Thursday, 23 February 2012

No Sh*t, Sherlock

I've been re-reading Sherlock Holmes over the last few weeks (actually, I started writing this about a month ago, and never finished it, but I did finish the book) - my brother got me an omnibus edition for Christmas - and I'm not certain he's quite the genius he thinks he is.

Some of his deductions are plain silly, whatever he says. Of course, they turn out to be right. Of course they do: Conan Doyle makes it so. And then some of it is hideously obvious and yet he spends days barking up a tree in the wrong forest or just lamenting that it doesn't make sense at all.

I know that hindsight is 20-20, and I've read the books before, but some of them I distinctly remember thinking the same about first time round, and even making every possible allowance for prior knowledge I still can't understand why someone supposedly cleverer than all but perhaps three people in the whole country - his brother, Moriarty and possibly , the police detective in Wisteria Lodge - should not even consider the solution that turns out to be correct.

Spoiler warning.

Silver Blaze:

Silver Blaze is a prize racehorse. His trainer has been killed and he is missing: stolen or strayed. Two key points which are certainly known by the detectives are that the man was killed by a blow to the head with a blunt instrument, and the horse was with him at the time, subsequently either wandering off or being led away.

Would you believe that it took Holmes days to conceive the theory - which no-one else thought of at all - that the weapon in question was, perhaps, not a heavy stick or a large stone but an iron-shod hoof?

The Valley of Fear:

A man is dead, killed by a shotgun blast to the head. Consider:

It is known that the murderer could not have left the house immediately by any other means than a certain window, and that it was falsely made to look as if he had used the window.
Members of the household are known to be concealing something about the crime.
A bicycle was found, apparently used by the killer to get there, but not used for a getaway and left where it could be found and used to identify him.
He is traced (by means of the bike) to a nearby hotel, and considerable circumstantial evidence is found against him. He clearly never returned to the hotel after the crime and is supposed to have fled, abandoning all his belongings; Holmes remarks that this is a very foolish thing to do as it draws attention to him.

It takes Holmes an astonishing amount of time to put four twos together and make eight: the man never actually left.

Had he concluded that, it would have surely been easy to read the rest of the mystery:
The victim's face was entirely destroyed by the shotgun.
Someone remarks that the description of the supposed murderer is remarkably similar to that of the dead man.
One curious and baffling point was that the victim's wedding ring was missing, although he was wearing another ring over it that would have had to have been removed first and then replaced after taking the ring off.
It is remarked that the dead man was probably very unlikely to voluntarily take his wedding ring off.

Shoscombe Old Place:

This one about takes the cake.

Some people have been acting oddly at Shoscombe. Holmes concludes that Lady Beatrice is dead and her brother, Sir Robert, is concealing this fact.

The two of them are known to have been very close, and he is the only person who stands to lose by her death - he would in fact be ruined.

But rather than supposing merely that she died, and her brother is concealing her death until he can get his affairs in order, Holmes decides that the only explanation is that the person who has no motive whatsoever to kill her, but plenty of reason not to, and plenty of reason to conceal her death even if he was blameless, has murdered her.

In spite of the fact that she was known to be terminally ill.

Any thoughts?


  1. I just bought Sherlock Holmes LOL! I've never read it, but I can't wait. I'll revisit this post as soon as I've finished :)