be explained in order to enjoy the Canon.

So, yes, I take the events as narrated by John Watson at face value. I'm there for the stories, not the game.


**As I've mentioned before, the set-up of Holmes' "death" in Final Problem left it remarkably easy for him to be brought back to life. No witnesses, no body. It's hard to even call it a retcon, as the possibility of his having survived was pretty clearly established--at least to the eyes of a modern reader.

This leaves me 3/4-convinced that Doyle always intended to bring back Sherlock, no matter what his stated intentions. It would have been easy to give Holmes a "final" death, witnessed by others, that left no doubt (and no possibility of reversing course, short of supernatural intervention or cloning).

Yet Doyle chose a "death" that left itself open to easily reversing course, after a suitable period of time. If he didn't intend Holmes' demise to be temporary, Sir Arthur was at the very least hedging his bets.

**Holmes says that, after dispatching Moriarty, he realized that this was a perfect opportunity to fake his own death, as "at least three" of the professor's lieutenants would be looking to kill him.

This bothers some, as in the Final Problem, Holmes receives a telegram from the London police saying they captured "the whole gang with the exception of [Moriarty]." So how could Holmes know that some of the evil minions escaped?

Well, aside from common sense--if Moriarty knew the end was coming and fled, certainly some of his top people did as well, as the professor would have warned them--it's likely that the professor himself told Holmes.

When Moriarty confronted Holmes at Reichenbach, and before Sherlock left the note for Watson, Holmes tells us that he "exchanged some remarks with [Moriarty]." Surely they didn't talk about the weather.

Given what we saw of their previous dialogue, we can assume that Holmes gloated, "All of your men have been captured," and Moriarty retorted, "Not all of them. Before you die, know that you have failed to completely destroy my organization." Or something along those lines.

**"So cleverly was the colonel concealed that, even when the Moriarty gang was broken up, we could not incriminate him," Holmes tells us. Holmes knew about Moran, and knew he would be coming after Holmes. Moran was "Moriarty's chief of staff." Why wasn't Holmes worried, then, that the evil Colonel would just take over from the evil professor, and maintain the large criminal organization (even if less efficient than before)?

Well, at the conclusion of this tale, we're told that "the exclusion from his clubs would mean ruin to Moran, who lived by his ill-gotten card-gains."

Well, that's hardly a ringing endorsement of his criminal acumen, is it? Three years, without any interference from Sherlock Holmes, as the de facto head of a (ravaged) crime operation, and Moran had to earn his living by cheating at card clubs? That's rather low-rent villainy.

Of course, some evil people just like to cheat at cards--see Hugo Drax in the Moonraker novel, or Auric Goldfinger. But certainly neither of those two needed that money to live on, or finance their evil schemes. It seems that Moran was not up to Moriarty's standards as a criminal mastermind if he had to resort to card hustling to survive...

**The Honourable Ronald Adair usually played for low stakes, we are told, and was a "cautious player." Why did Moran hook up with him, then, as an (unwitting) partner in his cheating? Certainly he was using Adair's reputation to give himself some legitimacy, and thus conceal his dishonesty.

But how did a man who might lose £5 pounds in a night get involved in a game where he and his partner raked in £420? Did Moran talk him into it? Peer pressure him?

Perhaps the unusually large stakes (for him) caused Adair to scrutinize the game more carefully, and lead him to the revelation that Moran was cheating...

**Watson tells us that Adair "had no particular vices"--yet a paragraph later, he informs us that Adair "was fond of cards--playing continually, but never for such stakes as would hurt him."

Apparently, Watson considers gambling a vice only if you lose or cheat...playing continually in and of itself isn't a vice.

**Adair discovered Moran was cheating, and demanded that he repay the victims. Adair himself seemed to be making a list of those whom he owed reparations to, as he felt "he could not profit from his partner's foul play."

The one actual case of cheating we know about was the winning of £420 from Godfrey Milner and Lord Balmoral. Which means that Adair would feel that he had to return his half, or £210 (assuming he split the winning evenly with his partner). But the amount he had on his desk--"two banknotes for ten pounds each and seventeen pounds ten in silver and gold"--was nowhere near enough. £37 would only cover a small portion of his perceived debt, to those two. And there may have been others.

Perhaps Adair thought that, since he hadn't cheated, he only owed a "pro-rated" portion of his winning back--he assumed he would have won some of that honestly?

Or if he didn't have that much cash on him at the moment, why take any out to make "piles" upon the desk? Why not just list names on a tally sheet?

**Watson tells us that, after Holmes' apparent death, he took a particular interesting in following crime news, attempting to use Sherlock's methods to deduce a result for his own "private satisfaction," but with "indifferent results."

The Granada adaptation makes Watson a little more active in such cases, taking a part-time job as a "police surgeon," on call to help with medical emergencies or conduct autopsies. They actually have Watson consulting on the Adair murder, and testifying at the inquest. The coroner, it should be noted, is none too pleased with Watson's attempts to apply Holmes' "fanciful" methods, and chides the doctor to keep his testimony strictly to "the facts."

**Watson refers to his own "sad bereavement," which most commentators take to refer to the death of (one of his) wives. No other hints are given, so it's possible that doctor was referring to the loss of some other relative. Perhaps even a child? Holmes was gone for three years, after all...

**Some consider it an open question whether or not Colonel Moran was actually convicted. As Holmes refuses to press charges for the attempt upon his life, we're seemingly left with the murder of Adair. And the case seems pretty circumstantial, at best. We have a speculated motive--with no evidence to prove it. We know that Adair was killed with the same type of bullet Moran used to try and kill Holmes--but there here was no "ballistics" testing in 1894, so you weren't going to get any closer than "same type of bullet." No witnesses exist to the Adair murder.

So a conviction hardly seemed assured. And a couple of references in later stories could be taken to imply that Moran is not in prison at the time.

Yet Watson tells us that "the case for the prosecution was so overwhelmingly strong." And certainly, as he is telling the story ten years later, he would have mentioned if Moran were acquitted.

