Sherlock Holmes: A Case of Identity

Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection -  Arthur Conan Doyle, Stephen Fry

“There’s a cold-blooded scoundrel!” said Holmes, laughing, as he threw himself down into his chair once more. “That fellow will rise from crime to crime until he does something very bad, and ends on a gallows. The case has, in some respects, been not entirely devoid of interest.”

 

Erm, as much as I love Holmes, this cracked me up: To say that the case has not been entirely devoid of interest is a round-about way of saying that it has for the most part been of no interest what-so-ever, but, you know, just not entirely.

 

That's how I would describe A Case of Identity - almost entirely devoid of interest.

 

The mystery is based on a the disappearance of a fiancée, which causes a young woman to seek out Holmes at Baker Street. The actual story is preposterous bordering on the plain silly and I would like to hope that ACD wrote this with a smirk on his face as he drew up the characters in this story:

 

On one hand we have gullible girl bestowed with an over-abundance of Victorian ideals, such as becoming engaged on a first outing with a suitor (I know, one has to laugh!), on the other we have a true scoundrel, who seeks to swindle the gullible girl out of her cash (or at least some of it) by "patronising" her in the most idiotic way. 

 

The actual story is almost the opposite of A Scandal in Bohemia: The characters lack the sophistication, the class, the wit, the flair. It may have been ACD's intention to draw this contrast, and make it even more apparent by Holmes and Watson even making specific reference to Irene Adler, I don't know, but the effect it had on me was that I had no interest in the mystery or the characters - quite the opposite to A Scandal in Bohemia.

 

However, to paraphrase Holmes, the story has, in some respects, been not entirely devoid of interest. We get more insight into the lives of Holmes and Watson. We learn that Holmes is not operating entirely on intellect as so often (falsely) portrayed. He has a strong sense of justice, but his main criticism of the scoundrel is that said scoundrel has been utterly heartless.

 

Aside from getting to spend time with my favourite Baker Street duo, there was only one other thing that proved interesting:  

“If I tell her she will not believe me. You may remember the old Persian saying, ‘There is danger for him who taketh the tiger cub, and danger also for whoso snatches a delusion from a woman.’ There is as much sense in Hafiz as in Horace, and as much knowledge of the world.”

 

I loved that paragraph. It made me laugh. However, I had no idea who Hafiz was. As my reading buddy, Troy, and I started to discuss the story, we also started to ponder about why ACD would choose to quote a medieval Sufi mystic and poet. How did ACD know about him? 

 

But the more we thought about it, the more it seemed to make sense. After all, Watson is a veteran of the Afghan Wars. A few of the Holmes stories have an Indian or Far Eastern element. With ACD being quite a circumspect citizen of the world and a traveller (tho, I could not find anything about him travelling to Persia), I can no longer think of a reason why he should not have been familiar with a medieval Sufi mystic and poet. 

 

So, even though, the actual mystery is pretty underwhelming, I liked that I learned something new (to me) about a medieval Persian poet.

 

Here's one of Hafiz's to round things up:

 

For years my heart inquired of me 
                   Where Jamshid's sacred cup might be, 
And what was in its own possession 
                   It asked from strangers, constantly; 
Begging the pearl that's slipped its shell 
                   From lost souls wandering by the sea. 
 
Last night I took my troubles to 
                   The Magian sage whose keen eyes see 
A hundred answers in the wine 
                   Whose cup he, laughing, showed to me. 
I questioned him, "When was this cup 
                   That shows the world's reality 
 
Handed to you?" He said, "The day 
                   Heaven's vault of lapis lazuli 
Was raised, and marvelous things took place 
                   By Intellect's divine decree, 
And Moses' miracles were made 
                   And Sameri's apostasy." 
 
He added then, "That friend they hanged   
                   High on the looming gallows tree— 
His sin was that he spoke of things 
                   Which should be pondered secretly, 
The page of truth his heart enclosed 
                   Was annotated publicly. 
 
But if the Holy Ghost once more 
                   Should lend his aid to us we'd see 
Others perform what Jesus did— 
                   Since in his heartsick anguish he 
Was unaware that God was there 
                   And called His name out ceaselessly." 
 
I asked him next, "And beauties' curls 
                   That tumble down so sinuously, 
What is their meaning? Whence do they come?" 
                   "Hafez," the sage replied to me, 
"It's your distracted, lovelorn heart 
                   That asks these questions constantly."
(Found at www.poetryfoundation.org)