The Not-So-Final Problem

S-BOMB warning. That’s SPOILER-ALERT, for those less crude than I.

So, something I didn’t realize: while I’ve read and reread much of Sherlock Holmes, I’ve never actually sat down and read The Final Problem. For those of you who do not know, it is the “final” tale of Holmes’ exploits. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle killed off his popular character in this ultimate of face-offs with the dastardly Professor Moriarty.

That’s the thing, though. It’s a short story; after all these years of knowing the tale and having seen depictions of it, it’s sadly a bit of a letdown to read the real thing. It’s told from Watson’s perspective, as always, two years after the fact, in an effort to make sure Moriarty’s character is not redeemed after death.

It’s a brief story, about an excited Holmes, on the run with his dearest companion Watson, attempting to bide time until the arrest of Moriarty and his organization can be complete. Sadly, Moriarty escapes. Throughout the tale we are told about how conniving the man is, but he is a shadow. Ultimately we know little of the man other than he does not commit the crimes himself, but orchestrates them. What crimes? All manner of crimes. He is the criminal boogieman, basically. This is all well and good, and the story is not about a crime in itself, but it still feels a little sad not to have some sort of motivation to dislike the man.

Holmes is greatly impressed by the man’s intelligence, as we should be, because we know of Holmes’ own and they are able to match wits for months on end. In the end, though, this is not a story about Moriarty, but about Holmes’ fulfillment in his passions. Moriarty exists to make Holmes feel as though he’s served his ultimate purpose, and for a man so haunted by his own intelligence and skill, isn’t that what we should want?

The story is difficult for me, because it was so brief. It felt rushed, as though Doyle couldn’t wait for it to be over, and that saddens me. As a writer, I never want to reach a point where I have exhausted myself of it, but I also know I will never reach Doyle’s level… so in a way, I am relieved. I also know that he ended up picking up the pen again, so to speak, to continue on with Holmes, retrieving him from his fate at the Reichenbach Falls, so that is a relief of another kind!

Interested in The Final Problem? It can be purchased here.

~Lils

Oh, that Holmes and his nervous breakdowns…!

S-BOMB warning. That’s SPOILER-ALERT, for those less crude than I.

GASP! It’s been a hot minute since I last posted one of these, I know. But THE RESOLUTION I’ve made (drama necessary, haha) is to read at least one book a month (ideally two, so I can work through Harry Potter and still enjoy other books), and I want to finish off the Sherlock Holmes collection I’ve had chilling on the back-burner for ages now. I still have a decent chunk of the book leftover, and tomorrow starts the New Year, so hopefully I can kill it off in the first week!

With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get right down to this newest short story. The Reigate Squires occurs after a particularly strenuous case for Holmes, and it finds Watson visiting him abroad to check on his health. After suggesting a spring vacation, they are off to visit Colonel Hayter near Reigate in Surrey (man, I get jealous of my friend Foo for her work trips to the London area when it comes to knowing the lay of the land proper!). The Colonel is a genial man, and they can’t help but chat about a peculiar burglary that occurred nearby at Mr. Acton’s home.

Now, normally it’s impossible for Holmes to do anything without cases finding him (at least, as far as these tales are concerned), and such is the case here. A murder unfolds that night, and next thing you know, the local inspector has arrived to seek Holmes’ professional aid. He understands that Holmes is recovering from an illness, but really, please? Pretty please? It’s likely nothing compared to the exciting international case Holmes just finished.

The murder was of the coachman of the Cunningham’s, another local family–presumed to be a botched robbery. The only clue, a curious fragment of note with the time of the murder written upon it. Holmes is particularly interested in the note. When everyone rounds together to visit the Cunninghams, the inspector nearly slips about the note. On that note (haha), Holmes falls over flat on his face. From here, his behavior becomes even more erratic; he writes a note for Mr. Cunningham to sign with the wrong time of the murder upon it, he knocks over a bowl of oranges and forces the blame upon Watson… and then, poof! He’s gone.

