Books, sherlock holmes

“Why, Mr Holmes, I thought you knew things.”

We were fairly accustomed to receive weird telegrams at Baker Street, but I have a particular recollection of one which reached us on a gloomy February morning, some seven or eight years ago, and gave Mr. Sherlock Holmes a puzzled quarter of an hour.

"The dog had suddenly turned out of the main road into a grass-grown lane."

"The dog had suddenly turned out of the main road into a grass-grown lane."

The Missing Three-Quarter is an enjoyable romp with some notably strong characterisation. Unlike the similarly university-set Three Students, it manages to have both an engaging mystery and a satisfying conclusion. In between, there are some lovely turns by the guest characters and some equally memorable moments for Holmes and Watson – for a minor story, it is a remarkably assured one. Even the close, which simply sees Holmes and Watson walk off as soon as the mystery is explained to them, feels both in keeping with Holmes’s character and fitting to the tone of the story.

The case is perhaps best known for Watson’s assertion that he has weaned his old friend from that nasty old drug habit. Conan Doyle famously came to regret giving a character who had become a role model so deleterious a taste, and here he made sure that the reader was aware Holmes had seen the error of his ways: despite Watson being “well aware that the fiend was not dead but sleeping”, Holmes later laughs at Watson’s expression upon seeing the detective holding a syringe: “It is not upon this occassion the instrument of evil, but it will prove to be the key which will unlock our mystery.” It seems a shame in a way that Holmes had to be thus flattened out into something more savoury – but Watson makes it very clear that Holmes remains an addict, despite being on the wagon. Given the reference in the story to the two mens’ declining physical prowess in their middle age, the whole thing feels about right – for Conan Doyle, it is rather sensitively and subtly done.

There’s also the delightful moment when Holmes must admit that he does not know all. Way back in A Study in Scarlet, Holmes said: “It is of the highest importance […] not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.” He has always been a man, despite what appears to be a wide-ranging knowledge, who is in fact very specific in the information he chooses to collect. Here, he must admit that sport is a matter of which he knows nothing: “My ramifications stretch out into many sections of society, but never, I am happy to say, into amateur sport, which is the best and soundest thing in England.” Rare is it that Holmes is at a loss during an interview with the client – he takes it in good humour here, and so do we.

His client, Cyril Overton, is a lovely pen portrait of a big-hearted, but slow-witted, ‘rugger’ player of the Varsity type; his missing player’s uncle, Lord Mount-James, is a gloriously crabby old man who has some stern words for the ‘Mr. Detective’ he believes to be following after a hefty fee; and Holmes’s prime suspect, Dr Leslie Armstrong, is of whom Holmes says, “I have not seen a man who , if he turns his talents that way, was more calculated to fill the gap left by the illustrious Moriarty.” Each adds his important curl to the mystery, and though ultimately it is no great conspiracy it is far more satisfying than some of the wilder mysteries because of that.


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