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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Mystery Without Murder

An old friend of mine called my attention to an interesting thread on an Amazon.com discussion group on mysteries.

"Please, Are There No Adult Mysteries That Do Not Feature MURDER?" someone asked.

Although all four canonical Holmes novels are murderous, many of the shorter tales are notably murder-free. Some don't even involve a crime, or at least not one that is recognized as such by the penal codes.

"The small matter in which I endeavoured to help the King of Bohemia, the singular experience of Miss Mary Sutherland, the problem connected with the man with the twisted lip, and the incident of the noble bachelor, were all matters which are outside the pale of law."

So says Holmes himself in "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches" -- another case in which no one went to jail. Even where there is a crime, most of the stories in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes are not murder mysteries. In the broader context of the Canon, my three favorite Holmes stories -- "The Adventure of the Red Headed League," "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton," and "His Last Bow" don't involve murder.

But wait! There are some distinctions to be made. I've been using the term "murder mystery" with malice aforethought. To me the expression means a story in which focus is investigation of a murder. So "Milverton" is not a murder mystery, even though it includes a murder -- to which Sherlock Holmes is accessory after the fact by his silence.

"Silver Blaze," on the other hand, could be called a murder mystery in which there is no murder!

What is your favorite murder-free Sherlock Holmes story?

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