End Peace: a very different Sherlock Holmes story. Here there is no external narration by Watson, but a dialogue between our well-known friends, apparently at the end of Watson’s life. The story is set in a hospital “somewhere in Dorset” in 1929 beginning with Holmes visiting his old companion as the good doctor lies in bed, worn out and breathing his last.
Reading it, I could hear the Doylean-style language and recognised the enduring friendship of the characters. So, what do Holmes and Watson discuss at the end of all things? They reminisce about previous cases, their beliefs, politics, thoughts for the future, in which we gain the solutions to certain canonical mysteries, including the origin of the Giant Rat of Sumatra!
Holmes admits that some of his behaviour pushed their housekeeper’s patience to the limits, but refuses to back down on other issues with Watson challenges him, including how he profited financially from cases like The Blue Carbuncle and The Priory School. However, Holmes praises Watson and chides him equally for not making more of himself in his written accounts of their adventures. What we get is an impression of a very deep, loving friendship which has survived many difficulties, and two men who know they may never see each other again laying open their very hearts.
It’s not all weepy; don’t get me wrong, there are many examples where the two needle each other while going back over the past. Holmes makes his atheism clear, and is rather gloomy about the future of his “science of deduction”, yet Watson is more sympathetic, recalling how his parents made no demands on him and his brother to conform to their beliefs. The more we hear of Watson’s idyllic childhood, the more Holmes reveals his strong dislike of Mycroft, and openly admits he hated his father. We see here a possible explanation for his lack of contact with women – his mother was everything to him, and we sense that no other could measure up. He dismisses any question of a romantic interest in Irene Adler, or any of their female clients, including a reference to Violet Hunter of the Copper Beeches fame. Watson criticises Holmes for “dropping” her as soon as the case was resolved. Holmes’ inhuman streak is self-inflicted; no-one may come in contact with his softer emotions, only Watson has been privileged to see tiny flashes of kindness throughout their association.
Meanwhile we start to realise that things are not as they seem; as Watson tires and dozes off, we get snatches of conversation between the nurses and the matron. I won’t spoil the story, but here is a fine example of the author playing with our perceptions. Don’t believe everything you read! Suffice to say some things we read have perhaps already taken place before the novel begins.
The end is shocking and somewhat depressing. I can certainly believe that Holmes was capable of what he confesses to Watson, as the comments about his father seem to be boiling up to a head, but as for the good doctor’s revelation, no way! Come on, no, I can’t accept that would have been the case. Watson is portrayed right up to that point as the gentler, kinder partner in crime; his very Victorian gentlemanliness is what we understand has kept Holmes from going under altogether. Watson is tired, but he must make things clear before he leaves the earth, as perhaps he, unlike Holmes, still fears a divine judgement to come. Holmes however is still bursting with energy, though we begin to realise that energy might have been anger-fuelled from the experiences in his youth within the home. So, sorry, I take exception to this bit, it reminded me of reading the first novel in a series from a local crime-writer and loving it until I came to a bit that was so far-fetched I thought, no, can’t happen like that, just cannot! However, the very, very end has a supernatural twist that I liked.
|BBC Watson by Kevin Bolk|
David Ruffle has achieved something very interesting with this book – he’s given closure, which poor Arthur Conan Doyle was never allowed by his readers to do. This is an end, and the whole world of pastiche could now happily use this or at least some of it as a framework. However, I’m sure there will be people who will pick fault with David’s conclusions on certain canonical matters, and he anticipated that with his “End Piece”, his little apologetic at the end. I didn’t think there was a need for that, David, you should have just put it out there, stood by your work and let everybody else please themselves, because us writers will always have critics!
Despite the author’s own fear of how the work will be received, I definitely give it the thumbs up, and find it perfectly acceptable as another interpretation of the Canon, and one that few have attempted. I defy any reader not to recognise the Great Detective and the Good Doctor in this, it is indeed they who speak.
One thing I found while reading was that images of different actors would pop into my head at certain points – Jeremy Brett where Holmes is being candid and kind, and new boy Benedict Cumberbatch as he rails against his father, Mycroft and lauds science as his deity! How strange! I suppose what that means is there are flashes of modernity in there, which of course there would be for two men who had lived through the Great War and were now aware another threatened, yet they still remain essentially who they were in the 1880s when we first met them. This is a stunning piece of work, and I’m glad I got the opportunity to review it. Well done, Mr Ruffle!