Nicholas Meyer plays The Game. He presents his novel, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, as a found manuscript of John Watson, friend to and chronicler of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective inspired pastiches and fan fiction even during the time when he was writing the canon of Holmes stories. Meyer even mentions Doyle in the book, though in keeping with The Game, he alludes that he is something like a literary agent, helping Watson place his recollections in magazines.
The occasion of the reference to Doyle is his connection to both Watson and Doyle’s medical studies in Vienna, where most of the story is set. According to Meyer, neither the real life or fictional version of Doyle met another famous physician who resided in Vienna. That physician’s expertise in a certain specialty is the reason Watson and Holmes visit the European mainland.
After Watson marries and moves out of the Baker Street apartment, Holmes is more tightly gripped by his addiction to cocaine, the seven percent solution mentioned Doyle’s The Sign of Four and the title of Meyer’s book. Overcoming addiction was beyond the expertise of Watson and his medical colleagues, but the work of a Viennese physician gave him hope. Watson conspires with Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, and even enlists the aid of the old Holmes family math tutor Moriarty, to trick Holmes into going to Vienna to be placed in the care of Sigmund Freud.
The first half of the book deals with Holmes’ addiction and his treatment in the home of Freud. This is more interesting than some may think it sounds, and even in this section Meyer maintains the feel of a Holmes story.
In the second half, Freud’s consultation in the case of a silent patient prompts the kind of detective story you expect to see Holmes in. Freud is along for the ride and his insights prove useful to the detective. The physical side of the adventure ramps us in this part, too. The climax (can you do a spoiler alert for a 40-year-old book) is a saber duel between Holmes and the story’s villain on the top of a speeding railcar.
Meyer sticks close to the canon, though he does it by discrediting certain “disputed” stories. The long-retired Watson, dictating this after the death of his friend, admits to fabricating certain tales in order to protect Holmes’ life and reputation.
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