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#35: All too elementary

percentMan, 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.

Comments

( 4 pithy comments — Say something pithy! )
ereini0n
Dec. 14th, 2012 07:05 am (UTC)
Awesome review!
Isn't self-insert-fanfiction-pretending-to-be-fiction the most worthless thing ever? Unfortunately, there's alot of it out there....
indigozeal
Dec. 16th, 2012 12:11 am (UTC)
Thank you!

If only the author had kept up his original premise! For the first 80 pages or so, I was utterly psyched, saying to myself, "This is awesome." Alas.
kimberlite8
Dec. 14th, 2012 07:58 pm (UTC)
Have you seen the movie of this? Its a staple - I've seen it on Tv a number of times.

It is very fanfictiony - an exercise in psychoanalyzing Holmes and diagnosing him with all those Freudian labels.

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

This conceit was intriguing. If you have never read the original Conan Doyle stories, you can easily believe that Moriarty was a worthy foil to Holmes - the Napoleon of Crime against which he tests his mettle. Because that's what the noncanonical Holmes stories build him up to be.

But in the original Conan Doyle stories - Moriarty shows up what once (maybe twice?) and is obviously there so that Doyle can use him to bury Holmes. He's never as compelling a villain or fleshed out as say, the villain of Hound of the Baskervilles. So I loved the conceit that Moriarty is not some archvillain, as he was hardly more than a blip in the stories.

If you have not sworn off Homles fanfiction, I did like the Mary Russell stories, which starts with Beekeeper's Apprentice. Incredibly Mary Sue (Mary even looks like the author - tall and with glasses). About a girl with Holmes deductive abilities and arrogance. She apprentices under him and eventually becomes his wife despite the forty year age difference. It was well written though and entertaining and the plot isn't so implausible.
indigozeal
Dec. 16th, 2012 12:26 am (UTC)
Have you seen the movie of this?

I haven't, actually. I've been off cable for a while and have missed it in reruns. I'm perhaps best staying away if it exacerbates the problems of the book like it sounds.

Moriarty shows up what once (maybe twice?) and is obviously there so that Doyle can use him to bury Holmes. He's never as compelling a villain or fleshed out as say, the villain of Hound of the Baskervilles.

Ohhhhh, yeah. I finished the second half of the original Holmes stories after this, and I actually saved The Valley of Fear for last, hearing that it was Moriarty's second appearance and assuming that there was going to be some kind of major showdown. Then, after about half a book's worth of what I assumed was (not bad) setup, I was confronted with "Hey, you know that stretch in A Study with Scarlet about evil Mormons? Let's do that again, except with evil Masons!" (Yeah, I know it's based on historical events, but it kills a Holmes story flat.)

I really do wish the author had just run with his initial premise about Watson having to deliver a coke-addled Holmes from his white whale of a crime boss who never was. It just was so gripping and character-rich, and what came after was so trite and substanceless.

If you have not sworn off Homles fanfiction, I did like the Mary Russell stories, which starts with Beekeeper's Apprentice.

I've heard of them previously on the comm (from you, perhaps?), and I certainly wouldn't be dissuaded from a good Holmes story by another author. I'll keep it in mind!
( 4 pithy comments — Say something pithy! )

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