Sunday, November 3, 2013

Extracurricular Reading: The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (Meyers, 1974)

Warning: The following blog entry contains spoilers for the entire novel of The Seven-Per-Cent Solution and briefly has one for Series Two of Sherlock that is marked. So go read/watch those. Because they're awesome.

"But--" I was running alongside the train now--"what about your readers--my readers! What shall I tell them?"
"Anything you like," was the bland respond. "Tell them I was murdered by my mathematics tutor, if you like. They'll never believe you in any case."

--Nicholas Meyers, "The Seven-Per-Cent Solution"

Leigh: Lately we've been reviewing a lot of various movies that play with the idea that Holmes is crazy. Moriarty isn't real, he's a figment of his imagination and Holmes really just needs to get a grip on reality. But what if Holmes were crazy? What if he had succumbed to his addictions and became insane and created the fiend that is Moriarty? The Seven-Per-Cent Solution explores just that idea.

The story starts off with Holmes showing up in Watson's sitting room like he has numerous times, but this time he is high as a kite. He is mumbling and sweaty and resembles more of the traditional idea of a crazy person than of Sherlock Holmes as the audience knows him. Watson, as a doctor and the detective's best friend, decides that something needs to be done. He actually hunts down Professor Moriarty and finds out he's an elderly mathematics tutor that taught Holmes boys when they were younger. He's completely harmless and quite upset that Holmes is now stalking him and accusing him of being a criminal mastermind. 

At this point Watson decides that Holmes needs to go to rehab and Mycroft agrees. The two men, along with the often forgotten Mrs. Watson, plan a dastardly plan to get Holmes all the way to Vienna to meet Sigmund Freud. Now, here is where most of the time when an author decides to introduce a real person that actually existed into a fictional universe that I get skeptical and start purposefully trying to find flaws. I know this is a fault of mine but as soon as I decide that I don't like something, I try to find all of the problems with it ever. I honestly didn't do that with Seven-Per-Cent. I thought the addition of Freud (even though I'm incredibly skeptical of a lot of his research and findings [women like orgasms? NO WAY!]) was interesting. 

That's not what Walter Jr. has learned from his experiences.

But I wanted more. Half of the book, and it's relatively short (I'm trudging through the Harry Potter series again right now so ~224 pages is short to me) is all about Watson and Mycroft getting Sherlock to Freud. And while I liked that wackiness of it and a Rube Goldberg machine of a plan to get Sherlock to willingly go to Vienna. It was fun but I wanted more with Freud and Holmes. To me, once it finally got to the one-on-one between the two, it's just a Sparknotes version of what happened. I wanted more.

So what did you think of it? Do you buy that Holmes was crazy? Do you believe the wackiness of the it all? And what about the lack of mystery? Can it be a Holmes novel without a mystery?

Austin: What's amazing about this book is that I didn't know if Moriarty was real until the last pages. I could see it going either way because we know this character throughout as a conniving mastermind. That is a word we are not supposed to trust. So I laughed at the idea of Sherlock harassing this stranger with telegrams, but as he led the way for Holmes to follow him to Vienna, I couldn't help but think this is all part of the plan.

Until it wasn't. That last chapter was such a heartbreaking moment because even though we've seen Sherlock go through some serious difficulties I still saw him as our superhero detective. It was like Superman being affected by Krypotnite. Yeah he's moaning now, but once they knock away that space rock he'll fly around and be awesome. Once they revealed that Sherlock was--for a lack of better word--nuts, it was devastating  I now want to reread this book because now I'm revisiting scenes and seeing him as a vulnerable human being not Our Hero.

This whole element of "Is Holmes okay/Is Moriarty real?" served as the real mystery. Sure we had this adventure with the Baron and the wife and the crazy/awesome train sequence but that was a way of flipping the authority. When we meet Freud, Holmes becomes the patient. He doesn't dominate the room because he's following orders and trying to get better. Yet once that crime starts, then Freud gets to be the sidekick and Holmes returns to his domain: wonderfully ridiculous crimes.

Is it obvious so far that I loved this book? I loved loved loved this book. It was so funny and felt like the counter-balance I've been begging from Doyle for so long. This basically is an examination into all of our favorite characters with a special guest star of one of the most famous psychiatrist of all time. (Even though I liked the dramatic reveal, it does cheapen the surprise if all over my paperback it says HOLMES AND FREUD TOGETHER!)

So much of this book is about deflating the legend status of so many people. (A la BBC's Sherlock's "The Reichenbach Fall", Season Six of Doctor Who.) We have a whole story about making Sherlock Holmes mortal, but also in a very amusing bit of madness we have footnotes openly mocking Watson's prose and use of detail. Myers is just setting up Watson to be wrong for comedic reasons but also to suggest that this biographer isn't gospel.

"Doctor, I'd like you to meet Dr. Freud..."

How do you now see these characters after going through this adventure? Not just Holmes and Watson, but Mycroft, Freud and especially Moriarty. 

