Saturday, January 23, 2016

Sherlock Holmes on Screen: Mr. Holmes (2015)

The Distinguished Speaker Lecture during the most recent Baker Street Irregulars (BSI) Weekend in New York City featured Jeffrey Hatcher, the screenwriter for the 2015 film “Mr. Holmes.” Hatcher was erudite and funny, witty and insightful. On the other hand, I committed an egregious error – I forgot to bring my notebook. For those who know me well, this is akin to my walking into the Midtown Executive Club without trousers. The lapse in my memory caused by the flurry of new activity and unfamiliar surroundings, perhaps? Nevertheless, the lecture was one of the most enriching experiences of the weekend, and I managed to survive without notebook and pen. Somehow. I occasionally feel a little twitchy about it.

“Mr. Holmes,” which starred Sir Ian McKellen in the title role was based on the 2005 novel A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin. Featuring an elderly Sherlock Holmes beekeeping in Sussex Downs, the Detective struggles with the increasingly undeniable deterioration of his mental faculties. In a recent interview with “I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere,” Cullin said:

The novel was my way of dealing with my father's health issues as his sharp mind started to unravel. It's a literary novel, really, and a highly metaphorical yet personal one at that, touching on my own grappling with the definitive ending of my childhood.

It's also a book about lost father figures, and a tribute to the late John Bennett Shaw who had been another great benign father figure to me as a boy. I was saying goodbye to a lot of things and a lot of people with that book, and that was the function it served for me.

The 2015 film adaptation deals with many of the same themes. In the same way that Cullin’s novel was not a Sherlock Holmes novel, “Mr. Holmes” is not a Sherlock Holmes movie. It is a movie about Sherlock Holmes. Audiences looking for the explosive antics of the 2009 and 2011 Robert Downey, Jr. movies, or any of the modern adaptations, will be disappointed. There are no over-the-top murders disguised as satanic rituals. There are no complex criminal machinations or tightly wound villains. There is just an old man and his bees. His housekeeper and her young son. His memories, which fade in and out. And time, which keeps passing.  

In his lecture, Hatcher revealed that while Sir Ian had always been a top contender for the title role, he had not been the only candidate. Hatcher also gave the script to Ralph Fiennes, who declined the part upon reading it. He felt that the character would require “too much makeup,” which Hatcher had found ironic considering that Fiennes had no nose in his role has Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter films. On the other hand, the film’s makeup team had conceded that it would a simple job to transform Sir Ian (in his mid-seventies at the time) into the 93-year-old Great Detective, but they would not be able to turn him into the 50-year-old Holmes featured in the flashback portions of Cullin’s original novel. The best the team could do was a 60-year-old man, and so Hatcher agreed to accommodate the change.

Sir Ian does dapper pretty darn well.

Indeed, much as changed for the Great Detective at the opening of “Mr. Holmes.” There is no more 221B Baker Street, and there is no Mrs. Hudson. Holmes now lives in a country cottage and is tended to by a middle-aged war widow named Mrs. Munro (played by Laura Linney) and enjoys an increasingly amicable relationship with her young son, Roger (played by Milo Parker). Mrs. Munro is both very much like Mrs. Hudson, and also nothing like her at all. Much like Mrs. Hudson, Mrs. Munro finds Holmes frustrating and uncooperative, but much of his behavior could be explained as a product of the man’s age. It would more surprising to find a 93-year-old without any eccentricities (unlike Mrs. Hudson who was hard-pressed to find reasonable explanations for her reasonably-aged tenant’s outrageous behavior). And unlike Mrs. Hudson, Mrs. Munro has less to gain from her relationship with Holmes, and as the audience soon learns – much, much more to lose.

