Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Book Review: "A Case of Identity" (Doyle, 1891)

"My dear fellow," said Sherlock Holmes as we sat on either side of the fire in his lodgings at Baker Street, "life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We would not dare to conceive the things which are really mere commonplaces of existence."
-- Arthur Conan Doyle, “A Case of Identity”

Leigh: It's almost like ACD realized the same opening was getting stale. Last time with all the gingers, we complained about how the opening of every story was getting boring. ACD realized this and decided to change it up. Yes, the story still starts in the sitting room but instead of telling Miss Sutherland what her back story was, Holmes briefly mentioned one or two things then went right into the questioning. It's a great way to introduce a character to possibly new readers but it is succinct and doesn't stumble over the same ideas that we've dealt with in the past. It's a great change of pace when marathoning these like we happen to be. 

Now to the story. It was a very predictable one, in my opinion. The shady step-dad who goes from hating his step-daughter socializing at all do being completely fine with it when he leaves town for a weekend? Shady. The over-eager mom that convinces her daughter to go to the party? Shady. And then meeting a dream man at the ONE party she's allowed to go to? Shady. 

(Sorry, I'm really excited about the new season of RuPaul's Drag Race. Please excuse any references and just go with it.)

And then the this magical dream guy disappears? Rude. And come to find out it's her step-dad all along so that she will give up on love and never want to marry so he can keep using her for her money? RUDE.

The clues that Holmes uses to prove that the step-dad is a shady, no good, (insert bad word) are fun and interesting. A typewriter is this old piece of technology that I've heard people used to use and since they were very mechanized and had lots of moving, easily to break parts, each one was individual in how it put the letters on the piece of paper. Using the collection of letters to see what typewriter they were written on is something that I daresay wouldn't be able to be adapted very easily for a modern day adaptation. (IP addresses, never mind.) 

And we get more of that humanized Holmes that you talk about. He says at the end that he would gladly give the evil step-father an ass kicking before the evil/cowardly step-father runs away like a little girl or an adult male runs away from a spider. This is realistic act of what any human would do is something that we don't get very often from Holmes. So what makes this situation so unique? Why would Holmes want to defend this person of all the people we've met so far? And can we agree that all step parents and probably stepsiblings and half siblings just for good measure, should never, ever, ever be trusted?

Austin: I really appreciate Doyle reading our blog and adjusting to our notes. I think that is very thoughtful and humbling of him. The opening to this one is so much fun, it's almost a bummer when Miss Mary Sutherland shows up because I like how odd it is having Sherlock and Watson hanging out in the house. Their banter was just brilliant.

In fact, I think that Watson is becoming more comfortable with this situation. He's getting a bit judgmental and I like that. He's not always a "yes man". He still serves the role of asking Sherlock how he solved stuff, but I love lines like "I had expected to see Sherlock Holmes impatient under this rambling and inconsequential narrative, but, on the contrary he had listened with the greatest concentration of attention." Watson is bored! I ended up being a bit more too, but I like that Watson was on our side in that strange moment of metaness.

This case didn't interest me entirely, but I was hoping it would have been entirely solved without leaving the house. He was close! I actually felt a bit nostalgic during the typewriter discussion. Not because I ever used this AWESOME looking machine. (Man, I need a typewriter. That's all that's stopping me from completing my novel!) It's because I read a ton of younger mysteries as a kid and that was always a go-to clue. The kid detective would notice that the "c" on this note looked like an "%". They have to find a typewriter that does that very convoluted thing! Bad guy captured.

They never threatened to whip the bad guy though, which was obviously a major flaw in those stories. I found that to be a fascinating character point for Sherlock. I think it did a lot of things really well. It showed that he is not a police officer; he doesn't obey by their rules. That's something that Elementary touched upon this week, but didn't properly explore. Also I think it showed his frustration with the justice system. I talked about how he is obsessed with puzzle solving, but I think his ultimate puzzle is all of society. That is what is the most out of place; bad guys are getting away with bad things and he has to fix it. When he uses his brilliance and there is still no proper justice, he reacts by taking two strides towards the whip.

