|Holmes, dressed for the country, will soon hear about the dog in the night-time|
I’ve just written a scene in my upcoming Sebastian McCabe – Jeff Cody mystery novel in which I turn the dog-in-the-night-time trope upside down.
You know what I mean: The passage from the Sherlock Holmes short story “Silver Blaze” is one of the most familiar dialogue exchanges in the Holmes Canon. It’s quoted frequently in mystery fiction – and outside of it. It begins with a Scotland Yard inspector asking Holmes a question:
“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.
In mysteries (except for my new one), the context for citing this passage is the sleuth pointing out a negative clue, something significant by its absence. On a car trip once I listened to two of Agatha Christie’s Poirot novels written 36 years apart – Cards on the Table and Elephants Can Remember. Both used the dog in the night-time as a metaphor.
The most extended literary allusion to this quote comes in a novel by Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, which I recently reread. Haddon’s narrator, a 15-year-old autistic boy, uses the methods of his hero, Sherlock Holmes, to investigate the killing of a dog.
But my favorite reference to the dog in the night-time is a “Peanuts” comic strip from January 28, 1994. Charlie Brown is reading aloud to Snoopy from “Silver Blaze.” When Charlie says, “the dog did nothing in the night-time,” Snoopy thinks to himself, “My favorite part.”
Spoiler alert: In my book, the fact that the dog did nothing in the night-time just means he’s a lousy guard dog!