Mitch Cullin, writing in 2005 (of 1947), seems to have Horowitz’s number. This is the kind of thing which comes through the letter box of the 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes:
There would be requests for magazine or radio interviews, and there would be pleas for help (a lost pet, a stolen wedding ring, a missing child, an array of other hopeless trifles best left unanswered). Then there were the yet-to-be-published manuscripts: misleading and lurid fictions based on his past exploits, lofty explorations in criminology, galleys of mystery anthologies – along with flattering letters asking for an endorsement, a positive comment for a future dust jacket, or, possibly, an introduction to a text. (p. 7)‘Misleading and lurid’ is a perfect description of Moriarty – though not necessarily a criticism, since it sets out to be both. Mr Holmes (or A Slight Trick of the Mind as it was called before it was made into a film) is an altogether more gentle and straightforward novel. At least, it is if ‘straightforward’ means not concealing things for dramatic effect. From the point of view of character, it is far more complex, and tries to imagine an old and declining Holmes, trying to stave off the effects of old age and coming to terms with the few things which, almost despite his efforts, he has come to hold dear. Chief of which is his apiary: as indicated in several of the short stories, Holmes retires to Sussex to keep bees. Partly this is to do with the royal jelly they produce, which he believes helps to keep him active and well; but as the inter-woven story ‘The Glass Armonicist’ unfolds, it emerges that there is also a sentimental reason, a bee which alighted on the glove of the woman in that case, a woman who fascinated him for no very discernible reason. But perhaps the reasons for these things are never overtly demonstrable, and Mr Holmes tussles with Holmes’ strict logic, and the people who circumvent this. It doesn’t make him lovable, exactly, and the strict logic is always there, but he does have feelings of comradeship for Watson, Mycroft (both now dead), and Roger Munro, the teenage son of his housekeeper, who tends his bees when he is away. This thin thread of human connection and affection is as necessary to him as his work, which takes in the apiary and the composition of specialist texts, such as The Whole Art of Detection*. The sub-plot involving a trip to Japan to find that other rejuvenating substance, prickly ash, works as an illustration of what happens when Holmes tries to engage with the world. He has kept up a correspondence with Mr Umezaki on the subject of prickly ash, the culmination of which is his visit, but it turns out that Umezaki has an ulterior motive, and has merely had the sense to dress up his plea for help in the guise of scientific interest. When Holmes tries to reach out, it doesn’t work. He doesn’t have the knack, so has to wait through a lifetime of rigour for those three or four moments when connections to other people occur, unprompted, uncontrived, unforced. That they all die is as brutal an authorial policy as anything in Moriarty, but the Holmes that remains is sustained by his interests, and receptive to the possibility of genuine connections, however rare they may be. He comforts Roger’s mother with this moving speech:
It seems – or rather – it’s that sometimes – sometimes things occur beyond our own understanding, my dear, and the unjust reality is that these events – being so illogical to us, devoid of whatever reason we might attach to them – are exactly what they are and, regrettably, nothing else – and I believe – I truly believe that that is the hardest notion for any of us to live with. (p. 240)There is no higher reason for Roger’s death, caused by wasp stings as he defended Holmes’ apiary – except, of course, to allow Holmes to work out what happened, and Cullin to make that point. Here they are earlier on, in happier times, surrounded by phenomena which can, reassuringly, be defined:
‘Is this cliff only chalk?’____________________
‘It is made of chalk, and it is made of sandstone.’
Within the strata beneath the chalk was gault clay, greensand, and Wealden sands in successive order, explained Holmes as they continued downward; the clay beds and the thin layer of sandstones were covered with chalk, clay, and flint added throughout the aeons by countless storms. (pp. 112-3)
* The Whole Art of Detection seems to be an actual thing.
A glass armonica in action.