Friday, June 14, 2013

Book Report: "The Greek Interpreter" (Doyle, 1893)

“The Diogenes Club is the queerest club in London, and Mycroft is one of the queerest men.”
--Sherlock Holmes, “The Greek Interpreter”

Leigh: If I had to pick one Sherlock Holmes story that didn't quite fit with the rest of them, it would be this one. Don't take this as a bad thing because this is one of my favorites. It just seems so DARK compared to the rest of the canon. Sure, the canon deals with murders and missing fiancés and eventually a jellyfish (we'll get to that eventually) but this one. This one is different. It's like all of the darkest things from all the other stories combined into one (minus the jellyfish.) We have deception, kidnapping and imprisonment of three people, and eventually two stabbings. If that isn't a turn for the more sinister, I don't know what is.

And to top it all off, we get to meet Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock's older brother. I quite enjoyed the introduction of his character because even Watson was like, "Dude, I thought you were an only child and an orphan. What the heck." And if I recall correctly, this is the most we learn about the Holmes clan ever. (This of course excludes highly regarded, yet non-canonical biographies.)  ACD's original description of Sherlock Holmes paints a man who is smart and uncharismatic and a bit on the ugly side (Not many men can pull off a "hawk-like nose and still be called "sexy.). Mycroft is described as worse in every aspect except the nose bit. He's round and lazy and smarter but also just as callus, if not more so. 

Hush you.

But my big question right now: Why introduce Mycroft at all? We are a good portion of the way through the canon and Holmes' family members have never been mentioned before, so why now? 

Austin: Welcome back Florida Traveler!

So why introduce Mycroft? It has to be avoiding staleness. As we get further into Memoirs, that means we are getting closer to Doyle throwing up his hands and saying he's done with Sherlock Holmes. (Spoiler: He's not.) Doyle was very smart in being vague with Sherlock's background because that means whenever he wishes he can add to that backstory. There is nothing to contradict and Sherlock's personality allows for that mysterious element to play out.

I've been used to a number of cinematic Mycrofts and none of them are really played off as ugly. This one is rather large, strange and unappealing. His laziness is strongly criticized by Sherlock and Watson. It's almost like the story is saying "This guy is even smarter than Sherlock, but but but he's lame. You don't want to hang out with him. Hang out with Sherlock! You like Sherlock!" The competition element is inherent with them which means we get a very fun ping-pong observation dialog between Sherlock and Mycroft much like we saw in The House of Silk

"Quiet Sherlock. Your thinking is annoying me." "I'm going to use that."

This dynamic is very fun to watch but like all Doyle stories, that now needs to take a back seat because a new character needs to walk in and give an absurdly long backstory monologue. Was that jarring for you? Or was this story worthy to cut away from Sherlock and Mycroft messing with each other?

Leigh: It's hot. And humid. I'm schvitzing all over the place.

I have to agree about the staleness. ACD famously wrote to his mother a lot and often complained about Sherlock Holmes and how he just wanted to write historical fiction. (A good portion of ACD's letters were compiled into a book called Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters which is a really good read if you enjoy that kind of thing.) And we have mentioned a little before that some of the stories seem a little repetitive. So what is the best way to add something new to a played out format? Add an obscure relative of course. 

"What do you mean? I've always been here."

But most importantly, did it work? I think so. Definitely so. I absolutely love the competition between the two as a competitive elder sister to a competitive younger brother. It's something that's familiar to me and gives us some proof that Holmes is human and not just an automaton. Sibling rivalry is something that many can relate to and if written correctly can be really fun.

Of all of the stories that had lots of backstory, this is the one that I minded it least in. (Please ignore that incredibly awkward sentence.) It didn't take up 3/4 of the story like others have (or have felt like) and instead gives us details that we kinda do need to know to get to the rest of the mystery. This is also the first one in a while that actually felt more like a mystery instead of just sitting around and listening to stories or reading the newspaper. This one seemed exciting and different! And not just because of the addition of Mycroft, although I could easily read a whole book of just Sherlock and Mycroft sitting in a room talking to each other about everything. I also liked that we had bad guys who weren't from America or had spent time in India but were actually British. It was a nice change of pace to what we've been reading.

But it sounds like you don't like it? Why? Why must you hate everything I love? /melodrama 

"This is how Leigh submits her half of the blog."
Austin: Because you love terrible things!

No, I don't hate this one. I just feel that I keep looking at this anthology in a misguided light. I look at it like a season of television and it's wrong to judge such an early outing of the genre in such regards. Yet, perhaps some of it is allowed in storytelling sense. In this story we introduce Mycroft Holmes. His way into the narrative is that he has a client for Sherlock. Then the client appears and it's just like every Sherlock Holmes case. This client just happens to be a neighbor of Mycroft. This case isn't very Mycroft-y, whatever that could mean.

Then it becomes into the routine I have with all of Doyle's stories. The backstory narration is problematic for me and then I get back into it when it's in present day. I rather enjoyed that aspect of this story because it had a chilly element to it, a bit of a horror feel. Also we have Mycroft tagging along, which didn't add to a whole not but got him out of the chair. 

Since I'm now going through the rest of these stories for the first time, I don't know if Mycroft pops up again but I hope he does. I don't want him to be an Irene Adler--an amazing foil for Sherlock Holmes and then disappears into that good night. 

We'll find out soon! But reading this story made me throw an audible. (It's a football term, Leigh. I'll explain later.) Reading about Mycroft's laziness made me think of a different interpretation of that character, one that uses that element in a different way. So we're watching an episode of Monk! Now Monk is not a direct adaptation, but the similiarites are there. In Season Two, we meet his smarter older brother in an episode called "Mr. Monk and the Three Pies." You can find the episode on Netflix Instant, Amazon Instant, and any number of places. Do join us.

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

Leigh: Opa!

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