|Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch as John and Sherlock (PHOTO: BBC)|
As I watched episodes of BBC's "Sherlock" recently, the program reminded me of the Golden Age of detective fiction. I don't now if anyone else has made this connection but it struck me forcefully.
You may know that the Golden Age is the name given to the period from roughly 1920 to 1940, although many of the great names of the period continued to write into the 1960s or 1970s -- Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Rex Stout and John Dickson Carr being among my favorites.
In an introduction to the two "Golden Age" volumes of the Masterpieces of Mystery anthology series (Davis Publications, 1977), mystery giant Ellery Queen summed up the characteristics of Golden Age novels as:
- ingenuity of plot,
- originality of concept, including the "locked room," the "miracle problem," and the impossible crime,"
- subtle and legitimate misdirection of clues -- poetic license -- but always with complete fairness to the reader,
- and often a stunning surprise solution,
- in a phrase (R. Austin Freeman's), "an exhibition of mental gymnastics."
In "The Empty Hearse," for example, both the false and the real explanations of how Sherlock faked his death are as brilliant as they are implausible. The same could be said, with great appreciation, for several other plot elements.
I think that Ellery Queen himself would praise the amazing "exhibition of mental gymnastics" in the "Sherlock" series.