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Friday, January 19, 2018

The Doctor's Case

I kinda can't believe what I'm casting, here.

On a Stephen King blog, I'm casting a Sherlock Holmes mystery.

Make no mistake, this is not Sherlock Holmes meets the Haunter of the Dark or Randall Flagg showing up as the villain or anything supernatural at all. He's not called upon to solve a particularly grisly or horrifying murder, or at least, no worse a murder than he's worked before.

He doesn't find himself in Maine, trying to solve a mystery in Jerusalem's Lot or Derry or Castle Rock. It's really just a very standard Sherlock Holmes mystery. In this case, a Locked Room Mystery that Inspector Lestrade thinks would be the "perfect" mystery for Mr. Holmes.

So what's the twist? What kind of Holmes mystery took Stephen King to write it? Simple; this time it's Watson who solves the case.

This story first appeared in a collection called The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes which featured numerous new Holmes and Watson stories written by modern day authors such as Michael Gilbert, John Lutz, Edward D. Hoch, John Gardner and others, but I have a feeling most people who picked this up did so because they thought "Oh, I have got to see what a Sherlock Holmes story by Stephen King looks like!" The answer looks like a Sherlock Holmes story. It would fit quite neatly into the actual canon.

Oh, there's the occasional odd word choice or sentence structure that Arthur Conan Doyle might not have used, and a few winks at the audience, such as Lestrade openly stating that Watson can't have solved the case because his role is to announce a possible solution and be utterly wrong because of a vital clue he missed that makes his answer impossible. It's true that Watson often did this, mostly to show that he was quite a smart man himself, but then show that Holmes's unique ability to immediately scan a room, compartmentalize everything he sees and arrive at a deduction in seconds is a gift unique to only a few, and while Watson may be a smart man himself, he, like most people, isn't Sherlock Holmes.

But this time, he arrives at the answer before Holmes. Possibly because Holmes is allergic to cats, and thus is distracted by the persistent presence of a feline, or possibly simply because Watson saw the vital clue first, and managed to do what Holmes usually does: come to the full realization within seconds.

Don't misunderstand; he doesn't immediately understand all he sees, and some of the implications of the crime escape him, and Holmes (and to some degree, Lestrade!) fill those in.

But I'm just really tickled that on this blog we're doing a Sherlock Holmes story! Imagine, a Holmes Story within the SKCU! This Holmes could encounter the Club, or Pennywise or Flagg! He doesn't, but how cool would that be? Somewhere within this story, an evil entity is corrupting a Maine town, and a demonic man is walking worlds like we walk streets.

I do understand that this isn't the first time King has attempted to add his own touch to existing literary universes. He wanted to write a novel about Lord Peter Wimsey and he wrote an episode of The X-Files once, plus I think he talked about writing for Marvel Comics, but I'm not the guy to ask about stuff he was going to do then didn't do.

It's tough to know when this one is set. I'd like it to be after most of Holmes's cases, after The Final Problem and The Empty House, but before the later ones where Watson re-marries and well before His Last Bow. Maybe around 1900 or so, after the whole Moriarty issue, when the two of them are in their mid-40's and back to being roommates. Perhaps it could open with Holmes working on the Black Pearl of the Borgias case, so around or just after The Adventure of the Six Napoleons.

Now, on the one hand, the market is flooded with Holmes stories. There's the BBC's Sherlock, CBS's Elementary, the Guy Ritchie movies with Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law, and now I understand a comedic version is coming starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly. There's also Sherlock Gnomes because apparently there are worse ideas than that being pitched. So why do this one as well?

Simple. Because the idea of a Sherlock Holmes story written by Stephen King will sell itself. Will this work as a movie? I think so. Just give us an intro where Holmes is wrapping up a case, and give us the bits with the Hull family in real time, rather than having the whole thing be explained in a long handsome-cab ride by Lestrade.

All my actors will be Brits because I just don't care for the idea of Americans playing such quintessentially British characters.

