Sunday, September 8, 2019

The Scotland Yard man who was trusted before Watson

There is a moment in "The Dying Detective" where you wonder if we've suddenly met the one evil Scotland Yard inspector in the Sherlockian Canon.

John Watson is waiting for a cab outside of 221B Baker Street, when he hears a voice out of the fog.

"How is Mr. Holmes, sir?" Watson is asked, and the doctor recognizes the speaker as "an old acquaintance," Inspector Morton of Scotland Yard, wearing "unofficial tweeds."

"He is very ill," Watson tells Morton. And then we get the moment:

"He looked at me in a most singular fashion. Had it not been too fiendish, I could have imagined that the gleam of the fanlight showed exultation in his face."

Watson, ever wanting to think the best of a tried-and-true Scotland Yard detective, finds an excuse for what he sees in Morton's face: Inspector Morton is thrilled that Sherlock Holmes is very sick.

It's hard to remember one's first read of this favorite story, if it's decades in the past as it is for me. Did I think Morton some secret villain at that first read? Did I just zip over Watson's words there in my anxiousness to see what happened next?

At this point, it's a line I dearly love, as it foreshadows what we know lies ahead. And Inspector Morton does too -- he's not thrilled that Holmes is sick, he's thrilled that Watson is convinced Sherlock Holmes is sick. Inspector Morton is in on Holmes's plan, and possibly the one who called him in to begin with. Dr. Watson, however, is with Mrs. Hudson, left being defrauded by their friend and house-mate.

It's a rare thing for Holmes to confide in a Scotland Yard inspector over Watson, but in "Dying Detective," we see it play out . . . and, actually, Morton almost blowing it with his inability to keep a straight face. But this one time, it did happen. Too bad we never got to learn more of this particular Morton before the Canon's end.

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