More importantly, there is also no Watson. The best the audience gets is a glance at a distance from a window, and a shot of the Doctor’s back as he cares for Holmes when the Detective reflects on his memories. Watson’s loss is felt early in the film, when Holmes is in need of medical care and a village practitioner arrives to attend to him. Holmes is clearly familiar with the man, and even acquiesces to the man’s suggestions as to how to assess the Detective’s increasingly faulty memory. Familiarity is not closeness, however, and this loss is only enhanced when Holmes reveals later that Watson is long dead and worse yet – that the two had been estranged at the time of Watson’s death. They never said goodbye. Holmes has also suffered the losses of Mrs. Hudson and his brother, Mycroft. Their absences are painful and undeniable, and Holmes does his best to avoid them.

There is Roger, of course – Mrs. Munro’s young son. Roger’s father died in the Second World War and he has little memory of him. He can’t distinguish between the stories his mother told him and his actual memories – which is only one of many ways in which he relates to Holmes. He is fascinated by Holmes, and assists him whenever he can and whenever he is allowed. There is a childish charm in the way that he tries to emulate Holmes, and an understanding in the way that he can’t quite achieve it. For example, Roger mixes some of Holmes’s prickly ash extract into his porridge, proudly eating it in front of his mother – only to spit it out the moment he is out the door. Reminiscent, perhaps, of:  “It may be that you are not yourself luminous, but you are a conductor of light.” (HOUN)

“Mr. Holmes” is the self-indulgent character study that Sherlockians have always wanted, but never thought they would get. It is a truly intimate picture. An introspective look into the foibles and failings of the Great Detective is not something one expects to see on the big screen, much less with a major distribution. While not a Sherlock Holmes film in the traditional sense, “Mr. Holmes” was a gift to Sherlockians nonetheless. The film makes us think about the Master Detective, to spend time contemplating his most human characteristics. What makes him ordinary, and not extraordinary.


A Curious Collection of Dates: Through the Year with Sherlock Holmes, written by myself and Leah Guinn of The Well-Read Sherlockian is now available for purchase through Wessex Press

Friday, January 1, 2016

My Favorite Sherlock Holmes Story: "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons" (SIXN)

[As presented at "A Saturday with Sherlock Holmes," in Baltimore, Md., on November 14, 2015.]

When Beth first honored me with the invitation to be here today, and I heard the theme for today’s presentations, I knew immediately and without hesitation that my favorite story in the Canon is “The Adventure of the Six Napoleons.” What I did not know immediately and without hesitation was why. And as I pondered the topic for many weeks (and months, if I’m being truly honest), I began to worry that maybe there wasn’t a why, that like the infamous motiveless crime I simply loved SIXN because. Because of its own merits. Because it was simply a great story. Because I said so. Because, end of sentence. Because, because, because. And then, to my own mind, I started to sound like a petulant child, unable or unwilling to complete the assignment given to her.

And this, for some reason, made me think of my mother. Who knows why?

Those who know me a little better know that my mother is the great reader of my life. She’s the reason that I love books and writing and words. And if there is anything my mother loves more than books and writing and words, it is Law & Order. Not the process, mind you – the television show. The original flavor too, not the Special Victims Unit persuasion or even the Criminal Intent version with its pseudo-Holmesian detective played by Vincent D’Onofrio (but that’s a topic for another day and another presentation). No, she loves the classic with Sam Waterston as Jack McCoy and its ever-cycling cast of district attorneys.

So, what does this have to do with Sherlock Holmes and his six busts of Napoleon, you may be asking (or not)? Because it occurred to me – as I contemplated SIXN and Jeremy Brett’s facial expressions and Basil Rathbone’s creature-features and everything else peripherally related to this tale – that the reason I loved this story is because it is exactly like an episode of Law & Order.

Told you I was going somewhere with this.

Now if you think about it (and I’m going to make you) – an episode of Law & Order typically opens with banal, unassuming scene meant to distract: some kids playing basketball in a park, two friends shopping for expensive clothing in a high-end boutique, a young couple spending the night in a fancy hotel. Eventually, all these people stumble upon something nefarious and gruesome (and usually dead). And SIXN has a similarly inauspicious beginning: the reader learns that Inspector Lestrade has taken to dropping in at Baker Street. To chat. And this particular evening is no different. They are talking about newspapers and the weather. Maybe even their macramé. There’s probably a fire going and brandy in snifters. It’s as charmingly a domestic scene if there ever was one. But not for long, because crime is about to drop from the sky, like a body falling right into the middle of the Baker Street sitting room (a plot device which may or may not have happened in an episode of Law & Order, I can’t be sure). Lestrade has a case. An interesting case – “This is certainly very novel,” says Sherlock Holmes.

