This week’s delay is brought to you by August still being the new worst month of the year and Lisa of the Prolific Trek, who decided it would be a good idea to infect me with Deep Space Nine appreciation. I’ve been binge-watching since Sunday; I just started season three Wednesday night. (I’m up to episode 13 at the time of posting) I…may have fallen into a Star Trek hole I’ll never crawl out of. But, hey, it may lead to a lovely post about the Sherlock archetype in other media at some point, thanks to Odo.
So, I didn’t have the same problem with this story that the folks at Sherlock Peoria’s Chronology Corner did, meaning I wasn’t left entirely feeling like Holmes was a pod person or an imposter of some sort. He didn’t come across as somehow not himself, at least to me. And, unlike “Wisteria Lodge,” Holmes didn’t feel asleep at the wheel, either. The case was even a fairly interesting one – I mean, who asks a widow to buy their house and every last thing in it, allowing her to take pretty much nothing with her? That’s a new twist for the Great Detective, right?
What’s not so new, though, is Holmes allowing the bad guy to get off scot-free yet again. This wasn’t a case of Holmes being outwitted, or circumstances preventing the crook getting what’s coming to him/her, or the motive being so altruistic or understandable that even the reader wants them to get away with it. It’s not even (to me) a case of there being nothing to prosecute or prove. A criminal did a bad thing, and the story ends without them having to pay for it.
For the record – no one dies. No one is even mildly injured. A house is burgaled, an older woman is upset and left a little – rightfully – terrified, but no one is physically harmed. So maybe it’s not so bad that the person behind it all just gets a stern warning from Holmes and has to foot the bill for an old lady’s trip around the world. But let’s look at what lengths the villain of this story – Isadora Klein, widow, fashion plate, and “the celebrated beauty” – is willing to go to for the sake of protecting her upcoming marriage to a duke:
- She gets in bed with members of the London criminal underworld;
- She uses them as a means to try to talk an old woman out of her house and all her belongings;
- She is behind the burglary of said house when the old woman refuses to sell;
- She is inadvertently behind an “enforcer” trying to threaten/intimidate Sherlock Holmes into staying off a case.
All of this, by the way? Is to get her hands on the sole remaining copy of a tell-all book a former lover wrote after she broke his heart.
Now, let me back up: I know I’ve already talked about – recently, even – blackmail and how delicate a woman’s reputation could be in the Victorian era. The wrong word said to the wrong person, a mislaid letter that falls into the wrong hands, a glove left in the wrong carriage…it all could spell disaster for someone. But, I kind of don’t feel as sympathetic for the widow Klein as I did for Holmes’ client – or the mysterious gunwoman – in “Charles Augustus Milverton,” and here’s why. Isadora Klein has it made. She inherited a pretty sum for her dead husband, she’s already rumored to have been involved in countless romantic entanglements, and any man that isn’t a complete fool likely already knows what he’s getting into with her. The story of how she shattered Douglas Maberley’s heart isn’t going to undo Mrs. Klein. It just might upset her future mother-in-law and potentially put a kink in her wedding plans. Isadora Klein isn’t going to suffer if the truth gets out. She just doesn’t want all her dirty laundry taking up permanent residence on anyone’s bookshelf, that’s all.
So yes, it bugs me that she gets left to continue living out her happy, unfettered existence without paying a single real price for what she’s done. Sure, Mrs. Maberley gets to travel the world on her dead son’s ex-lover’s dime – Douglas caught pneumonia in Rome; I would’ve gone with consumption, personally, given the climate, but what do I know? Doyle was the doctor – but justice, in my opinion, doesn’t get served at all. And that bugs me. My sense of morality is apparently offended, just a little, by Holmes’ nonchalance with letting this criminal go free. There is absolutely no reason to give her a pass. She’s not already dying (like the murderer in “Boscombe Valley”); she’s not justified (Milverton’s murderess, to name the most recent); she doesn’t just avoid capture (“Five Orange Pips,” “The Greek Interpreter”) or not actually commit anything actionable (“A Case of Identity”). Holmes just…lets her get away with it:
“Well, well,” he said, “I suppose I shall have to compound a felony as usual…”
Seriously, Holmes? Seriously? You’ve made it such a habit to let crooks go that compounding a felony is as regular and accepted as that? Really? For the second time in this project, I am compelled to shake a fictional character so hard his brain resets like an Etch-a-Sketch. That should never be the sort of statement that ends with “as usual!”
God, I hate that!
The story ends with Holmes (presumably successfully) extorting five thousand pounds from Mrs. Klein to send Mrs. Maberley around the world in first-class style. (We won’t talk about how that almost makes him a blackmailer, and how much he detests blackmailers, because I’m not up for Holmesian hypocrisy today.) As a parting swipe, Holmes imparts a little advice to the widow about some of her life choices:
“Meantime, lady” – he wagged a cautionary forefinger – “have a care! Have a care! You can’t play with edged tools forever without cutting those dainty hands.”
Yup. That’ll teach her, Holmes. Nobody can continue a downhill slide in the face of a cautionary finger wag.