Thursday, August 7, 2014

"My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other people don't know."

Every once in a while, I suddenly get in the mood to read at least one of the original Sherlock Holmes stories--it's sort of like a sudden onset of the flu. But instead of cough medicine and chicken soup, the cure is to go with it and read something from the Canon.

This happened the other day. I needed to read something Holmes. But I couldn't decide which one. There's a danger in these situations of my simply jumping to one of my favorites. This is fine by itself, but it means other stories in the Canon go unread by me for years.

So I jumped to Google and found a list of the 56 short stories. I realized I could then use a random number generator to pick a number from 1 to 56 inclusive, but what the heck fun would that be?

Instead, I found an web site that can random generate one or more picks from a list. I copied and pasted the list of stories into this, pressed Enter and came up with "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle," first published in the Strand Magazine in 1892.

A carbuncle, by the way, is a now archaic term for a red gemstone--usually a red garnet. So the blue carbuncle in the story is worth a fortune in part because of its unusual color.

But as the story starts, there's no carbuncle involved. Holmes is simply doing someone a favor by trying to deduce the owner of a lost hat from clues on the hat itself.

The guy who dropped the hat also dropped a goose intended for Christmas dinner, which turns out to have the blue carbuncle inside it. The gem was in the news recently after having been stolen from a countess, with a maintenance man from her hotel having been charged with the crime.

It's a fun set-up. Early on, Holmes and Watson are remarking to each other how many of his most interesting cases--such as this one first seems to be--don't involve the actual commission of a crime. But soon after that, a crime that needs to be solved is dropped in their laps.

Holmes' deductions about the hat are classic. When he begins tracing the goose to discover how the gem got inside, he has another great moment when he worms information out of a grouchy goose salesman.

And the quote I use for the title of this post is one of the best bits of dialogue from the Canon.

The story is set at Christmas time, helping to set up an ending in which Holmes has identified a cringing,
frightened first-time thief as the real thief, but then decides that this situation might call for mercy triumphing over justice.

Of course, this isn't the only time Holmes considers letting a criminal walk. In fact, there's at least two occasions where he let a murderer get away with it because he felt the crime was justified. So letting a thief walk (knowing he can now get the innocent man freed, by the way) isn't really that big a deal for him.

So I'm satisfied with my newly-invented "Sherlock Holmes Short Story Randomizer." It worked out quite well and I'll probably be returning to it the next time Sherlockian fever strikes.

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