Monday, November 18, 2013

Book Report: "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton" (Doyle, 1904)

“I’ll tell you Watson. He is the king of all the blackmailers. Heaven help the man, and still more the woman, whose secret and reputation come into the power of Milverton! With a smiling face and a heart of marble, he will squeeze and squeeze until he has drained them dry.”

--Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton

Leigh: This story might actually be my favorite. I know I say that a lot about a lot of them but this one might actually have the #1 spot. It is wacky and crazy and ends in a way that you don't really see coming, which I love. 

Charles Augustus Milverton is a blackmailer and is so despicable, Holmes calls him the worst person ON DA EARF which I guess is an easy roll to fill since Moriarty is dead. CAM decides to get letters of young women that would ruin their career and then blackmail them so that their lives aren't ruined. These young women agree because a young woman in Victorian England doesn't have many choices and if she doesn't marry rich, she's pretty much screwed. Holmes has a client that happens to be one of these young ladies who can't afford the ransom of her personal letters and so Holmes decides to break into Milverton's house and steal them but only after he has gotten himself engaged to Milverton's housemaid. This isn't one of those situations where Holmes falls in love (HA!) but one where he is emotionally manipulating a woman to get what he wants. He doesn't care about breaking the housemaid's poor heart but he CANNOT let that rich woman gets her heart broken! It seems classist to me and rude but again, it was another era.

Holmes tells Watson what he's done and Watson decides he needs to help Holmes break into Milverton's house. He even goes so far as to say, "If you don't let me come with you to break into some guy's house then I'M TELLING MOM, I MEAN LESTRADE!" So Holmes reluctantly lets Watson come along. And then they go so far as to wear bandit masks when breaking into Milverton's house which I thought was possibly one of the funniest images ever. And then shit goes down.

So before we get to the crazy plot twist and we like to discuss mysteries here, where's the mystery? 

Austin: Like everything in this collection, I hadn't read this before but recently heard of its fame when Mark Gatiss called this one of his favorites and one he hopes to adapt soon. What did I think?

This was so much fun. This may have just been a crazy coke bender for Sherlock, but for us we got what we've missed for many stories: a proper villain. Most of the time we just have Sherlock vs. the unknown but here we get to have a real clash with high emotions because Sherlock HATES this guy.

There's so much to talk about, but is it a mystery? Yeah, sure. Mysteries don't need to have the villain be unknown until the last page. This has justice going up against a criminal. In all of the Columbo episodes, the audience knows who did it; it's all about getting to the resolution. Here, much like "The Final Problem", it's Sherlock vs. The Worst Guy in London for the sake of peace and sanity.

"Milverton? Oh man, I hate that guy."

Now, I say sanity, but this one has the funniest moment ever in a Doyle story which involves Sherlock telling Watson he's now engaged. I'm going to disagree with you for a little bit on Sherlock's motives. It isn't about him saving the rich girl over the poor girl, but really just disregarding both of them so he can take down Charles Augustus Milverton (the first?). It's almost like he's been waiting for a client to up against Charles Augustus Milverton because this guy has been annoying him for too long.

So are you ready to talk about the ending? We've had stories where Sherlock assaults the bad guy, we've had a story where Sherlock withheld evidence until certain people passed away, but what about a story where we have an eyewitness that sees someone match Watson's description…?

Leigh: I honestly think that because Sherlock Holmes is so genius, he quickly planned their escape and purposefully made it so that Watson would be seen by one of the house staff so that the mystery woman could get away safely. Watson has always been described the same way and aside from his limp which seems to disappear when he feels like it, he doesn't have any distinguishing characteristics especially for that time frame. Sherlock Holmes has a VERY unique profile and is very easy to describe by the average person so Watson being seen by a witness makes it easier for Holmes and Watson to get away without much incident. I also think that the scene with Lestrade is more tongue in cheek and is all but a WINK WINK NUDGE NUDGE away from Holmes telling Lestrade that they were there. Everyone in that room KNOWS that Holmes could figure out who did it just by the description but Holmes decides to blow it off and say that it's impossible. 

The original usual suspects.

For me, the mystery woman walking in and shooting Charles Augustus Milverton I Esq. was exactly what I wanted and not what I expected. The whole time Holmes and Milverton are talking, I kept thinking, "Why doesn't someone kill this guy? Why doesn't someone stop him? He's being a criminal, why doesn't be a criminal to him?" So a woman walking in and taking care of him and then getting away with it completely was a great ending in my opinion. 


To me though, this story still doesn't feel like a mystery. We don't even get to see Holmes use most of his abilities. He broke into a house when he knew the person would be asleep and took a path he knew would be empty. That's the work of a common criminal. They even almost got caught if we're working with the theory that Holmes didn't plan their escape. I know I said I liked this story and I did because it was wacky and zany and completely out of the ordinary, but why should we take the time to analyze a mystery that isn't a mystery and is just a crime drama and not even a very good one?

Austin: This all goes back to the discussion that we've had in a couple of these entries, including the one about The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. When I look at these stories, I never think about them in terms of their genre. Especially since we've been discussing that the genre is in such early stages at this point. I look at it just as a story and how that works with its characters. Nothing that Sherlock did in this story did in this story felt out of continuity of the other Doyle stories. These felt like the world he's established and this was a very fun, almost comedic, aside in that world.

Looking at this as just a story to be analyzed, I think this is top marks. It's very well paced, the twists are highly amusing and it messes with its structure a bit by having a much longer resolution than normally where they can have fun with them escaping justice, in a way. 

To write 52 stories about the same duo is bound to be repetitive and the best thing you can do is to experiment. This same pattern falls into long-running mystery series nowadays. There are only so many murders that can happen in the same small town before the whole place is dead or in jail. I like mysteries a lot and to me I have a very vague definition: someone tries to justice by stopping/uncovering a criminal. In the first episode of The Wire, McNulty knows that Avon Barksdale is running the towers and I'll still call that a mystery show.

"New plan. Enough with the drug shit. Blackmail only. Get on it."

Here Sherlock knows that Charles Augustus Milverton is the asshole and now it's about trying to stop him. He does it just about as successfully as "A Scandal in Bohemia" with his infiltration system. This time, the criminal was defeated (In case you forgot, it's Charles Augustus Milverton), the day was saved and Watson has a story to tell…..that incriminates him. What's the statue of limitation of fleeing a crime scene and slight temperament to justice?

Anywho, our next entry will be another Doctor Who episode! Since this week features the show's 50th anniversary, we'll look into a recent episode that revealed who was REALLY Doyle's inspiration for his Victorian hero. So watch (or rewatch) the 2012 Christmas Special from Season Seven entitled "The Snowmen." Get excited.

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

Leigh: It takes a thief to catch a thief...?

No comments:

Post a Comment