Friday, July 11, 2014

Summer of Sherlock: Black Peter

Three blog posts yesterday and none of them what I should have been writing about: "The Adventure of Black Peter!" Starting on July 10th of 1895, "Black Peter" is apparently one of four tales that inspired Vincent Starrett to pen the words "where it is always 1895" in his poem "221B." Yes, yes, he probably picked it for rhyming with "alive" as much as anything else, but let's see what made 1895 so special, at least in this, the summer story of the four.

Well, that took all of no seconds . . . the very first line of the case is Watson telling us: "I have never known my friend to be in better form, both mental and physical, than in the year '95. His increasing fame had brought with it an immense practice . . . ." Unlike other summer adventures, Sherlock Holmes is working, working, working in 1895, doing things like stopping the plague from spreading and working for the Pope. Putting those last two facts together kind of screams "Dracula" to the imaginative minded, but chronologists for the vampire's history put his attack on England at 1893, so perhaps Cardinal Tosca's death was an after-shock. (Just sayin' -- you know the Sherlockian drive to bring Holmes and the Count together, as little sense as it makes in Holmes's science-and-logic world.)

But I digress . . . we're all about bloody harpoons today. And Sherlock Holmes doing something unusual: conducting an experiment with a harpoon and a pig before he even goes to see the crime scene. He's apparently interested enough in the case to go to the trouble of finding a harpoon and a pig, but just not quite motivated to head out to Woodman's Lee and lend the desperate Stanley Hopkins a hand from the outset. It is a busy month, of course, so perhaps Sherlock thought he could pull a Nero Wolfe and just solve it without leaving town -- he was at the height of his powers after all, so perhaps he'd even solved a few from a chair in Baker Street already that year. And he sort of eventually does.

Holmes apparently did need to get out of London for a bit, because even at his busiest, he decides to kill a few hours by taking a stroll in the woods with Watson and "give a few hours to the birds and flowers." (And if ever there was a phrase that seemed code for a little Johnlock action, that one is probably it. Or else that Holmes was a bird-watcher. I'm not going down either of those paths, but feel free.) Something about summer always seems to make Sherlock Holmes a little more relaxed on his cases, it seems, even at his busiest.

But there is so much goodness to this story involving Holmes doing a lot more than just relaxing. Apprehending two culprits and immediately throwing one back, Captain Basil (If there had been a "Captain Benedict" in another tale, we'd be sure that someone what psychic.), even a trip to Norway . . . Holmes is proactive, imaginative, wise, and all sorts of wonderful in this tale, just as Watson told us.

There's a lot more to comment on in this tale, and I'm sorry for the rather cursory look at this summer case, but it was a rather distracting day yesterday, and unlike Mr. Holmes in 1895, we're not all in our best form in July!

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