Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Book Review: "The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist" (Doyle, 1903)

“You will go down?”
“No, my dear fellow you will go down”

--Watson and Holmes totally in context, “The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist”

Leigh: Before I start on a feminist rant, I'm going to openly remind myself that this was written in another time period where arranged/forced marriages were commonplace.

Now, on with the story. 

The introduction of this story is a bit like Watson bragging, I think. He says that Holmes was SO busy and they have SO many stories that he has to pick and choose more than normal when deciding which stories to write about. I thought this seemed a little out of place and more like Arthur Conan Doyle saying, "Don't worry, guys, I gots stories to last for YEARS! Holmes isn't gonna die again any time soon!" I think it was supposed to be a reassuring nod to readers but felt more like a pompous, "Don't worry, I got this." That could just be me though.

A young woman is mysteriously contacted by two men after her uncle dies in South Africa (exotic locale!). She is then hired by one of these men for a lot more money than she was expecting to teach his daughter music while the other one is a legitimate creeper and stares at her like he's going to molest her at any moment, both in the Victorian sense and the present day sense of the word. She is then followed by a mysterious man on a bicycle whenever she goes to visit her mother. Holmes is then so busy that he again sends Watson out to do some investigating and when Watson comes back with what he thinks is very important information, Holmes tells him he did a shit job. Holmes then goes and does everything he told Watson he should've done after the fact. 

"Miss can you describe the cyclist?" "He had bulging eyes, terrible skin and an impossible to place accent."

So the mystery. This is one that I felt like Holmes was cheating a lot. The audience didn't get nearly enough information to figure out what was going on so by the time the conclusion comes around, I was scratching my head going, "Huuuh?" This one that I've read a couple of times and I never remember it and I blame it on the fact that the conclusion comes out of left field. A lot of the conclusion would be left to guesswork if the audience were the ones solving it. How were we supposed to know there was a secret deal about who got to marry the young woman? How were we supposed to figure out her dead uncle left her with a small fortune? Why is her boyfriend mentioned if he never shows up and is only mentioned in the introduction and in the last paragraph of the story? I enjoyed this story for the drama of it all but I have to stay from a mystery aspect, it seemed to fail. 

What do you think? Am I just in a bad mood or are some of my complaints legitimate? Also, what is with ACD naming his female characters the same thing? This is the second Violet we've come across and it completely threw me off. I have half of a completely different email written but what I was talking about happened with a DIFFERENT Violet. 

Austin: I was also a bit disappointed by this one. I was intrigued when Violet was telling her story but then once they stopped their huddle and shouted "BREAK!" it lost my interest.

We've seen Watson explore and detect by himself before, most famously in The Hound of the Baskerville. In that, through all our blog entries, we valued the idea that Holmes was serving as a mentor figure encouraging Watson to use the skills he's learned. Yes Holmes still swoops in to save the day, but there was respect there that was missing here.

On the Wikipedia page for this entry, it says that the Strand refused the first draft because Holmes wasn't as involved with the plot. This could be the cause of the structural issues where Holmes suddenly arrives because it could have easily been a late edition change. So now I can just think of Doyle plotting instead of the character having reason for splitting things up. Oh, I know...he was SO BUSY.

"I would ask Mrs. Hudson to go but she couldn't hear me."

We've discussed the rise in excitement in this collection, but is this perhaps one of the most violent stories we've read? We have fistfights and gunshots and all sorts of stuff that would be ideal for Robert Downey Jr. Is this a case when Doyle was trying to amp up the action that he severely lost track of the mystery?

Leigh: I hate to agree with you all the time because a lack of drama can be boring, but the "BREAK" moment is the perfect moment of when I stopped caring too. Everything was SO interesting until that point. And it's not like the rest of the story isn't interesting when you look at the facts, it just wasn't presented in as intriguing of a manner.

I don't think the additional action is what lost the mystery. You can have an action packed adventure that surrounds a mystery and it still be a logical conclusion. I think that this one really needed another editing. It makes sense now that you've mentioned that Holmes wasn't in it in the first submission. He does really feel like he was shoehorned in the story. As an audience member, I would've been completely happy with Watson doing the investigation by himself. At this point in the canon, I feel like Watson is completely capable to get 75% of what Sherlock Holmes does in his investigations. I think this story though was purposefully (re)written so that Watson was doddering about the countryside and Holmes had to come in to save the day, which of course upsets me because I love Watson and I hate the doddering dullard Watson-stereotype.

Coming soon....

Because Sherlock Holmes was SO BUSY, I would've loved to have like a side by side story that is an adventure of Holmes and Watson solving the multiple mysteries at the same time and how they might overlap or not. I think it could've added some interest there that was lacking in the last 2/3 of the story. I know everything is written from Watson's POV but it would've been interesting to have an omnipotent narrator describe the multiple mysteries going on at the same time. It would at least have given a reason as to why Holmes was so busy and why he made Watson go do his busy work.

What do you think, Lugar? Is there any way to save this mystery?

Austin: I think it's something that we're talked about this entire blog. Focus on what people care about. For us, it seems that means the characters and the fantastical elements. When those things are hitting just right, we typically love the story. We aren't exactly the type of mystery fans that will sketch out every single step to make sure it all works. If the elements are heightened in a cohesive way, then we're game.

When things stumble around and it leaves us focusing on the broken pieces then we have to wonder what's going on. We're fine with someone sending a snake up a pipe to kill someone if the ride to that conclusion works even though I'm pretty sure a simple poison would be more effective. 

I'd be curious to one day read a proper biography of Arthur Conan Doyle. I know nothing about his romantic life, but from these stories he doesn't have the happiest sense of relationships. Mrs. Watson was killed off without me noticing. Sherlock won't ever be in a proper relationship. Then--perhaps for the sake of the genre--if a spouse comes to Sherlock Holmes with some marital issues, it never really ends well. This story was no exception.

Molly and Jim were the happiest couple on the show.

Anywho, we'll revisit this story again but this time we'll get the intensity of Jeremy Brett as we revisit his show The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes with the episode cleverly titled "The Solitary Cyclist".

Here is Leigh Montano with the final word....

Leigh: Daisy, Daisy...

I'm sorry, Leigh, I'm afraid I can't let you keep quoting films you haven't seen.

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