Friday, September 27, 2013

Book Report: "The Adventure of the Priory School" (Doyle, 1903)

“But surely this is somewhat irrelevant?”
“Not entirely,” said Holmes.

--Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of the Priory School”

Leigh: We have another mystery this week that focuses on bicycles. This time, more specifically bicycle tires instead of people riding on them. We have a very important Duke whose son has gone missing from school. The headmaster then contacts Sherlock Holmes and says that he's missing along with the German teacher. Of course kidnap is the obvious red herring here but it's a Sherlock Holmes mystery and these are rarely that simple. 

Holmes goes to the school to attempt to figure out the problem and Watson and the audience actually gets to come along. Holmes and Watson go all along every bit of field and anywhere there might be a path to find the bicycle tire marks from the missing bicycle that was presumably used in the possible kidnapping. They eventually find the trail and then the dead German teacher. DUN DUN DUN! 

My God.....

And that's when the mystery gets exciting and slightly convoluted and becomes a bit of a rip off. There's a worker who had been fired from the Duke's home. There's an illegitimate son who's jealous of the Duke's younger son. There's of course a murder and murderer and still a missing boy. Holmes ends up solving the whole thing because the tread marks left by the cows along the trails didn't follow a cow's natural stride. This annoyed me. Did it annoy you?

I honestly didn't remember reading this one even though I'm pretty sure I have. The whole mystery seemed less logical and more fantastical than normal. Is this part of the new style that Doyle has created with this new book or is it just a lack of planning?

Austin: I wasn't bothered by those elements as much as you. The cow stride made enough sense to me. Maybe it needed more of an explanation, but imagine when there are cartoon footprints in the snow or in the dust they look like they were 100% flat instead of someone leaning into the step. I imagine the science of a cow's stride is actually quite fascinating.

I dug this one. It felt like another fun mystery where you can really walk around the crime scene. This one is equipped with a personalized map and I could easily imagine our heroes walking around the yard trying to play out exactly what happened much like "Silver Blaze". Also it had a really fun client entrance with the way he was described as a very frantic man who quickly needed a pillow and brandy.

"Now I'm WET! And my student is missing....and I'm still hysterical!"

I think often times for me, it's the change of locale that really freshens up a Sherlock Holmes story. This priory school was a nice change of pace, although I wish they snuck in a nod to Sherlock's origin story. (Or did they? Was it too subtle?) I'm actually rather surprised that Doyle didn't use this format to let Holmes go to wilder and more exotic locations, but even a wide open space like this felt new and exciting.

Now, I'm curious exactly what you mean by this feeling less logical? This actually was a couple more pages than the usual story. To me, it seemed like Doyle wanted to go through step by step to go through all the pieces.

Leigh: I liked the element of the cow strides, I just felt like it was cheating. The audience can't see that clue and if the strides were described in such a way that the audience would realize there's something wrong with them, then it would feel like cheating the other way. I liked the idea, I just wish it were executed better. And yes, the gait of animals is fascinating.

And maybe "less logical" was a poor choice of words. To me, it felt like there was added drama that didn't help the story. Sure the bastard older son not liking the younger son was a good plot point but I feel like, "just because he's the actual heir" is a lame excuse as to why he doesn't like him. Sure, this was a time when inheriting something meant you were set for life, but surely if his father cared as much for the older son as he did the younger son, he would make sure that he would be taken care of in some way or another. I know from Downton Abbey that breaking the entail is no easy task but the Duke surely has more money elsewhere that isn't all going towards the younger son. This is another one of those times where I feel like I need a basic course in Victorian/Edwardian law to understand what's going on and why. If there was the addition of having the younger son be an all around dick, then maybe I could get behind the older son wanting to kidnap him for ransom.

What is a "cow"?

I also didn't understand why the Duke didn't just go and get his son. I felt like this was a poorly described plot point. The Duke has more power and money than some guy he fired, surely he could get his son and not leave him with people who might kill him if they so decide. I felt that Sherlock Holmes was right for judging him as harshly as he did. I also appreciated that Holmes described kinda his code for who he turns over to the police and who he doesn't. That was a nice insight into the character and we don't get those all too often. As you said, this would've been a great time to reference Holmes' background (if it was mentioned, I didn't get it either) but the audience isn't told. I think that if it were written in a more modern time, then we would've been told but we've talked before about how ACD just doesn't focus on that aspect of the characters. Do we need to know Holmes' past to understand what is going on? No, so why add it here? 

I also like the change of scenery. It makes the whole mystery feel different when at the end of the story, the mystery probably would've been incredibly similar if it took place in London instead of in the country. So is a new location enough to spice up these stories or is there something more that we get from these field trips that we wouldn't if we stayed home?

Austin: I think with the Sherlock stories more than other mystery series, there's value in the unexpected. When you have a cozy, the familiar is an asset as we continue to investigate crimes that happen on the same island every time because the characters and the town is so warm. Sherlock's world requires there not just to be a crime, but a crime too ridiculous for the police to solve. It's the extraordinary turned into something shockingly simple.

So the locations can help with that. When you're just standing in rooms around London, it can grow stale. Yet if you use the 221B sitting room as a jumping off point then it's exciting. When a client walks in, that means these two and the audience can be whisked away to adventure which can involve anything and anywhere.

Now I'm romanticizing the series quite a bit, because the Doyle stories don't dramatically change its format every week. Aside from some crazy flashbacks, we stay in the UK. I hope that with the remaining stories Doyle is tempted by his exotic love and takes the characters into some weirder places. Until then, I continue to value Doyle when he adds the extra bits of weirdness into the world surrounding his readers. With the help of characters named Thorneycroft and red herrings like gypsies.

This week we're going to change up the schedule a little bit and review the season premiere of Elementary because we almost forgot what our blog was called for a second. It introduced two major characters of the Doyle canon so we figured we ought to check it out.

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

Leigh: Moooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!

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