Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Game (of Solitaire) is Afoot

As I was enjoying a Memorial Day cookout with friends yesterday evening, I'm afraid Jack Bauer will have to wait a day. I suppose he'll be very upset with me. Hopefully I can avoid the torture.

Instead, I bring you "The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist," an odd entry in the Sherlock Holmes canon. It's a standout as one of the few times that the great detective's client is a woman, though it's still a rather chauvinist product of its time in how it treats the woman.

One Violet Smith comes to Sherlock Holmes, having taken a job in the country as a music teacher. Every weekend, she commutes by bicycle to the train station, and is followed along the way by a bearded stranger who has confounded her efforts to identify him. As Holmes takes the case, trying to ascertain whether the strange man is a threat, Miss Smith is revealed to be in the middle of a much more tangled web.

At the risk of spoiling the game (but one has to figure that a spoiler alert on a century-old story is unnecessary), the odd circumstances at the core of the mystery are essentially that Violet Smith is desired by just about everyone. No less than three men are seeking her hand in marriage (four, if you count the man she actually intends to marry), and her troubles are ultimately stemming from this.

The climax of the story features a truly bizarre abduction where a villain has arranged someone who will forcibly marry him to the woman against her will, a situation just one notch less ridiculous than a mustachioed rogue tying a damsel to railroad tracks. The whole thing just seems oddly old-fashioned, in a way that makes you entertain the admittedly fanciful (though false) notion that the bicycles being ridden in this tale might be the kind with enormous front wheels and little tiny back wheels.

In short, the circumstances of this story make the whole thing play out like a cliche old silent movie. It thus feels like one of the more archaic among the Holmes mysteries. Though it's certainly not intriguing or elaborate enough to be adapted by the BBC Sherlock series, I'd be truly curious to see what they'd do to modernize this one.

There is an unintentional comic value I found in reading it, and for that reason, I'll give it a B-. But I'm certain that's not the reaction Doyle was hoping for when he wrote it.

No comments: