In the present day, reader’s expectations of the crime fiction genre have changed considerably. As crime detection methods have advanced, we expect to see a more complex plot, not a predictable outcome. Readers expect the unexpected. We are no longer satisfied with a repetitive, formulaic story alone, unless it has other assets, such as humour. As I have already mentioned, Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories follow a set, repeated structure. The plot is invariably as follows; somebody seeks Holmes’ help, and so he and his companion Dr Watson investigate.
Watson is always baffled and Homes confident.
He solves the crime easily and the victim is very appreciative. Holmes follows by explaining (in infinite detail) how he solved the case. His explanation leaves Watson in awe. Order is restored to the lives of those involved in the crime. All of the Sherlock Holmes stories share certain features. They are told in the first person, from Watson’s point of view, and begin with his reflection on a past case, which then leads to him retelling it.
In every story the case is made out to be unique in some way or another, and Holmes will enthuse about how “mysterious” and “complex” each case is.
‘”An exceedingly interesting case it appears to be. I would not have missed it for worlds. “‘ The Noble Bachelor This is an example of Holmes’ endearing enthusiasm for his cases, which appealed to the Victorians. The cases are also all seemingly impossible to solve, and Holmes is rarely the first to try – usually the police or another detective have tried and failed to solve the case.
Also, at least one person is always left feeling indebted to Holmes. ‘”Really, Mr Holmes,” said Mr Merryweather, as we followed them from the cellar, “I do not know how the bank can thank you or repay you.
There is no doubt that you have detected and defeated in the most complete manner one of the most determined attempts at bank robbery that have ever come within my experience. “‘ The Red Headed League This is an example of how one of the innocent people involved in a crime is left idolising Sherlock Holmes for solving a case. This unchanging structure appeals to a modern readership as it offers an easy read, requires no in-depth thinking and a positive ending is guaranteed. To many, this is a charmingly predictable structure, rare in modern-day literature and appealing in its blatant simplicity.
As we are so accustomed to complex crime-fiction with twists and turns, Sherlock Holmes can be refreshing breaks – not only from other literature but from the hectic, complicated lives we live, which are worlds apart from the simple, old-fashioned lives of Conan Doyle’s characters. Although many modern readers find the Sherlock Holmes stories enjoyable, others find them equally irritating. Many readers find their repetitiveness and predictability infuriating and pointless, and the relationship between mastermind Holmes and confused Watson clichi??
d. Some would go as far to say they find the stories insulting to their intelligence as a reader, as they are so self-explanatory and demand no intellect on the reader’s behalf. In “The Man with a Twisted Lip”, a worried wife seeks Holmes’ help after she sees her husband gesticulating wildly from the window of an opium den and then discovers him to have disappeared. After investigation, Holmes realises the only witness of the event is a dirty beggar with a twisted lip. Much confusion follows, in which everybody seems perplexed by the case.
Apart from, of course, Holmes. After much deliberation, he finally reveals that the beggar is the husband himself, but in disguise. To most modern readers this would seem an anti-climax as there was no criminal all along, and the majority of modern crime-fiction concentrates on “who-done-it”. But to Victorian readers this would be a perfect ending, the fact that Holmes has solved yet another case would satisfy them, but that there never was really a criminal would make them even happier.
It is a fine example of the perfect situation they wished to see more of in their own lives. “The Speckled Band” is all about Holmes discovering by what methods somebody was killed, as oppose to who was the murderer. A woman whose sister mysteriously died years ago comes to Holmes for help having heard the same sound present when her sister died outside her own bedroom window. The reader is never in doubt that the murderer is the girls’ father – a violent, angry man who tries to intimidate Holmes to stop him investigating.
Modern readers would find the murderer being the father to be tediously obvious. When it is finally revealed to be him this is no surprise, and this means that this ending is an anti-climax also; even more so than “The Man with a Twisted Lip”. However, this ending would not have disappointed a Victorian readership as they would have been interested in how the woman died, and would have been engrossed by Holmes’ methods of investigation, as these differed so much from their own police force’s poor efforts at crime detection.
Watson narrating the stories plays an important part in the depiction of Sherlock Holmes. I have mentioned other characters that are very appreciative of Holmes, but Dr Watson is actually in awe of him, to an extent bordering on the unbelievable. There has been speculation by English professors and lecturers that Watson may have had homosexual inclinations towards Holmes. The doctor describes everything Holmes does meticulously and positively, so that anybody reading the stories can find no fault with the detective.
Watson himself being so clumsy and slow emphasises the greatness of the mastermind Holmes even more. ‘”I have during the last years studied the methods of my friend Sherlock Holmes. . . . working as he did rather for the love of his art than the acquirement of wealth,”‘ The Speckled Band Watson described Holmes’ detective work as “his art”, something that he did out of “love” not for money. This is an example of how highly Watson respects Holmes, and how he underlines his good intentions and talent throughout the novel.
Not only does Watson ensure that Holmes is always seen in a positive way, but he also plays the part of the reader, providing an understandable and believable “window” into the story. Watson is not as knowledgeable as Holmes and does not understand the complexities of a case; he is left in the dark for the majority of the story and enlightened at the end. He follows Holmes everywhere and is present for all the action of the plot. Through Watson, Conan Doyle has created the perfect eyes for the reader to look through – they are given all the clues of the mystery and are provided with a full explanation.
The pace of the stories is slow, with a large amount of detail and description of crime scenes and objects. Conan Doyle did this to set the mood and feel of the story, and he wanted the reader to know exactly what was there and where. ‘A brown chest of drawers stood in one corner, a narrow white-counterpaned bed in another, and a dressing-table on the left-hand side of the window. These articles, with two small wicker-work chairs, made up all the furniture in the room, save for a square of Wilton carpet in the centre. ‘