Tonight was Sherlock Holmes Story Society Night here in Peoria, and our discussions took us all over "The Boscombe Valley Mystery." As Holmes's cases go, it's a pretty humdrum little murder piece, practically a CBS procedural in it's way (How many other Holmes tales feature the coroner's report?), but the relationships portrayed are fascinating when one digs in.
The thing that really caught my attention tonight with the clever insights of my fellow attendees, was Inspector G. Lestrade's mindset running through the course of this mystery.
Lestrade is far, far away from Scotland Yard on this one having been "retained" by Alice Turner to discover the true murderer and prove her childhood friend innocent.
The first interesting Lestrade fact involves Watson, as Holmes tells his friend, ". . . Lestrade, whom you may recollect in connection with the Study in Scarlet . . ." Now, Watson is married at this time, so the statement might make one wonder how Watson went all the way from A Study in Scarlet to well after his marriage before seeing Lestrade again. Tales like "Noble Bachelor" and "Cardboard Box," in which Lestrade appears before Watson's wedding seem suspect, and the multiple Watson wives theory is immediately back on the table. Unless . . . .
Roll Holmes's words around in your head, "Lestrade, whom you may recollect in connection with the Study in Scarlet." Sherlock Holmes is using the actual title of the novel. Like he's not only needling Watson about his work, but smirking at Lestrade's role in it. Almost like Lestrade has been bragging around town about being written up in a novel.
And when he's retained by the daughter of a wealthy rural land-owner for what he seems to think is an open-and-shut case, Lestrade calls up Sherlock Holmes . . . also in said novel . . . seemingly just so Holmes could confirm that James McCarthy was the killer and that there was no more investigating to be done. (Unless Alice Turner was shy about calling in Holmes directly and went through Lestrade, whose connection was celebrated in the aforementioned A Study in Scarlet.)
Holmes is uncharacteristically taking his time in this case, talking about the barometer a lot, like he's just messing with Lestrade . . . and really, he is. There never seems to be too much doubt in Holmes's solving of the case, just some time to gather evidence. And when Holmes doesn't follow the path Lestrade intended for him, we get one of the best Lestradian attempts at cover:
"I am afraid that my colleague has been a little quick in forming his conclusions."
Good old Lestrade! Is he actually doubting Holmes here? Oh, yes, he is. Lestrade is very full of himself in this case.
"I find it hard enough to tackle facts, Holmes, without flying away after theories and fancies. . . . McCarthy, senior, met his death from McCarthy, junior, and all theories to the contrary are the merest moonshine."
When Holmes describes the killer, according to his evidence, Lestrade even refuses to consider looking for the man. And Holmes then actually calls the inspector an imbecile (but not to his face), and the Scotland Yard inspector is never heard from again in this account.
Holmes and Watson had a room already rented for them at the Hereford Arms, while Lestrade is "staying in lodgings in the town." Why no hotel for Lestrade? Was he staying with a "friend?" Did he have family in Hereford? Even roots in Hereford?
Was Lestrade a local hero having recently attained a bit of fame in the novel A Study in Scarlet? (Possibly from carrying a copy of Beeton's Christmas Annual around with him just to make sure people saw it and his name in print? They didn't have to read the whole thing.)
Lestrade calling Sherlock Holmes in on a case he thinks has already been solved is a curious point on the years the two men worked together. For someone who likes to ponder on Sherlock, John, and Greg/George/Geoffrey/Gilgamesh/etc for a while, "The Boscombe Valley Mystery" actually offers up more mysteries than just a murder . . . and I'm stopping at Lestrade for this evening.
It makes the case surprisingly worth a repeat visit.