Husband thought this would make a rubbish blog, but as I don’t always pay attention to him, I thought I’d write it anyway. Living with a fellow Holmesian certainly does prompt some interesting discussions across the dinner table, especially when we don’t see eye-to-eye about aspects of the canon.
Anyway, domestic digressions aside – I was thinking about Charles Augustus Milverton and an interesting coincidence struck me. It’s this issue of ‘consulting’, rather than simply ‘doing’. It’s something that elevates certain characters in the Sherlock Holmes stories beyond the stereotype, a great little bit of creative ‘thinking outside the box’ which takes the private detective, the master criminal, Government official and the master blackmailer beyond the accepted conventions.
Sherlock Holmes isn’t just a private detective; he’s a consultant who both the public and the police come to when a perplexing situation needs clearing up. Same with Moriarty – when someone wants to fund a criminal project or needs advice on how to carry it out, they consult the professor. Moriarty isn’t just a prolific criminal – that would be far too simplistic – he’s a facilitator who enables others to do the dirty work.
This idea is used again with Milverton (my favourite Holmes baddie) the master blackmailer. He doesn’t just do the blackmailing, like with Moriarty he is a consultant who people approach when they have sensitive letters or photographs to trade. Incidentally, this makes him a perfect character for the BBC Sherlock team to upgrade to the modern world because in this age of tabloid press, sex tapes, YouTube, phone hacking etc, he’d be in his element.
And it is the same with Mycroft. His job is basically to sit at the heart of the British government storing facts about every department in his colossal brain, then pull all these facts together to advise the ministers who consult with him. How much more interesting than simply being a powerful politician?
Perhaps the fact that Doyle himself was a consultant in his work as a doctor inspired him to craft these characters in this way. As a doctor, people would come to him with problems which he would either solve or transfer to a specialist who could. Whatever the reason, it’s a clever piece of character development and makes for a more interesting read than just defaulting to the norm.