Stop! Pause! Before you continue reading, be aware that this post contains a spoiler for BBC Sherlock Series 3. It’s a spoiler that was tweeted publicly and disseminated widely on the Internet, so most likely one you’ve already seen if you follow Sherlock news.
A few days ago, the marvelous Sue Vertue tweeted one of the bigger pieces of news to be revealed about Sherlock’s upcoming return: A main antagonist of series 3 will be none other than Charles Augustus Magnussen, undoubtedly the updated version of Charles Augustus Milverton, who has a story named after him in The Return of Sherlock Holmes.
Magnussen will be played by Lars Mikkelsen, whose brother Mads is currently starring as the titular character in Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal on NBC. I’m personally unfamiliar with Lars’s work, but I know that he’s extremely well regarded in his home country of Denmark and elsewhere. I have high hopes that he will deliver brilliantly, the way Andrew Scott, Lara Pulver, and others have done on Sherlock.
But who is Charles Augustus Milverton, and why is this announcement generating so much attention? To understand, you first need to give up the few minutes it takes to read “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton.” Arguably one of the best Holmes stories of all time, it does what several other Doyle stories do — provides a perpetrator who is far more compelling than any of his victims. A sort of proto-Perez Hilton combined with Oscar Wilde’s Mrs. Cheveley, Milverton is a man who specializes in knowing unsavory truths about people and using those truths to extort money, or, if that fails, to ruin their lives. He’s the ultimate blackmailer.
I won’t reveal the end of the story here, even though it’s been in existence for over a hundred years, but it’s one of the most exciting, controversial, and satisfying in the original canon. Many Holmes stories contain action, intrigue, and entertaining denouements, but “Milverton” stands somewhat alone in its ability to engender psychological revulsion for its antagonist and an overwhelming desire for justice (through Sherlock Holmes) to prevail. (In my opinion, for what it’s worth, this story is far better than “The Final Problem,” and Milverton an even better adversary for Holmes than Moriarty.)
“Milverton” also features the one and only canonical instance of Sherlock Holmes becoming engaged to be married. Want to know how that happens? I guess you’ll have to read it…
I’m certainly curious to find out how Magnussen will compare and contrast to his origin. Many characters and situations in the canon have required creative updating to be currently relevant (Irene Adler, the Baker Street Irregulars, the Hound); however, to use current vernacular, Milverton seems like almost a no-brainer. In an age of Internet leaks, blackmail is as alive and well as ever before, and it’s not even a stretch to imagine a person living the high life by misusing the secrets of others.
It won’t be long until we find out exactly what Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman’s John Watson have to contend with in the character of Charles Augustus Magnussen. Until then, it’s worth looking up Charles Augustus Howell, the real-life inspiration for Milverton, who was an art dealer and master blackmailer.
The Detective, The Woman and The Winking Tree: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.
The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.