Tuesday, November 03, 2015

One Final Look, at the Old Place

Years after I first began reading the Sherlock Holmes adventures (and after many breaks along the way), I have at last reached the end of the road -- the final Holmes short story, "The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place."

The head trainer of a racing stable hires Sherlock Holmes to investigate his master, Sir Robert Norberton, fearing the man has lost his mind. Sir Robert's sister seems to have radically altered her daily routines for some unknown reason, but his response has been to give away her dog and engage in inexplicable behavior of his own. He's meeting a stranger at a crypt in the dead of night, burnt human bones have been found in the furnace on the grounds of the estate where they live, and he's especially manic about an upcoming race. What explanation covers all of these strange events?

It's appropriate that this final Holmes story represents a fairly classic Holmes type of mystery. There's not really much investigation to do, nor are there many clues to be gathered. Instead, the evidence is all essentially there, and it falls to Holmes to derive the scenario that brings together all the disparate facts. That truth behind this tale is a gimmick that subsequent writers have taken to extremes for comedic effect; it's interesting here to see it played straight.

There's certainly no indication in this story that Arthur Conan Doyle knew it was the last Sherlock Holmes adventure. He died just a few years later, so perhaps he'd intended to return to the character and never got the chance. Or perhaps, after serving up at least two previous definitive endings for the sleuth, he didn't want to contrive another.

"The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place" is not the grandest of finales, but it is a decent enough tale. I give it a B-. And with that, I bid farewell to the great detective... until he next graces my television screen in the personage of Benedict Cumberbatch or Jonny Lee Miller.

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