As Watson is the nominal "true" star of this, let's cast him first. Way too many people seem to think that Watson is older, plump, doltish, clumsy, etc. Curse that Nigel Bruce for solidifying Watson as the fat dumb one in our collective consciousness. King suffers no delusions there; while he doesn't describe what Watson looks like (as he's the narrator, as per the norm), he seems to realize that Watson is a man with a keen mind. I chose Paul Bettany, who easily became Watson in my mind. I couldn't find any shots of him with just a mustache and not a full beard (I think we all picture Watson with a mustache), but here's a quasi-Victorian look for him:

And what would a Holmes story be without Holmes himself? Though he takes something of a back seat this time, he's still very present and generally in the same role we're used to him as. I picked Matthew Macfayden to slip into this classic role.

Inspector Lestrade is another character who's often unfairly remembered as an idiot, who constantly has to call Holmes in to do his job for him, and gets everything wrong all the time. In fact, Lestrade is a competent police officer who has respect for Holmes, and calls him in only on the toughest cases or the cases Holmes is most likely to be intrigued and/or stumped by. The classic image of him is as a ruddy red-head, so I picked Kevin McKidd.

Now we come to the characters unique to this story (Mrs. Hudson is briefly mentioned, but has no bearing on the story). These would be the murder victim and the four suspects, who happen to be his wife and three sons. I will not be discussing the plot or how it's resolved for the same reason I wouldn't describe any other Holmes story; reading it is essential in order to appreciate it. Suffice it to say that King does set up a compelling mystery, solves it appropriately and actually does include a nice twist on the matter.

The murder victim is Lord Hull, a nasty older man who maintained an iron grip on his family, which they bore because he was in bad health and once he died they would all get a share of his fortune. That's all I'll say about that. David Suchet can play nasty older men.

Lord Hull's wife is supposed to be significantly younger than him, but still able to have children in their 30's. I picked Miranda Richardson.

The three sons are described, but really only one of them's description is important. They are William, the oldest and a bit of a brute, Jory, the middle child who, thanks to a birth defect is no more than five feet tall, and bowlegged, and finally Stephen, the young, handsome "good son". I chose, respectively, Toby Stephens, Devon Murray and Richard Madden.

Toby Stephens
Devon Murray
Richard Madden
I know this isn't a very Kingian post, and feels more like something I probably should have skipped, but really, this is a neat little story that I think would be enjoyable to watch. The idea of a Holmes tale told by Stephen King will get people talking, and the fact that it's enjoyable and very much classic Holmes and Watson, and not an attempt to subvert them (it may have Watson solving the case, but it's still very much a Holmes and Watson story in the classic vein) will make this one a pretty talked-about little film.

It may be a while before my next post, or at least my next casting, due to just how freakin' long the next book is. Of those I've already covered, only The Stand, It and The Talisman are longer, and The Talisman not by much. I don't have enough material for a Skipped Stories post because of the short stories I've read since returning, I'm only skipping one so far, plus one novel. But I do have some ideas for a couple of essay-style posts I'm mulling over, so I'll probably be back with one of them by next week.

Up Next: The Tommyknockers!


  1. It's been so long since I read this that I remember little about it. but I like all of the people here (the ones I've heard of, at least) and would watch that movie for sure!

    1. It’s a neat little story but it’s basically King imitating Doyle. There’s really nothing of King here. If someone tried to pass this off as a lost Doyle story I’d have little trouble believing it.

  2. Not too much I can contribute on this one (although I have read it). But an interesting aside (hopefully): have you seen the 1988 movie Without a Clue? The premise is that Sherlock Holmes is actually an actor (and dullard) hired by Watson as a cover story for his conservative colleagues in the medical field. It's Ben Kingsley and Michael Caine, and it's not a masterpiece, but it's pretty amusing, and quite a treat to see Michael Caine play so stupid. Just thought it was worth a mention.

    1. I have seen it, and I recall it was indeed amusing, such as the actor being forced to act smart while inspecting a body: "I deduce that this man is dead."

      Or asking "how many windows are there on the front of this building?" "I don't know." "There, you see? He sees, but he does not observe." Later, Watson asks "and just how many windows are there?" Holmes: "I haven't the faintest." "Fourteen, you idiot!"

  3. Oh, also, your Sherlock Gnomes comment made me laugh out loud, which I don't do that often. Hollywood does love cheap and easy. I bet some of the stuff that gets turned down is absolutely fantastic, enough that it would make us facepalm just as much as the crap they greenlight.

    1. Oh, there's no doubt of that. I keep hearing about what sounds like an awesome movie that never gets greenlit. Meanwhile we get Sherlock Gnomes.