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Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Book Review - The Seven Per Cent Solution

Nicholas Meyer’s Sherlock Holmes pastiche was published in 1974, and it achieved best seller status. It pre-dated Michael Dibden’s classic The Last Sherlock Holmes Story by four years. Both books deal with a Holmes whose mental health becomes seriously suspect.

Watson’s ‘lost’ manuscript reveals that this tale was not published in the good doctor’s lifetime because it actually proved that neither ‘The Final Problem’ nor ‘The Adventure of the Empty House’ were true, but figments of his imagination!  This heresy is quite convincing, as he tells it.

Holmes’ cocaine habit was to blame, in fact. The title relates to the dosage Holmes administered to himself. When Watson learned from a Professor Moriarty that the ‘Napoleon of Crime’ was indeed an innocuous maths teacher, the doctor resolved to wean his good friend off the drug. Easier said than done. He is drawn to contact Freud in Vienna, who has had some success when dealing with the drug. The first half of the book is concerned with Watson contriving to hoodwink Holmes into travelling to Vienna where he can be treated.

There are several poignant moments while Holmes undergoes ‘cold turkey’. It is during his time with Freud that Holmes and Watson are drawn into a conundrum posed by one of the psychoanalyst’s patients who has been badly traumatised and is unable to speak.

It’s a dashed clever contrivance, engaging to begin with, and then even livening up towards the end. There is much more action than either Watson or Holmes would undergo in the original canon, but it works well, and neatly sews up a few loose ends in the process. The twist, revealed while Holmes is under hypnosis, explains why the great detective should have begun his cocaine habit, and it is so surprising to Watson that he vows never to mention it to his friend; another reason why he refrained from publishing the work.

An entertaining addition to the vast collection of Holmes pastiches.

Meyer wrote two other books in this series: The West End Horror (1976) and The Canary Trainer (1993).

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