The Great British Sherlock Read Off – 8. “The Man With The Twisted Lip”

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Into the eighth, and probably the most bizarre so far, story of the Holmes canon.

Following a request from a family friend to track down her husband who has been frequenting opium dens, Watson bumps into Holmes who is investigating the disappearance of Neville St. Clair, last seen by his wife through one of the upstairs of the den.

There is no sign of a body, but there are traces of blood and the man’s clothes and the only suspect for St. Clair’s disappearance is a beggar of repute in the City, Hugo Boone.

There are some books and short stories that are easy to review, because you can follow the story and the plot logically flows… and then there are the ones where you wonder how it reaches its conclusion.  “The Man With The Twisted Lip” is one of those stories, made all the more difficult because you don’t want to give away any spoilers.

As in the previous story, you now get the feeling that Conan Doyle is hitting his stride with his creations.  As with the previous “Adventures” stories, Watson and Holmes are not living in each others pockets, as is so often represented in other media, and there is less need for Holmes to explain his “method” to the audience.  There is scope in this story for continuity points for Holmes – firstly, his talent for disguise and, secondly, his habit of taking narcotics.

Apart from two glaring clues, one recounted by Holmes of the initial police investigation and a second which will have more prominence for the story’s conclusion (as this provides the motive for the mystery), there is very little for Holmes, and indeed the audience, to go off.  No wonder Holmes declares that he is “one of the most absolute fools in Europe” because if the world’s greatest consulting detective couldn’t string the clues together straight away (he stays awake overnight to put the puzzle together), what hope has the audience.

The final revelation and resolution to this mystery comes over like some form of detective sleight of hand.  That said, the two clues are in plain sight and when you read through the final recounting of what happened, as is now becoming common in these stories, you do get a bit of a Homer Simpson “D’oh!!!!” moment.

As I say earlier in this post, this is a bit of “non-review” because I can’t actually say too much to risk spoilers.  Needless to say, on the face of it “The Man With The Twisted Lip” is a story that tricks the audience into thinking that it’s a harder story to fathom than what it actually is (by the end), plus you get the stereotypical Victorian detective story location of the Opium Den.

All in all, a clever story that is only seems clever in hindsight.

The next story in this challenge will be “The Adventure Of The Blue Carbuncle”.

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