The Lord St. Simon marriage, and its curious termination, have long ceased to be a subject of interest in those exalted circles in which the unfortunate bridegroom moves.
The Noble Bachelor has a whole raft of glorious Sherlockian moments: Watson’s description of autumnal Baker Street evenings and his reference to the Jezail bullet which is his souvenir of Afghanistan; the revelation that Holmes finds the agony columns of the newspapers instructive and entertaining; and a quintessential scene in which Holmes bests Lestrade with unseemly relish.
It is also one of those stories in which Holmes may leave his rooms in Baker Street, but the reader does not – we settle in with Watson, reading his papers, and await the revelations. In this story, and for the first time in the stories, Holmes gathers together the main players for one of those communal exposition scenes later made a cliché.
In short, it is a classic Holmes tale, rich in Victoriana and Holmes’s particular brand of problem solving. To whit, in a case which sees Holmes working for one of the highest aristocrats in the land, the great detective says: ” I assure you, Watson, without affectation, that the status of my client is a matter of less moment to me than the interest of his case.” We have previously seen Holmes disparage the King of Bohemia and a Covent Garden poultry seller alike, and here he is far from enamoured of his client, Lord St. Simon. (“It is very good of Lord St. Simon to honour my head by putting it on a level with his own,” he barks dryly.)
He is in fine form generally here, clearly having a whale of a time taunting his inferiors. When Lestrade insists he knows the whereabouts of a body on the basis of the location of some discarded clothes, Holmes deadpans, “By the same brilliant reasoning, every man’s body is to be found in the neighbourhood of his wardrobe.”
Stuff like this is why you come back to Holmes stories – not the mysteries themselves, which here as elsewhere tend to turn out in solution less interesting than they originally appeared, but for the central character’s tart wit, the extent to which he is able to lord it over all around him, and get away with it. Aside from the diverting characterisation of the priggish Lord St. Simon, in this story there is only one show in town, and it’s Sherlock’s.
The story is also notable for being yet another which finds its origins in North America (after A Study in Scarlet and The Five Orange Pips; readers will remember too that The Boscombe Valley Mystery had its roots in Australia). Conan Doyle is fairly obviously interested by the USA’s romance, and he gives Holmes a rather dubious line to the effect that, eventually, the world will consist of a single Anglo-Saxon nation.
That oddness aside, this humdrum story of aristocratic marriages and abrupt disappearances is made what it is by Holmes’s mercurial presence. It is a phenomenon his readers know well.