Wednesday, December 3, 2008

recent reading

My sister just wrote about her recent reading, so I thought that I would. I recently finished another trip through 'The Complete Sherlock Holmes' by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I have enjoyed it more since living in England and wandering through London a bit. I also had an analysis professor at Lancaster who will always play the role of Sherlock Holmes in my mind as I read those stories.

Sherlock Holmes is built around a supremely powerful principle of writing that is rarely used to its full advantage. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Holmes is bigger than the stories which define him. There are constant references to other cases, some of them which can only be hinted at by Watson, as their exposure would even now topple kingdoms. Stories frequently include some casual introduction to an unknown chapter of the detective's experience, an offhand comment about the most obscure of specialities, which implicitly releases our imaginations to wonder what the fellow does not know. I once wrote a monograph on the classification of the thirty-seven most common types of pencil lead... a mere trifle, really. We get the impression that we are seeing the slightest sample of the character. We are afforded a portrait that is less than comprehension.

A couple of years ago I inherited a fat book of Hercule Poirot short stories from some friends as they were moving. The book contained some fifty stories, and although I read them all, I was somewhat underwhelmed. Agatha Christie was supposed to be a great mystery writer and Poirot made for a poor introduction. I think that she went to such pains to make him the antithesis of Sherlock Holmes that he escaped without any personality or finesse. With Hercule Poirot, I was pretty sure that I saw the whole character and it was not very interesting.

Anyway, I just read Agatha Christie's story called 'The Witness for the Prosecution", and while it did not contain much in the way of impressive detective work, it did reveal an originality and imagination that was so wanting in poor Hercule's cases.

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