When I’d first heard about this story, I had almost skipped it. I think the idea of Holmes investigating a missing horse just screamed “boring” to me. Boy howdy, am I glad I didn’t listen to that initial instinct. Since that original reading, I’ve seen the episode more than once and have loved watching Holmes get the better of the pompous Colonel Ross, played brilliantly by Peter Barkworth.
Interestingly, there is also a fantastic book written by Mark Haddon about an autistic lad who finds a dead dog on his neighbors lawn and begins investigating. It’s a really enjoyable mystery written in the voice of the boy and has little relation to Sherlock Holmes beyond the boy’s acknowledgement of knowing the Holmes canon. However, what stands out about it is the title: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. A quote well known to many, but one that originates in Silver Blaze and makes one of the very best quotes of all of Doyle’s many great lines!
Colonel Ross’s prize horse, Silver Blaze has been taken in the night and one of his employees, Straker, has been found with his head knocked in, evidently murdered. But as Holmes has often said, “There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact”.
This is one story where Holmes imagines and uses that imagination to solve the crime. The clues are few and far between here, but one clue is a cataract knife and a few lame sheep. It’s nice to have Holmes acknowledge the value of imagination. He realizes that the lame sheep became lame from a series of subcutaneous cuts to their legs. And a loud dog was suspiciously quiet during the theft of the horse. This leads him to a realization. Straker wasn’t a man to be trusted; he had practiced on the sheep but intended to make Silver Blaze lame. The horse reacted in fear and kicked out, killing Straker instantly. The horse then ran off to a neighbor’s house. The reason no one found Silver Blaze, with it’s distinctive marking, was that its marking had been obscured with paint…
And why would anyone do this? Straker wanted to injure the horse so it would not be able to win a race. When the horse ran off, unscathed, the neighbor found the horse and thought he could use this serendipitous event to enter him into a race and win.
Inspector Gregory: ” Is there any other point to which you wish to draw my attention, Mr. Holmes?
Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the nighttime.”
Colonel Ross: “But the dog did nothing in the nighttime!”
Holmes: “That is the curious incident!”
One of the best exchanges in the canon; Holmes recognizes that the loud dog was uncommonly quiet when the horse was taken, leading him to the realization that the dog knew the horse-napper. (Is that a word? It should be. It is for the purposes of this write-up!) Watching Holmes take Ross down time and again is wonderful. Ross recovers from each loss, until he finally recognizes Sherlock as the genius he is. Over a meal, Holmes explains all and Ross offers a toast to his new friends.
“To Silver Blaze!” It’s a fun episode and the setting is quite appealing. While I think Holmes stories work best in the familiar haunts of London, these outings are enjoyable for the change of scenery alone. One thing that didn’t change much is a surprising repeat motif in this season. We’ve had two episodes now where the value of a shower is really displayed. One wonders if Conan Doyle was making a point! In The Man with the Twisted Lip, Holmes uses a good sponge and soapy water to reveal the missing man of the story. Just a few episodes later, Holmes is doing the same for the missing horse. I guess there are only so many permutations one can use to tell this sort of story, but it is such fun watching Holmes solve these cases, that one almost doesn’t mind the repeat ideas! ML