CHENNAI: May 22 was Sherlock Holmes Day. So today, I will tell you how I became a fan of detective fiction. And I will ask you to tell me your story. My favourite story from the Sherlock Holmes canon is The Adventure of the Dancing Men. In fact, I can attribute my love of detective fiction entirely to this story. I read it first when I was about eight years old, and that too in translation. I used to read almost exclusively in Bengali, my mother tongue then, and it was about the time when I progressed from being read stories to reading them myself. My mother had bought me a subscription to Anandamela, which was a long-serving children’s magazine in Bengali. It was there that I read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for the first time.
The Adventure of the Dancing Men was the first of those stories, and I was hooked to the ingenuity of Holmes’ deduction, and in process, the whole genre of detective fiction. The magazine would serialize the stories, and it took about four episodes for a normal-sized Holmes story to finish. And I remember eagerly counting the days to the next fortnight, when the next part of the story would land up at my doorsteps. Aren’t serialised detective stories such a joy?
The premise of the story is of a country gentleman, Hilton Cubitt, from Norfolk. He and his wife have received a couple of letters with funny hand-drawn images of dancing men on them. Cubitt would have ignored the letters as a child’s plaything, had the wife, Elsie, not been absolutely terrified by the arrival of the letters. Would Holmes help to solve the case? Soon thereafter, an important character is murdered, and Holmes and Watson travel to Norfolk and decipher the code behind the dancing men, to solve the mystery.
The ingenuity of the case especially appealed to me. Imagine you are, like me, an eight-year-old who likes puzzles. Imagine a murder mystery, and imagine some lines of coded message that he has a fortnight to crack. How exciting it could get! I spent at least a couple of days trying to decipher the message (unsuccessfully of course). But I remember that for the two months, I was immersed in the story, and invested in the lives of Cubitt and Elsie.
And the conclusion was surprisingly ambiguous. It did not sit very well with me, but I could not then know why. Now I can. In such stories, you admire the good guy, and you detest the bad guy. Here, though, I could not completely hate the bad guy. Why? You will have to read the story then.
And now let me hear from you, dear readers. Tell me, which has been your favourite Holmes story? Why do you like it? Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave me a tweet at my twitter handle @Spinstripe. I would publish some of the best responses I receive in a subsequent column.
(The writer is Financial Architect in Bengaluru)