Almost exactly a year has passed since John Watson got to meet brother Mycroft in "The Greek Interpreter," and the good doctor is leading his own life . . . so much so that it's over two full pages into "The Man with the Twisted Lip" before any reference to Sherlock Holmes even comes up. Dr. Watson, it appears, has married a woman a lot like his friend Sherlock, who people come to when they are in trouble.
One almost suspects that if we ever got our hands on that tin dispatch box with Watson's name on it, we might find a few write-ups of John getting involved in his wife's handling of more domestic issues among her social circle, along with his cases with Sherlock Holmes. The opening couple of pages of this story are just like that, almost a tryout bit for a spin-off, like when Gary Seven's adventure co-mingled with that of Captain Kirk in the original Star Trek.
Watson's encounter with a disguised Sherlock Holmes in an opium den, when Holmes finally does show up, is also ample evidence against the old "Sherlock Holmes, addict" scenario, especially when played against the BBC Sherlock version of the same encounter. Watson is sincerely astounded to see Holmes in the opium den, not like "How dare you risk your sobriety?" but more like, "This is a weirdly out-of-charcter place for you to be!" Watson drops off the true addict, Isa Whitney, in a cab.
It's a chance meeting, and they laugh as any two friends running into each other in a strange place. The fact that it is Holmes who laughingly brings up cocaine, while Watson doesn't show the least concern. Indeed, Watson's view of Holmes is quite the opposite: "It was difficult to refuse any of Sherlock Holmes' requests for they were always so exceedlingly definite, and put forward with such a quiet air of mastery." Even in an opium den, John Watson sees Sherlock Holmes as a man in control and is simply excited by the prospect of a new adventure.
And what an odd little adventure it is!
Sherlock Holmes is staying at his client's house in the suburbs. He's driving a tall dog-cart around London, and has a man named John who looks after it for Holmes when he's pretending to be an opium bum. And Holmes is getting saluted by police constables who recognize him. There are all sorts of great details in "The Man with the Twisted Lip" that one can spin up wonderings about -- one hallmark of a great Sherlock Holmes story.
The warm June of 1889 was a great time for Sherlock, John, and Mary in the days of classic Holmes. And a chance meeting leading to a buddies slumber party with a morning revelation and breakfast back on Baker Street (a location that never appears during the story, curiously enough) is a great summertime treat for everyone involved, including us.
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