Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Gregson? Gregson? Anyone seen Gregson?

 Sherlock Holmes dealt with a lot of Scotland Yard detectives. The ever-ferret-like Lestrade. The young and promising Stanley Hopkins. The big man, Bradstreet. And then there's the guy who gets TV parts, pastiche roles, great name recognition, but Canonically? Just not really present. And that man is . . .

Tobias Gregson.

He's got a first name, unlike Lestrade. He's got a premiere appearance as Lestrade's buddy cop (well, of sorts) in A Study in Scarlet. And he's "the smartest of the Scotland Yarders," according to Sherlock freakin' Holmes. The smartest!

Yet he never really comes around 221B Baker Street like G. Lestrade or some of the others.

Sure, he writes a nice letter to Holmes just before we first meet him:

"My dear Mr. Sherlock Holmes," it begins. Gregson then writes up the "bad business" in an efficient, yet detailed manner (Note, this was the original adventure of "the empty house.") and explains why it's "a puzzler" worthy of Holmes's time. Gregson gives the time he will be at the scene, that he is holding the scene "in status quo" waiting for Holmes, and closes with, "If you are unable to come I shall give you fuller details, and would esteem it a great kindness if you would favour me with your opinion."

The "Yours faithfully" that follows all that sucking up stays true to form, and one has to almost wonder if Gregson wasn't being a little sarcastic. His relationship with Holmes is definitely a rather intriguing one.

"It reminds me of the circumstances attendant on the death of Van Jansen, in Utrecht, in the year '34. Do you remember the case, Gregson?"

Note that Gregson and Lestrade are both standing right there. Yet Holmes quizzes "the smartest of the Scotland Yarders," like he thinks Gregson might know the answer. In The Valley of Fear, Holmes counsels Inspector MacDonald on reading crime history, and I'd wager Mr. Mac wasn't the first to be given such advice. Was Gregson an early adopter of Sherlock Holmes's lessons, and had done some of that study?

Unlike Lestrade, outside of A Study in Scarlet, Gregson never comes to Holmes for help. Holmes says Gregson has in the past, in a line spoken in The Sign of the Four. But in "Red Circle," Holmes just ran into Gregson as they both followed separate trails to the same crime scene. In "Wisteria Lodge," Gregson follows a suspect to 221B Baker Street. And in "Greek Interpreter," a case in which Sherlock surely wanted to put his best foot forward since his brother Mycroft is really his client, Holmes brings Gregson on board for official help himself.

Yes, when it's important to Holmes, poor needy Lestrade gets passed over for "the smartest of the Scotland Yarders."

It becomes plain very quickly why Gregson doesn't appear too much in the Canon past he early appearance -- he doesn't need Sherlock Holmes nearly so much as Lestrade does. He might have actually taken Holmes's example to heart and become a better detective to reach that point in the early 1880s. Or he might have just been pretty good at the old-school Scotland Yard investigative style of going around asking folks if they saw something. But Holmes gives us hope of something better from Gregson.

"Well done!" Sherlock Holmes tells Gregson after asking him for his theory on the case, "Really, Gregson, you are getting along. We shall make something of you yet."

There's a hopeful tone there, something we don't see Holmes using with every Yarder. Did Holmes make something of Gregson in those early years that Watson barely chronicled? Did Gregson graduate from calling Holmes to crime scenes like Lestrade, to just getting the occasional advice that didn't require Watson tagging along taking notes? 

But when Mycroft presents Sherlock with a case, who does the world's best detective call?  

Well, he wasn't around for more than three of Watson's cases, but . . . Tobias Gregson.

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