Have you ever read or seen a story in which the mystery seems mind boggling and there seems to be no possible solution?
And then, when the detective tells you what happened, you gasp and say, “This is so obvious, how could I have missed it?”
Silver Blaze is exactly that kind of a story.
There is nothing fancy here. In fact, if you really want to, even you can deduce a good part of the solution before Sherlock Holmes if you pay attention to the exact details of the story.
I couldn't though and so I did go through the “How did I miss that!” motions once Holmes told us all. :-)
Take a peek at my ratings for this magical story...
It all begins when Sherlock Holmes learns of the disappearance of a race horse named Silver Blaze. This horse was the favourite to win a prestigious horse racing tournament called The Wessex Cup.
The problem is that the horse just can't be found!
The body of the trainer has been found. So that's some headway in the case.
That's an illustration of Silver Blaze's trainer's body by W. H. Hyde in 1893 (a bit touched up!)
But there's no trace of the horse despite the fact that there's almost nowhere to escape. There's a vast marshland nearby you see.
Now this isn't a mouse that has disappeared.
It's a horse and to top that it's a horse that every man and his cat could recognize because of a special mark on its forehead. Why can't the horse then be caught despite the best efforts of the police?
There's a suspicious guy who's been arrested. But why isn't there almost no evidence against this guy if he killed the trainer?
It all seems confusing and without a solution until Holmes comes over and clears up the air.
That's when the solution seems obvious.
And the way the solution pops up through Holmes' stellar deductions, is unforgettable.
After the inspector in charge - Gregory, Watson, the horse's owner Colonel Ross and Holmes have toured the area where Silver Blaze disappeared, it's time to get out of the carriage.
Holmes doesn't get out! He keeps staring into nothingness...
When Watson rouses him, he says:
“Excuse me, I was day-dreaming.”
Of course Watson notices the gleam in Holmes' eyes and the suppressed excitement in his tone. Which means Holmes has deduced something cool even though nothing extraordinary seems to have happened.
Now this is quite a simple event. But for some reason, I've taken a fancy to it. Till this moment, Holmes was as confused as you or me. And then he got it.
And that's fun to watch.
I mean, think of the time when you were very puzzled about something and suddenly, you got it! Wasn't that moment magical? Ditto for Holmes here!
This definitely has to rank as one of the most magical moments across all Sherlock Holmes stories.
In fact, this moment is so popular that it has been mentioned and relived tons of times by Sherlock Holmes fans the world over.
When, Holmes is about to depart for London from King's Pyland, the place from where the favourite horse disappeared, he is confident and highly amused. An awesome conversation takes place between our dear Holmes and the perfectionist inspector who lacks imagination, Inspector Gregory:
At first glance, there doesn't seem to be much in these lines. BUT, when you read them again and think about them in the context of the story, you'll definitely give a start!
They are so freakin' relevant and they lead you directly to the solution of the mystery...if you're willing to stop and deduce why on earth the dog didn't bark.
I LOVE these lines because of the superb clue they provide, and the cool chance they give you to solve the mystery.
PS: View an intriguing coffee mug that features this quote with a fun twist here!
As Sherlock Holmes is about to depart to London, the Colonel is confused about whether to remove Silver Blaze's entry from the race or not.
And Holmes says:
Now that's Sherlock Holmes for you.
No one has any idea about who stole the horse and where it is, and Holmes is so certain that it will be found by the day of the race? How can he be so sure that the horse will be found?
His penchant for drama and creating even more suspense are what come through yet again...in this magic moment.
And then of course, Sherlock Holmes is also extracting mock revenge from the Colonel, who is pretty pissed off with Holmes' methods of investigation. ;-)
From left to right: Watson, Colonel Ross, Holmes (Thanks to Sidney Paget for the artwork!)
The climax scene, without a doubt.
The horse's owner Colonel Ross is there.
Watson is there.
Sherlock Holmes is there...
