Wednesday, May 18, 2011
The Mystery of Justice
Sherlock Holmes and I made our first acquaintanceship when I was a mere minor. I gobbled his stories like candy. Watched all the old Basil Rathbone movies on re-runs and then, fell in love with the BBC series starring Jeremy Brett. (I still hear that theme song when I think of Mr. Holmes.)
Sherlock is such a comfort. He’s the Superman of mystery. He proves again and again that the world is not essentially mysterious, it’s understandable. It’s logical. It’s …elementary.
In the universe of Holmes, understanding is the antidote to suffering. It’s the things you don’t understand that drive you to smoke like a stack, play music manically into the night and occasionally self-medicate with dangerous controlled substances.
Knowing, understanding…is what sets the world to rights.
I just finished reading a recent Sherlock revamp, The Holmes Affair, by Graham Moore. Fun book. What I really enjoyed was the way the author examined this basic principle of the Holmes Universe.
Turns out, some mystery authors think knowing isn’t enough to set the world to rights. Sometimes knowing makes things worse.
Moore sets up a comparison of the Holmes-ian “drive to know” versus the more modern position that knowing isn’t enough to counter suffering. Justice seems to require both understanding and action.
Many of my favorite modern mystery writers are committed to this point of view. Action forms the antidote to suffering. Dennis Lehane and Robert Parker send their heroes into the mess of a mystery to punch, shoot, taze, and otherwise battle their way to a satisfyingly just solution.
Spencer, the hero of many of Parker’s mysteries, is one such dose of comfort. He’s a Superman of Sleuths too. He quotes poetry, cooks a gourmet meal and appreciates a woman’s beauty with flair. When the world tips off balance, Spencer can shift it back into place with his bare hands.
The manly call to action is what sets the world to rights.
Or is it? Turns out, sometimes actions aren’t the answer either. In The Holmes Affair, Moore suggests the mystery lovers’ most fundamental dilemma. Sometimes, knowing makes the world more complicated and justice harder to find. Sometimes, action is no antidote to suffering.
And that is perhaps the greatest mystery of all….