Sherlock Holmes and the Remaining Improbable by Susanne M. Dutton
The game is not afoot. The Better-Every-Day world of 1895 is gone, even hard to recall as WWI ends. From his rural cottage, Sherlock Holmes no longer provokes Scotland Yard’s envy or his landlady’s impatience, but neither is he content with the study of bees…
The game is not afoot. The Better-Every-Day world of 1895 is gone, even hard to recall as WWI ends. From his rural home, Holmes no longer provokes Scotland Yard’s envy or his landlady’s impatience, but neither is he content with the study of bees. August 1920 finds him filling out entry papers at a nearly defunct psychiatric clinic on the Normandy coast. England’s new Dangerous Drugs Act declares his cocaine use illegal and he aims to quit entirely. Confronted by a question as to his “treatment goal,” Holmes hesitates, aware that his real goal far exceeds the capacity of any clinic. His scribbled response, “no more solutions, but one true resolution,” seems more a vow than a goal to his psychiatrist, Pierre Joubert. The doctor is right. Like a tiny explosion unaccountably shifting a far-reaching landscape, the simple words churn desperate action and interlocking mystery into the lives of Holmes’ friends and enemies both.
With access to Joubert’s medical notes, the reader learns more of Le Dieppe Clinique et Sanatorium and its addictions program.In his first session, Holmes recounts his earliest drug experiences, the coca leaf tea applied to his teething pains and the popular Godfrey’s Cordial and Mrs. Winslow’s Child Preservative, with their opium and morphine ingredients. He admits that on entering Christ Church College, Oxford, his access to cocaine widened as his reliance deepened. Later, the needle might nestle in its Morocco case for long periods during challenging investigations, but that case and its contents remained nearby. As he once famously asserted to Watson, the drug lifted him out of the intolerable “stagnating routines” of life. He can’t recall when the lines blurred, when life itself became the thing from which he craved lifting.
Though Joubert has long admired the famous detective and even imagines himself as a detective, Holmes proves an irascible patient. He diagnoses his doctor’s ailments and denies his professional assumptions. He demands quieter rooms, claims that clinic meals cramp him and rejects group therapy outright. No wonder the patient count dwindles, Holmes complains. His doctor is satisfied, however. Signs are good. It’s all part of a necessary adjustment. Holmes walks in the countryside—albeit after dark—and a fierce game of singles tennis seems to break the awful tedium that gnaws at him. Though he jokes that he can cheat the new Word Association test, he agrees to try it, intrigued by its potential for criminal investigation. Hypnosis fascinates Holmes as well, until in one trance he regresses beyond vivid boyhood memories of his father’s French art collection to an ancestor’s disturbing experience in the French Revolution. Joubert adamantly counsels that these images are not history, only unique creations of the psyche. Perhaps they can put this exploration off until later? Holmes shakes his head, “Not today, or any day.”
Five weeks into his treatment, the detective’s eyesight weakens. His weight drops. A wheeled chair and an orderly prove necessary. Sleep eludes him, replaced by ominous hallucinations. Then his personal belongings go missing and reappear, strangely altered. Two of these tricks strike Holmes as childish, but the last seems a real threat and not as in the past, to his vocation or his life. This is deeply personal, darker and more disquieting. Has he such an enemy in Dieppe? In spite of his determination to overcome his addiction, he knows that, as a patient here, he is vulnerable as never before. Must he leave? Surely not, at least not without the data he needs to form a deduction. Finally, the clinic offers something Sherlock Holmes cannot resist. He will stay on–for the mystery.
Not long afterward, John Watson opens a late afternoon telegram originating in Eastbourne and directed to his London surgery.
Most deeply cherished friend John. The game is afoot. Please take the Brighton Line from Victoria to Eastbourne at ten in the morning. Revolver unnecessary. Sherlock Holmes
The message gratifies Watson. Obviously, Holmes has completed his treatment in Normandy and misses their old life together as much as he. His anticipation for another case builds as he falls back into the mode of being not just Doctor Watson, but “Watson, Confederate and Chronicler.” A hurried leave of absence is not impossible, he reasons. He has reduced his office hours and watched as his patients cooperate to an unflattering extent, transferring their loyalties to his younger partner.
So it happens that Watson, after a number of years, entrains once more for Eastbourne and finds himself caught up in the most unique and outrageous Holmes adventure no one will ever hear about.
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