Friday, April 12, 2019

Baron Gruner and his lust diary

Ever notice how "The Illustrious Client," first story in The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, has the word "lust" in the title? Sneaky.

To me, The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes has always been the late-night cable of Sherlock Holmes story collections, because while we don't get actual cuss words, this is were the adult stuff starts happening. People have affairs. A guy like John Cusack without his boombox gets beaten under his ex-lover's window in a breakup power move. There's a vampire and a Phantom-of-the-Opera. (But not really a vampire or a Phantom-of-the-Opera, just two ladies with bad situations.)

And then there's Baron Gruner and his lust diary.

We let kids read these stories?

"No self-respecting woman could stand it," Sherlock Holmes gave as his review of Gruner's book.

The only other reader prior to Holmes called it, "a beastly book -- a book no man, even if he had come from the gutter, could have put together." And her full review involved throwing acid in the author's face, which is quite a statement right there.

Given the extensive details held within the book, one almost wonders if Adelbert Gruner was trying to capture the very souls of his lovers within its pages as he used them up. Watson never gets to see inside the book, of course, just a book on porcelain pottery that Holmes tells him to go read with no explanation, and Watson dutifully does. So we get to hear about cyclical dates and artist-decorators, instead of whatever the hell Gruner was doing to those women and recording in his book. And that is probably for the best.

The women involved, those who survived his predations, would not have necessarily wanted the readers of The Strand Magazine to be reading of their trials, even years later. But they were probably glad to see Gruner brought down when his injuries made the papers.

The final reader of the book, Miss Violet de Merville, may not have even read the book. It may have just been her father who reviewed it for her, with the book close at hand in case quotations were needed.  But it was evidence enough to finally convince her to part ways with her former fiancee.

And that is what we read in "The Illustrious Client," the Sherlock Holmes story that puts the "lust" in its title. It's always been a favorite story of mine, as vague as it is in places about certain not-for-the-kiddies details, because you know who's bad, and he's very bad, and you know who's good, and he's Sherlock Holmes . . . though there is that crime part, and Kitty Winter does do jail time. But it's solid. as solid and simple as we'd like life to be.

But among the other lessons in this story? Be careful with acid. That is some nasty, nasty stuff. But those dogs that rip up creeping men and stand-up comics who keep women locked away don't treat their targets any sweeter. Watson and/or his Literary Agent might have been making a point here.

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