Thursday, October 22, 2015

Colourman Commentary

"The Adventure of the Retired Colourman" is not the last published Sherlock Holmes story. Most modern collections of The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes, however, pull a FOX television scheduling move -- they present the stories out of their original order, with this as the finale. In this case, I can imagine the motivation: they're trying to save the best for last. This is a strong tale, and definitely the best of the collection.

Sherlock Holmes is contacted by Josiah Amberley, a retired art dealer. After a failed police investigation, Amberley is hoping Holmes can shed light on the disappearance of his wife. He's certain that she has run off with a neighbor, Ray Ernest, and that together the two have stolen most of his amassed fortune, leaving him hopeless and penniless. Holmes is the last resort for tracking down the thieves... but immediately upon undertaking the investigation, he suspects that Amberley is lying about aspects of the crime.

I must come dangerously near spoiler territory to say that what makes this story special is how clever Holmes must be to resolve the case. The crime is not at all what it seems; the detective must not only solve the mystery, but first actually identify the mystery. What's more, he runs a clever ruse along the way to put himself in a position to gather more evidence. In short, this tale displays more of Sherlock Holmes' skill set than any tale has for some time.

Watson too makes a good showing. This is one of those rare mysteries where Holmes dispatches him to do investigation alone. And while Holmes can't help but get in a few digs about information Watson missed, the fact is that this time, Watson actually obtains two crucial clues, and the praise of Holmes for having done so.

There's a bit of an unnecessary distraction in a "rival investigator' character, Barker. (It's curious that such a rival would never before have been mentioned in a Holmes adventure; the truth behind that is surely just that Arthur Conan Doyle needed a red herring here.) Still, the whole tale comes together well, and indeed feels like a strong note to end on.

Of course, I'll see soon enough how it really all ends. "The Adventure of the Retired Colourman" gets a B+.

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