Joe Goes isn't a name one ordinarily associates with Sherlock Holmes. The late American mystery writer is best known as the creator of a series of private eye procedurals and for his novels Hammett and Spade and Archer. (The latter is a prequel to The Maltese Falcon.)
But he wrote an interesting introduction to a 1975 Ballantine paperback edition of The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. This was part of a matched set, the introductions of which were all by well-known writers, from Ed McBain to P.G. Wodehouse. I have them all in my little library.
In Gores's intro, he analyses Holmes from his perspective of twelve years as a private eye. He envies the Master's range of exciting cases. "I should be so lucky . . . I spent my gumshoe days very far away indeed from such heady stuff as murder, secret rituals, missing naval treaties, and master criminals."
Analyzing Holmes's cases, Gores finds that his techniques are far removed from those of the modern-day private detective -- and so are the cases. He's surprised to find that five of the eleven cases in Memoirs have their roots in the past, and none of them are motivated by commerce. All of the crimes are domestic, highly personal, with greed or revenge the usual motive.
Holmes himself is actually a rather good detective, even judged by the standards of realism, Gores concedes. But in the end he finds the detection irrelevant to the popularity of the Sherlock Holmes.
"I think the Canon will always appeal, first of all, because the stories are fun to read," he writes. "They are exciting, lively, entertaining, and contain some of the best character sketches this side of Dickens. A further reason for reading the Holmes stories today is their loving recreation of a world few of us have ever known: the London of the 1880s, a London of drifting fog and softly glowing gaslamps and hansom cabs rattling along cobblestone streets . . . Finally, the Holmes stories will always be read because the faithful Watson is not far behind."
Doesn't that just nail it?
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