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Here at the End of All Murder Monday

What I've Finished Reading

Recently in the Annotated Holmes, a series of Americans and their discontents: "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor," "A Scandal in Bohemia," "The Five Orange Pips," and "The Man With the Twisted Lip," which I don't think had any Americans in it, though it might be a good candidate for my favorite, for Holmes' giant sponge of truth and the beggar's predicament. (Doyle's favorite was apparently "The Speckled Band," which sounds about right to me).

The footnotes have nothing good to say about "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor" but I guess I'm not as picky as the Holmes fandom, because I liked it just fine? I have simple needs; I'm happy whenever Americans turn up in vintage British media and start talking that colorful cowboy-gangster twang. And I had somehow completely forgotten that the secret society in "The Five Orange Pips" was the first-generation Ku Klux Klan, which Holmes ascertains by paging through the "K" volume of his American encyclopedia.

A footnote about Holmes' dressing gown led me to Christopher Morley's essay "Was Sherlock Holmes an American?" Among other things, he suggests that Watson deliberately described American landscapes in unflattering terms in order to tease Holmes. It's not a very convincing argument, but convincing is not the point (I'm pretty sure).

The dressing-gown controversy: Did Holmes have three dressing gowns, or one that changed color over time? There is only one impossible hypothesis that can be eliminated at the outset, and it's that Doyle didn't care about Holmes' dressing gown and just forgot whether it was blue or purple.

Also: Plot Counter-Plot by Anna Clarke. A successful novelist in her fifties takes on a dangerous young wunderkind as her live-in secretary; several interlocking and uncomfortable obsessions ensue, and murder hangs in the balance. This book is advertised as "Mystery in the Bestselling Tradition of Josephine Tey." Like Tey, it does a lot of subverting of genre and structural expectations, though the writing is not always as assured. It doesn't have anything like Tey's low-key eccentricity. I did wind up liking it a lot - the narrator is a skein of sympathetic and unsympathetic traits and motives; she makes a billion terrible decisions for reasons both overdetermined and unclear, and the clumsy looming colossus of her self-awareness can't lift a finger to save her.

There's a startling casual reference to Christie's And Then There Were None using its original title (in the UK in 1974, which is a little later than I would have expected to see it).

What I'm Reading Now


Over the entrance doors, which would have let in a troop of Indian elephants, there was a broad stained-glass panel showing a knight in dark armor rescuing a lady who was tied to a tree and didn't have any clothes on but some very long and convenient hair. The knight had pushed the vizor of his helmet back to be sociable, and he was fiddling with the knots on the ropes that tied the lady to the tree and not getting anywhere. I stood there and thought that if I lived in the house, I would sooner or later have to climb up there and help him. He didn't seem to be really trying.

Oh, Philip Marlowe. Why do I have a sinking feeling that this hilarious offhand description of a rich guy's window is going to get drenched in ironic significance somehow? Is it just that everything always does?

I shouldn't be getting Raymond Chandler books from the library when I have so many other books at home, but here we are. I'm reading The Big Sleep and there's nothing to be done about it.

Also from the library: The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters.

"And boy, when those meetings ended he would always be the first guy out the door," Gompers says. "You got the feeling he was a lot happier at his desk, doing his thing with his calculator and his statistics binders, than he was with the rest of us humans."

I'm scratching way, nodding encouragingly and empathetically to keep Gompers talking, and I'm thinking how much I'm starting to like this guy, this Peter Anthony Zell. I like a guy who likes to get his work done.

Hank Palace only got promoted to detective in the first place because there's a giant asteroid about to hit the earth and most of his colleagues have checked out in the face of the end of civilization as they know it. Suicide rates are at at an all-time high, so why make trouble, just because this one suicide looks a little suspicious? Palace provides an elegant summary of why I find detective fiction so inexhaustibly appealing: I like a guy who likes to get his work done. Is the imminent end of the word really that much more discouraging a condition than "being Philip Marlowe"? It doesn't matter. Palace has a job to do and he's going to keep on doing it till the lights go out.

What I Plan to Read Next

Clutch of Constables! And this book I got from the library has both The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely so we'll see what happens there (endless confusion, probably). And Guards! Guards!, if that counts.

Comments

( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
osprey_archer
May. 23rd, 2016 12:56 pm (UTC)
The mere idea that Sherlock Holmes might be an American has stopped me in my tracks. But he's so English! He's the most English Englishman to ever English! What's next? Was Mr. Darcy a closet American too?

