Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Trial and Boscombe

 In The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, the stories that define Sherlock Holmes as a serial entertainment, there's a mystery with a capital "M." In that series of twelve stories, six are actual adventures, according to their titles, a format that would skip Memoirs entirely and return in Return. And one capital "M" mystery according to its title, "The Boscombe Valley Mystery."

And it's a murder mystery. The only real murder mystery in the first twelve stories.

Oh, you might say that "Five Orange Pips," "Twisted Lip," or "Speckled Band" are murder mysteries for two of those are about protecting someone whom murder is coming for, and the other has no real murder at all. No, "Boscombe Valley Mystery" is the one with a corpse and that "Who killed this victim?" that a true murder mystery demands.

And, though I know it has its champions, as all Sherlock Holmes stories do, I must say that "Boscombe Valley Mystery" is a pretty weak murder mystery.

A guy gets clonked in the head and killed. Outdoors, where you can get clonked in the head pretty easily. Tree limbs, extra large hailstones, wind-blown debris, and those are without human agency. And then there's that weird transcript of the coroner examining the "witness" who is the prime suspect in the case, Sherlock Holmes fussing about the barometer, and the victims's last words being "a rat." Oh, there's forensics and Sherlock Holmes being smart, but not, perhaps, clever.

Was "Boscombe Valley Mystery" the Victorian equivalent of the movie Crocodile Dundee, just trying to make a few bucks by trotting out those curious Australian chaps for the audience, a ploy that doesn't work as well now that we've evolved well past Crocodile Dundee and even Crocodile Dundee II ? Hmm.

But let's be honest. If Sherlock Holmes's legend depended solely upon "Boscombe Valley Mystery," he would be about as popular as Ellery Queen is today. The one true murder mystery in his initial quiver of adventurous arrows and it is as forgettable as an episode of some CBS procedural whose name won't offend anyone reading this. (Choose the one you forgot most!) Of course, I've probably already offended someone who thinks Ellery Queen is still a vital detective in the genre. And that person probably loves "Boscombe Valley Mystery," too.

Sorry, person.

Anyway, there it sits amid the more colorful, memorable adventures, sandwiched in between "A Case of Identity" and "The Five Orange Pips." When you're following a story remarkable in that the client is so stupid she doesn't know she's dating her step-father . . . well, actually that story is pretty memorable for that fact alone. I'd wager if you started asking Sherlockians to list the first twelve stories without preparation, "Boscombe Valley" might be the least-remembered, and having said that, I feel badly for picking on the poor thing. So I suppose I shall quit blogging for the moment.

And coo-eeee to you, Paul Hogan, wherever you are. I think Conan Doyle would've liked you.

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