Despite the case’s novelty, however, Holmes and Watson don’t pursue it right away. In fact after getting the initial details from Lestrade, Watson posits a theory which ultimately bears no fruit, and Holmes decides to wait to investigate the case until there are “fresh developments.” This brings us to our second element of a Law & Order episode: the redirection in the form of a second crime. In any given episode, upon being given their task, the detectives will set out on their investigation (this is, of course, the “law” portion of the title). However, invariably they find that this initial thread of investigation is nothing but a red herring, leading to a dead end. Or even worse (and better television), while they have been giving their energies to the first investigation, a second and related crime has been committed. There is another victim. And it’s this crime that will ultimately set the detectives on the right path towards solving the case.

In the case of SIXN, the second crime is the body found on the doorstep of Mr. Horace Harker of the Central Press Syndicate. Aside from the dead body (a minor difference), the crime at the Harker residence seems much like the others before it – shattered busts of Napoleon and all. But now there’s a photograph in the dead man’s pocket and a broken streetlamp, both of which are indicative if not outright conclusive. From there, Holmes and Watson go to Harding Brothers, and then to Mr. Morse Hudson, of the Kennington Road. It’s Morse Hudson who provides a major breakthrough (interspersed with talk of Nihilists and anarchists and red republicans). He knows the man in the photograph: it’s Beppo, “a kind of Italian piece-work man,” he says. From there Holmes and Watson “make for Gelder & Co., of Stepney, the source and origin of the busts.” And then finally, based on the information they receive there, to Chiswick and the home of Mr. Josiah Brown. This is where Beppo is apprehended with the fifth bust of Napoleon and the active investigation draws to a close.

And...commercial break!

Now, a typical episode of Law & Order is usually split equally, with "law" bowing out of the way for "order" at about the 30 minute mark. We'll find that the structure of SIXN is definitely frontloaded with more law at the beginning and a briefer order experience at the end. If SIXN were truly an episode of Law & Order, then the “order” portion of the plot would probably only take up about 10-15 minutes of the episode. However, the reader finds that the impact of Sherlock Holmes's order more than makes up for its brevity. With Dr. Watson and Inspector Lestrade acting as something tantamount to a jury, Holmes’s revelatory theatrics are equal to any courtroom drama. With the reveal of the missing pearl in the sixth bust, one can easily imagine Waterston’s Jack McCoy unleashing the last damning piece of evidence against the accused, and all of the pieces of the case falling neatly into place. I mean, Watson and Lestrade even break out into applause for Sherlock Holmes, like they would for any actor on the stage. Holmes then proceeds to outline the details of the case, which go back over a year, and when he is done, it is obvious to the “jury” that Beppo is guilty. Holmes has proclaimed it so, with every leap and twirl and dramatic gesture. But more than that, Holmes has proven it so. And after all, what is order if not that?

Finally, every episode of Law & Order has a summary scene. More often than not, it’s very brief. Sam Waterston shares heated words with the prosecuting attorney on the steps of the courthouse. Or there’s a poignant conversation amongst all the attorneys over Chinese food in a darkened office. It’s a way to draw the episode to close quickly, and with wit and pathos. And this, let’s be honest, the concluding scene of SIXN has in spades.  
“Well,” said Lestrade, “I’ve seen you handle a good many cases, Mr. Holmes, but I don’t know that I ever knew a more workmanlike one than that. We’re not jealous of you at Scotland Yard. No, sir, we are very proud of you, and if you come down to-morrow, there’s not a man, from the oldest inspector to the youngest constable, who wouldn’t be glad to shake you by the hand.”
End of scene. Fade to black. Dun dun. And the Great Detective goes so far as to say, “Thank you! Thank you!,” as if he were at a curtain call, as if he were taking a bow.

