Thursday, October 6, 2016

Sherlock Holmes isn't a Rugby Fan

"Please await me. Terrible misfortune. Right wing three-quarter missing; indispensable to morrow.—OVERTON."

This is the confusing telegram that arrives at 221B Baker Street at the beginning of "The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter" (1904). Neither Holmes nor Watson can make heads or tails about it.

I love this particular Holmes story. The case unfolds in the logical fashion that is one of the marks of the great Holmes stories and it smoothly hits a series of various emotional notes ranging from comedy to tragedy. 

That telegram,by the way, is about a missing rugby player--someone the Cambridge team needs to find before their next big game. It's a subject that Holmes (and apparently Watson) aren't up on--so the terminology at first baffles them.

The subject of Holmes' knowledge (or lack of knowledge) about subjects not related to crime is interesting. The premiere Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet, is famous for establishing the detective didn't know the Earth revolves around the Sun. But stories like "The Bruce-Partington Plans" and "The Adventure of the Three Students" tell us about Holmes' researches into medieval music. This essay suggests that this might relate to his violin playing. I like to think that it was a combination of Watson's influence and perhaps Holmes realizing that he never knows what sort of information might be useful in an investigation. But, whatever the reason, he didn't know a thing about rugby.

But he still follows up clues better than anyone else. The missing man received a telegram before going missing. Holmes backtracks this and runs a little con on some poor girl in the telegraph office to get more information. The trail leads them from London to Cambridge, where he runs into the brilliant Dr. Leslie Armstrong. Armstrong knows what's going on, but assumes Holmes has sleazy motivations and would make certain private matters public. 

Armstrong is smart--Holmes compares him to Moriarty. But he's a good guy who is simply wrong about thinking Holmes is a bad guy. With the help of a dog named Pompey, Holmes does eventually figure out what's going on and makes peace with Armstrong.

"The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter" does often make lists of the best or most famous Holmes stories, but I think it really is one of the most purely fun tales in the Canon.

It's available online HERE

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