Sunday, May 31, 2015

Three-Quarters Good

In "The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter," Sherlock Holmes must trace the whereabouts of a college rugby player who has vanished mysteriously just one day before a big match. It's rather ambitious for a short story, packing in a search across several towns, multiple suspects, and a twist ending.

It also boasts more character development than the average Holmes adventure. In Watson's traditional opening, setting the stage for the tale, he spends a notable stretch talking about Holmes' past drug addiction, and Watson's own efforts to help him control it. Arthur Conan Doyle writes with an understanding of addiction that feels considerably more modern than most of his other prose. There's a weight and import to it, a real concern on Watson's part, that likely inspired the makers of the CBS series Elementary to figure addiction so prominently in their conception of great detective.

Also interesting are two adversaries encountered in the course of the case, and the clever ways Holmes deals with them. The first is a miserly old uncle of the missing rugby player, who wants everyone to call off the search until Holmes manipulates him into reconsidering. The second is a university doctor who is clever enough to frustrate Holmes' investigations; indeed, Holmes likens the man to Moriarty in the course of the story.

The case is in fact so tough to crack that Holmes is unable to actually do so before the big rugby match arrives. And while the short story hardly marks this as a "failure," it is quite interesting that Holmes isn't completely able to "save the day" in this adventure, as he so often is.

My one quibble with the story is its abrupt ending. When I got there, I actually thought for a moment that there might be missing text in my copy of the story. The story puts several balls in the air (including, for example, the fact that the missing man stands to inherent a great fortune), but only explicitly resolves the matter of his disappearance. As Watson is recounting this case several years after the fact (a narrative structure Doyle employs quite regularly), he could have easily provided us more information on what happened in the mystery's aftermath. Instead, it feels like Doyle hit his absolute word limit in The Strand magazine, and simply stopped writing.

Still, for the intriguing adventure that precedes that point, I'd give the short story a high B+.

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