Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Priory Engagement

"The Adventure of the Priory School" is among the longer of the Sherlock Holmes short stories, and among the more convoluted too. The director of a private school approaches Holmes to locate a missing student, and the investigation leads to an elaborate array of plot elements including bicycles, a separated mother, a disappearing German teacher, a sketchy rural inn, and more.

The story doesn't quite hang together for me. Good mysteries of course use red herrings to obscure the ultimate truth, but this story includes details bordering on the absurd. When Holmes must get to the bottom of why cow tracks have been found at the scene of a murder -- and more importantly, when their reason for being there turns out to strain plausibility -- things just feel like they've gone off the rails.

The character of Holmes feels a bit off model this time out too. Generally, Holmes is happy to do the work for the work's sake. Watson notes as much in this very story, and later adaptations of the famous detective have invariably incorporated this element. But here, the promise of a reward seems to turn Holmes from potentially dismissing the case to accepting it eagerly. And at the conclusion of the tale, when Holmes presses for his reward in what seems a way to catch his mark in a lie, it ultimately leads to his own confession that he just really needs the money. Though this is perhaps more realistic, it clashes with the dozens of prior Holmes stories.

That said, the sort of two-stage mystery here is intriguing. What starts as a simple kidnapping then leads to a murder, and the stakes definitely feel higher from then on. What's also interesting is the way certain evidence seems readily apparent (such as the fact that the missing student clearly left without a struggle), yet doesn't lend itself easily to a solution to the case.

But ultimately, it feels as though Arthur Conan Doyle was striving for a plot with the complexity of The Hound of the Baskervilles -- a novel -- while shoving it into the space of a short story. It doesn't quite fit. I give "The Priory School" a C+.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Never one of my favorites.
And you're right, it IS a convoluted mess.
Ah, they can't all be winners.