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Literature / The Seven-Per-Cent Solution

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The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, published in 1974, is a novel-length Sherlock Holmes pastiche by Nicholas Meyer. It's essentially a rewrite of Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Final Problem" and "The Empty House", revealing that those stories (and the three-year "Great Hiatus" between them) were really a cover-up for Holmes' descent into drug addiction and recovery.

As the novel begins, Holmes approaches Watson about his heretofore unmentioned Arch-Enemy, Professor Moriarty. However, since even in canon Moriarty was just an excuse for Conan Doyle to try to Torch the Franchise and Run, Watson can't help but notice how unusual this sudden announcement is, especially given Holmes' apparent raving. This leads him to conclude that Moriarty (who, he discovers, is really nothing more than a mathematics professor) is being persecuted by Holmes as part of a delusional episode. With help from Holmes' brother Mycroft, Watson lures the detective to Vienna for treatment by a psychiatrist named Sigmund Freud, who then draws them into an adventure to help prevent World War I.

The 1976 film version, with a screenplay by Meyer, was produced and directed by Herbert Ross, and starred Alan Arkin as Freud, Vanessa Redgrave as Lola Devereaux, Robert Duvall as Watson, Nicol Williamson as Holmes, and Laurence Olivier as Moriarty. It also featured Charles Gray as Mycroft, a role he would later reprise in the Granada series with Jeremy Brett.

Meyer wrote four sequels to the novel: 1976's The West End Horror, which has Holmes interacting with the theatrical and literary community of Victorian London while trying to solve a series of murders; 1993's The Canary Trainer, in which he encounters a certain spectral presence while anonymously playing violin in Paris between the events of the first two books; 2019's The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols, in which Holmes and Watson travel from London to Moscow in 1905 while investigating an Ancient Conspiracy ; and 2021's The Return of the Pharaoh which takes Holmes and Watson to Egypt on the trail of a missing nobleman and the lost tomb of an Egyptian prince crossing paths with Howard Carter.

IDW Publishing adapted the novel into a comic book miniseries in 2015.

