Monday, January 23, 2023

Fair game

 So, after reading Dan Andriacco's essay on constructing stories imitating Watson's voice, found in the collection Writing Holmes!, I decided I wanted to find a Sherlock Holmes pastiche I could tear into and pick apart its flaws without hurting anyone's feelings. So I went to a tale with at least one author whom Sherlockians have never much cared for, a little tale called "The Adventure of the Seven Clocks."

First published in Life magazine in 1952, "Seven Clocks" is a cash grab by Adrian Conan Doyle, partnering up with American writer of British mysteries, John Dickson Carr. If there are any Adrian Conan Doyle fans out there, they are surely rare eccentrics who don't bother with "that internet thingie" as they swan around some vintage yacht, permanently tethered off the coast of New Jersey -- so no worries of hurt feelings there. And ACD2 takes any heat off Carr enthusiasts who can blame the scion for anything I would get into.

So I looked into "The Adventure of the Seven Clocks." And it didn't take long to start pulling loose threads.

"I find recorded in my notebook that it was on the afternoon of Wednesday, the 16th of November, 1887," the tale begins, "when the attention of my friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes was first drawn to the singular affair of the man who hated clocks."

While any chronologist will salivate over that date, it's an opening sentence as cold as if Star Trek's Mr. Data had decided to write a pastiche. No points for that. And a short gap of one whole sentence leads us to this: "Indeed, I have gone so far as to state that my first post-nuptial call on Holmes was in March of the following year." When one considers that Baring-Gould, Gavin Brend, and Ernest Bloomfield Zeisler, among others, were hitting Sherlockian chronology hard in the years when "Clocks" was published, you can see why Adrian might have been trying to quash such speculations with the firmest of Watson dates. But it just is a poor start to a tale.

For three paragraphs, the tale goes on about dates and Watson's marriage, then the fourth brings up breakfast and the weather, and the fifth adds in Holmes's mouse-coloured dressing gown and his cherry-wood pipe. He soon mentions the victim from "The Resident Patient," the Beaune from The Sign of the Four, and Watson's marriage again.  A little newspaper reading on horse-racing, Nihilists, and the odd headline, and Holmes is announcing being bored for just enough time for Watson to cry out, "Hark! Surely that was the bell!"


A young lady with a face whose beauty and sensitivity Watson has seldom seen the like of shows up and doesn't know which one is Sherlock Holmes at first. Holmes makes deductions based on all the initials and such that the young lady almost seems to have designed for such purposes, and we learn that Miss Celia Forsythe has been in the employ of Lady Mayo. (Who regularly holds a clinic on sandwich spreads? Sorry, had to go there.) She tells her story, Watson accuses Holmes of being less than sympathetic, and Holmes replies like so:

"Oh? Sets the wind in that quarter?" 

Now, does that sound like Sherlock Holmes or the author of a book called Heaven Has Claws: Big-Game Fishing Off the African Coast . . . whose name happens to be Adrian Conan Doyle. (With a cover blurb that reads, "You can't put the book down . . . all vivid hues and clashing sounds." -- John Dickson Carr. Okay, I'll say it: Carr, you kiss-ass.)

Holmes throws on his deerstalker and Invernesse cape and announces he's headed for Switzerland. (Which makes you wonder if he's realized who is writing him and is headed straight for Reichenbach to jump.) Watson smokes Ship's tobacco and plays billiards with Thurston while he waits for Holmes to come back from Switzerland, then is excited to tell his wife (mentioned by name as Mary) about the young and beautiful client Holmes had while she stares at the fire. (Adrian seems preparing to break them up as definitely as his dates, another one coming up as Holmes returns.)

Watson hears Big Ben chime and remembers he needs to go back to Baker Street, since he's pissed off his wife enough for one evening.  Back at Baker Street, he spouts an obvious clue to Holmes, the beautiful Miss Forsythe returns, along with a manservant whom Watson writes this uncharitable line about:

"I have often remarked that a stupid person is the most doggedly loyal."

Wow, Watson. Just, wow.

There's some racing around, trains, carriages, rooftoops, and an ending that reminds me more of an old TV finale of Starsky and Hutch than Holmes and Watson. Their lives are saved by a sturdy product of old British craftsmanship, so bully for that.

Why was this "The Adventure of the Seven Clocks" and not "The Man Who Hated Clocks" or the name Watson referred to it by in an actual Canonical story, as is revealed at the end? Why is the man's hatred for clocks caused by the very thing that would tend to make him not do what he did to those clocks? Who knows? And what parts did ACD2 and JDC each play in the concocting of this primeval pastichery?

I ordered John Dickson Carr's biography on the cheap (library copy) after reading this, to see if it holds any insights. But if you're ever looking for a pastiche you can rip on without hurting the feelings of any of your friends who are currently writing, might I suggest ACD2? Perhaps you'll be inspired to create an ACD2 society, which would make for some easy living as there are only four books in Adrian's bibliography. Well, except that you might be expected to read them.

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