Wednesday, July 10, 2013

"The Seven-Per-Cent Solution" by Nicholas Meyer

Of all the non-canonical Sherlock Holmes adventures I've read over the years, this is the first one that made me go, "This guy gets it!  These really act, talk, and think like Holmes and Watson!"  Meyer deftly avoids the caricatures that many non-canon stories present, giving them even more depth and realism than some of the original stories did.  Also, he has Watson quote Hamlet several times, and I love that not just cuz I love Hamlet, but because Holmes quotes it several times in the original stories, and so that's a great carry-over.

Meyer's conceit is that Watson wrote this while in his eighties, after Holmes and everyone else involved had died.  It's an approach that works really well, as it lets Watson address some of the more common criticisms of the original.  You know, how many times he was married and the way he sometimes behaves less than intelligently, things like that.

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution is one of my favorite titles ever.  Yes, it tells you from the start that it's going to revolve around Holmes' cocaine habit.  But I especially love that the word "solution" applies not only to the mixture of 7% cocaine and 93% water he uses, but also to finding a solution to his drug problem.  Because, by the time this story takes place, it is definitely a problem.  Meyer takes Holmes' habit to its logical conclusion:  full-on addiction.  Holmes can't do without the drug anymore, and it's causing him all kinds of trouble.  Thanks to it, he's convinced that there's one man controlling all of London's more audacious criminals, a mastermind, the arch-nemesis he's always craved.  A man named Professor Moriarty.

Yeah, Moriarty.  Most over-used villain of pretty much all time.  I have this pet peeve about Moriarty, because it feels like every single person who wants to write a story about Holmes uses Moriarty as the villain.  From Young Sherlock Holmes (1985) to Sherlock Holmes:  A Game of Shadows (2011) to The Beekeeper's Apprentice to this, it's always Moriarty, Moriarty, Moriarty.  And I get it, I do.  Moriarty was his only true match.  Moriarty was Holmes' foil.  Everyone knows who Moriarty is, so you instantly have anti-Moriarty sentiment to rely on.  But come on, people!  Holmes did have other worthy adversaries.  (And don't get me started on Irene Adler -- she's horribly overused too.)

But Nicholas Meyer does something wonderful here.  He turns the idea of Moriarty the Criminal Genius on its head.  And I'm not gonna say more than that, because this is a cool book and I hope you read it.  But he twists the Moriarty thing in a new and nifty way, and I like it.

So anyway, Watson decides he has to save Holmes from himself.  And the only way Watson can think of to do that is to take Holmes to this doctor in Vienna who's discovered a way to cure people of cocaine addiction.  How he gets Holmes there is a great deal of fun, so I won't go into that here, but I will spoil one thing and tell you that doctor's name:  Sigmund Freud.

Are you rubbing your hands together and laughing soundlessly in a hearty fashion at the possibilities presented here?  Cuz that's what I do every time I think about this book.  It's just such a brilliant idea, and Meyer pulls it off in every way possible.  Love it.

There's also a movie version starring Alan Arkin as Freud and Nicol Williamson as Holmes and Laurence Olivier as Moriarty, and it's great fun too, but I like the book better.  Because the book really delves into Holmes and Watson's inner selves, into the way they really feel about each other.  The exasperation at each others' foibles and the appreciation for each others' talents.  The way Watson stands in awe of Holmes' intellect, but thinks he needs to be more human.  And the reasons why Holmes turned to detective work in the first place.

Okay, I'm just going to shut up now and tell you to find and read this, if you're at all a Sherlock Holmes fan.

If this was a movie, I would rate it:  PG-13 for drug usage.


  1. What did you think of Robert Duvall's Watson? I liked him, but I've seen a ton of criticism, too. Williamson is not physically how I envision Holmes, but he was still wonderful -- he portrayed Holmes' pain and despair quite well.

    1. I liked Duvall okay, but I find that some people just can't stand Duvall, and so of course they didn't like him in this -- they just don't like him!

      I'm hoping to rewatch the movie version soon, as it's been a really long time since I saw it. Five or six years at least ;-)


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