Monday, February 17, 2014

Book Review: "The Adventure of the Three Students" (Doyle, 1904)

“Well, Soames, I think we have cleared your little problem up, and our breakfast awaits us at home. Come Watson!”

--Sherlock Holmes, “The Adventure of the Three Students”

Leigh: In Sherlock Holmes' latest adventure, him and Watson go back to school but not at all in a fun way, more like news reporter going back to high school to try to find out about youth culture kinda way. 

Holmes and Watson are at Generic University using their library to look up information about some case that sounds incredibly interesting but Watson thinks the one he is telling us is more worthy of our time. Holmes has a friend come and find him and tell him all about how the answers to the upcoming Greek scholarship test were not where he left him and how it was obvious that someone had broken into his room and copied the answers, a plot point that seems more appropriate for Animal House than Sherlock Holmes. Holmes is intrigued and goes to investigate the crime scene. 

There's a reason why Sherlock Holmes was brought in.

We eventually go and meet all of the possible suspects and this is where I began to have problems with it. I know it was probably written to be a mirror of the time, but the insistence that Watson had about the Indian student being the obvious culprit felt misplaced and disingenuine, almost like an attempt at a red herring but more of someone pointing and saying, "Look! Over there!" I also felt that the clue of the weird clay blobs laying about was obvious too. 

I enjoyed the brevity of this story and made for a nice one to get back in the swing of things but I didn't think that this was Doyle's best effort. 

What say you, Lugar?

Austin: I liked this because today every mystery series needs to one-up itself to make everything the BIGGEST CASE OF THEIR CAREER. In “The Adventure of the Three Students”….the stakes could not be lower.

 Put yourself in the criminal’s shoes. You manage to cheat on a test but guess who is in town? The world’s greatest detective. That’s just not fair.

Once you get beyond that, it’s a fun little mystery. It all comes down to a bunch of facts and figures of who is able to be tall enough to pull of this element. Oddly, I very worried about the red herring. I haven’t forgotten about the Doyle from “A Study in Scarlet” and “The Sign of Four”. They’re even interpreting Greek a la….”The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter.” I’m just saying that Doyle has a fascination with foreign people so I absolutely could see him picking the Indian student as the culprit. Oddly the biggest suspense in this mystery was whether or not Daulat Ras was a red herring.

No, I don’t think this is one of the best either mostly because I felt that I needed to take notes about who was what height and how all the angles worked. What disappointed you about this one? Does every great mystery need a murder? Or can we have an extremely low stakes mystery?

Leigh: We can totally have a great mystery without people dying all over the place. “Scandal in Bohemia” and “The Red Headed League” both have fantastic mysteries without people dropping dead. There are others, I'm sure but those are the two that I thought of immediately. Just because there aren't dead people doesn't mean that the mystery can't be engaging and interesting. (“The Adventure of the Yellow Face”.) The thing that made those stories interesting though was the fact that they had unique plot points. Someone hiring only red heads? A mysterious yellow face in a window? A saucy lady with some damning photographs? These are more interesting than some answers being stolen. 

I also think that if clues left behind were more interesting that might've helped. Doyle tried with the weird clay globs all over the place but that was genuinely the only interesting clue. The pencil shavings were boring and expected. I think where the mystery began falling apart was when the person who stole the answers could only do so by looking out of the window. This could also be disproved relatively easily. What if the shorter guys had step stools in their room? What if one of them stood on a chair or their bed? I think that was a clue of convenience more than anything else. 

He found all the answers in this adventure with three different students.

But what about the person who stole the answers? We know he was attempting to get this fancy schmancy scholarship but he had gotten a really great job offer. Would you still attempt to steal answers for a test that you didn't really need to pass? I just don't understand his motivation is all. It seems almost that Doyle wrote the mystery one way and then changed the ending to throw off readers. 

Austin: I’m happy with a non-heightened mystery if there’s something else raising it up. Often my favorite episodes of TV shows are the bottle ones because that’s when you can get the deepest into the characters. I was hoping that we’d get something else with this one if we didn’t have the possibility of a murderer behind every shadow, but alas. It was small and quaint. 

To me, I think the awkwardness of the conclusion is because Doyle seems to have some nostalgia about the school life. The criminal is intelligent and respected and Doyle bends over backwards to make the audience okay with the conclusion. It’s strange because the story with no stakes is given a cushioned ending. This didn’t have the same personal touches that made me like “The Gloria Scott” all those stories ago, but I did like the atmosphere here as well.

"These will be the best years of our lives, Watson." "Really, Holmes?"

I felt that Doyle could have gone back and made this tighter, but this one just screams “deadline”. And possibly it screams that he cheated on a test and maybe feels a bit guilty about it but not too guilty.

Next up, we discuss everyone’s favorite episode of Sherlock: The Blind Banker! You can watch it on Netflix, Amazon Prime and on that DVD/Blu-Ray you probably own if you read this blog.

And here is Leigh Montano with the final word…

Leigh: TOGA!

Hey, Leigh, this is the Animal House picture you wanted me to put here, right? -- Austin

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