Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution by Nicholas Meyer

Writers seem to love mash-ups set in the Victorian age above all others. Maybe it's because there was such a wealth of crazy characters about just then- both real and fictional. I mean, I can understand the temptation to pit Jack the Ripper, probably the world's most famous criminal villain who never got caught, against his fictional contemporary, Sherlock Homes. But some of the pairings out there are less obvious.
In the ranks of professional fan-fiction, Holmes alone has battled H. G. Well's Martians at least as many times as he has the Whitechapel fiend. Nicholas Meyer is no stranger to the concept- after writing the Seven-Per-Cent Solution in 1976, he wrote the batty movie Time After Time, in which (hold your breath) Jack the Ripper steals H. G. Wells' time machine, and travels to 1970's San Francisco. Well, dammit if there isn't something about this same bunch of characters that makes people want to use them, over and over again, in different combinations.

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution has the potential to address some interesting aspects of the Holmes world that Doyle, writing when he did, could not. It takes as its theme a very serious issue which, to us, Doyle merely skips over- Holmes' cocaine habit. Watson, narrating a previously undiscovered memoir, decides that the time has come to correct some of the fictions his previous volumes created as a smokescreen, and reveal the awful truth: Holmes was a serious cocaine addict, at times being lost to dementia and unable to look after himself.

Watson, Mycroft and even Moriarty (!) conspire to bring Holmes, against his will, to Vienna, where he will meet the famous Dr Sigmund Freud, who alone has encountered success in curing cocaine addicts. Various hijinks ensue, resulting in a somewhat boring, tacked-on royal crisis that the group must solve.

There's lots to like about the book. 'Watson' recreates the world of Doyle's characters convincingly well- though he cannily admits in the opening that because he is writing in the evening of his life, we should not expect his style to be exactly as we remembered it. Most of your favourite Holmes characters show up at some point, and Watson really goes out of his way to tie lots of background information from the canon into the story.

However, the book does have an irritating Nannyish feel to it that Doyle never had. Having introducing the heavy topic of drug addiction, Nicholson doesn't seem to know what to do with it, and rarely goes into the horrors overly deeply. Maybe it's just me, but Holmes' withdrawal seems awfully quick, and within no time he's off again, following a new case. It seems to me to be kind of a cheat. I know Watson is a Victorian, but it still feels that this, his shocking 'tell-all', has had a strong dose of not-before-the-children. Holmes, fascinating because he has almost completely surrendered his humanity and emotions to pure deduction, begs lots of questions, but Meyer posits them only to ignore them, as if he doesn't trust the audience to handle a real look into the weaknesses of their hero as a human being instead of an ideal. Certainly, an opportunity to do something new with the character has been lost. Instead, Meyer churns out another serviceable piece of fan-fiction.

Freud too is disappointing. We learn pretty much nothing new about the guy that any average person could tell you- he's Austrian, bearded, and has some funny ideas about psychology. That's about as much depth as the plot goes into. What a waste of such a divisive figure; a man who's ideas shaped how we thought about the mind for a century, only to be debunked and scorned. Instead, Freud is treated as a magic 'get-well' figure who can cure Holmes without clogging up the narrative with little details like how.

Before long, the GreatDetective is back to battling Martians, Dracula Whitechapel murderers and whoever else contemporary writer decide to pair him with.

No comments:

Post a Comment