...And a horse that does not look like Silver Blaze, but is Silver Blaze has just won the Wessex Cup!
When an astonished Colonel Ross thanks Sherlock Holmes and asks him who might have murdered the horse's trainer, Holmes again flaunts his love for drama as he says :
Holmes refers to the horse as being the murderer.
Then, slowly, and with his cool dramatic style intact, he tells everyone about how John Straker planned to injure Silver Blaze and how the horse killed Straker and how the horse landed up in the stables nearby.
And as you hear Holmes talk, you end up sighing and saying to yourself...
"I could have guessed that from the clues given!"
Now, we all know what cap our dear old Holmes wears. Why, he wears a deerstalker cap of course! Here's a picture.
Thanks for the cool picture taken in the Sherlock Holmes Museum, Givingnot!
The illustrator of the Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, Sidney Paget gave Holmes this cap.
But, did you know that Silver Blaze is the first Holmes story that talks of a cap?
When Holmes and Watson travel to Tavistock to take stock of this Silver Blaze issue, Holmes wears an ear-flapped travelling-cap.
“Sherlock Holmes, with his sharp, eager face framed in his ear-flapped travelling-cap, dipped rapidly into the bundle of fresh papers which he had procured at Paddington.”
Before this story, illustrations of Sherlock Holmes DID NOT have a deerstalker cap. How interesting that this one mention has lead to Holmes' deerstalker becoming so famous today!
Yup, I've mentioned the cool interaction between Holmes and Gregory about "the curious incident of the dog in the night-time" earlier on this page. But it deserves more mentions!
It is one of the most famous quotations from all Sherlock Holmes stories.
There's this cool guy at bestofsherlock.com who conducted some exhaustive research to find out the most popular Sherlock Holmes quotes. And “the dog in the night time” quote was ranked number 9 overall!
To take it up another level, there's also a book with the title taken from this very quote. The book is called “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time” by Mark Hidden.
The main character in that story is....you guessed it...A Sherlock Holmes Fan. :-)
Image: cngcoins.com Thanks!
The guinea plays a major role in Silver Blaze. Holmes recovers a receipt for a 22 guinea dress from the horse's trainer's pocket. That's apparantly very expensive and gets Holmes thinking about how on earth the trainer could have afforded such a dress.
Now, honestly, I am from India and I had no freakin' idea what a guinea is or was!
So I decided to find out.
If you're in the same boat, a guinea basically meant 21 shillings or 1.05 pounds in the 1890s when the story was written.Even at that time, people didn't exactly use a guinea (it was discontinued in 1816), but some prices were still mentioned in guineas.
Now, here's an interesting thought: How much would those 22 guineas be worth today? Would it still be an expensive dress? Well, after adjusting for inflation and many other effects, the value of 22 guineas comes down to approximately $150.
Now, is $150 for a dress expensive? Quite! No wonder that bill fed suspicions in Holmes' mind...
The Wessex Cup is the cup in which our missing horse competes. The question is: was there ever such a cup in reality or did Monseur Doyle invent it?
Well, the truth is, the Wessex Cup for horses did not and does not exist. That is just fiction.
However, there's a Wessex Football League today and there's the Countess of Wessex Cup that has a range of activities like “under fire” drills and “forced marches”, but no horse racing.
BUT, the Sherlock Holmes Society of London did indeed organize a Silver Blaze Wessex Cup for horses in 2013. Read about it here!
And, by the way: where is Wessex?
In today's age, here's where Wessex would be...
Thanks to Wikipedia for the cool map they had, that I edited :-)
Historically though, Wessex was a kingdom from the 6th century AD to the 10th century AD, in Southern England.
While the boundaries of that historical Wessex aren't exactly clear, Devon today would definitely come under the Wessex of those days...
...And Silver Blaze raced in King's Pyland in Devon, so that explains the name of the cup!
So there, that's Silver Blaze for you.
Don't forget to tell me your comments about the story!