Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Book Report: "The Musgrave Ritual" (Doyle, 1893)

“ ‘It is rather an absurd business, this ritual of ours,’ he answered.”
--Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Musgrave Ritual”

Leigh: Yet again we are presented with a story that doesn't involve Watson and showcases Holmes' early skills. Even though the “Musgrave Ritual” shares so many similarities with “Gloria Scott”, I liked this story a heck of a lot more.

The story starts off with Watson absolutely fed up with Holmes and his bohemian ways. I think both of us can sympathize with crappy roommates so this part amused me. Just when you think Watson is at the end of his rope, Holmes pulls out a box of old notes and souvenirs from past cases, before Watson was around. This addition of real life conflict like roommate issues added more personality to the story, even just the beginning. It made me more willing to continue it instead of just drudging through it. And the story itself was fun! It's a centuries old scavenger hunt that the family doesn't know is a scavenger hunt. 

I also think that this story is a perfect example of how different people can read the same thing and get different results or ideas. Not everyone reads things and gets the same message and not everyone finds the same meaning in things. One family thinks it's a useless ritual that gets you nowhere but Holmes finds the buried treasure even though they followed the same instructions. 

Speaking of buried treasure, what is it with untrustworthy servants? Is it a cop out or a sign of the time?
P.S. This story needed more hokey-pokey.

Austin: This short story further proves my theory that Watson is a questionable biographer. From the point of view of The Strand, the editors have to be questioning what they're paying John Watson because he basically let Sherlock write the bulk of the last two weeks and the one before that, Watson admits that this wasn't even a story worth telling. I'm sure everyone is very awkward on how to approach Watson because these stories are selling so well. It's like the people at Hachette wondering how they can tell Nicholas Sparks that every one of his stories is crap.

This is how every single meeting with Nicholas Sparks goes.

Anywho, yes this was another winner in my book. I enjoyed the simplicity of "The Gloria Scott" in relation to an origin story of sorts and this was a great example of Sherlock gaining notoriety in the peculiar cases. This one is full of fun weird elements and missing butlers and all sorts of families acting bizarre. The story is still burdened with the difficult structure of Sherlock sitting in the room telling this to Watson. I wish they would just say "It all went like this...." Then break into italics and have it all from Sherlock's POV. All of these double quotation marks and confusion on exactly who's speaking to whom is unnecessarily complicated.

But in terms of should we trust the servants, I think there is an academic paper to be written about older British mysteries and what they are saying about class with their suspects. Yet I have no interest in writing it, but I would be game for reading it. Get on that readers! As a fan of mysteries, I think we're accustomed to always suspect the butler. Probably because they are some of the least developed characters because these stories tend to focus on the "upstairs" in the narrative.

So what made this story for you such an improvement from our last Sherlock Holmes flashback?

Leigh: I think the most improvement for me in this story was the fact that we got to see some actual personality with our characters that usually isn't there because it just wasn't proper to speak about other people's habits or something I'm sure. Watson starts saying, "Now, I'm not gonna say I'm the cleanest person in the room but dammit, I do know when to clean up after myself. Also who the hell has firing practice in the living room?! That's just not safe. Maybe this guy is crazy. Maybe I should move out and change my name. Screw the security deposit, I don't really need it." This is a type of characterization that we don't normally get and I think it's refreshing. I don't read Sherlock Holmes stories for the interpersonal drama but seeing it every once in a while is a lot of fun. And seeing that everything isn't sunshine and rainbows between Holmes and Watson is also another interesting peek into their lives outside of mysteries. 

I think everyone would agree they pretty much are the most like Sherlock and Watson on British TV.

I think it's difficult to judge just how servants were viewed and trusted at the time because of stories like this. I don't know if ACD had any servants (Wikipedia, you let me down!) so I can't assume this is how he felt about his own. More modern period dramas tend to romanticize everything, coughDowntonAbbeycough, including servant/master relationships. I would also love to read an academic paper on this topic. I'd write it myself but I'm too busy swinging my legs back and forth in my chair and looking busy. 

We've talked about everything else, but what about the mystery itself? Does this odd scavenger hunt work for you?

Austin: I read a bunch of mysteries but I rarely solve it unless I happen to notice a clue the detective won't until the end of the story. Whenever I sit down and decide, I'm going to solve this I always choose the wrong novel. For example, when I finally read Murder on the Orient Express as a kid I went in with the cocky attitude of "Yeah, I'm going to solve this one!" Cut to the end of the novel where Agatha Christie even stops the narrative to let Poirot sit alone and without the narrator as if she was saying "For all of you playing at home, this is your last chance." Then, of course, that novel ends with such a crazy conclusion there was no way that I could have solved it.

Write in the comment sections if you know how tall Imhotep. You will be my favorite person EVER.

I randomly decided to have that attitude going into this story. Then of course it became a wild Sherlockian story really early so I decided to give up on that and just enjoyed the puzzle aspect of it all. One of the ways I like the heightened convoluted plots is how people in this world react to it. Most have a wonderful bewilderment to it and that's what's fun. Sherlock finds such madness completely normal, the perpetrator is banking on nobody thinking this out and everyone else is tilting their head in pure British confusion.

Ultimately I never want to solve a Sherlock Holmes story because I always love the image that the great detective's intelligence can not be matched by anyone, especially not the reader. Recognizing that the three mysteries was one mystery was a bit obvious only because this is a short story, not a novel. Only have so many pages to get to a conclusion. Everything else was a lovely twisty ride centered around one of my favorite mystery tropes: an old riddle. (Note to self, when I write a riddle don't use clues that could grow or be chopped down after I write it.)

We should watch a filmed version of this one soon. It's very fun.

Yet this week we're watching something that has a poor reputation but it's something I just have to see. Tom Baker is best known as playing the scraved Fourth Doctor and we covered his Sherlockian Doctor Who adventure a few months back with "The Talons of Weng-Chaing". After his TARDIS tenure, he played Sherlock Holmes in an adventure of The Hound of the Baskerville. It also stars a Third Doctor companion, Caroline John so I pretty much have to see it. You should join us! The whole thing is on YouTube starting HERE.

But now here is Leigh Montano with the last word.....

Leigh: Hokey-pokey!

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