This work provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Villainy: Moriarty is on the receiving end of this. In the novel, he is merely the person who informs Sherlock of his mother's affair and death at her husband's hands. In the film, Moriarty actually is Mrs. Holmes' lover, and Sherlock sees him flee the scene after Squire Holmes shoots his wife dead, right in front of Moriarty and Sherlock. In the book Freud and Watson do suspect that Moriarty was more involved and guilty than he lets on, due to Mycroft's hold over him.
  • Adaptational Wimp: Since Moriarty is no longer the Diabolical Mastermind of a criminal organization and is just a rather pathetic math tutor.
  • All Psychology Is Freudian: Justified. Since this takes place in the 1890s, Freud is still working on his theories and Jung hasn't come into style yet.
  • Always Someone Better: Mycroft, of course.
  • Ambiguous Situation: Since Watson made up Holmes' death and return here, it's unclear if Sebastian Moran existed and whether the murder of Ronald Adair still happened. Watson never says anything about Moran so its possible that he did exist and Watson tied him back to Moriaty in his account.
  • Arch-Enemy: Subverted.
  • At the Opera Tonight: As part of his treatment to break Holmes out of his post-addiction depression, Freud takes him to what appears to be a performance of Siegfried (judging by Watson's mention of a dragon). Holmes is entranced by it, Watson doesn't find it all that interesting, and Freud actually falls asleep.
  • Avoiding the Great War: The ultimate aim of the Big Bad is to gain control of the von Leinsdorf armaments companies, when von Leinsdorf had willed them to his wife, a Quaker (and thus, a pacifist) who would have converted them to peaceful uses. When they put an end to the plan, Holmes notes that they have only delayed the war, not prevented it entirely (and he's proven to be correct when World War I occurs).
  • Been There, Shaped History: The second half of the book is devoted to the efforts of the main characters in preventing the early outbreak of World War I (instigated by major weapons companies).
  • Berserk Button: In the film adaptation, a drug-crazed Holmes angrily calls Watson an idiot, but Watson isn't fazed. Then Holmes calls him an "insufferable cripple", and Watson decks him with one punch. Later, a weakened and contrite Holmes humbly apologizes for his outburst. Watson, deeply moved, denies that the incident ever occurred.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Holmes shoots von Leinsdorf's butler in the temple aboard the train.
  • Continuity Nod: Both the book and film include many references to other Holmes stories.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: The motivation in kidnapping the Rhode Island heiress.
  • A Deadly Affair: A case in Vienna is about this trope. Holmes is brought to Austria to meet budding psychologist Sigmund Freud, in an effort to treat Holmes for a cocaine addiction. There, Freud discovers that Holmes's mother was caught with a lover by his father, who murdered the pair for their infidelity. It was young Holmes's mathematics tutor, Professor Moriarty that delivered the horrible news to him. Thus, concludes Freud, Holmes developed his dogged justice-must-prevail ethic, and his vilifying Moriarty is a Shoot the Messenger coping mechanism.
  • Direct Line to the Author: According to the author's forward, Watson narrated the story to a secretary in an old age home in 1939. Meyer's uncle later found the tale in an attic in 1970, and Meyer edited and published it. In addition, Watson insisted that several of the stories that Doyle published were "forged drivel".
  • Doctor's Disgraceful Demotion: When Sherlock Holmes meets Doctor Sigmund Freud, a Sherlock Scan of Freud's office leads to Holmes deducing that the doctor has become a pariah among his medical peers, and subsists purely as a private practitioner. "These blank spaces on the wall where certificates and awards would be. One might become disenfranchised with one or two, but not all six at once. No, doctor, I deduce it was they who became appalled by you, and withdrew their credentials."
  • Drugs Are Bad: Until the mystery starts up, the whole thing is a Very Special Episode.
  • Food Slap: When Baron von Leinsdorf insults Dr. Freud for his Jewish ancestry and then-radical psychological theories in a sports club locker room, Watson throws a glass of water in his face and prepares to fist-fight him and his whole gang of cronies. Freud takes responsibility for his companion's actions, and the doctor and the Baron end up facing each other in a vigorous game of real tennis.
  • Foreign Curse Word: Watson remarks that the stationmaster gave a German oath against the engine driver "connected in some way to the man's mother" that finally got him to cooperate in the chase.
  • Freudian Excuse: It turns out that Sherlock's reason for distrusting women and throwing himself into his job and cocaine is that his mother had an affair, possibly with Moriarty.
  • Geniuses Have Multiple PhDs: Sherlock Holmes travels to Vienna and meets with Sigmund Freud at his home. A Sherlock Scan leads Holmes to deduce that Freud is a genius or nearly so; only because he advanced some radical theory is Freud reduced to private consulting at home. A smiling Freud asks how he could have known. Holmes points out spaces on Freud's wall where certificates and diplomas once hung, but no longer. "A man may become disenfranchised with one or two, but surely not the whole lot. No, Doctor, I postulate it is they who became disenfranchised with you." "And a genius?" asks Freud. "The fact that you bothered to qualify for so many certificates in the first place."