Also, doubtless Holmes had one of those bluish-purple dressing gowns that looks like a different color depending on the light. That's the only sensible solutions. *nods*

I think The Last Policeman and the imminent end of the world would distress me, but I like that quote a lot.
evelyn_b
May. 24th, 2016 12:39 am (UTC)
I feel like there must have been at least one adaptation where Holmes was an American - don't Americans love making everyone American? - but I can't think of any. Elementary moves him to New York, but he's still a British guy in New York.

If Darcy were a closet American, it might go a long way toward explaining his awkwardly defensive snobbery! There he is, behaving like an American's idea of Perfect English Propriety and eschewing the rustic dances of the lower gentry like the popular novels instructed him was his duty, while all the actual English people are like, what's his damage? Who goes to a party and just stands there? >:O so rude :(

Holmes is more comfortable with his secret Americanness, so it doesn't cause the same problems.

Probably not the best if you don't like pre-apocalypses, but The Last Policeman is perfect for me. I'm not normally a huge fan of end-of-the-world scenarios myself, but here it just feels like a natural next step on the long continuum of existential detective problems.
osprey_archer
May. 24th, 2016 02:30 am (UTC)
House is an American, isn't he? But even then they had him portrayed by Hugh Laurie, as if they realized that even a sidewise Sherlock Holmes adaptation like House needed a Brit as the lead character.
liadtbunny
May. 23rd, 2016 02:59 pm (UTC)
Presumably Holmes had his dressing gown washed every so often by Mrs Hudson whether he liked it or not? A true mystery at last: stuff all this murder nonsense and govt. cover-ups.
evelyn_b
May. 24th, 2016 12:13 am (UTC)
That's Morley's solution: it faded in the wash and on the line, from blue to purple to mouse-colored. You could also posit that he spilled one of his dangerous chemicals on it and had to get a new one, or that he liked dressing gowns and owned several at once.

There is no mystery too great or too trivial for the Holmes fandom, and no problem that admits "Doyle just forgot" as a solution. <3
liadtbunny
May. 24th, 2016 03:31 pm (UTC)
Fandom will explain everything no matter how daft. It's their secret ninja superpower:)
a_phoenixdragon
May. 23rd, 2016 07:29 pm (UTC)
I was staggered by the idea of Holmes being an American! Really...I mean...he's so BRITISH! *CACKLES*
evelyn_b
May. 24th, 2016 12:08 am (UTC)
He does get mixed up with a lot of Americans! Then again, Doyle is a known non-American who writes a lot of American characters, so that isn't really decisive evidence. I liked Morley's suggestion that Mycroft identifies completely with his adopted home, while Sherlock is more unaffiliated, occasionally taking patriotic pride in fellow Americans like Irene Adler.
wordsofastory
May. 23rd, 2016 07:37 pm (UTC)
Guards! Guards! definitely counts. It's very explicitly a loving parody of noir fiction.
evelyn_b
May. 24th, 2016 12:03 am (UTC)
I was really hoping that when I came home from work today, it would be waiting for me in my mailbox! But it wasn't. I'm looking forward to it!
sue_bursztynski
May. 25th, 2016 12:19 pm (UTC)
I dunno. With so many wonderful American stories and characters around, why do some folk try to appropriate other people's stories and heroes? Of course, we all like to see ourselves in fiction, though Australia in classic fiction tends to be the place to send people who have been shamed in their own countries, to start a new life where Nobody Will Know. Wince! But I am not planning to write essays on why some British or US character is really from Down Under... (Mind you, some of us in my Star Trek club decided that Kyle, the transporter operator in original Trek was an Aussie...)

I had a pen pal some years ago who hated Harry Potter because there were no Americans in it! Surely, he argued, Hogwarts would have guest teachers from across the Atlantic? Maybe he might go see the new American-located Potter movie this year. ;-)

I vaguely recall that there were Americans in the first Holmes story, the one with the Mormons?
evelyn_b
May. 26th, 2016 12:55 am (UTC)
That's an interesting perspective! It would never have occured to me to not like something because there were no Americans in it, though as an American I always enjoy things like the bad American accents in Doctor Who.

A Study in Scarlet does indeed have pages and pages of American Mormons having melodramatic aventures in the desolate American west!

I don't remember Kyle, but I'm sure I would if I saw him again! Do you remember what the signs were of his Australianness?
sue_bursztynski
May. 30th, 2016 11:33 pm (UTC)
I think it was the accent and the actor may have been Australian.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

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