Monday, September 28, 2015


In "The Adventure of the Illustrious Client," Sherlock Holmes is hired through an intermediary to help the titular client, an anonymous benefactor seeking to end a wedding engagement. It seems a young woman has fallen madly in love with one Baron Gruner, a nefarious (but unproven) criminal compared with the worst adversaries in the Holmes canon. Hopelessly in the scoundrel's sway, this young woman is persuaded by nothing anyone has said against her fiance. Holmes hopes to procure hard evidence to present her, in the form of Gruner's own diary -- the existence of which he has learned from a spurned past lover of the villain.

Interestingly, this short story served as loose inspiration for a major half-season arc of CBS' Sherlock Holmes modernization, Elementary. Very loose inspiration, anyway. The character of Gruner and his former victim Kitty Winter came from this story, and became the major thing that pulled me back into Elementary after almost giving it up -- though nothing else recognizable from this story ever appeared on the show.

Which is just as well, in my view, as there's not much else here to commend. This entire story is built on uncomfortable and archaic notions about the inferiority of woman -- their supposed frailty and stupidity, and how emotion strips them of all reason. Of course, I speak mostly of the duped fiancee of the story, yet the superficially stronger Kitty is no prize either. Her entire character is defined only by her past relationship with a man, Gruner. She has seemingly no reason to live but for revenge (for wrongs not particularly well stated), and seems to lose her mind in some sort of hysterical panic at the climax of the story. (In sharp contrast, the Kitty of Elementary certainly had her life torn apart by Gruner, but resolved to rise from the ashes rather than dwell upon them, and had a number of commendable character traits besides her specifically articulated past tragedy.)

The structure of the story is a bit awkward through the first half, with too much information relayed secondhand to the reader (above and beyond the customary introduction of the case). Watson is absent for a near-fatal attack on Holmes, for example, which seems like an awfully important event to leave "off camera." Things do at least pick up for the finale, where Watson goes "undercover" and Holmes resorts to criminal actions of his own to resolve the case.

Still, some third act adventure doesn't quite make up for a dated opening. (And, to some extent, a dated closing. I'm not sure if it's a "passage of time" thing or a cultural barrier, but I didn't find the implied identity of the "illlustrious client" to be particularly clear. A member of the royal family?) I'd grade this story a middle-of-the-road C.

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