It seems likely that, once the police had Moran, they would have searched his lodgings. Perhaps there they found more evidence that we didn't know of: a journal, threatening letters, a floor plan of Adair's home, a record of his card cheating...or perhaps they found a confederate that he had boasted to.

Then again, given that he doubtless had information of what was left of Moriarty's crime organization, as well as the members who had escaped prosecution, perhaps he was able to make a deal...

**I was surprised that soft-nosed bullet were known back then. That just shows how much i know about such things.

**Some have questioned whether Watson would have really fainted when Holmes revealed himself. It's unlikely, they claim, that a "hardened war veteran" would have reacted that way to a severe shock.

Of course, in The Crooked Man, we saw a retired military man with far more war time experience than Watson drop dead from terror at the sight of a man he thought long dead. Sure, Colonel Barclay likely had an underlying medical condition that contributed to his stroke (and no doubt his guilty conscience contributed)...but who is to say that Watson doesn't have a medical condition, as well?

And we shouldn't forget that fainting and the such is a literary convention of the time. People faint an awful lot in stories of the era, and emotional upset is likely to send anyone instantly into a weeks-long bout of  "brain fever." Physical reaction to emotional distress and surprise is taken as a given in Doyle's universe. Why Watson should be immune is never explained.

**Many have complained that Holmes shouldn't have had a flask of brandy on him with which to revive Watson, because an "elderly bibliophile" wouldn't have such a flask, and thus Holmes ruined his own disguise.

First of all, it's not likely that anyone would have physically searched Holmes in this disguise, so it seems unlikely that a concealed flask would blow the impersonation.

Secondly, and most importantly, why the heck couldn't an actual bibliophile carry a flask? Is there some union rule I'm not aware of? Were all bibliophiles teetotalers, or Puritans? Does obsessing on books mean you might never want a nip now and again?

Seriously, I just don't get the problem here...

**Whatever your opinion on baritsu, it sure didn't help Holmes any in his struggle with Moran, as the villain overpowered him. It took a good old-fashioned revolver butt to the head from Watson to subdue Moran...

**It took three years for Moran and company to make a slip-up great enough to capture Holmes attention and bring him back to England? Maybe he is a better criminal than I gave him credit for...

**The Great Hiatus, as Holmes' three years "dead" is called, consisted of less than one paragraph:
I travelled for two years in Tibet, therefore, and amused myself by visiting Lhassa, and spending some days with the head lama. You may have read of the remarkable explorations of a Norwegian named Sigerson, but I am sure that it never occurred to you that you were receiving news of your friend. I then passed through Persia, looked in at Mecca, and paid a short but interesting visit to the Khalifa at Khartoum the results of which I have communicated to the Foreign Office. Returning to France, I spent some months in a research into the coal-tar derivatives, which I conducted in a laboratory at Montpellier, in the south of France.
Such a relatively short bit has likely inspired more scribbling than any other Holmes, including a four-volume treatise describing Holmes' journeys in detail. Because there are no obsessives likes Sherlock Holmes obsessives.

**Earlier in the conversation, Holmes had told Watson that Moriarty had "at least three" men desiring vengeance upon him who were still free. At the conclusion of his tale, he says "only one of my enemies was now left in London" Where did other two go? Did they leave London? England? Were they arrested? Did they die? Killed by other criminals in a turf war? Killed by Moran in order to consolidate his power and remove rivals? Tell us!!

**Holmes used a key to enter the empty house--but how did Moran get in? Did Holmes leave it unlocked? That might have been a dead giveaway. Did Moran pick the lock? Quietly break a pane of glass?

**Watson does spot the undercover policeman watching Baker Street, "with unerring accuracy." Good on you, Doctor!

**Sherlock describes the Moran confederate who spotted him: "He is a harmless enough fellow, Parker by name, a garroter by trade." A garroter is harmless?!? It's pretty hard to think of a non-harmful--hell, non-lethal!!--use of a garrote. Parker, almost by definition, must be a murderer!! I guess Holmes has too much respect for a fellow musician...

**After praising Lestrade in Hounds, Doyle is back to having Holmes being rude and disparging to him:
I think you want a little unofficial help. Three undetected murders in one year won't do, Lestrade. But you handled the Molesey Mystery with less than your usual--that's to say, you handled it fairly well.
Geez, Sherlock, that's being rather a dick, even for you. So much for the "he is the best of the professionals." I guess Lestrade's "throwing himself on the ground in terror" sufficiently soured Holmes' opinion on the inspector.

**Holmes continues to show his recent dedication to the theory that evil is inherited. In Final Problem, he suggested that Moriarty's turn to crime was because of "hereditary tendencies of the most diabolical kind. A criminal strain ran in his blood..." In Hound, he opined that Stapleton was a "physical and spiritual throwback." And here, he tries to explain how an exemplary military man like Moran could go to the dark side:
I have a theory that the individual represents in his development the whole procession of his ancestors, and that such a sudden turn to good or evil stands for some strong influence which came into the line of his pedigree.
Of course, much of this was in keeping with the scientific tenor of the times, as psychology was not well known at the time (The Seven Per-Cent Solution aside!). Nature, not nurture, was often viewed as the culprit (the better to absolve society of guilt, no doubt).

Watson seems skeptical--he dismisses Holmes' tree/Moran example as "surely rather fanciful." Yet the good doctor himself seems to possess his own beliefs in the physical influencing/reflecting the moral: "With the brow of a philosopher above and the jaw of a sensualist below, [Moran] must have started with great capacities for good or for evil."

Sounds like he'd make a good Dick Tracy villain...

**Holmes seems to take far too much pleasure in goading Moran after his capture, going on for pages to hammer home his analogy that Moran was the ironic prey in his big game hunt. Such gloating is a  bit uncharacteristic, perhaps.

Then again, Moran did try to kill him. And they fact that he managed to escape Holmes' net in The Final Problem surely rankled the Great Detective.

**The M volume of Holmes' index of biographies provides so entries of interest: "Merridew of abominable memory, and Mathews, who knocked out my left canine in the waiting-room at Charing Cross..." More apocryphal cases, or just curious people Holmes had met? And did Merridew have an abominable memory, or was the memory of him abominable?

