Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Sherlock Holmes: The Final Problem

Sherlock Holmes: The Final Problem
Written by: Arthur Conan Doyle

Published: 1893

Synopsis: Sherlock Holmes strives to destroy Professor Moriarty who is at the bottom of half the evil in London while the criminal genius vows the same for the detective.


OMG I FINALLY GOT THE CHANCE TO READ ANOTHER BOOK FOR THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN CHALLENGE!!!! I know right! And it took me like 20 minutes to read because I had no idea this one was only a wee teeny tiny baby of a story and all of a sudden my kindle phone app was like "yo Kayleigh you're 78% complete" and I was like "but I'm only halfway to uni, what the hell Arthur Conan Doyle?!"

It's going to be really hard to review this story, and not only because of the teensy size. This is the one and only Sherlock Holmes/Arthur Conan Doyle story I've read. All of my wisdom on the subject comes from the fantastic Steven Moffat series Sherlock and all the old films that used to play at midday on a Sunday. So there are certain parts of this book that I especially liked because I could completely visualise Benedict Cumberbatch saying the lines in that droll voice of his. Case in point;
"My dear Watson, you evidently did not realise my meaning when I said that this man may be taken as being quite on the same intellectual plane as myself. You do not imagine that if I were the pursuer I should allow myself to be baffled by so slight an obstacle. Why, then, should you think so meanly of him?"
So maybe my man B.C would have a slightly more modern line reading, but because I have his characterisation still so fresh in my head I read those lines with all of the the annoyance and peevishness that are so characteristic of his incarnation of the character, where, perhaps, you guys (if you haven't seen Sherlock or are more familiar with the original Conan Doyle series) see none of that stuff and I'm just projecting.

That aside, this really is a thoroughly good story. It's short, to the point and rather emotional. Writing two years after the events that take place, Watson (who I was visualising more as Jude Law than Martin Freeman surprisingly) finally decides to recount the events that transpired between Sherlock and Moriarty, because people are trying to paint Moriarty as a good guy and not the criminal mastermind he actually was. In the short story Watson describes how on edge and aware of looming danger that Sherlock was, and his decision to leave the country for three days until the police would be able to arrest Moriarty and the rest of his criminal crew. Tagging along because, well, because he's Watson, he heads off with Sherlock in what will be their final trip together.

Because he's writing from the perspective of knowing what happens, and being devastated by the events (this is all in the first few pages, so no spoiler warning needed!) Watson's account is rather melancholy and depressing. He recalls moments when Sherlock displayed signs of fear or apprehension which he then pieces together to demonstrate that Sherlock was always aware how this adventure was going to end. It has the advantage of not only showing Watson's tender affection for the world's greatest detective (and at times the story reads like a long eulogy) but also showcasing Sherlock's talent as the world's greatest detective AND his level-headed acceptance of how things will/could be. He does his best to avoid death, but he accepts this reality and doesn't let it stop him from spending three more days with Watson, see the world and crush Moriarty's crime syndicate. That's a dude I can respect.

To me this story was all about Watson and Sherlock and the enduring bond between these two men, but for most (especially if I take into account the film/TV versions of this story) it's all about the rivalry that's set up between Moriarty and Sherlock. And for good reason. They're two sides of the same coin, brilliant, determined, intuitive, commanding and a little mad (although maybe in Moriarty it's more than a little). In the early pages of the story Sherlock recounts their brief meeting to Watson, and it's this fantastic intellectual game of chess, where each plays on the other's move and tries to take command of the situation. The back and forth between them is dynamic yet civil - building the tension required for the rest of the story. It's like a meeting between two muzzled lions, if the two lions went to Oxford and wore neckties.The interesting thing that this story sets up is the respect that they have for one another, they clearly disrespect one another's line of work, but they respect the mental prowess of one another and the thrill that this hunt (for want of a better word) will entail. They're two of the most intelligent men alive, and finally they've each found their match. In other circumstances they could be wonderful friends (and you know that fan-fic has been written).

I'm sad this was quite a short read, because that would be the only fault I have about it. Because it's so short,  there isn't a huge amount of detail about the events - especially since Watson isn't present at the infamous Reichenbach Falls when the two men have their final face off. However because of the tone of the book, and the reason for Watson finally putting pen to paper, it doesn't diminish the quality of the story, it just leaves me wishing for more.


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