Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Book Report: "The Stock-Broker's Clerk" (Doyle, 1893)

“You understand the rest, then?”
“I think that it is fairly obvious. What do you say, Watson?”
I shrugged my shoulders.
--Watson and Sherlock, “The Stock-Broker’s Clerk”

Leigh: We're dealing with twins again! Or are we? Maybe? Possibly. No...?

We have a clerk who has recently gotten employment at this hardware firm with a ludicrous salary offer and then when he's told to just copy down ledgers he gets suspicious and calls in Holmes. This sounds a bit familiar to the Red Headed League if you ask me. We have a set up to get someone away from where they're supposed to be and then they're just left copying books. I'm sure they could've thought of another way to keep either of these men occupied but in a time before computers or copiers, handwriting and hand-copying things was a legitimate job, I am assuming. 

Today's task: figure out what this is.

And then the reveal is Holmes telling us some facts but then Watson is reading the rest of the reveal to us from a newspaper article. I know that this isn't a complicated mystery, especially since we've sen it before, but I was expecting something more.

Am I being too critical? Am I being too picky? Is it okay to recycle the same mysteries? Holmes does say that criminal acts are repeated so is it allowable to have a similar story happen again?

Austin: Okay this was weird, right? This is two weeks in a row when Sherlock isn't in control of the action as much. I was enjoying it all the way through until the unsatisfying ending where I have a two page newspaper article to read. I'm fine with the similarities to The Red-Headed League because it's a nice formula that can add up to strange circumstances. This setup wasn't as weird as that story, but ultimately it revealed a few odd bits and I liked the dialog involved in Pycroft's flashback.

Yet why would Doyle have two stories in a row where Sherlock plays as passive part? Also why have this story be set so early in their timeline? In the beginning Watson is recently married so this is set shortly after The Sign of Four.

It's a lot of strange choices which surrounds some of our best character moments between Sherlock and Watson as Sherlock actually leaves Baker Street to go to Watson's home. There is respected kindness between the two of them without ever forgetting how weird their friendship is. (If you think "weird" is too harsh of a word, let's pretend I said "unique.") Sherlock has written to Watson in other stories to join him on an adventure, but him choosing to visit was something special. Yet as I questioned "Why didn't he just write?", I instantly saw what led to Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe series.

Outside? Disgusting...

Are we reaching a point of repetition to the Sherlock series? For the bigger question, does every mystery need to reinvent the wheel? Should be we focused more on the nuances in each step?

Leigh: I don't think you have to reinvent the wheel with each mystery, 65 successful seasons of Law and Order has told us that. Maybe I am just wanting a bit more from the World's Greatest Detective. He has some outrageous and fantastic adventures and then he has boring ones like this where he sits back with cruise control on. Maybe it is building to something larger. Maybe eventually we'll have a total Sherlock Holmes meltdown where he has to have Watson save him from his own addiction. Maybe I'm just hoping for something that won't happen. 

"Yeah we figured it out hours ago. The famous guest star did it."

I want the excitement that we have with other adventures like "Scandal" or The Sign of Four and instead we get a train ride/story time and then a newspaper article. It's like Sherlock is in kindergarten. The only thing missing is snack time with a juice box. He's so confined and restricted, he isn't allowed to go off and find the mastermind behind the real mystery or use his skills in disguise. The only time that Holmes is acting outside of the predetermined path is when he does show up at Watson's doorstep. For something so drastic (and I didn't even think it weird but more of COMPLETELY OUT OF CHARACTER) I expected the mystery to be more important instead of the lazily unfolded mystery that we got.

So what do you do with Holmes when he isn't allowed to be Holmes as we know him? 

Austin: This is a very strange evolution. You're right; this series started out with such a high level of worldly adventure with exotic locales and creative madness. I was worried about what would happen reading so many of these stories in a row, if it would start to get tiring. I honestly still enjoy reading one of these a week and I'm not expecting a whole new structure every time. This is just a strange period where Doyle doesn't seem to be pushing himself as much. A story like "A Scandal in Bohemia" is a localized story but that still involves political scandal from across Europe. 

Doyle's prose is still very likable and engaging to me. His long tangents from a traditional framework like that article still draws me out of his stories, but if we weren't reading these once a week I could easily finish this whole set tonight. I just hope that the rest of Memoirs will pick up to its strong opening ("Silver Blaze") before we get to the end of the set where Doyle throws his hands up and puts his hero on a mountain...

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

Leigh: Bland.

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