Is Sherlock trying to fix the world? Or is he just being sassy? (Is sassy a RuPaul buzz word? I've only seen half an episode!)

Leigh: All I can imagine now is Basil Rathbone in drag. Thanks.

I do wish we had more interaction between Holmes and Watson by themselves. I’m a people watcher and an eavesdropper so getting this little moment of them together, being themselves and not worrying about a client is nice. We get it a little in the first book but we don’t get it very often. Scenes like this are a nice way to have character development without being obnoxious about it.
I am always amazed by how Elementary and what we have read tie together so well without us planning it. Elementary showed us another cliché of having someone who breaks some of the rules to talk to the suspect but because he isn’t a police officer it’s okay. In Identity, we have a situation where if Holmes wanted to, he could’ve totally used that riding crop and created some early fanfics, I’m sure. Instead though he abides by the law and just calls the evil stepfather a variety of names. I heard someone say on a podcast once, and of course I don’t remember which one, possibly Comedy Film Nerds, one of the guests said that Batman was Sherlock Holmes in a cape. I have to agree to a point as they are both detectives and willing to go outside of the law to get things done but Batman will kick the butt of whatever bad guy he finds and Holmes is British. He knows that there is wrong and evil in the world but he doesn’t want to become that. He knows the difference between doing good and creating more havoc. We know he’s willing to break the rules, we saw that in Bohemia when he was willing to fake a fire to break into someone’s house to steal something. But there is a fine line between breaking the rules and becoming something he’s trying to beat. I think that Holmes is trying to make the world all better but he is only one (fictional) man and can only do so much. He realizes that he is limited in what he can do and what he can change but that doesn’t get him down. He just keeps on doing what he does.

Do you think we’ll see more of Elementary trying to break the rules like Holmes is known to do or was this a rare occasion? And since we've just had word about Elementary being picked up for a whole season, do you think they might start taking inspiration from classic stories or are they going to ignore them?

Austin: Honestly, it's hard to tell exactly what Elementary is going to do. CBS dramas aren't known for reacting to critics because they can just point to their high ratings and laugh themselves to the bank. So I'm imagining it'll pretty much stay the same. And yet looking at their upcoming episode titles, there is one that I believe will directly tie into a classic Doyle story. In fact, I feel safe to say that we will jump up a story for that week...

What I feel that Elementary and Doyle will continue doing is to keep the mystery in the foreground. Yet what we keep responding is that we want more character interaction that isn't entirely tied to the mystery. With Doyle, the case is curious enough that we want more of that. (Aside from this week's, at least to me.) With Elementary, I'm basically begging for the characters to speak to each other about anything else but what they are trying to solve. Perhaps, it's because there is no chance in my mind that they won't solve it.

With the Doyle stories, he gives you enough pieces to where you think this can't be solved. I feel that Sherlock will be able to solve it, but I can't yet. With Elementary, we're just watching Step One, Step Two, Step Three, Step Four, repeat. There is no drama between the characters or drama in the conflict. It is just routine for the sake of routine. All that does is come down to quality of writing.

Man, I just pumped myself up for Thursday's episode. Ugh.

And now Leigh Montano with the last gif.


1 comment:

  1. Strange with these gifs. Are you ruing the way Doyle didn't drag this one out?

    I'll give you a moment to recover from that.

    Characterization gives depth. Doyle has it. Elementary has yet to get that point. Doyle said it's elementary... Elementary is stuck in preschool, where personalities have as much nuance as a finger painting or macaroni sculpture.

    There must be sass, and colour; verve, vim and vigour; life! Sherlock is showing that he has more of it. He has emotional responses. Watson is changing through his interactions with his roommate. We feel drawn in because they become more real with those reactions and interactions. If only Elementary can learn to mimic either life, or the art it's based on better.