Saturday, July 11, 2015

Lodging Minor Complaints

In "The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge," Sherlock Holmes aids a proper English gentleman who has found himself at the center of a "grotesque" affair. A new acquaintance invited him to the countryside for an overnight stay, only to disappear with his entire household staff during the night. Worse, the host himself turns up dead a few hours later!

This two chapter story has a most unique feature in the chronicles of Sherlock Holmes -- a competent police detective. Inspector Baynes is investigating the case in the countryside, and Holmes has nothing but praise for the man. Even after a midpoint twist in which it seems Baynes has gone barking up the wrong tree, it turns out that he too has solved the case through methods of his own. Perhaps someone prevailed on Arthur Conan Doyle to stop making clowns of Scotland Yard in his stories? Perhaps he was contemplating a spin-off character? Who knows? But it does make for a refreshing variation in the formula.

There's something in the story that feels vaguely prescient. It involves a rather elaborate plot to assassinate the toppled dictator of a foreign country, living secretly in the UK. It's something of a Nazi criminal story, reversing the two sides of the ocean, written half a century before World War II. Regretably, a native of this backwards, fictitious country is presented with a series of offensive and racist stereotypes, but I suppose Doyle wasn't that far ahead of his time.

Another unwelcome element is the conclusion of the mystery. Holmes solves the case, but doesn't "get his man." In a rather awkwardly tacked-on ending, Watson recounts how we all of course know that this escaped dictator wasn't caught at this time. Holmes hangs a bell on the odd writing choice, noting that this adventure won't wrap up neatly like most of the stories Watson likes to recount. Still, it feels as though perhaps a full-length novel might have been in the making here, one Doyle simply wasn't interested in writing.

Nevertheless, the strangeness of this story's set-up is quite clever and engaging. Generally speaking, I found a fair amount here to like. I give "The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge" a B-.

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