Sunday, June 23, 2013

Book Review: "The Naval Treaty" (Doyle, 1893)

“A very commonplace little murder,” said he. “You’ve got something better, I fancy. You are the stormy petrel of crime, Watson. What is it?”
--Sherlock Holmes, “The Naval Treaty”

Leigh: This was a fun one, wasn't it? We have all sorts of things to talk about. 

First, we have another one where Holmes actually gets up and does something. This one felt a lot more like one from Adventures because Holmes decided to go out and do his own thing to solve the mystery and then report back to Watson. There is still a lot of story time, both with the original introduction of the mystery by Phelps and Holmes retelling what happened when he solved the mystery. But we have a bit more action than just sitting in room waiting for things to happen...Right?

"Never say, I just sit in an armchair..."

Second we have a bit of political intrigue. Remember, that stuff that I said would be boring last post. And I have to admit, I found it a little boring. Yeah, this guy's whole career (which he got because of his uncle) would be ruined if the treaty ended up in the wrong hands but 9 weeks or so after it was stolen, nothing had happened. There was no urgency in solving the mystery which made it feel a bit boring to me. You can't really have excitement if nothing has happened for 9 weeks and you don't really expect anything to happen. Sure, something COULD happen if the treaty was given to the wrong person but I just felt it was unlikely. I didn't remember a lot of this mystery so it was enjoyable to listen to almost for the first time but there was no reason why it needed to be found, I felt.

Third, is it just me or does Holmes act out of character a little bit. He seems oddly poetic at odd times. There's the moment when he's by the bedroom window and starts spouting off about flowers and stuff. Why? What's the point?

Fourth: Brain fever? Whut?

Austin: Brain fever sounds like what House would mutter about and all of his co-workers would look at each other thinking he made up a ridiculous phrase.

This one was fun! I guess I felt more tension about the treaty than you did. I've read a number of early Tom Clancy books so I'm familiar with documents and suspicions and yadda yadda yaddda hypothetical nuclear annihilation. It's serious stuff. Ultimately the treaty is still a Macguffin, but this is a very strong example of one. I always felt its importance and why such a thing would be acted around in such a secretive manner, to the point where you know exactly in the room you're dealing with it.

"Sir, what does this treaty actually do." Well it--" "I'm sorry, are you Scottish?"

I don't know if Holmes was out of character or Doyle was just in a goofy mood while writing this one. There seems to be a cheekiness to this that I found to be very entertaining. Holmes playfully mocks Watson's practice, Holmes is doing a litmus test that determines the fate of a man's life (Reminded me of "The Zeppo" from Buffy), the cop arguing that Sherlock gets too much credit for their cases and Watson casually mentioning a story that can never be revealed because too many parties are still present in the royal family. (After reading this story I glanced in my paperback's table of contents to see what stories are coming up and I was giddy to see that story closes out The Return of Sherlock Holmes.) It was never as far as parody, but it did seem like Doyle was having a bit of fun with the regular aspects of his stories.

Did you find this story to be a little bit sillier on the edges or is my cold medicine affecting me in a weirdly specific way? Also did you listen to the audiobook again for this one? Because my copy had a very rare map of the room set-up that was helpful.

Leigh: For once, I'm not the one using cold meds as an excuse! Huzzah!

I did listen to the audio book for this one. I've found that it is much easier for me to knit while listening to something rather than trying to read at the same time. I can do both at the same time but it's just easier to listen to it. I don't know if having the map would've helped me but I'm sure it was nice to have.

Maybe I wasn't paying attention to the Victorian British subtlety and that's why I missed out on the urgency and tension. Could also be that I find political intrigue boring 95% of the time. The world may never know.

Now onto the silly bits. One could say that Holmes' moments of poetics were a way to scout the room and the grounds without the suspect noticing what he was doing. I'm sure that this was it but usually Holmes seems to be less "What is a rose?" and more "Look, over there! A badger with a gun!" This one almost felt like something that I used to do when writing papers. Crap papers that I didn't want to write in the first place that seemed like busy work or a few times were actually busy work. I would start writing and then once I finished what I had to say and was inevitably two pages short, I would just throw in humorous lines that didn't seem to have anything to do with anything else because it amused me and the professor wasn't going to read it anyway. That's what it feels like. It feels like ACD knew he needed another story or two before he could kill off Holmes so he had the idea for this one and needed some padding for it so he threw in some goofy bits. 

What do you think? Is it just filler? And if it is, is it still one we should look at seriously or like a three page essay about how I felt about the chapter of Frankenstein, is it just filler?

Austin: I'm not so sure this is filler. We had a bit of repetition earlier in Memoirs, but this one feels fitting. The question of why was the bell run isn't as crazy as someone ranting about a speckled band, but it did serve as a mysterious question in the middle of all this. If he thought he was on the way out for this story, it approached it with a bit more kindness than I expected. It doesn't seem cynical especially in the approach to Sherlock Holmes. To have Sherlock walking around talking abstractly, keeps him as an eccentric character that is impossible to peg down. 

While this won't go down as a legendary story, it did stand out as its own. Like you said, we had Sherlock having a more active role in the investigation. There is more character development between the leads as Watson once again abandons his new wife and his clients to be a sidekick. If this was going to be the penultimate Sherlock Holmes story, I think he was still ending on a high note. In fact, I really didn't read any frustration with the character in this at all. Only reason I knew that was happening was because of all of the reports about what is going to happen soon.

Which we shall get to very very shortly...

But before that we're going to check out Young Sherlock Holmes, a Barry Levinson movie that is currently on Netflix Instant. I know of it only because of its ground breaking special effects work; let's see how it works as a Sherlock movie!

He looks like the kid from the beginning of The Brothers Bloom! If he's not as good, I'll be disappointed!

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

Leigh: The End Is Nigh.

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