  • Going Cold Turkey: Sherlock is forced into this (along with a hallucination or two in the film) once he arrives in Vienna.
  • Handicapped Badass: Watson is this, particularly in the film adaptation. While Freud attempts to revive Holmes from a hypnotic trance, Watson, in spite of his limp, leads a group of wild horses away from them. Later, during the train chase, he climbs along the engine to go to Holmes' aid.
  • Historical Character's Fictional Relative: In the film adaptation, Sigmund Freud is given a son. He had one daughter in real life, who was included in the book, but she threatened to sue if her image was used in the film (she had no power over uses of her father's image, however).
  • Historical Domain Character: Sigmund Freud, obviously. Count von Schlieffen is briefly seen, and Freud, Holmes, and Watson spend some time with Hugo von Hofmannsthal at the Vienna Opera.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Berger, the stationmaster, lampshades this, remarking that they're chasing Baron von Leinsdorf in a locomotive built by his father's company.
  • Hypno Pendulum: Holmes occasionally needs a touch of this from Freud to overcome his cravings for cocaine.
  • Intercontinuity Crossover: In the novel, Holmes and Watson run into Rudolf Rassendyll on the train as he heads back from Ruritania.
  • Madwoman in the Attic: Invoked. The real Baroness von Leinsdorf was kept in an attic and driven mad by her confinement.
  • Manly Tears: Watson gets choked up a few times, such is his love and friendship for Holmes, and thus his fear that Holmes' addiction will destroy him.
  • Mythology Gag: The letter from Meyer's uncle in the introduction of the book mentions the question of Watson's bullet wound, either in the shoulder or the leg. He says that an Obstructive Bureaucrat from the National Health Service wouldn't let him examine Watson's medical records, so the mystery must remain. However, later in the book itself, Watson confirms the wound was to his leg.
  • Noodle Incident. Watson mentions that the bloodhound Toby, in addition to finding Johnathan Small and his horrible companion, was most useful in tracking down an orangutan in the sewers of Marseilles.
  • Only the Knowledgable May Pass: At the start of the movie, a manic, paranoid Holmes only lets Watson into his apartment after the good doctor correctly identifies where Sherlock keeps his tobacco.note 
  • Out-of-Character Alert: How Watson realizes that something is wrong, when the cold, logical Holmes suddenly becomes obsessed with a mathematics professor, despite no evidence of any wrongdoing.
  • Out-Gambitted: Watson and Mary realize that getting Holmes to Europe will require that they trick him. Unfortunately, Holmes only pretends to go along with the scheme, thinking that Watson has betrayed him to Moriarty until he actually meets Dr. Freud.
  • Plucky Girl: Fraulein Deveraux; After being forcibly re-addicted to cocaine, she escapes by breaking a glass window, cutting her bonds with the shards, and sliding down a metal pipe, and she faces the prospect of having to go through withdrawal again with a sad sigh. When Baron von Leinsdorf later "convinces" her to leave the asylum, she leaves a trail of flowers for Holmes and company to follow.
  • Sanity Slippage: Holmes for the first third of the book.
  • Separated by a Common Language: Meyer does a good job of imitating the original writing style, even using British spellings. However, during the train chase, he uses 'engineer' rather than the British 'driver'.
  • Sherlock Scan: Used by Holmes when he first meets Freud.
  • Shout-Out: As Watson is walking along a London street, he hears an organ-grinder playing "I'm Called Little Buttercup"
  • Smart Ball: After wasting hours trying to figure out how to fool Holmes, Watson and his wife realize that they have to call in an expert: Mycroft.
  • Staging an Intervention: Mycroft Holmes, Doctor Watson and Professor Moriarty arrange to lure Sherlock Holmes to Vienna, Austria in order to receive hypnosis treatment for Sherlock's cocaine addiction from psychologist Sigmund Freud.
  • Summon Bigger Fish: Aware that they are unlikely to successfully trick Holmes on their own, John and Mary Watson recruit Mycroft Holmes into their plans.
  • Suspiciously Prescient Planning: Doctor Watson arranges with Professor Moriarty to travel to Vienna. Counting on Holmes to pursue him, Watson aims to have Holmes meet Sigmund Freud, who has some success in treating cocaine addiction. Verily, Holmes does tail Moriarty to Vienna, and thence to Freud's home office, where he immediately recognizes the set-up. "So, Iscariot, you've delivered me to my nemeses," he says to Watson, noting that his colleague packed exactly the right amount for a trip to Vienna; no shortfall, no surplus. Holmes will later apologize for calling his comrade a turncoat.
  • Tap on the Head: When Holmes is raving while in withdrawal, Watson knocks him out with a single punch.
  • Traintop Battle: Between Holmes and von Leinsdorf, with sabres and revolvers.
  • Tough Love: Used by Watson and Freud during Holmes' therapy.
  • Values Dissonance: Invoked: Writing the foreword in 1939, Watson explicitly points out that at the time of the story's action, there was nothing illegal about Holmes obtaining and using cocaine, and that Watson himself certainly did not condone it or provide it for him.
  • Very Special Episode
  • Wham Line: "My name is Sigmund Freud."
  • While You Were in Diapers: The Stationmaster castigates the engine driver by saying that he was driving engines while the younger man was wearing short pants.

Alternative Title(s): The Seven Percent Solution