Books, sherlock holmes

“I Believe You Are The Devil Himself”

“It was pleasant to Doctor Watson to find himself once more in the untidy room of the first floor in Baker Street which had been the starting-point of so many remarkable adventures.”

"... on tiptoe, his thick stick half raised, he approached the silent figure."

"... On tiptoe, his thick stick half raised, he approached the silent figure."

The Mazarin Stone is, in the opinion of the Watson who appears in Nicholas Meyer’s The Seven Per-Cent Solution, “forged drivel”. In fact, it is simply a half-hearted adaptation of a stage play, The Crown Diamond. Watson hardly features in the play, and is therefore written out here, too – the extent to which Holmes’s creator here allows himself to be a slave of his source material is very strange – and this results in, after His Last Bow, the second of the two third person narratives in the canon. This one, however, has none of the energy of the first.

Confined to one room and conveyed almost entirely in dialogue, the story is practically a script with very little of any interest added by Conan Doyle (a terrifically terrible final scene featuring Holmes’s client should be ignored). The third person voice is tired and detached, something about Holmes’s characterisation seems not quite right, and the plot itself is both hackneyed and unconvincing. Not only does it recycle the old dummy-in-the-window trick from The Empty House; it has significant shades of The Blue Carbuncle to boot. And yet despite this mining of the canon, still the maneuver by which Holmes sneaks, via a heretofore unknown secret passage in 221B, first behind a curtain then into the chair previously occupied by his wax double, is so strained as to rob the denouement of any tension at all.

The villain, too, is perfunctory – in the play originally Sebastian Moran, here he is Count Negretto Sylvius (though his proclivity for airguns remains). We must assume that Conan Doyle felt he couldn’t in good faith publish so obvious a rip-off of his own stories, and so varnished over matters with a name change. In the event, the reader is still left feeling the story to be embarrassing filler. Even its setting feels odd: is it a late story, as suggested by Holmes and Watson’s awkward reunion? Or is it earlier, as posited by Brad Keefauver, given that Holmes seems so active? The truth, sadly, is that the story doesn’t quite fit anywhere.

“We can make the world a better place by laying them [the villains] by the heels. But that is not what I am out for. It’s the stone I want.” Holmes’s characteristic focus on the problem, not law and order, is the one bright spot in an otherwise very weak story. The worst of the 56? In many ways, undoubtedly. Such adaptation is beneath both Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle.

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