**Throughout The Final Problem, Holmes talks about his career "reaching its summit," and his desire for "a more placid line in life," perhaps concentrating on "chemical researches."

Obviously, the Hiatus recharged his batteries (and showed him how boring a life of study could be...), as by the end of Empty House, Sherlock declares that "once again Mr. Sherlock Holmes is free to devote his life to examining those interesting little problems which the complex life of London so plentifully presents."

Welcome back, Sherlock. Just be careful about referring to yourself in the third person. Very annoying...


Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Hound of The Baskervilles--The World's First Scooby Doo Mystery!!

OK, it may not be the first.

But you have to admit, The Hound of The Baskervilles sure sets the template for the cartoon series.

The disguised criminal using local legends and faux supernatural means to scare folks away and achieve his wicked financial goals? That's a Scooby Doo story!

Sherlock Holmes even sets a trap for the bad guy, using Shaggy Sir Henry Baskerville as bait to draw out the killer and catch him!!

Seriously, all that's missing is Watson ripping away a rubber mask from Stapleton while the killer mutters, "I would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for those meddling detectives!"

Trivial comparison, I know. Unlike a Scooby Doo episode, this case involved actual murders, and adultery, and heavens knows what other offenses. But on a very fundamental level, the greatest Holmes story and most of the Scooby Doo cartoon series share something very important: a rejection of fear and superstition, and a high regard for the powers of skepticism and reason.

Better writers than I have already discussed why Scooby Doo is a bastion of secular humanism, and why it is a cartoon about rejecting fear and embracing thinking as a way to solve problems. (Seriously, that's a wonderful piece by Chris Sims...go read it!) Well, the same applies to Sherlock Holmes. It's telling that one of his most famous quotes is about rejecting the impossible and finding the truth.

And this story employs that same template. Everyone on the moor--even the reputed man of science, Dr. Mortimer--believes to some extent in the legend of the Baskervilles and the supernatural origins of the Hound. Yet throughout, both Holmes and Watson, even when puzzled, reject the alleged demonic origins of the beast. There are facts, there is evidence, and that is how this case will be solved.

Indeed, Holmes states several times that if the Hound is supernatural, then there is absolutely nothing that they can do:

"Of course, if Dr. Mortimer's surmise should be correct, and we are dealing with forces outside the ordinary laws of Nature, there is an end of our investigation."

"I have hitherto confined my investigations to this world. In a modest way I have combated evil, but to take on the Father of Evil himself would, perhaps, be too ambitious a task."

And he chides the credulous Mortimer: "I see that you have quite gone over to the supernaturalists."

Even Watson rejects the supernatural: "[I]f I have one quality upon earth it is common sense, and nothing will persuade me to believe in such a thing. To do so would be to descend to the level of these poor peasants, who are not content with a mere fiend dog but must needs describe him with hell-fire shooting from his mouth and eyes."

Yet Holmes understands all too well how villains may use the trapping of the supernatural to increase their power over the gullible: "An ordinary schemer would have been content to work with a savage hound. The use of artificial means to make the creature diabolical was a flash of genius."

And such extraordinary claims for the mystical and magical merely means that they require extraordinary scrutiny: "The more outre and grotesque an incident is the more carefully it deserves to be examined, and the very point which appears to complicate a case is, when duly considered and scientifically handled, the one which is most likely to elucidate."

Don't get me wrong. I'm not against the use of the magical or supernatural or alien in fiction. I'm down with the X-Files, I was into Buffy The Vampire Slayer before most of you, I read Doctor Strange.

But Sherlock Holmes is not the right venue for such stories.

Sure, he's public domain now, so anyone can do what they want with the character. And I can understand the well-nigh irresistible temptation to get Sherlock, in pastiches, involved with "contemporary" supernatural characters: Dracula, Frankenstein, Mr. Hyde, The Invisible Man, etc.

Yet Sherlock Holmes is not Kolchak The Night Stalker. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had Holmes declare this himself in no uncertain terms, several times, in his most famous story. Holmes' powers are logic and deduction. He succeeds with his mind, not stakes and holy water; he uses his reason, not supernatural paraphernalia. His greatest enemy is not some lord of the undead--he's a math teacher with really good organizational abilities! And in this story, the entire district is terrorized, not by a beast from Hell, but by a dog in a (pretty good) Halloween costume.

Yes, I appreciate the irony that later in his life, Sir Arthur embraced spiritualism and the like. But that never crept into his Holmes stories, as even with his conversion, Doyle realized the strength of his character still lied in rejecting the unknowable. Even while he was promoting alleged fairies and mediums, Sir Arthur still had his hero debunking vampires and the like.

We already have plenty of other heroes who can fight the things that go bump in the night. Sherlock is there to battle for justice and fight human predators. To have him truck in the spirit world turns his greatest weapon into his greatest weakness.

To steal paraphrase from Chris Sims, "there should never, ever be even a trace of the supernatural" in Sherlock Holmes. Except, of course, from villains trying to use fear of the supernatural to scare people away from the haunted amusement park, and having Holmes expose their humbug.
there should never, ever be even a trace of the supernatural in the world of

Read More: Ask Chris #81: Scooby-Doo and Secular Humanism |


**There is no question that The Hound Of The Baskervilles is the greatest by far of the Holmes novels, and has a strong argument to being the best Holmes story, period.

One of the difficulties in the short story format for mysteries is that the length can make it difficult to give the reader a sufficient number of suspects to make the case truly mysterious. It can be tough to give enough space to "red herrings" to make them more then minor distractions. It can be tough to create a sense of place and time, and give enough attention to all of your lead characters.

Of course, structuring something the length of a novel has its own difficulties as we saw in A Study In Scarlet and The Sign Of Four.

But Doyle obviously learned his lessons from those earlier novels, and used the extra space in Hound to make the story breathe. We have a diverse cast, and a plethora of suspects. He gives us any number of theories and possibilities. Instead of mere red herrings, we have fully developed and fully investigated subplots. The fact that Doyle could devote an entire chapter to following three investigative "threads" that came to nothing is a testament to the virtue of having more space to tell the story.

