Mrs. Baynes had before her a book opened to The Silver Blaze case report of Dr. Watson. Excitement blazed in her eyes and her face was flushed with exasperation bordering on anger.
“I can’t, for the life of me, understand why everyone thinks Sherlock Holmes was such a great detective,” she said excitedly.
"Why….,” I began to ask.
She interrupted my question with an answer: “He sits up there like he was high-and-mighty, and pontificates on how to be a great detective. Then he goes out on a job and proves that he was wrong, wrong, wrong! All theory and no results.”
“Please, explain,” I said quickly.
She continued, “Well he sits there in the cozy comfort of Baker Street and reads the newspaper accounts of the missing race horse from King’s Pyland stables. Then he tells good old Watson: ‘It is one of those cases where the art of the reasoner should be used rather for the sifting of details than for the acquiring of fresh evidence.’
"“He’s a bloomin’ arm-chair detective, I tell you --- trying to solve his cases sittin’ on his duff at home when he should be out in the field gathering additional evidence , or to use his words ‘fresh evidence.’
"That’s the way you solve your cases, Inspector. You go get the facts.”
I spoke to her calmly. I pointed out that Holmes did finally get out to the scene. There he gathered evidence: the surgical knife in the pocket of the fresh-dead John Straker; the horseshoe of Silver Blaze fitting tracks remaining in the mud; the footprints of pointed-toe boots which matched the boots of Silas Brown and the fact that the expensive dress purchased by Straker was for someone other than Mrs. Straker. Also, it was after Mr. Holmes arrived at the scene that he noted the significance of the curried lamb for the evening meal of the stable-boy or the silence of the dog in the night-time.
“You make my case for me, Inspector. That’s all fresh evidence,” said Mrs. Baynes. “In fact your friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes, himself, admitted that he had bungled the case until he went down to the scene. He said, ‘I confess…that any theories which I had formed from the newspaper reports were entirely erroneous.’”
“Well,” I said, “at least Holmes did show us the dangers of arm-chair detective work.”
She had to have the last word. “I don’t think the import of that ever occurred to Holmes. The brewmeister’s wife tells me the boys down at your pub joke about Holmes. They say that he is the only man that can strut sitting down. And the Scotch guard who wears a kilt and plays Amazing Grace at the military funerals says Mr. Holmes is all blow and no pipe.”
(Jody Baker is a Chattanooga attorney, who specializes in Sherlock Holmes lore. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)