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The View from the East End (48)

By Inspector Hopkins

September 24 , 2006

Ghost Writers?

by Inspector Hopkins 

Thanks to my colleague David Richardson, I was able to match an interesting topic which seems to crop up from time to time with a name for it: “The Casebook Problem.” 

Actually he tells me that it is spelled out in his Oxford Sherlock Holmes, a version of the Canon which I do not have.  We discussed this topic last week in our Scandalous Bohemians chat room, and if you recall, I briefly alluded to it several months ago in my “Three Gables” article.

Once a newcomer reads through most of the Canon he or she will undoubtedly develop a feeling for the usual pace and flavour of the typical Sherlock Holmes adventure. As I had mentioned in that previous article, there is usually a warm and cozy feeling associated with the rooms at Baker Street . . . stories often open with our heroes enjoying breakfast, for example. You can almost smell the bacon and eggs as they dine at their small table, with a fire blazing on the grate, and with Mrs. Hudson standing close by somewhere.  Thence comes the urgent telegram, or the messenger, or the nervous client shown into the sitting room, and the case begins.

Other times, for example in FIVE or GOLD, our heroes are snug in their rooms whilst a storm rages outside and a client braves his way up Baker Street through the pouring rain to seek out their help.  Through the typical story, the reader thus gets a sense of order and tranquility at the onset. This order gets shattered by the introduction of the client’s problem. The problem gets solved by Sherlock Holmes, and our heroes retire once more to their safe and snug abode, to await their next adventure. End of story.

Well, some of the stories in the Casebook series just don’t have that “feel”, and the point is brought up as to whether or not someone other than Dr. Watson actually wrote some of these adventures. Leslie Klinger also mentions this concept in his “New Annotated” prefaces to MAZA and 3GAB, but Baring-Gould did not seem to include any such notes or annotations for those stories in his work.

To paraphrase the Oxford version’s “Casebook Problem”, one could even question whether or not Watson’s literary agent had died before the rest of the stories had been published!  This could imply that the new “editor” of Watson’s work may have taken a freer hand with what he recorded, etc.  Although this concept could certainly broaden the playing field for the Grand Game, in my humble opinion it strays a bit too far off course, and would result in greater confusion for the newcomer.

The wonderful thing about Sherlockiana is that there are so many ways of looking at all the stories, or organizing them, or discussing them. This can be done both inside and outside the Game, but as I try to explain some Sherlockian ideas to others, I find it more and more necessary to speak outside of it. So, on this particular concept, I would have to conclude that since the Casebook was the last of the published Sherlockian books, ACD was probably running low on ideas, and perhaps getting tired. It is also widely accepted that MAZA was a quick re-write of a play that he had written.  By making a few changes, he converted it into another story. An equally plausible explanation is that he just tried using a different approach.

In either MAZA or 3GAB, however, the Holmes we have come to know just doesn’t seem the same. He is noticeably more sarcastic and unprofessional in his approach to either Steve Dixie or to Isadora Klein.  Perhaps, like Watson’s literary agent, he was also getting tired of the whole game and looking forward to his retirement.

Now, that is a logical explanation!   ;-)

Until next time, and hoping you will also develop your own ideas, I remain as always,

Yours faithfully,