“To act, Sherlock--to act!” cried Mycroft, springing to his feet. “All my instincts are against this explanation. Use your powers! Go to the scene of the crime! See the people concerned! Leave no stone unturned! In all your career you have never had so great a chance of serving your country.”
“Well, well!” said Holmes, shrugging his shoulders. “Come, Watson! And you, Lestrade, could you favour us with your company for an hour or two?
Oh, my, where to start with this one? There is so much to love here:
- (M)ycroft who is either the first human computer or the first, erm, ....."M" or both?
- The underlying story of increasing political tensions between Britain and Germany?
- The brilliant inclusion of the London Underground, which has been around since the 1860s but which seemed too modern for earlier Holmes stories that still featured hansom cabs and which therefore is a definite switch to a more modern era (even if this is set in 1895)?
"By the way, do you know what Mycroft is?”I had some vague recollection of an explanation at the time of the Adventure of the Greek Interpreter. “You told me that he had some small office under the British government.”Holmes chuckled.“I did not know you quite so well in those days. One has to be discreet when one talks of high matters of state. You are right in thinking that he under the British government. You would also be right in a sense if you said that occasionally he IS the British government.” “My dear Holmes!”“I thought I might surprise you. Mycroft draws four hundred and fifty pounds a year, remains a subordinate, has no ambitions of any kind, will receive neither honour nor title, but remains the most indispensable man in the country.”“But how?”“Well, his position is unique. He has made it for himself. There has never been anything like it before, nor will be again. He has the tidiest and most orderly brain, with the greatest capacity for storing facts, of any man living. The same great powers which I have turned to the detection of crime he has used for this particular business. The conclusions of every department are passed to him, and he is the central exchange, the clearinghouse, which makes out the balance. All other men are specialists, but his specialism is omniscience. We will suppose that a minister needs information as to a point which involves the Navy, India, Canada and the bimetallic question; he could get his separate advices from various departments upon each, but only Mycroft can focus them all, and say offhand how each factor would affect the other. They began by using him as a short-cut, a convenience; now he has made himself an essential. In that great brain of his everything is pigeonholed and can be handed out in an instant. Again and again his word has decided the national policy. He lives in it. He thinks of nothing else save when, as an intellectual exercise, he unbends if I call upon him and ask him to advise me on one of my little problems. But Jupiter is descending to-day."
As I mentioned, this is also the first story that features the London Underground in its plot. This is a huge departure from the previous Holmes stories and shows (just like the introduction of electricity in a previous story) the change - not in the ACD's surroundings (the Tube had been going since the 1860s) - in the author's attitude towards his protagonists. Instead of being firmly implanted in the Victorian era, this mention of the Underground - rather than the overground rail network - shows the characters embracing modernism. That is quite striking when reading the canon in order of publication.
In the third week of November, in the year 1895, a dense yellow fog settled down upon London. From the Monday to the Thursday I doubt whether it was ever possible from our windows in Baker Street to see the loom of the opposite houses. The first day Holmes had spent in cross-indexing his huge book of references. The second and third had been patiently occupied upon a subject which he hand recently made his hobby--the music of the Middle Ages. But when, for the fourth time, after pushing back our chairs from breakfast we saw the greasy, heavy brown swirl still drifting past us and condensing in oily drops upon the windowpanes, my comrade’s impatient and active nature could endure this drab existence no longer. He paced restlessly about our sitting room in a fever of suppressed energy, biting his nails, tapping the furniture, and chafing against inaction.