As if you didn't know what I meant by "dun, dun".

Of course, it’s more accurate to say that the structure of SIXN paved the way for the episodic organization of Law & Order than the other way around. And I wish I could say with certainty, as Sherlock Holmes does in “The Empty House,” that “The parallel is exact.” Because it’s not exact, of course, but it is very near. It is very near enough to say that SIXN is my favorite Sherlock Holmes story because it reminds me of another dearly beloved thing. Of another dearly beloved person. Or perhaps just because. Because, because, because. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

“A Man of an Honourable Stock” (SHOS): Sir Christopher Lee

For those of you who have been following this blog for a long time (And have I thanked you for sticking with me? Thank you for sticking with me.), you know that I am not usually given to memorial tributes. This is primarily because I have always found it beyond my meager skills to encapsulate the whole of one person’s life – all its wonders and accomplishments – with just a few words. I have always worried that whatever I wrote would come across as, at best, inadequate, and, at worst, completely disingenuous.

However, on the morning of June 11 when I learned of Sir Christopher Lee’s death (Lee actually passed away earlier on June 7, with the knowledge only becoming public on June 11), I immediately went to share the news with my fellow “geek” colleague – a co-worker with whom I share some mutual interests and with whom I had commiserated over Leonard Nimoy’s death earlier this year. After a few moments of some subdued sadness, my co-worker admitted that, beyond the Lord of the Rings series, she knew little of Lee’s career. “Is that terrible?” she asked.

I didn’t answer at first. Of course, it wasn’t terrible. There’s nothing terrible about not having an investment in a particular actor’s filmography. However, I wanted to tell her about my Christopher Lee.

Christopher Lee with his friends Vincent Price and Peter Cushing

“A Man of Some Substance” (LION)

My Christopher Lee was Dracula. And in his embodiment of the iconic vampire, he was perhaps only second to one other actor. He was as synonymous with the role as Basil Rathbone with Sherlock Holmes, or Nigel Bruce with Dr. Watson. Although his Dracula films would sometimes take ridiculous turns (Dracula A.D. 1972, anyone?), the role would still cast a villainous pall over his career and indeed, my Christopher Lee was also the Mummy, Frankenstein’s monster, and Fu Manchu.

“A Man of Remarkable Appearance” (BLAC)

My Christopher Lee was even Count Dooku (or Darth Tyranus, if you are so inclined), unfortunately, in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones and Star Wars: The Revenge of the Sith. Typically an anathema to true Star Wars fans, the films are worth remembering, if only as a testament to Lee’s villainous character acting.

“A Man of Iron Nerve” (EMPT)

My Christopher Lee was also Francisco Scaramanga in the 1974 film, The Man with the Golden Gun, opposite Roger Moore’s sometimes ludicrous turn as James Bond. Lee was a relative of Bond creator Ian Fleming, and rather perfectly cast as the erudite assassin. Despite the fact that Fleming had originally wanted Lee for Dr. No, he was nonetheless able to channel all his leanness, elegance and his unique razor-sharp keenness to embody Scaramanga.

“A Grave and Taciturn Gentleman of Iron-gray Aspect” (BLAN)

My Christopher Lee was DEATH, voicing the late Sir Terry Pratchett’s (who also passed away earlier this year) characterization in several dramatizations, including The Color of Magic (2008). Tapping into the famous depth and timbre of his voice, his performance was equal turns unlimited cosmic power and affable approachability, just as Pratchett wrote him.

“A Man of Dreams” (GOLD)

And of course my Christopher Lee was Saruman the White in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings series, a masterpiece of film. How could he not be? In addition to providing a vehicle for Lee’s unsurpassed ability to portray malevolence and subtle deviousness, it also gave rise to what might be one of my favorite Christopher Lee anecdotes. Peter Jackson was preparing to shoot a scene in which Saruman is stabbed in the back. Jackson provided Lee with a long, detailed explanation of how he wanted the scene to go. To which Lee replied, “Have you any idea what kind of noise happens when somebody’s stabbed in the back? Because I do.”