And while there may be some minor inaccuracies in the flaura and fauna presented, Sir Arthur manages to infuse the story with the essences of the alien moors, making the landscape itself a living character in the mystery.

The Hound Of The Baskervilles is one of those things that have become a cultural icon, and you begin to subtly dismiss it as over-popular and over-exposed. But then you reread it, and you're swept away into a Gothic mystery in a desolate land, and you remember that the book deserves every iota of its reputation. Dang good book, is what I'm saying.

**Hounds is the most filmed of the Holmes stories, with over 20 versions (of which I watched 5 five preparation for this post, including a Russian version!)

But no one ever gets the Hound quite right.

I'll grant you, it's not fair to judge black & white productions, let alone pre-CGI or other pre-special effects versions by modern standards.

But could any film depiction hope to ever compete with what Watson's description conjures in our minds?
A hound it was, an enormous coal-black hound, but not such a hound as mortal eyes have ever seen. Fire burst from its open mouth, its eyes glowed with a smouldering glare, its muzzle and hackles and dewlap were outlined in flickering flame. Never in the delirious dream of a disordered brain could anything more savage, more appalling, more hellish be conceived than that dark form and savage face which broke upon us out of the wall of fog.
Keep trying, Hollywood (and Russia, and England). Someday, you'll get it right.

**It's no wonder Holmes declared that he need to catch Stapleton "red-handed." It must be difficult to prosecute a man for scaring another to death, even if you had the evidence. Even if you could establish that the Hound belonged to Stapleton, and that he knew of Sir Charles heart condition, it seems to me that it would be difficult to prove intent in a court of law--Stapleton could always argue that the Hound merely got loose, and it was an accident. Ditto for Selden's death.

Yet Holmes' plan in no way catches Stapleton red-handed!! They never see him with the Hound, let alone releasing it; they never see him at the scene of the attack on Sir Henry!! The whole ruse of putting Sir Henry at risk provides zero evidence against Stapleton!! Fog or no fog, there was no chance the ploy could lead to Stapleton's conviction. So, yes, Sherlock. this is "a reproach to [your] management of the case."

Fortunately, the spurned and tortured Beryl was able to fill in many of the holes for them; but Sherlock had no way of knowing that she would turn on her husband!

**On the other hand, this was hardly the "refined" murder plot Holmes declared it was.

Counting on your big dog to scare someone to death seems dicey, at best--certainly heart conditions are not so nicely predictable.

And yes, if Sir Charles hadn't dropped of fright, the Hound might well have killed him--but that almost certainly would have meant an end to Stapleton's schemes! An actual physical dog attacking the gentry--rumors of supernatural origin or not--would surely have lead the police the scour the area thoroughly, and using their own bloodhounds (and following the howling on the moor) they would likely have found the Hound! And certainly, they would have been on greater alert, making impossible for Stapleton to bring it back and forth between the Grimpen Mire and his outhouse when it came time to attack Sir Henry!!

**This is a wonderful solo outing for Watson, showing the good doctor in his finest light--not just an unquestioning toady for the great detective, but an equal partner.

The decision to have Holmes absent for the middle third of the book must have seemed surprising, but it really gives Watson a chance to shine as an investigator in his own right. He discovers the Barrymores providing succor to Selden. He wheedles the information about Laura Lyons from Mortimer, and tricks Frankland into revealing what he knows about the stranger on the moor. Watson certainly does show that he is "developing the wisdom of the serpent," and Holmes is not at all insincere when he declares, "I must compliment you exceedingly upon the zeal and the intelligence which you have shown over an extraordinarily difficult case."

This is my Watson--a dedicated friend and follower, but no mindless acolyte. He's able to reason and improvise for himself, while remaining true to his charge. He won't let superstition and local insularity stand in his way. He will observe and probe and push and finagle to get information. he is indeed the man who has lived with Sherlock Holmes for years, and learned a great many lessons.

Of course, that requires any adaptation to have a strong Watson. Which is why the 1939 Basil Rathbone version fails. I don't want to be a typical Nigel Bruce-basher, but even his staunchest defenders would have to concede that his Watson is a reactive, not a pro-active character, there more to make Sherlock look smart than for any merit of his own. So in this version, Watson does not discover Barrymore signalling the escaped convict--Baskerville does. Watson does not track down the mysterious other person on the moor--Holmes leaves him a note, telling him when and where to meet! Watson conducts no investigations of his own, and as a result the movie sags greatly in the middle; and when Holmes makes all of his revelations at the end, they seem to come out of thin air, because Watson has laid none of the groundwork for us.

**A number of commentators have gone to lengths to suggest that Dr. Mortimer is somehow a villain, and that he is involved somehow in Stapleton's crimes.

Well, that theory fails the very first test of "does this make sense?": Why would Mortimer engage Sherlock Holmes, then?!?

If Mortimer doesn't hire Holmes, it seems unlikely that he ever would have become involved--Sir Henry, having lived across the pond, doubtless knew little of the detective, and wouldn't have thought to hire him on his own.

So, if Mortimer were in on it, why would he invite certain doom by bringing Sherlock Holmes into the affair? What was there to gain?

If you suggest, like some, that Mortimer was in on it, but intended to eliminate his erstwhile partner (Why? How would that benefit him?), that also makes no sense--Stapleton already knew that Mortimer went to Holmes, having followed him. So it would be pretty clumsy betrayal, which had absolutely zero consequences in the story.

Others also argue that, as an "expert" on atavism, Mortimer should have recognized Stapleton's face on the painting of Hugo, and therefore he must have known, and was covering for the murderer! The fact that he is supposed to be an expert in two discredited sciences (don't forget the phrenology!) seems to rather lessen our opinion of Mortimer's intelligence and observational skills, rather than bolster it. And let us not forget Holmes' initial deductions, that Mortimer was unambitious and absent-minded, and "little more than a senior student." Mortimer's eagerness for a supernatural solution--which could only serve to drive Sir Henry away, and prevent Stapleton from killing him--is perhaps the last nail in the coffin of any scientific acumen he is supposed to possess.

