Thursday, July 16, 2015

Well-Made Plans

With "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans," Sir Arthur Conan Doyle may have given birth to the spy thriller genre. It's a Sherlock Holmes story that involves a murder and the theft of blueprints for a submarine. And while it's not the first time Holmes has been called upon to serve his country, it is the most convincingly high the stakes have been in such a tale.

There are a lot of wonderful twists and turns in the mystery. Paraphrasing Holmes himself in the story, each new development serves not to unwind the case, but to further complicate it. Particularly clever is the revelation that the site where the murder victim was discovered was not in fact the site of his murder... and the means of his relocation is one of the more inspired surprises in any of the Holmes tales.

The story is also steeped in a London atmosphere that makes the tale feel like quintessential Holmes. Indeed, one might say it opens literally steeped in London atmosphere, as a dense fog has been overlaying the city for days. But also making this tale feel vital is the inclusion of both Inspector Lestrade and Mycroft Holmes.

But the presence of Sherlock's brother is something of a double-edged sword in the story. As in his prior appearances, Mycroft is portrayed as even more brilliant than Sherlock -- though lazy and slothful. This story strains belief in the latter department. It's revealed that Mycroft's true job is in fact government service, and he himself states that the loss of these submarine plans would be an immeasurable intelligence loss for England. Yet even with these stakes, he simply cannot bring himself to go out and investigate the theft and murder; instead he prevails on Sherlock to do it. That he's unwilling to lift a finger even in this situation makes him seem cartoonish, if not an outright villain.

But I suppose it's a conceit you must allow in order for this to remain an adventure of Sherlock Holmes. And in every other respect, it is indeed one of the best. I give The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans an A-.

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