Conan Doyle – The Black Doctor

I read this story about two weeks before writing this post, and I’m still not sure whether or not I liked it. It’s one of those stories that would read well aloud, but the plotting is daft, the title is faintly racist (and reminded me of Sanjeev Bhaskar’s BBC series, The Indian Doctor, a little too much) and I thought the story had holes in it I could drive a tank through.

But… but….

Yes, it’s a product of its time – like Tintin, it views certain nations a certain way. The doctor of the title is, in fact, Argentinian, but owing to his dark hair and eyes and generally swarthy appearance, the locals call him “the black doctor”. Presumably to differentiate him from “the white doctor” who probably had whiskers, drank port wine and couldn’t tell the difference between gout and a goitre. Unfortunately, Dr Lana has a twin brother who is everything he is not – criminal, violent, dissolute and fortunately for all concerned, exceedingly unhealthy. When he literally drops dead in the doctor’s study after threatening him for money, Dr Lana decides to use his twin brother’s untimely demise to do a Reggie Perrin and fake his own death.

All of this would have been fine, if it hadn’t been for the fact that the brother of the young woman Dr Lana had recently been betrothed to is arrested for the doctor’s murder and is almost certain to hang, as he has no alibi. Dr Lana is forced to reveal his plan at the trial, thereby saving the day, but probably not his reputation.

It’s bonkers. We not only have a case of mistaken identity, but a case of mistaken diagnosis – clearly there hadn’t been a post mortem as the deceased’s poor health would have been revealed and no question of murder would have arisen. But that doesn’t make a good story, does it? Believe me, this is not a good story, although it’s fun and interesting to read. I just wish Holmes would have wandered along at some point and tidied the mess up.

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