Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Book Report: "Silver Blaze" (Doyle, 1892)

“Tuesday evening!” I exclaimed. “And this is Thursday morning. Why didn’t you go down yesterday?”
“Because I made a blunder, my dear Watson—which is, I am afraid, a more common occurrence than anyone would think who only knew me through your memoirs.”
--Arthur Conan Doyle, “Silver Blaze”

Leigh: When I first started reading this story again, I thought, "I wish I knew something about horse racing." When I was done reading the story I though, "I STILL wish I knew something about horse racing."

The good thing about this mystery though is that while horse racing is a good portion of it, the story can still be enjoyed by those who know nothing about horse racing. When it gets to the race, just go make a cup of tea and come back when it's all over.

They don't even know what's going on. It's all about their bloody hats with this lot...

I have to admit that I think that this is a pretty clever mystery. We have another dead body and a suspect and a missing horse and yet the murderer isn't who you would think it is. It's also possibly the best example of the audience and Sherlock Holmes getting the same set of clues to solve the mystery but not necessarily coming to the same conclusion. The first time I read this story, I definitely didn't think that, of all people (or lack there of) the horse did it. And I certainly couldn't figure out the curious incident of the dog in the nighttime. So what? It's a dog. If it were a Disney film, the dog and the horse would've been best friends and the dog would've gone to save the horse. But aside from that possibly animated adventure, the dog doesn't seem to be THAT important until Holmes explains it all. Of course, it could just be me being thick and not getting it. That has been known to happen. I also think that this is one of the more lighthearted mysteries. I mean, sure a man dies in it, but he was having an affair and spending way too much money on a woman who wasn't his wife and he wanted to injure a prize-winning horse so he kinda deserved it. It's more lighthearted to me because Holmes seems more playful. I can just picture him and Watson walking across the moors and Holmes smirking during the race when he knows for a fact that the missing horse isn't missing. It could easily be made into a Disney movie if the dead guy just got injured and then repented for his affair. 

I love that we have character development. The characters of Watson and Holmes aren't always the most detailed characters but Watson shows that he is learning from being Holmes' companion when they are on the train. Watson doesn't just let Holmes go off on his tangents but he asks questions that are relavent to the mystery. 

So what do you think about this mystery? Lighthearted or cold blooded murder? Disney potential or Season 3 of Sherlock material?

Austin: I'm excited for our review later in the week when we're going to watch a short film adaptation of this story starring Christopher Plummer. Due to the nature of the horse-racing world, that has a certain cinematic value beyond just another dead body somewhere in the UK.

Also because this story was all about the location. It was all about the particulars about what happened at the barn, whether doors were locked, whether dogs barked and where that damn horse went. Even the most amusing bit involved Sherlock knowing the speed of their ride by knowing the distance between telegraph poles. It was all about the detail and order of which things happened. I could easily see Benedict Cumberbatch retreating to his mind palace or walking through a frozen crime scene with Irene Adler by his side. That seemed more plausible than a Disney dog film. A dog and a horse being friends? Don't be ridiculous.

On the other hand, this is a cinematic masterpiece.

I really liked the structure of this story because it seemed to move faster than some of his other stories. There was a nice little psych out around the 2/3rd mark where it seemed like the story was over with a traditional outcome before Sherlock makes his famous comment about the "curious incident of the dog in the night-time"--the title of one of my favorite books. Then like a lot of the best Doyle stories, it never overstays its welcome. This one is such a wonderfully abrupt ending, Sherlock basically drops mic and walks away with the line "If you care to smoke a cigar in our rooms, Colonel, I shall be happy to give you any other details which might interest you."

By the way, should we be trying to notice any differences between the stories in Adventures and the stories in Memoirs? Or are they just packaging?

Leigh: I thing the obvious difference is that it does end differently than most. Adventures, you know what is going to happen when. There's going to be an opening scene, there's the presentation of the mystery, then Holmes says, "Hmm. Indeed." and goes off and figure out the mystery and then there's the reveal. So far (we only have one story but) there is a difference with the formatting at least. The opening scene is between Holmes and Watson and them sharing a moment about a mystery that's in the newspapers and then Holmes and Watson go on location. I think because we aren't stuck in the house as soon as we start reading, the story does seem to move faster. Having a huge middle bit that is the collecting of clues also tends to bog it down but this one Holmes walks into the story knowing most of the clues. I do really enjoy the structure of this one a lot. It shook things up a bit which, when dealing with crime and mysteries, especially television versions, seems to be neigh impossible (get it? I like my pun. I didn't even come up with it because I'm terrible at puns but I felt we needed to have at least one horsey joke in here). Now we just have to see if ACD keeps it up for the rest of the book.

I love it when Holmes is a smart ass. I feel like his mic drop exit was him being a smart ass. You can tell that he didn't like the Colonel and for good reason because he wasn't a likable character. He was pompous because of a horse's talent. It wasn't even something he did, he just happened to own the really successful horse. He wasn't the jockey either so he couldn't make that claim. All he could do is stand there and say, "But I OWN that horse." Holmes is someone who respects talent and owning horses is no more a talent than being super rich is a superpower. (Yeah, I said it. Wanna fight about it?) Holmes knows that if he is obvious about his criticism, then the Colonel will just get angry and storm off but being subtle about it not only gets his jab in but reaffirms that Holmes is the superior man in this situation even if he doesn't win a prize winning horse.

What do you think? Is Holmes showing his superiority to a pompous man or is he being a jerk? Or perhaps both? Can we fault him though?

Austin: First off, Batman is also a world trained ninja as well as super rich. I'd say that combo makes you more of a superhero than the ability to talk to fish.

Sherlock Holmes should always be a smart ass. The way his world sees him is isolating, but he isn't moody about it. He embraces and admires his own intelligence, thus his ridiculous mystery solving business which we're still not sure if he ever is properly paid for any of these crimes. So if I'm going to make a comparison to Doctor Who (which I haven't done for months, by the way), I'm happy that he's more of a Jon Pertwee than David Tennant. This arrogance allows for an expectation from the audience for him to be able to solve the incredible crimes in an efficient way while also allowing for shocking characterizations that don't distract from that mystery. His rational mind juxtaposed with a complex culture leads to great moments like him keeping a murderer's secret and his relationship with authority. 

How do you reverse the polarity of the neutron flow? My dear Jo Grant, this is elementary.

To properly answer your question, he is being a jerk and that makes him a greater, richer character. In a few days we'll see how Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music, Beginners) interprets that cocky behavior with the 30 minute film Silver Blaze, which you can watch on YouTube here.

And here is Leigh Montano with the last word/pun...

Leigh: I bet our readers are champing at the bit for our next post! THANK YOU! I'll be here all week! 

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