Monday, May 26, 2014

Summer of Sherlock: Shoscombe Old Place

A summer read of Sherlock Holmes could start no better than with "The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place." 'Tis a tale of a nearly retired, relaxed Holmes, dealing with a matter that allows he and Watson to actually go fishing midway through the case. And why not?

Sherlock Holmes has reached a point late in his career where he is convincing Scotland Yard of the usefulness of the microscope in criminal investigation. He is the acknowledged master of detection, and the Yard is listening to him. And Watson? Watson is comfortable enough in life that he can spend half his old wound pension on the entertainments of the track. These are two guys who've done their share of racing across London and are ready to take it a little easy. When they head for Shoscombe with the cover story of being on a fishing expedition, with all their rods, reels, and baskets, it seems like a ruse at first, but eventually they wind up actually catching some trout for supper -- these two friends have plainly done this before.

There's a haunted crypt worthy of a Scooby Doo episode, a larger-than-life fellow who horsewhips people, and a dog that behaves strangely in the noon-time. It's a wee bit off, because Holmes and Watson spend a lot of time skulking around the edges of what may or may not be a crime scene, and there isn't a young lady in peril as in other classic "weird goings-on at the country house" stories like "Speckled Band" or "Copper Beeches." And it is one of those Casebook tales with a slightly pastiche-ish feel and a few lines that cause reactions in the modern day that Doyle never intended. But still, it's Sherlock Holmes, and a lot more familiar Holmes than many that came after.

Beginning a "Summer of Sherlock" by reading "The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place" around the time it occurred, one also feels the need to align one's self further with the events of the tale by doing something like a little fishing. Not having my fishing license or any rods, reels or baskets to my name (black sheep of the Keefauver clan of fishermen that I now am in that respect), I decided to make my connection in an equally valid, yet less energetic manner.

A friend of mine brought her pair of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels to a couple of social events this weekend, and I did my share of petting those lovable pups. The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is an interesting breed, a modern recreation of the dogs that Sir Ralph Musgrave's pal King Charles II loved above all others. And while this seems to lapse into the territory of "The Musgrave Ritual," consider this little fact:

In 1903, the time that "Shoscombe Old Place" occurred, the Kennel Club combined four separate breeds of spaniels existing at that time to create the King Charles Spaniel. So in petting that pair of Cavalier King Charles pooches, I was surely petting some portion of the Shoscombe spaniel chromosomal line . . . or at least I shall enjoy thinking so.

So start your summer with a leisurely read of "Shoscombe Old Place," do a little Memorial Day fishing, or just pet your nearest spaniel. The Summer of Sherlock Holmes has begun!

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