I shall eventually abandon any pretence that my occasional forays into post-1990 impossible crime novels are purely for the benefit of my fellow impossible crime enthusiast TomCat, but not just yet. So let’s all take a moment to bask in how selfless I am, reading books I have no interest in myself purely so that TC can find something more modern to satisfy the cravings of the Impossible Murder Phanatic (or ‘Imp’, as those people have definitely been calling themselves for years now).
So, as established yesterday, there’s much more scope in Watson than there is in Holmes. The obvious question then becomes: So what do you do with this?
Take the simple cosmetic changes out of the equation — the casting of Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson in the US series Elementary, for instance, easily one of the least disruptive changes it’s possible to get away with — and what you’re left with is the fact that Watson, being our entry into the Holmesiverse, is allowed to do anything that reflects the experience and perspective of the reader. As discussed yesterday, there are aspects of the character, the constants I referred to, that don’t become him — making him the proprietor of a burgeoning dog-walking business, or a respected scholar of nineteenth century Gothic poetry, or giving him a form of OCD which means he must always cross his legs in the opposite manner to Holmes unless it’s a Tuesday in which case…, etc — but let’s put this aside as given and look at the way certain authors have expanded on Watson without desecrating him beyond all recognition.
Lately I’ve read an unusually high concentration of Holmes pastiches — Caleb Carr’s The Italian Secretary (not good), Stephen King’s ‘A Doctor’s Case’ (not terrible), Colin Dexter’s ‘A Case of Mis-Identity’ (extremely good), Michael Kurland’s The Infernal Device (loadsa fun), Steve Hockensmith’s Holmes on the Range (fabulous) and a superb piece of unpublished fan fiction sent to me via email — and it’s made me realise that while Watson, and specifically the Watsonian voice, is vital in undertaking Holmes, no-one can quite agree what Watson is, how he should be written, and this makes him far and away the more interesting of the two men when it comes to analysis.
It being the ever-approaching end of the academic year, I’ve tended to focus on short stories for these Tuesday Night Bloggers posts on poison because I simply haven’t had the time to read more than one book a week, and I need to keep those for my Thursday reviews. So this week I thought I’d take on one of Dorothy L. Sayers’ short stories featuring her other sleuth, the purveyor of fine wines that is Mr. Montague Egg. This is another one taken from The Big Ol’ Black Lizard Book of Wowsa That’s a Lot of Stories Massive Gigantic Compendium of Impossible Crimes But for Some Reason They’ve Included A Huge Section of Surely the Most Anthologised Stories of All Time, and so once again it has an impossible element. Yes, I am nothing if not fond of playing to type.
I’m guilty of sedition here: this isn’t technically part of the Tuesday Night Bloggers – they’re looking at travel in classic crime this month – but rather my own delayed TNB post on John Dickson Carr from March before I was sidelined. But, y’know how it is, it’s the second one looking at Carr’s Sherlock Holmes stories and so I feel I should probably post it on a Tuesday if only for internal consistency…my apologies for any confusion (though I suppose I cam writing about a Carr trip…). Just look upon this as my Never Say Never Again.
I talked about the origin of these stories in my first post on this topic, so let’s get straight on with it: this story is built on the reference to a case “of Colonel Warburton’s madness” made at the start of ‘The Engineer’s Thumb’ and so it’s appropriate that it begins in much the same way: someone in distress seeks out Watson (then for his doctoring, now seemingly because he knows Holmes) and is thus ushered into the Great Presence. It’s here that the story plays its most interesting card, as Holmes is rather short with the unfortunate Cora Murray who has just had a Colonel Warburton seemingly shoot himself and his wife while locked together in his study in the house where they all reside:
In the early 1950s, John Dickson Carr collaborated with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s youngest son Adrian on six stories featuring Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. These were published in various magazines before being collected together and published as either The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes (as my edition – featured below – is, also containing six stories solely from the pen of Conan Doyle, Jr.) or The Further Exploits of Sherlock Holmes, separate from Conan Doyle, Jr.’s stories which were themselves published as The Exploits. Are you keeping up?
‘The Problem of Thor Bridge’ gives us the classic impossible crime setup of a body that has been shot in the head but without any sign of a weapon to hand…and then manages to appear not at all impossible by finding the murder weapon hidden in the most likely suspect’s room, also throwing in a note from the suspected murderer arranging to meet the victim at the place of their demise and at around the time they are suspected of being having died. True, there are no footprints anywhere near the body, but – before you get too excited – “The ground was iron-hard, sir. There were no traces at all.” Oh, so that takes care of that, then.