Mr Pottermack’s Oversight

pottermacksoversightSuggested by Timothy Lane • Mr Pottermack is a law abiding, settled, homebody who has nothing to hide until the appearance of the shadowy Lewison, a gambler and blackmailer with an incredible story.
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23 Responses to Mr Pottermack’s Oversight

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I finished this book last night and was delighted by it. Thanks for the recommendation, Timothy. It definitely lived up to its billing. Anyone looking for a light, but erudite and interesting, read could do much worse than this one. It’s a can’t-miss for what you could bill as a mostly psychological drama of a detective story. There is some action, but it’s more Hitchcockian in getting a lot out of a little (aka…this is not just a bunch of never-ending car crashes and murders).

    That said, if you have no taste and require the superficial and inane, this book is not for you.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I’m glad to see you agree with me here. I told you it was my favorite.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Well, when someone shows good taste, I get a little enthusiastic about it. I think book and movie reviews by people with good taste and a wide range of experience is the foundation of this site. Someday (soon, I hope) politics will just be a sidebar.

        Of course, we don’t all have the same tastes. I’m not particularly enamored (yet) with Dickens but I recognize good writing. And surely I like things that aren’t to other people’s taste.

        But I try to put a lot of effort into refining my taste, including a somewhat eclectic, shotgun approach. Pretty much, if you throw Japanese or Scandinavian subtitles under it, I’ll watch it. Ingmar Bergman might not be to everyone’s taste. But everyone ought to watch “Through a Glass Darkly” just as a challenge, a chance to branch out. I’m not enamored with this movie. But I’m the better for having watched it. It’s sort of like eating your cinematic vegetables.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          What I especially liked about this book was the conversation between Thorndyke and Pottermack at the end. It operates on two levels (like the first direct meeting between the teen and the vampire in Fright Night).

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            Well, there is a lot of tension there. I wasn’t sure if he wasn’t just giving Pottermack the courtesy of his line of reasoning before the cops walked through the door to fetch him. But as it went on, I started thinking (especially, of course, with your hint about the Holmes story) that he might let him go.

            As it was, Thorndyke explained it in terms of a higher law of justice. Holmes, on the other hand, didn’t shy from playing judge and jury, petulantly exclaiming something like “It’s not my job to make up for the deficiencies of the police” in order to justify his whims — whims seated in justice, for sure, but in the context of a situation arising totally due to his special skills, thus he felt he could reign in that narrow area if the police would be no wiser.

            There’s a commonality there, for sure. Just an interesting slight difference.

            • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

              Holmes, on the other hand, didn’t shy from playing judge and jury, petulantly exclaiming something like “It’s not my job to make up for the deficiencies of the police” in order to justify his whims — whims seated in justice, for sure, but in the context of a situation arising totally due to his special skills, thus he felt he could reign in that narrow area if the police would be no wiser.

              Interesting interpretation of Holme’s actions. I always took his pique to be a sign of embarrassment, i.e. he was embarrassed to show any sign of gentleness or a soft heart to Watson. Keep a stiff upper lip old man, and all that.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                Think of “The Abbey Grange” and its ending (with Watson standing in as a jury).

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                Interesting interpretation of Holme’s actions. I always took his pique to be a sign of embarrassment, i.e. he was embarrassed to show any sign of gentleness or a soft heart to Watson. Keep a stiff upper lip old man, and all that.

                The usual shtick, as I remember it, Mr. Kung, is Watson being slightly outraged at the liberties with the law that Holmes sometimes took upon himself. He was, of course, often in command of facts and entire story-lines that the police were ignorant of.

                I don’t know where in the sequence of stories that “The Abbey Grange” fits, but it’s amusing in the long scheme of things because by this time, or at least in this one case, Watson has been perhaps worn down by Holmes’ pattern of being an extra-judicial force. He’s willing to play the jury in a case that roused Watson’s sympathies.

                In one of the Thorndyke novels that I read, Thorndyke notes that once the law has a man in it clutches, woe to that man for he will be ground down by an array of huge forces against him. Thorndyke notes that although justice is ostensibly the aim, in practice this giant system cranks on by its own rules.

                Look at Hillary and Trump. Is it not so that there are different rules for different people and “justice” become a punchline? Part of the fun and satisfaction in reading a Holmes story is the exposition on justice. Certainly in the Perry Mason TV episodes, once the police have a suspect, they seem to filter out any contradictory evidence. I wouldn’t be that surprised that this is how it usually works thus no wonder you need the best lawyer money can buy. Or a thoughtful sometimes vigilante such as Holmes (and Watson).

