Re: RARA-AVIS: Artifice, tradition, and all that jazz.

Date: 23 Feb 2003


Re your comments below:

> Funny, but I've never equated "cozy" with
> "traditional" (that was you Jim,
> I think.) Maybe I'm not adequately acquainted with
> their contemporaries,
> but I felt Doyle very different from Christie. I
> always thought Holmes
> appeal lay more with a popular fascination with
> science, more like the
> later procedurals (though Holmes was not a cop, of
> course) and the current
> forensics formulas. Poirot applied his "little grey
> cells" too, of course,
> but more toward the behaviour of the upper classes
> than the tracks they
> left about.

The only time Holmes ever really used scietific detection was in the first story, A STUDY IN SCARLET, when he a Watson are introduced just as Holmes has discovered a formula for detecting whether or not a bloodstain in human or animal. And that experiment never had anything to do with the main plot.

Rather than being a practical scientist, Holmes was the embodiment of the idea that any problem could be solved by pure reason, and is, on that account, the precursor of characters like Futrelle's S.F.X. Van Dusen, (aka "The Thinking Machine") or Christie's Hercule Poirot with his "little grey cells." Most of the cases involved Holmes with the priveleged class, and gave the impression of crime being an unnatural interruption of the natural order of things.

Agatha Christie certainly seemed to think that she was following in the Holmes tradition. As if to point up her debt to Conan Doyle, she gave Poirot a less intelligent partner to narrate the stories (captain Hastings), and, in one entry in the series, even introduces Poirot's more brilliant, but sedentary, older brother.

For genuine descriptions of forensic investigation the go-to guy was R. Austin Freeman, whose medico-legal sleuth, Dr. John Thorndyke, was, in some ways, the precursor of today's Dr. Scarpetta and C.S.I. But even these had a "cozy," traditional feel in which there was a formality in the use of language, and a sense of an ordered world in which crime was an anomaly, as opposed to the hard-boiled world in which crime and injustice are rampant and order must be imposed.

The "Big Three" of the Cozy, Christie, Sayers, and Marsh, perhaps EXAGGERATED the traditions of Holmes, but it seems quite clear to me that they, and the other "traditionalists" of the Golden Age were following that tradition.

> Now Lestrade, he was hardboiled, and damned bad at
> it.

Maybe, but he and Gregson were the best of a bad lot.


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