Friday, June 05, 2015

Sleuthing Grange

"The Adventure of the Abbey Grange" sees Sherlock Holmes summoned to the country to investigate a murder. The victim, one Sir Eustace Brackenstall, was by all accounts a thoroughly loathsome individual. The murder seems to have been carried out by a trio of burglars already known to be working in the area. The case seems open-and-shut. But when Holmes' initial disinterest subsides and he begins to look beyond the banality of the crime, he begins to suspect another explanation of events.

If my memory recalls, this is not the first Sherlock Holmes short story in which Holmes decides not to press for justice against the culprit he ultimately identifies. But it stands out far more on this occasion for the nature of the crime. Brackenstall was indeed murdered. Holmes does indeed find the culprit. Yet because Brackenstall was a drunkard who routinely beat his wife, Holmes and Watson decide to let the murderer get away with it -- even explicitly appointing themselves judge and jury in the text.

This is the fuel for an interesting debate in the mind of the reader. Does Sherlock Holmes' sterling reputation fall for letting a murderer get away? Or does he become more human for allowing mitigating circumstances to influence his otherwise dogged pursuit of justice? There's no clear answer here, which makes this rather unique within Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's canon.

One other bit of trivia surrounding this story: it's the one and only time where Holmes actually speaks the words with which he is so often credited: "the game is afoot." It comes right at the opening of the tale, in what feels like such a quintessential moment for the sleuth that it makes what follows even more impactful: his decision to behave quite out of character.

Speaking of out of character, there is one sour note near the opening of this story. On the train ride to the country, Holmes takes the opportunity to berate Watson for his accounts of their cases together,  dismissing them as frivolous, even loathsome. Certainly, Holmes is a dour individual at times, but I feel like this comes well past the point where he treats Watson in such a manner. It's a sudden regression in their relationship, and an oddly discordant note. (It comes, I presume, because Doyle was laying track to retire the character for a second time.)

Despite the slightly sour note early on, there's plenty here to like. I give this adventure a B+. It feels like one of the more essential of Holmes' tales.

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