Liz Jensen is an author I admire, so when in a recent piece for creative writing journal Mslexia she urged subscribers to read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Speckled Band, I determined to do exactly that.
As you might guess it‘s a Sherlock Holmes adventure, the first I’ve ever read, though I’d have had to have been raised on Mars not to know what to expect from Conan Doyle’s iconic creation: observation, inference, deduction. There are no smoke and mirrors. As Holmes himself tells Watson, “I may have deduced a little more. I imagine that you saw all that I did.”
The Adventure of the Speckled Band is a short story, part of the collection The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Watson (who is a Doctor, remember, an intelligent man, not a bumbling idiot, however certain actors have chosen to play him) acts as narrator, standing shoulder to shoulder with the reader. He – we – undoubtedly see(s) a bell rope, a ventilator, a bed clamped to the floor, a saucer of milk, a dog whip formed into a noose, a safe, a whistle; but it is Holmes alone who has the necessary vision to perceive the pattern and design behind these apparently disparate objects.
Early in the story Holmes thinks he’s cracked it but on visiting the scene his theory proves flawed. After finally solving the crime he admits, “I had come to an entirely erroneous conclusion which shows, my dear Watson, how dangerous it always is to reason from insufficient data.”
And this is what gives Sherlock Holmes his enduring appeal, I think: he’s a logician not a magician. It seems if we only look carefully enough, think deeply enough, reason thoroughly enough – if we only connect, in other words, with the minutiae of the everyday – we can begin to perceive meaning and order underlying all things. Sherlock’s brilliant, subtle brain sees not chaos, but coherence. It is a remarkably comforting world view.
Bring on the next adventure…
*** Highly recommended