No, Mortimer may be a bit of a twit, but I can't see him as a bad guy here.

**I'm not sure why Holmes' assumes that Stapleton perished in the mire.

After all, the manservant Anthony "disappeared" after the case, and was presumed to have fled the country. But Holmes had observed Anthony crossing the mire, presumably to care for the Hound. Is it not just as likely that he was the one who fled there with the boot, and not Stapleton? Certainly such a fiendishly clever villain as Stapleton would have no trouble setting up Anthony to die in his place, while he took some other escape route, and established yet another identity.

It's also likely that Stapleton had yet another path away from the tin mine established--he was nothing if not an over-planner.

Of course, Holmes' not actually capturing the villain had become quite a contemporary trend in Doyle's Holmes stories. Moriarty (and we later learn, his top lieutenant) escape Holmes' net, and his  body was never found in The Final Problem; we never saw Joseph Harrison actually caught in The Naval Treaty; the villains escape in The Greek Interpreter (only to die by other hands abroad); the killers escape the country in The Resident Patient, and are presumed to have died in a's little wonder that Holmes boasted that he let the police take credit in so many of his cases, as he was having spectacularly little luck at actually bringing the criminals to justice!

**Sadly, the female characters in Hound do not come across terribly well, as they all descend into illegality to protect or serve the men in their life.

Mrs. Barrymore is willing to risk her (and her husband's!) freedom, not to mention the lives of everyone nearby, to protect her brother, the escaped psychotic killer.

Laura Lyons is besotted with Stapleton, and despite her suspicions, is willing to cover up what she suspects to be murder in order to protect him--until she finds out that he is married.

As for Beryl Stapleton, yes, she was clearly abused. And we might never know the full extent of her participation in her husband's crimes: he stole "a considerable sum of public money;" there was some scandal at the school he ran; he is suspected by Holmes of committing "four considerable burglaries" in the area, including a murder; and of course, two murders and an attempted murder with the Hound.

Whatever her culpability, she certainly had a large amount of guilty knowledge. She was willing to twice change to an assumed identity, and to pose as the unmarried sister to her husband There can be no rationale for that aside for something illegal.

And yes, she apparently refused to serve as a lure for Sir Charles, and had to be tied and beaten to keep her from protecting Sir Henry. But she did know of the Hound, and where he kept it, and helped him mark a safe pathway through the Mire. And she certainly did have opportunity to specifically warn Sir Henry--they found time for secret assignations so he could pitch woo to her, but she only gave him the vaguest generalities about danger. There's not a lot of redemption in her lack of action.

And given her declaration that "I could endure it all, ill-usage, solitude, a life of deception, everything, as long as I could still cling to the hope that I had his love," well, that's pretty much a statement that she would have continued to support Stapleton had he been faithful. Again, there is very little mitigation here.

So, not a great feminist novel.

**This story is set before The Final Problem, which is a nice little loophole allowing Doyle to tell more Holmes stories without actually bringing the character back to life.

It's not exactly a new conceit--Watson never presented his tales to us in chronological order before. But what is interesting is that there is nothing in the story--not a line from Watson, not an "editor's note," not an aside, nothing--that actually says this story comes before Final Problem. Instead, Doyle relies on his readers to do their own math based upon a vague reference--1884 was "five years ago"--and compare to the date given in Final Problem, 1891.

If Sir Arthur were adamant about keeping Sherlock dead, you would think that he would have made the point more strongly in the text that this was a pre-death story, and not a resurrection (and perhaps he did, in contemporary interviews and articles). But barely a year after this novel was finished being serialized in The Strand, Doyle did indeed bring the detective back.

Many have said that "public pressure" as a result of the novel "forced" Doyle to bring Holmes back to life. Yet resurrection wasn't automatically necessary--he could have kept setting Holmes stories in "the past." But he chose to bring the detective back to life, instead. I like to think that Hound Of The Baskervilles was Doyle, despite protests to the contrary, coming to grips with the fact that he actually missed his greatest creation, and it spurred him to go the full nine yards and bring him entirely back.

**Admit it: when you first read about the note from a woman signed "L.L.", you immediately thought about Lois Lane--right? Right?!?

**It is interesting, from a socioeconomic standpoint, to read from the local newspaper's death notice for Sir Charles:
In these days of nouveaux riches it is refreshing to find a case where the scion of an old county family which has fallen upon evil days is able to make his own fortune and to bring it back with him to restore the fallen grandeur of his line.
Of course, we're told by many different people how important it is that a Baskerville occupy the ancestral seat, and spend all his money supporting everyone else who lived there.

Relying on local wealthy nobles to trickle down their wealth certainly wasn't a sustainable economic model, as history would come to show. It is telling that Sir Charles had to make his money elsewhere, and then come back home. Depending on minor nobility's largesse as a means of economic sustenance would be impossible in a couple of generations...

**That said, there's a very real reason the region needs a wealthy baronet to support the local area. The Grimpen region seems like something out of  Diana Rigg-era Avengers: everyone is independently wealthy but has no real job, and is focused on balmy hobbies instead of doing anything productive.

Frankland is frittering away his fortune on frivolous lawsuits and amateur astronomy. Stapleton runs around the moors with a butterfly net, a "naturalist" with no visible means of support. Mortimer is the local physician, but he spends all his time digging up neolithic bones and obsessing on phrenology. Laura Lyons has a job as a typist. but only because she is forced into work by her husband abandoning her and her father cutting her off.

No wonder the region was in dire straights. Except for servants, no one had a bloody job!

**His time in America and Canada haven't made Sir Henry immune to some ridiculous class snobbery. While speculating on the possible guilt of the Barrymores, Baskerville notes, "At the same time, it's clear enough that so long as there are none of the family at the Hall these people have a mighty fine home and nothing to do."

Yes, because that's a motive the servant class often uses for murdering their masters and scaring away successors--they're lazy.

Total Scooby Doo reasoning there, Sir Henry.