                Certainly of the pair of them, Watson was the softy. I never got the impression that Holmes had any qualms about showing emotion, although certainly he channeled it into proper English chivalry. But he was often quite sympathetic in his own way. But driving his was his OCD-like need for puzzles to solve. He certainly was just a cooler character by nature. But the extraordinary thing about Holmes is that he’s so damn hard to pigeon-hole. As manic as he was at times, this was a man who could mix easily with royalty. He was cultured, polite to a fault (except to Lestrade), and had a large and healthy sense of integrity…even while taking part in many an episode of breaking-and-entering.

                As much as I might like the Thorndyke novels, Sherlock Holmes is an enormously multi-faceted, interesting, and dynamic character. He’s larger-than-life and yet never is he idealized into merely a Victorian super-hero. He was…complex.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                Yes, I think the police, once they settle on a suspect, are concerned mainly with getting a conviction. The possibility that he might really be innocent is ignored. Note that Erle Stanley Gardner started out as a lawyer, and later set up “the court of last resort” to help those he believed wrongly convicted.

              • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

                In some of his books, Judge Andrew Napolitano, who was a Superior Court Judge in New Jersey, makes it very clear that neither the police nor the D.A. are necessarily looking for justice. In fact, they are often only looking for a conviction. He even mentions some cases where the police made up evidence.

                This matches some of the experiences I have had with lawyers overseas. One fellow I knew was more unhappy that his reputation would be somewhat damaged by losing a case, than the fact that his client would suffer for the loss.

              • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

                He’s larger-than-life and yet never is he idealized into merely a Victorian super-hero. He was…complex.

                I agree. That is why he was somewhat reticent about showing a soft side.

                He is still the bench-mark for all detectives.

                To my mind, Jeremy Brett is Holmes like David Suche’ is Poirot.

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    The details of “The Abbey Grange” are not fresh in my mind. But I believe that Holmes describes to Watson that he is the very embodiment of a fair and impartial English jury, which he no doubt is in a slightly more idealized form. (Watson was no dummy, was well educated, and obviously was savvier than most about crime and criminals.)

    My favorite incident of Holmes being Judge, Jury, and Executioner was in “The Blue Carbuncle,” perhaps the best Jeremy Brett interpretation. Watson is aghast (if only in his countenance) at Holmes letting go the degraded and grutty little thief who would have let an innocent man go to prison in his stead. From the story, starting with the groveling words of the thief recounting how he had lost the stolen jewel he had put inside a live turkey for safekeeping which mistakenly his sister sold to a wholesailer of turkeys in the city:

    “Well, then, of course I saw it all, and I ran off as hard as my feet would carry me to this man Breckinridge; but he had sold the lot at once, and not one word would he tell me as to where they had gone. You heard him yourselves to-night. Well, he has always answered me like that. My sister thinks that I am going mad. Sometimes I think that I am myself. And now — and now I am myself a branded thief, without ever having touched the wealth for which I sold my character. God help me! God help me!” He burst into convulsive sobbing, with his face buried in his hands.

    There was a long silence, broken only by his heavy breathing and by the measured tapping of Sherlock Holmes’s finger-tips upon the edge of the table. Then my friend rose and threw open the door.

         “Get out!” said he.

         “What, sir! Oh, Heaven bless you!”

         “No more words. Get out!”

         And no more words were needed. There was a rush, a clatter upon the stairs, the bang of a door, and the crisp rattle of running footfalls from the street.

         “After all, Watson,” said Holmes, reaching up his hand for his clay pipe, “I am not retained by the police to supply their deficiencies. If Horner were in danger it would be another thing; but this fellow will not appear against him, and the case must collapse. I suppose that I am commuting a felony, but it is just possible that I am saving a soul. This fellow will not go wrong again; he is too terribly frightened. Send him to jail now, and you make him a jail-bird for life. Besides, it is the season of forgiveness. Chance has put in our way a most singular and whimsical problem, and its solution is its own reward. If you will have the goodness to touch the bell, Doctor, we will begin another investigation, in which, also a bird will be the chief feature.”

    Jeremy Brett’s recreation of this scene is masterful. He is disgusted with the man, and yet finds room for a careful and measured mercy. Centered around a stolen Turkey, this would be a great episode to watch today. Part I may be seen here. I don’t know if all the parts are easily found and in place.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Yes, an excellent episode, both in the original and Brett’s version. And your memory of the ending of “Abbey Grange” is quite accurate. An important aspect of that one is that the killer, allowed to get away with the awareness that his beloved would have to face the music, refuses to do so.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Yes, I think the police, once they settle on a suspect, are concerned mainly with getting a conviction

    I was so impressed by Conan Doyle’s stories that I read them all about 30 years ago. But I was first inspired to do so after watching the Granada Television production with Jeremy Brett.

    What I knew of Holmes/Watson before then was from some often very mediocre movies. The characters had been deflated of their grandeur and turned into crude comic-bookish stereotypes. Imagine someone gaining interest in the Conan Doyle stories from the horrid modern movies with Robert Downey Jr.

