Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Sherlock Holmes - The Original Hard-Boiled Detective?

The hard-boiled detective seemed to emerge during the late 1930's and 1940's with stories like "The Maltese Falcon" and "The Big Sleep" by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler respectively. However these hard-boiled private eyes may have been inspired by Sherlock Holmes, who could have served as a template for the tougher breed of detectives who emerged during the days of the Second World War.

Inspector Lestrade and Holmes
arresting the killer in "A Study in Scarlet"
The evidence showing that Sherlock Holmes acted like one of the hard-boiled detectives is quite great. Starting right away in "A Study in Scarlet," Sherlock Holmes shows that he is rather rough-around-the-edges. After the murderer Jefferson Hope has been captured, it is Holmes and Inspector Lestrade who throw the criminal at one of the windows of the flat. Holmes is known to engage in fisticuffs in "The Sign of Four." Holmes exchanges some choice words with McMurdo, the guard at the home of Bartholomew Shalto.
“I don’t think you can have forgotten me. Don’t you remember that amateur who fought three rounds with you at Alison’s rooms on the night of your benefit four years back?”“Not Mr. Sherlock Holmes!” roared the prize-fighter. “God’s truth! how could I have mistook you? If instead o’ standin’ there so quiet you had just stepped up and given me that cross-hit of yours under the jaw, I’d ha’ known you without a question."
Sherlock Holmes forays into physical violence are spread throughout the canon. It is with his knowledge of Baritsu that Holmes is able to dispatch Professor Moriarty in "The Final Problem" and in "The Empty House," Doctor Watson steps forward to pistol-whip Colonel Moran who is choking the detective.

In "The Six Napoleons," Sherlock Holmes tackles the criminal to the ground.
"With the bound of a tiger Holmes was on his back, and an instant later Lestrade and I had him by either wrist, and the handcuffs had been fastened."
However, it is the later stories where the Sherlock Holmes stories really show indications of paving the way for the hard-boiled detective stories. In "Sherlock Holmes for Dummies," the authors describe how "The Valley of Fear," the last of the four novels acts as a template for the hard-boiled detective novels. The second part of the novel details the activities of a group of gangsters who operate out of the Vermissa Valley in Pennsylvania. Then the short story, "The Three Garridebs," the opening lines of the story could have come from the opening passage of a Raymond Chandler crime thriller.
"It may have been a comedy, or it may have been a tragedy. It cost one man his reason, it cost me a blood-letting, and it cost yet another man the penalties of the law. Yet there was certainly an element of comedy. Well, you shall judge for yourselves."
Dr. Watson is shot in "The Three Garridebs"
And later in the same story, Dr. Watson gets into a rather precarious situation after being shot by the culprit.
"In an instant he had whisked out a revolver from his breast and had fired two shots. I felt a sudden hot sear as if a red-hot iron had been pressed to my thigh. There was a crash as Holmes’s pistol came down on the man’s head. I had a vision of him sprawling upon the floor with blood running down his face while Holmes rummaged him for weapons. Then my friend’s wiry arms were round me, and he was leading me to a chair.
In all, it evident that the Sherlock Holmes stories oftentimes featured a darker, harsher reality than was expected in the Victorian and Edwardian Eras, and certainly opened the door to writers in the future.

1 comment:

  1. An interesting thought, but of course, there isn't that big of a difference between hardboiled authors and the GAD authors who preceded them. Carr spotted this in THE GRANDEST GAME IN THE WORLD, and the more mysteries I read the more I'm convinced the great man was right.


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