The Seven-Per-Cent Solution by Nicholas Meyer

Everybody knows the tale of Sherlock Holmes’ battle to the death with Professor Moriarty – how the two arch-enemies grappled at the Reichenbach Falls, both falling to their apparent deaths, only for Holmes to reappear years later to thwart Colonel Moran in The Adventure Of The Empty House. But apparently this was a fiction created by Dr John Watson to cover the truth behind the Great Detective’s disappearance.

Holmes was lost to his cocaine addiction, obsessed with stalking an innocent teacher of Mathematics, and Watson turned to Mycroft Holmes for advice. A plan is concocted to trick Holmes into following a false trail to Vienna and into the clutches of the one man who can cure him of his addiction – Sigmund Freud himself.

You know what has always bothered me about The Final Problem? The line about Moriarty having written a new treatise on The Binomial Theorem. Seriously? That’s like giving a seminar on the quadratic formula – there just isn’t anything new to say about it. Well, this was part of the evidence that convinced Nicholas Meyer that this new record from Dr Watson was genuine.

By the way, in case you hadn’t grasped, we’re getting a bit meta here, in the days before meta was a thing. In fact, the footnotes explaining how certain bits and bobs tie into the Holmes canon (and in a couple of cases, other literature) that are the only thing to moan about here – some of them are interesting, but after a while, it felt they were getting in the way.

But as I said, that is my only moan. This is a wonderful Holmes pastiche that feels like it could have come from the pen of Conan Doyle himself. Both the cocaine addiction and the subsequent investigation (what, you thought there wouldn’t be a case to solve in Vienna?) are very well done. Meyer gives us a convincing “missing” adventure – I won’t go into details, as this aspect of the story takes a while to kick off, well past my spoiler cut-off – and while the final look into Holmes’ past seems a little indiscrete on the part of Watson, it gives that tale a satisfying closure.

If reading is a bit too arduous for you, there is a film version directed by Meyer himself, starring Nicol Williamson, Robert Duvall, Alan Arkin and Sir Laurence Olivier. I’ve not seen it, but apparently it’s pretty good.

Meyer has gone on to write three more Holmes pastiches, the latest of which, The Affair Of The Peculiar Protocols is out tomorrow. I read this one in preparation for that one, which I’m looking forward to immensely – expect the review very soon.

18 comments

  1. Glad you enjoyed it. Having recently read Horowitz’s HOUSE OF SILK, which is perfectly entertaining, I thought it came second best to SOLUTION. I will have to correct a minor point – Meyer didn’t direct the movie version, Herbert Ross did (the same Herbert Ross who, a few years before, had directed THE LAST OF SHEILA, possibly the most complicated murder mystery ever put on film and which I REALLY recommend). The movie version of the book is pretty good, though casting Robert Duvall as Watson was not a good move (shan’t even touch on his accent …). Meyer made his debut as a movie director with TIME AFTER TIME in which HG Wells really does build a time machine and travels to modern day (1979) San Francisco to stop Jack the Ripper. It’s a really wonderful movie.

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    • Thanks for the clarification – I knew Meyer was a director as he did my favourite Star Trek film (The Undiscovered Country, not Wrath Of Khan). I’ll try and look up Time After a Time – sounds rather insane…

      Have you read any of Meyer’s other Holmes tales?

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      • Not read any of Meyer’s other novels, though I do have his autobiography. UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY is great fun and offers a good detective story too (and has a few Holmesian elements as I recall, including the suggestion that Spock is a relative of the great detective himself 🙂 )

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  2. Karl Alexander’s novel Time After Time, the sort-of-basis for the movie (the situation’s something like that of the book/movie versions of 2001) is well worth a read too — indeed, I preferred it to the movie.

    ‘Fraid I didn’t much like either the book or movie of 7% Solution. (Yes, I know, there’s always one.) Maybe I should give them another chance someday. On the other hand, I have Meyer’s first sequel kicking around somewhere, so . . .

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  3. In his screenplay for The Seven Per Cent Solution, Meyer actually improved on the final solution, in a way that fits so well, it just seems absent-mindedness that he left it out of the book.

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  4. My understanding is that Meyer worked from a partial draft of the book and wrote the screenplay based on the premise but not the book as it wasn’t finished – and then this was completed, but with knowledge of Meyer’s work? Is that right? The 2001 book is basically a novelisation of the screenplay, right?

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    • That was roughly it for Time After Time. For 2001 Arthur and Kubrick worked more or less in tandem, so that really the book’s no more a novelization of the movie than the movie is an adaptation of the book. I think it’s what gives both versions their strengths (the grandiose cosmic visions, the hi-tech thrills, HAL) and weaknesses (the endless tedium in the space station — look, videophones!, upside-down stewardesses! — and the somewhat crapola plotting). Same strengths and weaknesses as Tarkovsky’s Solaris, come to think of it, although I’d say the latter is arguably the better movie (certainly better plotted).

      Neither of them as good as Moon Zero Two, o’ course. 🙂

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      • That is worse, I agree. What else was on the double bill, do you remember? Only ever seen in on the telly (can’t even remember if it was in English or Italian actually). You have to give them some sort of credit for sheer cheeseparing chutzpah I suppose …

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      • I can’t recall what the B-feature was, or even if there was one.

        Just to increase my youthful misery, my mum had told me beforehand that it would be a stinker. So I had THAT to cope with when I got home.

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      • Not sure if that’s kosher. Although IMDB says this on the Moon Zero Two page, on the WDRtE page it gives this: “In some locations, the film was released as a double bill with the previous year’s Moon Zero Two (1969).”

        That would better accord with my memory, which is that I saw the two movies at separate times (although both at the same cinema, somewhere over near Paddington).

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      • I don’t recall the movie that clearly, I’m afraid. I did notice on IMDB that the Hammer boss insisted on the stop-motion T. Rex being excised because he thought it looked a bit gay.

        Hm. I wonder how long the Puzzle Doc is going to let us continue polluting his perfectly respectable crime-fiction blog with this sort of stuff . . .

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  5. I’ve seen the movie ^^ It was very good.
    But I’ve read the second Holmes by Meyer, The West End Horror (that’s a good title!) and it was good too. I think it’s time to read the all serie

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    • I remember both books being fun reads. Not really convincing as pastiche but enjoyable.
      A movie I do recommend is Billy Wilders’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. Again, not intended as a serious pastiche but as affectionate satire.

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