Man, was this a disappointment. Nicholas Meyer's The Seven-Per-Cent Solution starts with a killer premise: Sherlock Holmes' occasional indulgence in cocaine to stimulate his senses has exploded into an uncontrollable addiction, and the Professor Moriarty Holmes confronts during this period is not a nefarious criminal puppetmaster but an innocent old math teacher under persecution by Holmes's increasingly paranoid mind. That's what John Watson is told at the outset, anyhow, and the man sees that's it's up to him not only to find the truth, if any, behind Holmes's drug-fueled rantings of conspiracy but to find his friend deliverance from the narcotic that has taken hold of his brilliant mind.
Watson frames the case as the real story behind Holmes's long disappearance after "The Final Problem," one he could never tell while his friend was alive (Meyer bills it as a lost manuscript Watson churned out years later in a retirement home that was never found till the seventies ). The alternate take on one of the lower points in Holmes's career initially seemed tailor-made for me - I liked Watson's wife Mary Morstan, here a capable collaborator in Watson's desperate investigation/rescue attempt; I found the great villain Moriarty a dud and think the conceit that maybe he didn't really exist except in Holmes's mind is a possibility with much more potential; and it seems natural to me that being the support system for a man as exhausting, prickly, and idiosyncratic as Holmes could be would demand greater reserves of resilience, wisdom, and human understanding than Doyle ever acknowledged Watson to have on page. For the first fifty pages or so, watching Watson grapple with how to execute his initial idea - getting Holmes to a doctor in Vienna he hears specializes in treating addiction - was tense and intriguing, and I relished a story where Watson, not Holmes, was the protagonist, where Watson was forced to match wits against his friend in an effort to save him. Sad to say, the story collapses from there.
The doctor in Vienna turns out to be Sigmund Freud. The prologue with Watson was a mere smokescreen; Meyer's real purpose in writing The Seven-Per-Cent Solution is to fanboy how Freud is soooooo much better than Holmes OMG with all the subtlety of a fanfic about Goku beating up Superman. After his pasteboard Holmes is brought suitably low before Freud, the cocaine business is quickly dispensed with so that Meyer plunge into his Freud-Holmes superstar crossover teamup, yet he can concoct no better problem for them to tackle than a routine kidnapped-noblewoman yarn, which the respective fathers of ratiocination and psychoanalysis solve largely through a) playing tennis and b) shoveling coal into a furnace. Watson is most disappointingly kicked backseat to his typical role as Greek chorus of fatuous adoration, and the tale loses not only its sympathetic, stirring protagonist and intriguing hook of an inversion of the Holmes mythos but also most of its narrative steam through stopping and then having to restart a third of the way into the proceedings. I wish someone would make a fanfic of this fanfic, running with its fascinating premise instead of abandoning it for a trite Gary Stu fantasy.
Oh, and as for that big personal revelation: ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, please.