“A Man of Energy and Character” (MISS)

But perhaps, more than anything, my Christopher Lee was Sir Henry Baskerville in the 1959 Hammer Film adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles, starring opposite Lee's dear friend Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes. As the terrorized Sir Henry, Lee had to call upon no acting skills at all to show real fear:

Now there is one thing I’m really scared of…spiders. In particular these ghastly bird-eating spiders from South America, with big, huge hairy legs as thick as my fingers. I hate these things, and there was a sequence in the film in which one of spiders comes out of a boot. I refused to let them place it on my neck, but I did have it on one of my shoulders and I was in such a state that I virtually went green, and sweat poured off my face. Everybody said what a brilliant performance I gave. All I can say was that it wasn’t acting at all. I was nearly sick with nausea and fear.

And my Christopher Lee was Mycroft Holmes in the 1970 film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, starring opposite Robert Stephens as Sherlock Holmes and Colin Blakely as Dr. John Watson. Lee was perhaps one of the more sinister and uncanonically lean Mycrofts on record. Until Mark Gatiss’s Mycroft in the BBC’s Sherlock, that is. Gatiss has admitted to using Lee’s interpretation of the elder Holmes brother as the template for his own, calling him “cold” and “disdainful.”

And my Christopher Lee was Sherlock Holmes. First in the 1962 German film, Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace, in which Lee’s performance was inexplicably dubbed over. And then later in Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady (1991) and Sherlock Holmes and the Incident at Victoria Falls (1992), in which Lee plays a somewhat older, retired Great Detective. Of his performance as Sherlock Holmes, Lee said:

My portrayal of Holmes is, I think, one of the best things I’ve ever done because I tried to play him really as he was written – as a very intolerant, argumentative, difficult man – and I looked extraordinarily like him with the make-up on…Everyone who’s seen it said I was as like Holmes as any actor they’ve ever seen – both in appearance and interpretation.

“A Man of Deep Character, a Man with an Alert Mind, Grim, Ascetic, Self-Contained, Formidable” (MISS)

I wanted to say all these things. I wanted to share my experience of Christopher Lee and who my Christopher Lee was. But he also wasn’t my Christopher Lee, no matter how many times I say it. He wasn’t mine, because he belonged to everyone. He was everyone’s Christopher Lee. And he was also no one’s. For how can a person such as Christopher Lee belong to anyone but himself?

But I didn’t tell say any of those things, of course. Who could? Instead, I simply said, “I know Christopher Lee from a lot of things.”

Thursday, January 8, 2015

“My power to surprise you” (EMPT): On Hiatuses

“I moved my head to look at the cabinet behind me. When I turned again, Sherlock Holmes was standing smiling at me across my study table. I rose to my feet, stared at him for some seconds in utter amazement, and then it appears that I must have fainted for the first and the last time in my life. Certainly a gray mist swirled before my eyes, and when it cleared I found my collar-ends undone and the tingling after-taste of brandy upon my lips. Holmes was bending over my chair, his flask in his hand.” (EMPT)

It is sometimes more difficult to return, than to leave.

On May 4, 1891, Sherlock Holmes allowed the world to believe him dead. He abandoned everything and everyone, only permitting his brother to know the truth. Holmes didn’t leave a single clue that he still lived, not even the flimsiest scrap of hope for those who cared most about him – unless one made a habit of looking for subtext in newspaper articles about Norwegian explorers. (Don’t we all?) The Great Detective was silent for nearly three years.

