Thursday, September 24, 2020

Diagnosis: Murrrr . . . errrrr . . . .

 Perhaps it was the zoombombing of our latest Sherlock Holmes Story Society discussion that put me in a rather persnickety mood with "Dying Detective." Or perhaps I was just thinking too much this time, and the story is like one of those movies that entertains while you're watching it, but the minute you leave the theater and have time for your own thoughts, it falls apart.

The zoombombing was probably due to the library posting the Zoom details on Facebook and it's website. The movie comparison, I think, was the thought of Amanda in our group, after four of us made the leap over to a private Zoom meeting. It was a very good point about "The Dying Detective," however, as it is one of those stories that you just have to go along with.

I mean, that "hide behind the headboard" thing. I mean, really. Been in any bedrooms lately?

But the more I thought about the whole disease this story centers around, now that we're in the Covid era of disease awareness, the more it falls apart.

Holmes calls in Watson, a doctor, and goes, "I, a detective, have somehow diagnosed myself with a very rare disease that I picked up at random on the docks." Watson, a doctor, goes, "Okay."

Doctors are more familiar than anyone with hypochondriacs who self-diagnose. And Holmes, who is also demonstrating signs of being out of his head with random info dumps on oysters and coins, has no real reason to know how he could have a specific fever from a specific place just from catching something at the docks. Has Holmes beat Watson down so much over the years that he just gives into anything?

And how did Sherlock Holmes, great detective that he is, wind up trying to solve the mystery of a young man who got sick and died? Young men get sick and die occasionally, and probably a lot more often in Victorian London with all the polluted fogs. Who was his client, and how did that person known enough about Culverton Smith's favorite disease to know Victor Savage died from it?

"The Dying Detective" is an easy-in, easy-out, BOOM-it's-over story. We're so charmed by Mrs. Hudson's appearance, Holmes's antics, and the fact he has tricked Watson yet again that we just take it at face value and don't delve . . . unless we're trying to proving his bogus Tapanuli fever or Black Formosa corruption were more real than that swamp adder.

It's a very weird story, anyway, with disease-based crime, which is basically germ warfare ahead of its time -- remember how Culverton Smith had a whole array of deadly germs on his shelf. The tale is also ahead of its time with Holmes basically using Watson as a tape recorder to catch the killer's confession. And very much like a movie or TV show, which makes one wonder why Doyle went with "The Mazarin Stone" to do a short play and not this one.

It's almost fan fiction, as it the whole mystery is about Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, with no client, no victim that we really get to know, no murder scene, just Holmes and Watson in what's almost a goldfish bowl of a Baker Street tale. Almost.

I'm still glad "The Dying Detective" is in the Canon, but tonight . . . I was just feeling a little persnickety about it.


  1. I've just watched this and . . . I really agree with this! A Holmes always needs a confidante. The point has been driven in so hard (Enola = Alone, her mother's message about her independence, her own preference for solitude) BUT she does need someone to talk to and bounce ideas off.

    I think, in that era, it was so much more difficult for a young woman to be alone than for virtually anyone else. I LOVE the idea of Enola enlisting the audience as her Watson. Not her chaperone, not her boss, not a parental or spouse figure. A companion. Who is probably not as smart as she, but is very loyal and very interested to see how the story will play out.

  2. aw shit I meant to comment on the Enola Holmes post, not this one. If you can, please move my comment to that post.

  3. Persnickety - a word that does not come up too often - and you use it twice. I approve! (as if you need that!!)