Saturday, March 29, 2014

Book Review: "The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez" (Doyle, 1904)

Leigh: For a while lately, I've felt that the stories we've covered have been a little...traditional. A little run of the mill. Nothing really stands out and nothing is that exciting. The last story we covered was literally about cheating students. Yawn, amiright? But this one, this one I feel is different.

The audience is given a chance to see Holmes finer skills, some that we don't see all too often. He takes something as mundane as a pair of fancy glasses and is able to give an accurate description of the person who owns them. I'm a glasses wearer and while I do have some distinguishing marks on them, I don't think someone would be able to deduce an accurate description of what I look like. And yet Holmes is able to tell from the pince nez what the woman looks like and even how she carried herself.

Probably looked something like this...

And then the audience actually gets to go with Holmes (and Watson) to figure out who this lady is. It was such an intriguing story that I didn't even mind the story time towards the end of the book. We we able to enjoy a different adventure with some detail work that we don't see in every story. We also see what might be Lestrade's replacement who actually supports Holmes and his theory of detection. I enjoyed this because it showed that minute detective work was slowly becoming more popular in the Holmes universe just like it did in the real world.

Overall, I was happy with this adventure. What about you? Did you enjoy the plot twist at the end? Did you like how Holmes came to his conclusions?

Austin: This one was a lot of fun. The story time entirely worked because it was a lovably crazy moment. We had a woman come out from behind the bookcase with plenty of accusations, conspiracies and to top it all off, she poisoned herself before she started her speech. Bam!

While the story had plenty of other successes, it was this type of drama that really worked for me in this story. I enjoyed the secluded world of this professor and his quiet co-habitants. I was worried Doyle would become too particular with the angles of every room, but this felt a lot clearer. (The map definitely helped.) Perhaps it was because the stakes felt higher than those cheating students or perhaps Doyle was just able to be more concise in this story.

Leigh didn't have a map since she listened to it.
She can only assume it looked something like this.

I enjoyed the glasses bit because it wasn’t just an amusing trick to start off the story in 221B Baker Street. This fit into the story, which helped a lot with the pacing. Also the glasses moment reminded me of the great scene from 12 Angry Men and that’s always a plus.

Something I’m finding amusing as I’m reading and watching mysteries is the path the detective takes. Is the narrative hunting down motivation or simply looking at the evidence? Sherlock Holmes, by nature, will always look at the clues and not entirely know why the mystery woman fits into this story. Does that make for a more satisfying story? What would we do if she popped into the room, refused to say anything and was taken away for questioning and then the story ended?

Leigh: Fictional detectives always have a way of making the suspect talk. Sherlock Holmes seemingly predicts their future from the minutiae that he discovers. Same goes for Shawn Spencer. Rust Cohle can somehow see into their soul (AND JUST HOW AMAZING WAS TRUE DETECTIVE?!). Law and Order we don't get that as often, where the suspect admits that it was him who killed that guy as he was breaking into someone's apartment but we always see the case through the end. We see the court proceedings that allow the audience to see what actually happens after the bad guy is caught. It allows their curiosity to be satisfied. I can definitely say that Sherlock Holmes adventures would be infinitely less interesting if we didn't find out all of the pieces to the puzzle or how a crazy lady hiding behind a bookcase fits into it all.

"Something tells me we'll have this whole case wrapped up in the next 40 minutes."

We like to have our curiosity sated. Why do you think so many people tried to figure out what Bill Murray said to Scarlett Johansson at the end of Lost in Translation (A MOVIE I HAVE SEEN! WHAT! I KNOW! I'm as surprised as you!) Why does Brad Pitt shout "WHAT'S IN THE BOX!?" (Okay, another movie I haven't seen.) We like to know what happens next. We like to find out just exactly how that odd shaped puzzle piece fits into the whole scheme of things. Also, writers want the audience to know why things happened. James Bond supervillains always have a monologue telling their evil plans because they have to have a reason for James Bond to beat him up and save the day. It just isn't satisfying to have find a puzzle piece but not know where it fits.

Does my metaphor work? Are there some key examples I'm leaving out?


Yet Sherlock doesn’t have the skills that we see from other detectives. In Doyle’s world a confession can be caused simply by asking politely. In a short story, it’s about conservation of words and story so you can’t have a long drawn out break-down like you see on The Shield or The Closer. (Especially when they’ve poisoned themselves.) While I really enjoyed this story, I’d like to see a bit more challenge on the character beyond the initial puzzle. Again, this is me asking for a type of story that Doyle isn’t interested in, but I admire what he is doing.
By the end, everything fits together really well. He’s not in the nature of being ambiguous because this is about puzzle solving. Rust Cohle was about examining a generational look at evil where one exact answer wouldn’t be satisfying. In Sherlock’s world, one person (or sometimes two) caused this strange thing to happen and it’s up to one to figure it out. If she would die before revealing everything, then Sherlock loses because these stories are about a full and complete tale—fit for Watson to print. 

"There is definitely a larger evil at work. Just look at those glasses!"

Apologies to everyone for inconsistent postings. I just started a new job. (It’s called Books and Brews! If you live in the Indianapolis area come on in and I’ll recommend you a great book and an in-house crafted beer. Leigh, I believe, has been reading the human genome and adapting into a comedic podcast. Next time, we’ll go further into the Golden Pince-Nez by seeing the Jeremy Brett adaptation.

Before I pass it over, it is important to say this…Brad Pitt already kinda knew what was in the box when he was screaming that. To open it was just confirming all of our dark suspicions. Leigh, watch Se7en! It’s good!

And here’s Leigh Montano with the final words…

Leigh: Why doesn't anyone wear pince-nez any more?