**Holmes is right to declare that "I am not sure that as a conscientious detective my first duty is not to arrest the whole household." Shielding Selden is questionable, not only legally but morally. Aside from subverting justice, they are endangering the entire countryside by letting a heinous murderer run lose. And Barrymore's excuse--Selden wouldn't hurt anyone, as he would only be acting against his own interests--expects rational decision making from a killer whose sanity was questioned by the courts.

The fact that Sir Henry and Watson's concerns are allayed by the fact that the Barrymores are smuggling him to South America is hardly ennobling. Apparently, their concerns that he might hurt someone don't apply to anyone he might hurt in a Latin American country.

And Watson's ultimate argument? "If he were safely out of the country it would relieve the tax-payer of a burden." Oh, John...

The Granada adaptation avoids this problem, by revealing that Selden had had "surgery" (presumably some form of lobotomy) that left him "as harmless as a child." So they weren't really passing on a problem to South America, right?!?

**Obviously Lestrade has come far in Holmes' estimation from the days of Study In Scarlet: "He is the best of the professionals."

Why, then, did Holmes go on to work with some other Inspector in wrapping up the Moriarty gang, the greatest case of his career? Why not work with the best of the professionals, rather than some anonymous inspector never heard of before or since?

"At the same instant Lestrade gave a yell of terror and threw himself face downward upon the ground."

Oh, yes, that. You blew your audition there, Inspector.

"One of Sherlock Holmes's defects--if, indeed, one may call it a defect--was that he was exceedingly loath to communicate his full plans to any other person until the instant of their fulfilment. Partly it came no doubt from his own masterful nature, which loved to dominate and surprise those who were around him."
Yes, Sherlock was a definite showman. I myself am a bit of a victim of the impulse.

But in this case, it almost got someone killed...

**Some have objected to the fact that Stapleton stole the boots from Baskerville's hotel, instead of waiting until he came to Dartmoor, and stealing them from his home.

It seems to me that it would be easier to bribe a hotel chambermaid or valet, or to sneak in and do it yourself, than it would be to sneak into a home staffed by loyal servants, try and find where the boots are, and take them then. (And given Stapleton's apparent svengali-like influence over women, he may not have had to even actually bribe anyone) Especially since Baskerville Hall was in a remote region where comings and goings were watched like a hawk by nosy people with telescopes, where everyone would recognize you, and local attention is heightened by the very rumors and superstitions that you yourself have started.

**On that very matter, Holmes seems to have done a complete 180 on his opinion in Copper Beeches, where he averred that the countryside was far more dangerous and frightening than the big city:
 The pressure of public opinion can do in the town what the law cannot accomplish. There is no lane so vile that the scream of a tortured child, or the thud of a drunkard's blow, does not beget sympathy and indignation among the neighbours, and then the whole machinery of justice is ever so close that a word of complaint can set it going, and there is but a step between the crime and the dock. But look at these lonely houses, each in its own fields, filled for the most part with poor ignorant folk who know little of the law. Think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser. Had this lady who appeals to us for help gone to live in Winchester, I should never have had a fear for her. It is the five miles of country which makes the danger.
Now, rather than the relative safety of a tightly packed population, Holmes believes:
I have ample evidence that you are being dogged in London, and amid the millions of this great city it is difficult to discover who these people are or what their object can be. If their intentions are evil they might do you a mischief, and we should be powerless to prevent it.
Given the timing, you have to wonder if the Jack The Ripper killings changed his mind. Or, more likely, Doyle just forgot what he had written a decade earlier.

**Holmes declares that he has had "five hundred cases of capital importance." In Final Problem, he tells us that he has had over a thousand cases. Presumably, then, half of his cases were (relatively) more trivial. It would be curious to see where he draws the line...

**And speaking of apocryphal cases, we get a bundle here. Holmes himself mentions Wilson's "little case," where he saved the good name (and perhaps the life) of the district messenger manager. He also mentions "that little affair of the Vatican cameos, and in my anxiety to oblige the Pope."

And Watson name drops two subsequent cases of the utmost importance: "the atrocious conduct of Colonel Upwood in connection with the famous card scandal of the Nonpareil Club;" and "he had defended the unfortunate Mme. Montpensier from the charge of murder which hung over her in connection with the death of her step-daughter, Mlle. Carere, the young lady who, as it will be remembered, was found six months later alive and married in New York."

**£740,000 was quite a fortune back in those days, roughly equivalent to $85 million in modern funds. Perhaps Sir Henry could support all of Devon County, at least for awhile...

**The excuse that Holmes uses not to accompany Watson to Grimpen is "At the present instant one of the most revered names in England is being besmirched by a blackmailer."

This was just a ruse, of course, but it is telling. We have seen, and will see again, that Holmes really, really dislikes blackmailers. He considers it believable that he would let a potential murder take place rather than delay stopping a blackmailer.

And, honestly, wouldn't "one of the most revered names in England" have besmirched their own name, and the blackmailer is merely revealing that? No, to Holmes, the blackmailer is a craven scoundrel (worse than a murderer, he will say later), and the person who committed the "besmirchable" act to be completely blameless.

Not that I'm defending blackmailers, and there probably wasn't an actual case here, as Holmes hopped the very next train to Dartmoor. Still, I think you need to realign your priorities a bit, Sherlock.

**The school Stapleton ran was said to have closed because of an "epidemic." Yet Holmes tells us that "the school which had begun well sank from disrepute into infamy," and the "Vandeleurs" "disappeared."

Disrepute and infamy seem an odd way to describe a school hit by an illness. And some have speculated that perhaps there was some sexual scandal, perhaps involving Stapleton and the students. Ewwww.

**"There are seventy-five perfumes, which it is very necessary that a criminal expert should be able to distinguish from each other..." Oh, Sherlock, what would you do in the 21st century? There are far more than that just on this list of celebrity-branded fragrances; and this list of "notable" perfumes since 1900 lists several hundred. And then there are the Axe body sprays...

**Laura Lyons says she went to Sir Charles for help because "I had learned that there was a prospect of my regaining my freedom if certain expenses could be met."

The obvious assumption was that she needed the funds to pay for divorce proceedings. But, given the wastrel nature of her husband, perhaps he was extorting her, demanding a large sum of money to agree to (or not contest) the divorce.

