Friday, November 4, 2016

About Sixty . . . let the combatants enter the arena!

When I first decided to read About Sixty:Why Every Sherlock Holmes Story Is the Best as a sort of tournament of champions, I was thinking I was going to have to stage all of the battles in my imagination. But then I came to the second essay of the book, in which Charles Prepolec plants his flag for The Sign of Four.

Now, I will admit to some bias here, as some many years ago, the good Carter and I spent a perfectly splendid and memorable evening with Charles and his wife having some of the best dinner conversation of my Sherlockian life. And I was, therefore, expecting something good on Sign.

What I didn't expect was this next entry into the arena of About Sixty coming in swinging directly at his sole opponent at this point, A Study in Scarlet. 

It was the perfect tactic, and I just didn't see it coming. The Sign of Four really does only have one competitor when most of us come to that second entry in the Canon, and that is its elder brother A Study in Scarlet. Charles Prepolec takes that as his cue and trains Sign's every strength against Study's weaknesses. Everything I remembered loving about A Study in Scarlet during Susan Smith-Josephy's essay was suddenly being topped by The Sign of the Four.

Bringing the warmth and humanity of Sign in may have sold be by itself, but Charles's touches upon the grotesque elements of the tale suddenly had me seeing The Sign of Four as a Victorian season of American Horror Story, with its striking visuals.

So early in, and The Sign of Four is already standing tall as a monster in the About Sixty arena. Who dares challenge it?  "A Scandal in Bohemia," of course. Back to the book . . . .


Angela Misri runs "A Scandal in Bohemia" into the ring like it's a ululating contender from Themyscira, full of girl power that should delight the Adlerians in the audience, but I came here Sherlockian, and remain Sherlockian when "The Red-Headed League" comes out of the fog, managed by Al Shaw.

Shaw brings a very old school sensibility to his appreciation of "Red-Headed League," putting forth not just winning bits of the story, but of the Sherlockian life itself: deductions, pipe-smoking, and Jay Finley Christ. There are definitely distinct personalities to these essays, and is taking very little effort of my imagination to see each coming in as characters as diverse as an old Wacky Races cartoon.

"A Case of Identity" steps in next, and from my past familiarity with the tale, I'm expecting a smaller contender, for as mystery cases go, "Identity" always seemed a bit of a shrimp. But Sonia Featherston has imbued the tale with mystical powers that enlarge it with the power of the entire sixty stories. It's a good work and an unexpected performance by an underdog, as stories go. If The Sign of Four wasn't such a monster, little "Case of Identity" might have done quite well for itself.

Clifford S. Goldfarb brings "The Five Orange Pips" out as a sports enthusiast might -- competitive and citing stats from past bouts. "The Five Orange Pips" gives many a reader many a reason to love the tale, but I fear its promoter ends his spiel on a note of disappointment rather than triumph, which bring "Pips" down when it might have been standing with fists raised.

The "fair play" combatant in this battle royale, according to Mark Alberstadt, is "The Man with the Twisted Lip." Cycling in like a classic pugilist of a mystery, ready for fisticuffs, confident of its place as the best, and getting down to business. Again, The Sign of Four just stands there as the monster of this arena . . . so far, nobody can take that thing down. Is it because it's so much larger than the rest, allowed more room to grow like a carp in a bigger tank, since it was about a novel?

Can anything take it down? So far all of the non-"Case of Identity" promoters in the arena have been Canadian, and maybe their stereotypical politeness won't allow them to bring the full-tilt aggression to this literary cage match needed to conquer Sign, which none knew they would be facing when they signed up. But I'm not that far in, and there's almost 90% of this event to go.

If you haven't read About Sixty,  I would recommend you quit reading the blog for the rest of this series, obtain a copy, read it for yourself and pick your own winner, then come back to see how my tournament came out. Plus, you never know! I'm a busy guy and could run off and leave you hanging here. Don't depend upon me to tell you how it comes out! Get your copy today!

No comments:

Post a Comment