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The View from Sherlock Peoria
No. 496, January 1, 2012

A League (Out) Of Her Own

Is Irene Adler over-rated?

I have begun to suspect as much in the wake of "Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows." It seems that many of my double-X chromosomed fellow Sherlockians are a bit vexed at Guy Ritchie for allowing the very Canonical "late" in "the late Irene Adler" to be applied by Professor Moriarty in his latest film.

After all, they protest, Holmes said, "I have been beaten four times -- three times by men and once by a woman," and if Irene was smart enough to beat Holmes, surely she was smart enough not to die at Moriarty's hands. I disagree, and here's why:

There's an old sports adage that goes, "Any team can beat any other team on a given day." And Irene Adler was definitely having her day when she beat Sherlock Holmes. Holmes was playing on Irene's home field, he was plainly putting her on a bit of a pedestal from square one, and he really didn't like his client in the case to begin with -- and thus was probably not putting out his best effort.

Sherlock Holmes went on to triumph after triumph, all on the record books courtesy of Dr. Watson. Irene Adler, bless her heart, went on to be "the late Irene Adler" by the very first time we hear of her. Basically, within the confines of the Canon, Irene's reputation hinges on Holmes's fondness for her. Even Watson calls her "dubious and questionable."

Irene Adler was not without a skill set. She was adept at moving among the highest levels of European society. She could hide a valuable object like nobody else. She could even pass as a young man, which is no small acting feat.

Professor Moriarty, however, was a stone cold killer. His genius, as demonstrated more than once, was at having people killed. Sherlock Holmes, we must also note, was very experienced at both avoiding being killed and catching killers. As the BBC series amusingly points out, Sherlock Holmes could think like a killer. He was definitely a match for Professor Moriarty, and vice versa.

But Irene Adler, as much as she could trouble either gentleman in the arena of social contracts, reputations, and personal secrets, Irene was not a killer. When the game escalates to kill-or-be-killed, Irene Adler was, to put it bluntly, out of her league.

In fact, I'll take my defense of Guy Ritchie's choice a step further and posit this little thought: It was always Professor Moriarty who killed Irene Adler, even offstage in the original Sherlock Holmes stories.

Think about it. The King of Bohemia comes to Sherlock Holmes to solve the threat that Irene Adler poses to his upcoming marriage. Sherlock Holmes fails, and basically tells the King, "Oh, well, it doesn't matter anyway, you'll be okay." The King has exhausted all options save one. After leaving Holmes, getting a troubled night's sleep and finding himself still unsatisfied in the morning, what might the King have done? Start looking for the most efficient and discrete means of making sure Irene Adler doesn't trouble his marriage. And who's he gonna call?

Well, after working his way through all the appropriate intermediaries . . . Professor Moriarty.

Does it matter that Irene was headed for America? Consider this: The one detailed instance we have of Professor Moriarty's work is "The Valley of Fear," wherein Moriarty is doing a favor for an American mob. Might he have been repaying a favor they had done him earlier in knocking off Irene? Could be. Irene Adler's death in such a fashion, so soon after "A Scandal in Bohemia," could have even been the motivating factor that set Holmes upon Moriarty's trail to begin with.

So stand with me on the terrace, for a brave, clever, and able woman, the late Irene Adler, however she did die. Let us sing a chorus of "Candle in the Wind" as is proper for any diva Sir Elton John would have loved. But ask me to believe that she could have handled Professor Moriarty, the anti-Sherlock?

No Reichenbach way.

Any team can beat any other team on a given day. Irene had her day, and she's gotten a lot of mileage out of it. Maybe they'll even make a movie out of a Carol Nelson Douglas book some day and she can get some more screen time. But when it comes to getting between Sherlock Holmes and the meat grinder called Professor Moriarty, Irene was always bound to be collateral damage.

Your humble correspondent,
Brad Keefauver


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January 1, 2012
A League (Out)
Of Her Own