Turns out, he’s inspecting Alec Cunningham’s dressing-gown for the remainder of the note. In that act, he riles up the two Cunninghams are they are off in a flash to assault Holmes, attempting to murder him with an inspector right there in the next room over! An act of desperation, surely. They are arrested, and it’s up to Holmes to fill in the gaps to wrap up the story.

Basically, the Actons and the Cunninghams were both rich at one point, but were involved in a legal battle because the Actons had rights to some of the Cunningham’s land. The Cunninghams attempted to find the paperwork regarding this in the burglary, failed, then made it look like they were after petty items. The coachman, William, had followed, witnessed the act, and proceeded to blackmail his employers. The Cunningham son has a nasty disposition, and tricks William to come to the home and murders him (his father complicit–the handwriting of the note proves this fact) under the guise of the local burglaries.

Now, there’s always a little touch of the fantastic in Holmes’ methods, and in this case, it’s the quick work of handwriting analysis that I dislike. Holmes goes on at length about being able to tell the age, dominance, and blood relations in the handwriting. It may be simply because I know little of handwriting analysis to confirm or deny his words (which is extremely true, for the record–my ignorance, that is). I felt a little frustrated in not knowing the truth behind the matter, and it derailed me from the story for a bit, since the note was the main focus of the entire tale.

Interested in The Reigate Squires? It can be purchased here.

~Lils

Of tiny trinkets and tricksy rituals…

S-BOMB warning. That’s SPOILER-ALERT, for those less crude than I.

And now for the second short story I tackled recently of Sherlock Holmes, this one being The Musgrave Ritual. It’s another of my more… favored(?) stories, albeit a short one. It involves Holmes telling Watson of a tale from before their partnership, so far back that he was not on Baker St., was hardly infamous in his field, and was very much eager to learn and receive cases, mostly coming in from acquaintances from the university. In this way he reunites with Reginald Musgrave of the Hurlstone estates.

The case is that of a missing person (or two, really), and the reasons behind their strange behavior. Holmes eagerly takes the case and travels with Musgrave to Hurlstone after hearing the tale. The issue is over the former butler, a Brunton. He has always been of exceptional character and intelligence, but in the last of his days with Musgrave, he violated the trust of his master by going through personal documents searching for… something. This sparks Holmes’ interest, and he inquires after the papers to find out that they are: an odd coming of age ritual passed down amongst the Musgraves each generation. But the ritual is a series of questions and answers that even a casual reader should recognize as instructions to finding something–or, I suppose, this might only be obvious to those with curiosity and imagination. As Holmes himself mentions near the end of the story, the fact that the ritual was not made plain by any generation of Musgrave since its inception but easily noticed by Brunton says a lot.

The other missing person is a housemaid that Brunton had engaged then scorned. She went into hysterics after it was noticed he had disappeared and disappeared herself from her bed at night, her tracks leading to the lake, where she threw in a bag filled with peculiar objects.

Immediately upon arrival at Hurlstone, Holmes follows the directions of the ritual, towards their end, with a little assistance from Musgrave. They find a hidden hole in the cellar of the estate, with the body of Brunton and a chest that dates back to Charles I. From there, Holmes does a bit of his now-infamous conjecture and asks to see the back of trinkets. In it is Charles I’s diadem, weathered and hidden by the elements and age. The story ends swiftly from here, with a general shrugging off as to what happened to the housemaid and a mention that if Watson wishes to see the crown, he need only mention his association with Holmes.

It always interests me how a story is told in Sherlock Holmes’ world, particularly because they are written or shared to us via Watson. I stop and imagine, when not provided, what Watson feels about certain things, or how much is embellished or forgotten by him (or Holmes, as with this story). It’s a fun exercise when you enjoy the world of the story. For example, it feels okay to accept that Holmes brushes off the housemaid’s involvement because really, how would he prove her part of the death of Brunton (if any?), and with that in mind, he has absolutely no reason to be concerned with her disappearance.

Interested in The Musgrave Ritual? It can be purchased here.

~Lils