These two episodes are an interesting anomaly — they actually share elements of the same short story, “Silver Blaze.” The first, “An Unnatural Arrangement,” only have one noteworthy element (aside from being a long-needed episode digging into the character of Tommy Gregson), but it is a well-known one: a reframing of the infamous “curious incident of the dog in the night-time,” and particularly how the dog didn’t bark. The second episode, “The Marchioness,” picks up the rest of the threads, bringing in the eponymous Silver Blaze and also reframing the element of disguising one horse as another, as well as the attempt to sneak into the stable and attempt to harm the horse in question. Horse racing plays a part in a few Holmes stories, and it was nice to see that nod in Elementary.
Other elements between the episodes include:
- In 206, Holmes trunk of cold cases could be a nod to Watson’s “tin dispatch box” that contains all of his unpublished adventures with Holmes.
- In 207, Mycroft’s restaurant, Diogenes, is definitely a reference to the club canon Mycroft frequented, the Diogenes Club. The original Diogenes Club was a place where important men could meet and be social while conducting themselves in absolute silence — it will be interesting to see what elements of the original club come out in this restaurant.
- Mycroft’s laziness is referenced here again, as well as in 201, which was also a trait that the canon Mycroft possessed.
As a bonus, I’ve reprinted the essay on “Silver Blaze” from my book, Watson is Not an Idiot, which is now on sale!
Silver Blaze (1892)
“Silver Blaze” is one of the most well-known stories in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, primarily due to the famous line about “the curious incident of the dog”:
“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.
In fact, this quote is so popular that people often assume it actually shows up in completely different stories instead of this one — usually The Hound of the Baskervilles (another story involving dogs on the moors, but in a very different way).
For all the popularity of this quote, the story isn’t the best representation of Holmes’ skill. To start, Holmes doesn’t dramatically uncover new evidence so much as sift through a large amount of existing evidence to draw the correct conclusion. Further, Holmes is uncharacteristically lucky in this case. He makes a number of guesses, and even he admits to being surprised when he is proven correct.
Many of these unusual quirks relate to “The Silver Blaze” being one of the few “fair play” mysteries in the canon. Fair play mysteries are when all the facts and characters are available to the reader as well as to the detective — something that’s very common in mysteries today, but fairly infrequent in the stories of Doyle’s time. It’s harder to dramatically pull out the key piece of evidence when you also have to give the reader the same chance to discover it as well.
This is not the first time that horse racing has come up in the canon. Betting on horse races was a part of “Blue Carbuncle,” and the allusion to Holmes’ knowledge of horse betting in that story is reinforced when he places a bet himself in this one. Further, there is some question as to whether Holmes’ bet was entirely ethical, as he bet on Silver Blaze when he clearly had inside information on the horse. It could be a case of Holmes being a bit naive about betting etiquette, but “Blue Carbuncle” seems to contradict that. Regardless, we learn that Holmes (and, in later stories, Watson) gambles, both with his money and with some of his deductions.
We also meet a new Scotland Yard inspector and one of the most talented, Inspector Gregory. Holmes considers Gregory to be an “extremely competent officer,” lacking only in imagination. Gregory does prove to be quite clever, as well as diligent about preserving evidence. Gregory is also very respectful of Holmes’ methods. As for the chronology of this case, Holmes and Watson are talking over breakfast at the start of the story in 221B which implies pre-marriage, since it’s more likely that they would be having dinner or supper if Watson was visiting. However, there’s a reference to Watson’s published memoirs, and we learn that Holmes has come to earn the respect of at least one Scotland Yard detective, so it’s probable that this is a late case in the pre-marriage period.
Holmes is uncommonly modest in this story. Not only does he admit to guessing, but he also admits to making a mistake in his deductions:
“Because I made a blunder, my dear Watson — which is, I am afraid, a more common occurrence than any one would think who only knew me through your memoirs.”
Some more threads that we’ve been watching pop up in this story:
• This is another one of the few appearances of the “ear-flapped traveling-cap” — only the second in four books.
• There’s a background reference to gypsies, similar to the one in “The Speckled Band.”
• There’s another example of Holmes’ sense of personal justice: “I follow my own methods, and tell as much or as little as I choose.”
• Watson again makes some good observations. He strikes upon a key point in the evidence (the stable-boy locking the door) and he notices the return tracks of the horse and man, saving them valuable time.
One of the better stories in the canon, and well worth reading.