“He (Sherlock Holmes) spoke on a quick succession of subjects . . .” – The Sign of the Four
Christopher Redmond, who was invested as a member of the Baker Street Irregulars (“Billy”) fully 50 years ago, continues to add to our insights on and enjoyment of Sherlock Holmes. In fact, he seems especially prolific of late.
(Full disclosure: I have contributed a chapter to his upcoming book About Sixty, in which 60 authors explain why each Sherlock Holmes story is the best.)
A Quick Succession of Subjects from Gasogene Books, one of Redmond's two books published this year (so far) is a delightful anthology of 27 of his lectures and speeches about the Great Detective, delivered from 1978 to 2015. As a side benefit, many approach their topic from a distinctly Canadian viewpoint.
Redmond not only sees, but he observes. And his shared observations have made me look in new ways at stories that I have been reading almost as long as he has.
From these talks I learned, for example, that “The Bascombe Valley Mystery” is a near perfect Holmes story in the sense that it contains nine of the eleven typical features identified by Ronald A. Knox; that The Sign of the Four is essentially a love story; and that the American half of A Study in Scarlet is a Western (the world’s first).
Redmond’s chapter on Sherlock Holmes and religion – a riff on G.K. Chesterton’s observation that Holmes was not a real person; “he was only a god” – treats the subject with the seriousness it deserves. (You can read a lot of nonsense on the topic, but not here.)
A Quick Succession of Subjects is not, however, a ponderous tome. Each of the 27 chapters was written, and written well, to be spoken aloud. They move quickly and smoothly. That brings me to one of my favorite of these talks, “Advice from Professor Moriarty on the Presentation of Sherlockian Papers.”
The Moriarty connection is a bit of a stretch, but the advice Redmond draws from what he perceives as the professor’s lecture technique is pure gold. It’s all common sense, but what is rarer – and therefore more valuable – these days than common sense? First of all, Redmond suggests mildly that the “Can you hear me at the back?” or “Is this thing on?” is not the best way to begin a talk. Who among doesn’t feel the pain behind that good counsel?
I’ve not had what I know would be the great pleasure of hearing Redmond talk, but this book is the next best thing.