    But then the Brett portrayal came along with a competent David Burke and then a truly splendid Edward Hardwicke as Watson (known to me to be splendid only after reading the books/short stories).

    One can quibble here or there with the Granada TV productions. The very last ones, with Brett in bad health, were not particularly good. But there was a passion involved on all sides to do right by Conan Doyle. 1984 (when the series began) was not quite yet 1984. England could still produce things free from the rot of Cultural Marxism and the small-minded snowflakish need to mold old things to fit new emotional and political requirements.

    Well, anyone who cannot be moved by excellence is already half dead inside. Luckily I was not so far gone or disinterested not to take notice. Vulgar culture (gold-plated or otherwise) can make us stupid and half dead inside. But other aspects of art can draw us out and up.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      My first experience actually reading Holmes came in the 9th grade, when we had “The Adventure of the Speckled Band”, and I was hooked. (I had heard of, and read a bit about, Holmes already by then.) Of course, that’s arguably the best of the short stories (the readers of The Strand rated it #1 in the 1920s — followed by The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Sign of Four, and A Study in Scarlet). Plus, I have a fascination with venomous snakes that remains with me today. The following year, I went to my high school's book fair, and ordered one book — the Christopher Morley omnibus Holmes volume. I'm sure I'd read the whole thing by the end of the year.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        The Speckled Band is indeed one of his best. I think, if memory serves, that the Granada TV production was a teeny bit off the mark, but still good.

        I re-watched The Blue Carbuncle tonight. It may be as close as you can come to a holiday Sherlock Holmes story. Brett is at the top of his skills in this one. He’s particularly good in portraying his dismissiveness toward the various common men who run around the streets of London. This is a great little episode. I hope you all get a chance to watch it.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          Like Tim, “The Speckled Band” was the first Holmes story I read.

          As to the Granada series with Jeremy Brett, I have seen every episode at least twice. They are wonderful TV.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      I read some Holmes in high school. A few years later, I bought a two volume edition of all the Holmes’ novels and short stories or novelas, if you will. I have read those through two or three times, and have even downloaded all these stories on to my Kindle.

      In my opinion, Nigel Bruce’s Watson is the absolute worst depiction of any character in a Holmes story. Perhaps one of the worst depictions of any literary character by a movie actor.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        At the Sherlock Holmes/Arthur Conan Doyle Symposium in Dayton several years ago, one member delivered a piece on the idea that Watson was a lot smarter than people often credited him with (I think I made a similar point in high school, in fact, but that was a LONG time ago). She said that the enemy for those who thought that way was Nigel Bruce.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          Clearly, Watson’s main purpose is as the narrator of Holmes’ adventures. But he also adds something else to the stories. Despite Holmes’ constant disparagement of Watson’s writing of these stories, I think Holmes is actually flattered by this practice. Holmes has an ego like everyone else.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            And of course Watson as a capable doctor could apply his knowledge, as he did in placing the fatal wounds in “The Boscombe Valley” from a newspaper account. (At the end, one suspects Watson was about to name the actual perpetrator — another Holmes let off as a victim of blackmail — when he showed up anyway.) You’ll recall that in the Granada series he became a police surgeon after “The Final Problem”.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            Certainly part of Watson’s function was narrator. And I haven’t quite forgotten that these are fictional characters. And, for a few spells here and there, Holmes operated on his own and did so just fine.

            But it was clear from the preponderance of the stories that Watson was his true friend, confident, and partner in crime. Holmes likely didn’t need a sounding board for his ideas. And sometimes he used Watson (and others) for a short burst of a sense of superiority. But without his Watson, there was something missing. A joy shared is a joy doubled and all that.

            Watson was also tremendously useful, both as a doctor and a man who could handle a revolver. Watson was absolutely fearless and, just as important to Holmes, loyal. We should all have our Doctor Watson. And although Holmes is a bit rough on him now and then, they both seem to understand each other’s nature. Neither tends to get his nose out of joint for long.

            And at the end of the day, Watson was there to temper many of Holmes’ excesses. I don’t think Holmes would have lived a long life without his Watson. And he kept him human. You can see Holmes’ natural tendency to an unhealthy aloofness and condescension. More than once Watson has read him the riot act, or gently prodded him, for his lapses in just plain courtesy.

            Where would any of us be without our Watson? And without Mrs. Hudson and the Baker Street Irregulars, the logistics of many of his cases would be nearly insurmountable.

            • Timothy Lane says:

              What Holmes thought (or felt) about Watson was most dramatically shown in “The Adventure of the Three Garridebs”, and Watson appreciated it.

              There are 4 stories not written in the standard pattern (first-person by Watson), and the only one of those I really like is “The Lion’s Mane” (which is at least first-person).

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