Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Book Report: The Reigate Puzzle (Doyle, 1887)

“You are here for rest, my dear fellow. For heaven’s sake don’t get started on a new problem when your nerves are all in shreds.”
Dr. John Watson, “The Reigate Puzzle”

Leigh: Please excuse anything that might sound abnormal. I have decided to catch a cold that has been going around work. By the way, have you ever tried NyQuil? It is amazing. I tried it for the first time last night and I think I am in love. (This is not a paid advertisement for NyQuil. I just really like the stuff.)

Anyway. We have a story that I know I've read before but I couldn't tell you a thing about it. I don't normally remember the names of these stories unless it's an important one like "Scandal" but even after I read the Wikipedia article on this story, I still didn't remember it. Usually I'll remember it because it has some important or unique detail but nothing jogged my memory. Even after listening to it, I STILL didn't remember ever reading it. So why is that?


I really enjoyed the structure of this story. It goes back to the format that was prevalent in Adventures; Holmes and Watson have a case and they spend the story trying to figure it out. No flashbacks, no story telling, no newspaper articles. A simple "follow the clues" mystery. I wish there were more like this. Every once in a while it is nice to have the format broken up or changed a bit but having a newspaper tell the story isn't the way to go about it. 

I also want to talk about how adorable Watson was. This story looked into the relationship between these two men. Watson was acting like a mother hen when Holmes was exerting himself and wanting to go investigate a new case. And when Holmes knocked over the bowl and blamed it on Watson, Watson didn't blink, he just started cleaning up the mess that he evidently made. 

So why didn't I remember this one? What do you think about the change in format?

Austin: Why don't you remember this one? I think there's a simple one-word answer for that: NyQuil.

This was my first time reading it so I didn't have to deal with recall, but I think this is one that will stick with me. Once again, we have Doyle poking at the format ever-so-slightly. The main difference is that Sherlock Holmes isn't 100% thanks to a two month exhaustive mystery that happened before this story. That's a very fun concept because when you have an almost superhuman detective, making him more mortal gives the audience an excuse to doubt him for the first time. Also thanks to recognizing sitcom tropes, we're also waiting for him to completely fake his exhaustion for some bizarre reason. Thankfully this wasn't a total facade.

Also the structure of this one is a bit different. Holmes solves this case very abruptly in a scene I know I wasn't expecting. I noticed he was noticing things, but I thought I still had another page or so to look at clues. Then he gave an ending that I've always referred to as a "Thin Man ending" where he gathers everyone around to fully explain what the hell happened. Sherlock may not have the amusing wit as Nick Charles, but his speech still made an impact to me.

"If it was up to me, you all did it."

And of course, Watson was a bit adorable. He rushed to see Sherlock at the hospital immediately and then set up this trip to the countryside. It's easy to forget that he has a wife at home.

What did you think of the less than perfect detective? Could Doyle do a story where Sherlock was even more incapable?

Leigh: I think that Sherlock Holmes will always be yards ahead of the rest even if he is recovering from an exhaustive case. Even in this story, he used his "illness" to his benefit by pretending to have a fit when the inspector almost gave away a clue. Holmes may have been weakened in this story but he was just as sharp as he usually is. Even if Holmes was on death's door, I think he would still be able to solve any case. He would just Florence Nightingale it and make people come to him. I actually want to read a story now where Holmes spends the whole time in bed and makes the suspects come to him in amusing and devious ways. Personally I think Holmes was faking just how sick he was. He didn't seem that sick to me unless he had one of those Victorian Era illnesses like the vapors or melancholy. 

"You can't solve this case." "Yes, I can." "Your arm's off." "No it's not."

Last story we talked about how it always seemed like the servants and help were the ones causing all the problems and here it sort of is the case again. The servant who is killed is killed because he tried to blackmail people who were willing to kill people over trifles like blackmail. If the servant had been an honest and loyal person to begin with he wouldn't have been murdered by his master. Of course the Cunningham's were evil and devious people but it wasn't in their plan to murder people. Am I over simplifying this or does the service staff keep getting a bum rap?  

Austin: And there lies a bit of the disappointment. They set up us up to doubt Sherlock a bit in his physical imperfection, but he's only down to 99%. The hospital visit had to be real because the mystery hadn't started yet so there's nobody to fool. I caught myself a few times not believing Sherlock's illness, but I kept hoping that there would be more truthful moments. Doyle has presented a case this collection where Sherlock essentially failed. I would love one where Sherlock is at 70%, a common sitcom trope where someone just won't go to bed despite being barely functional. Alas, Sherlock always knew what he was doing here which adds to the fun myth of this great detective but less so on continual characterization. But that's okay!

I stick with the service people being like Americans to Doyle. He sees them walking around a house and imagines what they do behind closed doors. To him the unknown and exotic are a bit more devious. That undermines groups of people, but we're not dealing with complete three-dimensional characters. Due to the page limit, it's mostly tropes and that's okay. These stories are about the puzzles but I can understand if the Downton staff being annoyed at the representation. 

Except for Thomas. He'd get it.

Later this week we'll be looking at one of the greatest directors of all time making his Sherlock Holmes movie with The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. Last time I watched it, I saw it from a Billy Wilder's point of view so now I'm looking forward to seeing it as a Sherlock fan.
And now for Leigh Montano with the final word…

Leigh: NyQuil!

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