It was a time during which the criminal population of London grew more confident: “It is best that I should not leave the country. Scotland Yard feels lonely without me, and it causes an unhealthy excitement among the criminal classes.” (LADY)

In which Inspector Lestrade managed somewhat passable achievements in police work: “Three undetected murders in one year won’t do, Lestrade. But you handled the Molesey Mystery with less than your usual – that’s to say, you handled it fairly well.” (EMPT)

In which Mrs. Hudson kept a strangely untouched room at 221 Baker Street: “…Mycroft had preserved my rooms and my papers exactly as they had always been. So it was, my dear Watson, that at two o’clock to-day I found myself in my old armchair in my own old room, and only wishing that I could have seen my old friend Watson in the other chair which he has so often adorned.” (EMPT)

And in which Dr. Watson returned to his medical practice, his personal bereavements, and a quiet, uneventful life: “As we drove away I stole a glance back, and I still seem to see that little group on the step – the two graceful, clinging figures, the half-opened door, the hall-light shining through stained glass, the barometer, and the bright stair-rods. It was soothing to catch even that passing glimpse of a tranquil English home in the midst of the wild, dark business which had absorbed us.” (SIGN)

It can be argued that Sherlock Holmes left under duress, certainly. He left in pursuit of what remained of Professor Moriarty’s criminal empire, dodging boulders heaved at his person by Colonel Sebastian Moran, and the safety of the public at the forefront of his mind. Neither was it three years of rest and relaxation. He may have found ways to occasionally amuse himself, but Sherlock Holmes was rarely at ease during this time, telling Watson:

The course of events in London did not run so well as I had hoped, for the trial of the Moriarty gang left two of its most dangerous members, my own most vindictive enemies, at liberty. I travelled for two years in Tibet, therefore, and amused myself by visiting Lhassa, and spending some days with the head lama. You may have read of the remarkable explorations of a Norwegian named Sigerson, but I am sure that it never occurred to you that you were receiving news of your friend. I then passed through Persia, looked in at Mecca, and paid a short but interesting visit to the Khalifa at Khartoum the results of which I have communicated to the Foreign Office. Returning to France, I spent some months in a research into the coal-tar derivatives, which I conducted in a laboratory at Montpellier, in the south of France. Having concluded this to my satisfaction and learning that only one of my enemies was now left in London, I was about to return when my movements were hastened by the news of this very remarkable Park Lane Mystery, which not only appealed to me by its own merits, but which seemed to offer some most peculiar personal opportunities. (EMPT)

So, while it may not have been a consensual parting, the Great Detective left, nonetheless. And without a doubt there is a certain, sharped-edged cruelty to his departure, both for the people he left behind and for Sherlock Holmes himself. Leaving is difficult enough when you want to be found and contacted during your time away, but to disappear completely, without a trace? Well, that’s an extraordinary undertaking.

What’s even more extraordinary, however, is that Sherlock Holmes came back.

You may wonder, what’s so difficult about returning? Wouldn't that be the easiest part? Sherlock Holmes could just slip back into his old life, his old ways, his old work. Even his flat was kept just as he left it. And his friends and associates, once they got over the initial shock and sting of his deception, wouldn't they be grateful to have the Detective back? Wouldn't returning to his old life in London feel positively relaxing compared to the trials of the past three years?

But three years is a very long time, and things change. Mycroft Holmes may have done his best to keep his brother informed, but there was truly no way for the Detective to be certain of what awaited him in London. Perhaps Mrs. Hudson had grown tired of the perpetual silence in her home and the morbid memorial to a man she believed long dead – no matter what princely payments she was receiving for its upkeep? Perhaps Inspectors Lestrade and Gregson had learned to cooperate, and their combined forces meant the dawn of a new age of criminal investigation in London? Perhaps the criminal masses of London had grown tired of a city without Sherlock Holmes and had moved on to greener, more interesting pastures? Worst of all, perhaps Dr. Watson had grown accustomed to his new quiet life – with regular sleep, predictable meals, and no errant bullet holes piercing the walls of his sitting room?

None of these things, of course, proved to be true, but there was always the risk that his life was not as he left it. That there would be no well-worn rut to slip unobtrusively into. That returning to his life would be just as much of a fight as leaving it had been. Returning was just a risky as leaving, and Sherlock Holmes knew it, as he knew most things. But he also knew it was worth it. He knew – or perhaps only hoped – that there was still a place for him in London, and that the world still needed its only consulting detective.

