The Adventure Of The Blue Carbuncle by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1892
The magic trick:
Portraying the light, playful side of Sherlock’s character
Sherlock Holmes on Christmas? Heck yeah! This is one I read every year at this time, so it seemed like a fitting choice to close our advent calendar. It really is such a great story. Oddly enough, not so much a great mystery. How can that be? you ask. Let’s get into it.
If you have not read this story, please jump now to the link below, as the following sentence will likely ruin the plot for the unfamiliar among us.
Now then, as I said, the mystery here is slight. Basically, a man steals a prized gem and stuffs it down a goose’s throat for safe-keeping. Because nothing could possibly go wrong with that plan, right? Well, sure enough, the goose runs off, the thief loses track of the be-jeweled goose among the gaggle, and the gem turns up in the crop of someone’s Christmas dinner shortly thereafter. Pretty silly, really.
The key magic trick at work is the way Sherlock Holmes is portrayed. Doyle really is having a ton of holiday fun. He has his detective in the best of spirits, ripping all over London, manipulating people into telling him just what he wants to know. He even drops his classic superhero line: “My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other people don’t know.” First, Sherlock stages a quiz of sorts to determine how much Mr. Baker knows. He then adopts an attitude of awe and respect with the club owner in order to reveal the next link of the chain leading back to the magic goose. When the goose dealer takes offense at the pointed questioning, Sherlock puts on his best performance yet, inventing a wager and purposely losing in hopes of arousing the dealer’s stubborn, competitive spirit. For his final trick, Sherlock wins James Ryder’s confidence only to expose him as the thief.
If that sounds like an awful lot of manipulation, you’re right. But lest you think it’s mean-spirited, worry not; it is all great fun. Doyle keeps the tone light. Even the ending has a bit of cheer befitting the Christmas season. Never do we get Sherlock’s standard warning about being up against “a foe more devilish than any I have ever known.” We never get the ominous suggestion from Sherlock that Watson bring his revolver with him tonight. The whole thing feels like a romp. Sherlock is a fairly dark and complex character, but in this story at least, he seems to embrace his genius and the thrill of the chase, leaving the drug-addled depression at home. A perfect tone for a Christmas mystery. And that’s quite a trick on Doyle’s part.
“When you see a man with whiskers of that cut and the ‘Pink ‘un’ protruding out of his pocket, you can always draw him by a bet,” said he. “I daresay that if I had put 100 pounds down in front of him, that man would not have given me such complete information as was drawn from him by the idea that he was doing me on a wager. Well, Watson, we are, I fancy, nearing the end of our quest, and the only point which remains to be determined is whether we should go on to this Mrs. Oakshott to-night, or whether we should reserve it for to-morrow. It is clear from what that surly fellow said that there are others besides ourselves who are anxious about the matter, and I should –”