Leigh: For me, the big reveal was spoiled when my mom told me about the book YEARS before I read it. But yeah, the back cover needs changed if it's supposed to be a surprise.

It was nice to see another aspect of these characters that felt genuine. More often than not, I am left wanting more with the character development and interactions than Doyle gives us because as we've said before, he just didn't want to focus on that aspect. That's obvious by the fact that the death of the first Mrs. Watson is very subtly mentioned offhandedly in one story.  But in this book, while Sherlock Holmes is the main focus, he isn't as much of the main character. It feels, at least the first part of the book, that Holmes is the a topic and not as much a character. And the Holmes that we know is definitely more abstract than in the Doyle stories. We know who Holmes is (for the most part) when he's solving crimes and zany mysteries but when he walks into Watson's sitting room, the audience realizes that we don't know him at all. 

We know so little about him, we don't even know if he minds that his office is flooded.

And that's where the book starts to get interesting to me. We have this character that we thought we knew. We've been with him for numerous adventures and have seen most of the inner workings of his mind and yet, he is nothing like what we've experienced so far. The audience can really start to question here the unreliable narrator. We usually think of Watson as truthful although he does romanticize, as Holmes says, but only now do we get the full picture of who Holmes is (or who Holmes is in this version of his universe). 

But as I started to say and then got distracted by dumb games online, I like the fuller pictures of the characters that we get. We've only dealt with Mycroft once (I think) at this point and he was not what you could call caring or close or brotherly but after Watson comes to him and says, "Bro, we gots a problem," he realizes that his actual brother does need help and he takes steps to make sure he gets the help he needs. Sure, he still isn't the most brotherly person but with the relationship that we know between these two characters already, what some would call a little step is really a big step for Mycroft. 

Now for me, I would've loved for Moriarty to have been "real" and not just a figment of Holmes' drug addled imagination. It would've been great to get the audience to finally agree that Moriarty is just a crippled old tutor and then turn around and say "Psych!" just as the audience starts to realize Holmes was making it up. That twist would've added more to the book that I was wanting, I think. Sure the little mystery at the end with the train chase is fun but I honestly forgot about it until I was rereading your email just now. It was fun at the time but a little forgettable. At the end of the book though, I guess I just wanted more in general. I felt like the interesting parts were too short and nothing was really extraordinary like we normally get from Holmes stories. 

Am I just being picky? Can you find fault in the book even though you love it soooooo much? If you love it so much why don't you marry it? 

Austin: In many ways, Sherlock Holmes can be seen as a topic for all incarnations of the stories. Watson is always the observer as well as the second lead. We're seeing the man through his eyes and that has always proven to be unreliable.

I fully agree that Sherlock was a topic in the first half of this book and part of that is because all of the characters are putting him under a microscope. In many ways, I was doing the same to Moriarty trying to figure out his actions in all of this. Same with Mycroft because we're so used to wondering how this all fits in terms of a twisting mystery, not a mystery of the brain. 

I like the book so much more because Moriarty isn't real. The gotcha twist is what we've expected in every single Moriarty story ever because he's a pure supervillain. He is someone who can achieve anything unless Sherlock, our superhero, stops him. (SPOILER FOR SHERLOCK SEASON TWO) You're even thinking that Moriarty has the power to come back from the strongly presumed dead. (END SPOILER. GO WATCH SHERLOCK, PEOPLE.) While that level of character is a lot of fun, I like it more when the characters bleed. John McClaine gets his ass kicked throughout all of Die Hard. The Doctor is crippled by guilt. Batman is all sorts of messed up. Jason Bourne has issues, the current James Bond has issues, all of the Avengers have issues. What I love about heroes is the opportunity to stop and ask, "What sort of person would put themselves in this lifestyle?" And with Sherlock we have a glimpse into his sad motivations. A man who desperately searches for justice and logic in a world where it's almost impossible to see.

Honestly, Jason Statham may be a real life superhero. He once had an issue but then he punched something and he was fine.

 To me, this almost doesn't count as a mystery novel but a novel about beloved mystery characters. The mystery elements were just there for characterization more than anything else and that's why I loved this one. I'm excited to read the other two by Meyers and to finally watch the movie this is based off of. Until we uncover another excellent one, I'm confident to say this is my favorite Sherlock Holmes pastiche.

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

Leigh: Oh! We're back!

ATTENTION EVERYONE: This hiatus was entirely Austin's fault. He was too caught up in the very long hours of the Heartland Film Festival to be able to answer any emails let alone think of any coherent thoughts about Sherlock Holmes. The Festival is now completely over so we're back on track. The next Doyle story is already done and will be up on Tuesday and the Rathbone movie shall be reviewed later in the week. Thank you all for your patience. Feel free to send all angry words at Austin's Twitter feed: @AustinLugar. Thanks for reading!

No comments:

Post a Comment