Or maybe she was hiring a hitman...

**The 1959 Hammer version of Hound is just plain nuts. I'm just saying.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Reminder

We're taking an extra week this week in order to fully process the glory that is The Hound Of The Baskervilles.

To help you survive the extra time, please enjoy this little treat:

See you next week! Thank you for your patience!!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Final Problem--WHAT THE #$%^&?!?!?

I sometimes wish I could read this story again for the first time, with no outside knowledge of what was about to happen, or of would come later.

The fact that Sherlock Holmes' arch enemy is Professor Moriarty has so permeated our culture that it is basically as well known as the Superman/Luthor feud. Even people won't aren't Holmes fans probably know about their feud.  It's also well enough known that Holmes survives his experience at Reichenbach Falls. And even if one was somehow free of all our knowledge, well, many of us read our Sherlock Holmes in "complete" when our hero "dies" when only half the stories are done, modern readers might suspect that something is up. So it is very difficult for someone to come into this story "unspoiled."

But what must it have been like to read The Final Problem when it was originally published? Because back in 1893, this must have seemed tremendously insane.

By modern standards, of course, the Big Bad is old hat to us, the secret villain who turns out to be behind everything. But you don't introduce him or her (or it) in the very last episode!! There is a gradual build, clues subtly introduced in the background that take on more meaning when we realize that something is up--"BAD WOLF" scrawled in graffiti, for example. There are figures seen only in shadow, distorted voices heard over speaker-phones, and other tropes. Than we get the "stunning revelation" at the "mid-season finale," we get to spend the next several episodes groping in shock, and the last 4 stories are about confronting and beating the master villain.

But The Final Problem doesn't play by any of those rules, because of course those rules hadn't been established yet. There was no prior warning of Moriarty: no clues, no hints, no warnings. Out of nowhere, this Napoleon Of Crime just appears, behind half of the evil in London. Holmes says that he's known about him for years (but never bothered to tell Watson?), and now has "seized the thread" and tracked him down--all "off-screen," as it were.

Let's leave aside all of the pastiches and adaptations and speculations that like to make Moriarty responsible for everything, the secret force behind every case and every event that Watson has relayed to us (such as Granada's version of The Red-Headed League). There was none of that boot-strapping when this story was first published. This must have struck the Victorian reader like an atom-bomb! All of a sudden, there's a mastermind behind all crime in England, and he's (almost) as smart as Holmes, and Holmes has been carrying on a campaign against him for months, and Sherlock almost succeeded, but now Moriarty is trying to kill him so we have to flee to the continent!!
All out of whole cloth! All in the first 8 pages!! The entire status quo of what we expect from a Sherlock Holmes story is up-ended, and tossed out the window.

And if that weren't disorienting enough for the Victorian reader, well, they must have gotten whiplash when it turns out that [SPOILER ALERT] Sherlock Holmes dies at the end of the story. Again, no foreshadowing in previous stories, no vague prophecies that suddenly make sense, nada. [Although Holmes' declaration that "his career had reached its crisis" does tread perilously close to the "he has two weeks until retirement" cliche...although that probably wasn't a cliche back then!]

But to kill off the hero of your continuing series of stories?!? Unheard of!! (At least, I assume it was unheard of--were there any other long-running lead protagonists killed off in this manner before The Final Problem?)

How disorienting this most have been for readers in the day! Everything they thought the knew about Holmes was put askew by the Moriarty revelation--and then Holmes himself was killed!! Sherlock Holmes, who had been a monthly fixture in their lives for two and a half years, was gone!! No less an authority than John Watson told us there would be no more stories!!

We can never quite experience this story the way they did back in December of 1893. We already know too many of the particulars of the story, which have seeped into popular culture. Heroes dying is no longer a big deal to us, the shock value eroded by clones and resurrection spells and time travel twists and other cop-outs for us to truly experience the shock of Victorian readers. We're too jaded by the reliance on Big Bads and season-long conspiracies to be stunned my the emergence of a master villain from behind the scenes.

Not to mention, of course, the apparent need of media in modern culture to immediately release every bit of casting/plotting news they come upon, to flood us with "previews," and the propensity for scripts and/or entire episodes to be stolen (ahem "leaked") ahead of broadcast. And of course, there are all the well meaning people who immediately vent their views on social media. No, today is a very different world.

It's not often that I can say sincerely that I wished I lived back then. But I would love to know what it felt like to read this story for the first time, unencumbered by modern knowledge and expectations, and to experience it as readers then did.


**So great was the public's upset at the "death" of Sherlock Holmes, it is said, that 20,000 people canceled their Strand subscriptions. And apparently, thousands of people wore black mourning armbands in public.

Obviously, some of these account might be exaggerated, or even apocryphal. But I can't help but think of what would happen if fans would have such a reaction today.

Surely today such people would be derided for "taking their fiction too seriously," for needing to "get a life." The media--not realizing what a boon it is to have that many people actually care about media--would lump them all into the "nerd' and "weird-o" category, and run mocking footage and commentary just before the final weather update.

Just another difference between then and now, I suppose...
**One of the more famous Holmes pastiches is The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, wherein author Nicholas Meyer posits that the whole business of this story is merely Sherlock having a bit of a psychotic break, due to cocaine abuse and suppressed childhood trauma.

And it's not hard to see how one could come to that conclusion. Sherlock shows up at Watson's, not having seen him fro weeks, and goes skulking about shuttering the windows for fear of "air-guns" (which never are seen or mentioned again in the story). He breaks out the story of a math professor turned Blofeld from out of nowhere. Watson never even sees Moriarty in this story, except as a vague figure in the distance! Holmes insists they take a vacation on the continent--it matters not where! His accounts of "murder attempts" sound like paranoid descriptions of everyday accidents--surely every day in London someone was almost run down by a horse-drawn vehicle! He sneaks out over Watson's back garden wall, after arranging an incredibly Byzantine rendezvous the next day.

Given the odd behavior, and the fact that Watson remarked more than once how odd Sherlock seems to be, it is easy to see how easy it would be to conclude that Holmes was a little bit nuts. Fortunately, the good doctor knows his friend better than most...

