“if Holmes’s thoughts were laid bare, if his methods ever became commonplace, then Holmes would lose his mystery…”
January 21, 2021 By Timothy Miller
What’s a mystery all about? The ending? Well, of course, you say—the denouement, the unraveling of the clues, the big reveal. If it’s too easy to guess the ending before that very moment, or if the ending doesn’t seem to mesh with the clues provided by the author you’re disappointed with it. It’s a lousy mystery, right?
Really? Ever re-read a mystery? Even though you know the solution? (If you’re like me, of course, you can re-read it a year later because you’ve forgotten the solution, but that’s another matter.) But what’s the pleasure in re-reading if the entire pleasure is in the solution dangled like a carrot before you? Tom Stoppard, the great British playwright, opines that a play which depends on keeping its secrets isn’t worth viewing twice—which he found out the hard way. Which brings us to the mystery of Sherlock Holmes. If you’ve read a Holmes story, chances are you’ve read another, and if you’ve read two, you’ve probably read them all and re-read them all, and chances are you’ve picked every bone of that corpus clean, with a great deal of relish. Why on earth would you do that? Where’s the mystery in that? I’ll spill my solution up front: the mystery is in Holmes. It’s been said that next to Jesus and Hamlet, Sherlock Holmes has had more ink spilled about him than any man, real or fictional. Holmes is the black box of literature. Doyle’s genius is not in what he reveals, but what he conceals. The rue depth is not in the notes, but the silences.