My own hiatus has a name. Her name is Morrigan Maeve, and when she was born this past April, she weighed 7lbs, 5.5oz and was 20 inches long. She is an absolute joy and is completely worth everything. Unequivocally, everything. Like the Great Detective in Tibet, however, I have observed my Sherlockian life from a distance and hoped that there would still be a place for me when I returned. So now I’m back and “I trust that age doth not wither nor custom stale my infinite variety,” and that you all still have faith in “my power to surprise you.”

Now, there is work to do. Let’s get to it.


“Stand with me here upon the terrace…” (LAST)

For Trevor: You played the game for the game’s own sake. May it be 1895 wherever you are, my friend. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

An Open Letter to Mrs. Godfrey Norton (Née Adler)

Dear Mrs. Norton,

I'm the first person to admit that I don't always understand the appeal of some things. I've never been particularly fashionable or cutting-edge, and so I often find myself on the outskirts of what is popular. Parkour, for example, is something I don't particularly understand. Wearing tights as pants is another. Pretty much anything involving John Mayer. And you, Mrs. Norton. I just have never been able to bend my brain around your incomprehensible, interminable appeal. Perhaps I'm uncharitable – there are certainly enough people who have called me such for this opinion – but I tremendously dislike you. In fact, despite the numerous warnings I have received over the course of my life about the strength of this word, I would go so far as to say that I hate you.


I hate you whether you exist in black and white, in the printed word, or as a disembodied voice on the radio. And I certainly hate you when you are live and in full color on my television or cinema screen. I hate you whether you are played by Charlotte Rampling or Rachel McAdams. I even hate you when you are played by Gayle Hunnicutt opposite the incomparable Jeremy Brett (which is really saying something, because even though I consider all of Mr. Brett's performances sacrosanct, your episode remains the least viewed one from my copy of the Granada Television collection). I hate you whether you are an opera singer, an adventuress, a single mother to a young boy who loves music and puzzles, or even just an unapologetic thief. And I especially hate you in one of your most recent incarnations as a dominatrix (your hairstyle, to be frank, was utterly confounding). I hate you whether you are a redhead, a brunette, or a blonde. In fact, one of the things that I liked best about the recent television series, Elementary, is that I was promised that you were dead. Even better, I was promised you had been brutally murdered off-screen, before the series even began. The mere idea of it was delicious. I was thrilled. I was ecstatic. I promise you that I was beside myself with joy. And while it appears that the rumors of your death have been greatly (and cruelly) exaggerated, I assure you that CBS Television still owes me a rotting corpse. Yours, preferably, but I’m not picky. I will wait. 

Natalie Dormer as Irene Adler in CBS Television's Elementary.
They promised me that you were dead.

But mostly I hate you because you simply will not go away. Must you stick your perfectly powdered nose into every plot that calls for a XX chromosome? The mere mention of your name is often enough to make me put down whatever pastiche I may be reading – no matter how much I paid for it or how difficult it was to obtain – and use the pages of the book as a liner for my cat’s litter-pan. And my goodness, you do turn up so very often, don't you? A popular website, which catalogues historical and fictional characters appearing in Sherlockian pastiches, lists dozens, if not hundreds, of references to your person in non-canonical fiction. It’s really too many. Having only appeared in one original story, you are just as prolific – but not nearly as interesting as – the late, lamented Professor Moriarty. Does the plot call for a uniquely feminine touch? There you are. Has a member of royalty found himself in some sort of moral morass? Up pops your name. Has Sherlock Holmes, heaven forbid, found himself in some sort of romantic imbroglio? You’re involved, Mrs. Norton. And, even more offensive, does the Great Detective need to be brought down a peg? Of course you show up. 

And your hat is stupid.