**The Final Problem really isn't much of a mystery story, as there is literally no mystery whatsoever. Holmes has already solved all of the crimes, and given all of his information to the police, before the story even starts. We get precious little deduction from Holmes, either. The entire story, really, is just exposition and flight. Still pretty thrilling stuff, though.

**Moriarty, as portrayed here, has always seemed to come up a little bit short to me. Holmes' final note to Watson says how impressed he was with how Moriarty managed to find them...without bothering to share with us those impressive "methods." Really, aside from Holmes descriptions, we get no actual evidence of the professor's genius. It is a classic case of "tell, don't show." I suppose was compelled by the nature of the story, and never having Watson meet the character...but still, it does leave the professor a tad bit less compelling as a character than I would have liked.

**Through it all, however, Sherlock is frustratingly vague about exactly what it is that Moriarty and gang are being arrested for. In the Final Problem, not one specific crime or misdeed is mentioned, not one particular offense which the Napoleon Of Crime could be convicted of.

Oh, sure, Sherlock throws out "forgeries, robberies, murders." "Half of all that is evil, and nearly all that is undetected in this great city." But what crimes? In what matter did Moriarty make his "little, little trip?"

Others speculate much more specifically. The Granada adaptations, for example, have him behind the events of The Red-Headed League, not to mention The Devil's Foot and The Eligible Bachelor (aka The Noble Bachelor). And Granada's Final Problem tells us that Sherlock's trip to France was to recover the Mona Lisa, which was stolen by Moriarty's organization (he had planned to use the publicity of it's being missing to sell off several forgeries for millions each, which may have been part of the motive when the masterpiece was actually stolen in 1911, and was also the plot of a 1979 Doctor Who episode, when a time-traveling alien forced Leonardo to paint 6 copies that could be sold in the present when his people stole the "real" painting. I guess there are no original ideas in crime...)

**Why the need to wait 3 days to arrest the professor and his minions? Why could nothing happen until Monday? "Matters have gone so far now that they can move without my help"??

When Watson pleased to have Moriarty arrested immediately, Holmes replies, "We should get the big fish, but the smaller would dart right and left out of the net." Of course, the exact opposite is what happened--doing it Holmes' way, they caught all the small fish, but Moriarty (and we soon will learn, his #2 man) escaped. It's questionable whether that was a superior outcome.

So why the three day wait? What possibly legal reason could there be? Try as I might, it is difficult for me to come up with anything that doesn't sound like "transparent plot device."

**During the trial of Moriarty's gang, Watson tells us "of their terrible chief, few details came out during the proceedings."

Why, then, is the professor's brother, "Colonel James Moriarty," writing letters (to the newspapers, presumably) to defend the memory of his brother? Were those "few details" enough to tarnish the family honor? Perhaps a little bit more was being said, if not publicly than in "whispers" throughout polite society.

**If, that is, the "Colonel" really is the professor's brother.

Moriarty is given no Christian name in this story. Only in The Empty House is his first named mentioned..."James." Apparently the same first name as the brother!!

Well, it's not impossible--there have certainly been cases of brothers being given the same name, and being differentiated at home by middle names or nicknames.

Or...perhaps the professor  had a little bolt-hole designed, a place to hide in plain sight should his schemes fail--posing as his own "brother"?!?

Which, of course, would mean that Moriarty also survived Reichenbach...

Or maybe it just means that Doyle goofed up on the name...

**Holmes mentioned how, in his career as a university professor, "dark rumours gathered round [Moriarty] in the university town, and eventually he was compelled to resign his chair..."

Well, that doesn't sound very much like the nearly-invisible, Holmes-level criminal mastermind, does it? Or perhaps that small town is where he learned his lesson--to be the brains behind everything, but to do nothing himself, to insulate himself from the rest of the organization, to become the spider in the centre of the web.

Still, Holmes should have started his investigation there. If there was enough to start rumours amongst university folks, perhaps there would be some actual evidence that a mind such as Holmes could have detected, and used to bring down Moriarty...

**Much has been made of the Swiss lad and the forged note.

But what if Peter Steiler, the innkeeper, were in on it? After all, his English was excellent, so the note and the story about the tubercular woman certainly wouldn't have been beyond him. And he is the one who gave Holmes and Watson their route, and "strict instructions" to make a detour to see the falls.

So did he help set the trap for Holmes? Or was he working for Holmes, making sure that Watson would be away for the final confrontation!?

**A death-duel with your arch-nemesis on a narrow cliff above a raging waterfall? As these things go, that's a pretty classic way to go.

But it is telling, I  think, that no matter how "tired" Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was of his most famous creation, he gave him a death with no body being found, and therefore a death which could, if need be, be easily explained away if he ever changed his mind and wanted to go back to Holmes. Which is, of course, what happened.

It would have been easy enough to give Holmes a final, inarguable end...but Doyle was, perhaps subconsciously, hedging his bets.

**It is interesting that it was Inspector Patterson who was working with Holmes on the biggest case in the history of English crime.

Patterson's name never comes up again in the Canon, and more familiar Scotland Yard names such as Lestrade and Gregson are apparently left on the side.

Did Holmes not trust them on a case of this magnitude? Or perhaps he was protecting them, knowing that they were not capable of evading Moriarty's machinations?

Presumably this case was a hell of a feather in the cap for Patterson, whoever he was...But Moriarty himself got away, so perhaps not so much?

**Holmes declares that he has had "over a thousand cases." Get writing, Watson!!

**"Danger is part of my trade." Oh, Sherlock...

**Apparently, you actually could hire a "special" train in those days, exclusively for your own use, for only 5 shillings per mile. Basically you get a small engine, a passenger car, and the railway telegraphing ahead to clear the line of slower traffic. Although surely it must have played havoc with with the railway's schedule, and almost surely you needed some amount of advance notice?

Say what you will about Moriarty, he is willing to dip into his crooked fortune.

NOTE: Because Hound is so long, and they are so many long adaptations I wish to peruse, there will be a two-week break between posts this time. So nothing on Sunday 12/14...we will be back Sunday 12/21!