Saturday, August 5, 2017

The unspoken observations, the other discoveries.

Not all detective stories are Sherlock Holmes stories, of course.

And fans of Sherlock are not necessarily fans of all mysteries. He's a special one, a rare individual with a particular way of dealing with the mysteries that come his way. Few detectives measure up. But that is what gives some of the stories their substance.

Take BBC's Broadchurch, for example, a streaming pick that I've taken up recently. The lead detective's inability to solve the crime quickly is what makes the story. As the search for answers drags on, more and more secrets from under the town's appearance of quiet normalcy start to come out. So many of the characters are hiding something, much of which has nothing to do with the crime being investigated. And those secrets are what turn the story into an ongoing series.

Sherlock Holmes's efficiency had him solving matters in fifty-six cases that could be recorded as "short" stories. And John Watson had a part in that efficiency as well, editing the investigations down to fit in a size The Strand Magazine could handle. But when you look at a detective story being told like Broadchurch and you think about how Sherlock Holmes would have looked at such a town and such a case, and what he would have seen there . . . and how none of it would have been reported by Watson in The Strand.

But Sherlock Holmes would have known.

Sherlock Holmes would have known. All the little details picked up by his keen eye. All the little truths exposed by those observations. All the secrets revealed in those truths. All the darkness that Sherlock Holmes kept inside and didn't let out. Except for the momentary flash . . . .

"It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside."

Sherlock Holmes states pretty clearly that those words from "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches" come from personal experience. And they sound like it wasn't just a single experience.

Watching what comes out in the long investigation shown in the first season of Broadchurch, one could imagine all the similar things that Sherlock Holmes kept inside, the leads he followed when he was away from Watson, and those Watson left out.

When Sherlock Holmes said, of Copernican theory, "You say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or my work," we tend to think he was just having some fun with Watson. But there's a truth behind those words, a rule that Sherlock Holmes had to live by, dressed up in astronomical clothes. When on a case, Sherlock Holmes had to stick to only those facts that had to do with his work -- the case at hand.

One can imagine him using a paraphrase of that with a overly helpful witness: "You say that Mr. Roundhay is stealing from the church coffers. If he was stealing the Crown jewels from the Tower of London it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or my work."

Adaptations often like to see Sherlock Holmes as "an automaton -- a calculating machine," as John Watson accused him of being in The Sign of Four. But as John surely knew better than anyone, Sherlock had depths, and some emotional depths at that. All of the things that he learned, all of the things that he saw . . . Robert Downey Jr.'s Sherlock Holmes touched on it as an overload of the senses, but there was more to it than that . . . Holmes didn't just sense more. He learned more. He knew more. More than he could ever reveal.

Did he allow his best friend in on that burden, to help carry the load? Were the hiatus and the somewhat early retirement both necessary retreats from all those secrets? Bees, for all their society, have no personal dramas filling the hive with backstories Holmes had to consider to care for the colony.

For all the years and all the fans, there is still so much to Sherlock Holmes we have yet to consider.

No comments:

Post a Comment