But to be honest, you get more credit than you really deserve, don’t you think? While Sherlock Holmes once claimed, “I have been beaten four times – three times by men, and once by a woman,” (FIVE) I think he was being a little generous. Let’s assume, first of all, that Holmes is referring to you in that passage, even though he doesn’t mention you by name, does he? A well-timed escape is not the same as beating someone. That would be like saying that the Worthingdon bank gang (RESI) beat Sherlock Holmes because they managed to drown before their capture. Or the murderers of John Openshaw (FIVE) beat Sherlock Holmes for the same reason, ironically. It would be like saying that Sherlock Holmes was bested in “The Lion’s Mane,” because the murderer turned out to be a jellyfish and not a human being as originally assumed. Could you imagine the Great Detective saying, “I have been beaten five times – three times by men, and once by a woman… and once by an invertebrate creature”? 

Yup, I don't know what to say either, madam.

Sherlock Holmes caught you out, madam. He devised a trap, and you fell into it precisely as he imagined: 
"The smoke and shouting were enough to shake nerves of steel. She responded beautifully. The photograph is in a recess behind a sliding panel just above the right bell-pull. She was there in an instant, and I caught a glimpse of it as she half-drew it out. When I cried out that it was a false alarm, she replaced it, glanced at the rocket, rushed from the room, and I have not seen her since." (SCAN)
You did exactly what he thought you were going to do. Far from being clever, you were predictable, madam. When Sherlock Holmes tells the iniquitous King of Bohemia, “From what I have seen of the lady she seems indeed to be on a very different level to your Majesty,” I feel it was intended more as a slight at the king, than any compliment of you. And while I’m at it, donning a disguise for an evening stroll and a verbal jab doesn’t confirm any supposed cleverness either. If anything, it makes you appear childish, unable to admit you had been run to ground. “Good-night, Mister Sherlock Holmes,” indeed. It was almost like a rude gesture, don’t you think? And I should mention that even then you didn’t even have the man completely baffled. “I’ve heard that voice before,” Holmes said.  

Don't look so smug. You haven't earned it.

I have also heard your voice before, Mrs. Norton, and it seems I am condemned to hear it over and over again. I find myself lamenting, as Dr. Watson did in “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches,” that Sherlock Holmes expressed no interest in Miss Violet Hunter and her luxuriant, chestnut hair once she ceased to be the focus of a case. Not because I feel that the Great Detective is in any particular need of a female companion, but because it means I would be rid of you. I find myself constantly on the alert for your presence, looking for mentions of your name, just as one would scan a dark alleyway for danger. I fear you will always be there, on the outskirts, claiming a cleverness that isn’t deserved and isn’t yours, but believe me, madam, you don’t have me fooled. I’m on to you.

Yours very truly (and honestly),
Jaime Mahoney


The above tongue-in-cheek piece first appeared  ironically  the 11th (2013) edition of Irene's Cabinet, a Sherlockian publication by Watson's Tin Box.

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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Currently on Twitter...

As part of an ongoing project on my Twitter feed, I'm delivering stories from the Sherlock Holmes canon in tiny installments of 140 characters or less. I recently finished up "The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger," in which Sherlock Holmes advises: "Your life is not your own...Keep your hands off it...The example of patient suffering is in itself the most precious of all lessons to an impatient world."

The current story is "The Boscombe Valley Mystery," in which Sherlock Holmes tells Dr. Watson: "It makes a considerable difference to me, having someone with me on whom I can thoroughly rely."

Check out my Twitter feed for a daily installment, although I am usually inspired to post more than once a day. And don't forget you can read through the original canon online.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Currently on Twitter...

As part of an ongoing project on my Twitter feed, I'm delivering stories from the Sherlock Holmes canon in tiny installments of 140 characters or less. I recently finished up "Charles Augustus Milverton," in which the reader is introduced to "the worst man in London" and learns that "...there are certain crimes which the law cannot touch, and which therefore, to some extent, justify private revenge."

The current story is "The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger," in which Sherlock Holmes advises: "Your life is not your own...Keep your hands off it...The example of patient suffering is in itself the most precious of all lessons to an impatient world."

Check out my Twitter feed for a daily installment, although I am usually inspired to post more than once a day. And don't forget you can read through the original canon online.