Sherlock Holmes: Caught Up

Dancing Men Cipher
AM HERE ABE SLANEY Cipher by Sidney Paget for The Strand

I’m all caught up on the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. I read “The Adventure of the Abbey Grange,” “The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot,” “The Adventure of the Dancing Men,” and “The Adventure of the Retired Colourman” over the last week.

“The Abbey Grange” involves one of the sharper murder schemes in the series. When Sir Eustace Brackenstall turns up dead, no one much laments, and Inspector Hopkins thinks the notorious Randall Gang might be behind it. But Holmes, as usual, notices a few things that everyone else has missed and puts the pieces together.

In “The Devil’s Foot” Watson thinks he and Holmes are in for some rest and relaxation in Cornwall, but instead find themselves confronting a grisly scene. Three members of the Tregennis family are found sitting around their table. One of them is dead, and the other two are mad. What could have caused it? Obviously not the devil, but that’s how it looks… at first.

In “The Dancing Men,” probably one of the more famous Sherlock Holmes stories, Mr. Hilton Cubitt approaches Holmes with a mystery: several notes with stick figure men. Surely, they are only childish drawings… except they horrify his wife, who has expressly forbidden Cubitt from asking about her past. Holmes solves the cipher to determine why Mrs. Cubitt feels threatened, but he arrives too late to save his client from the menace behind the coded messages.

In “The Retired Colourman” Josiah Amberley hires Holmes to investigate his wife’s disappearance. He accuses his wife of eloping with a friend of his and making off with a great deal of money in cash and securities. Holmes naturally smells a rat and enlists Watson to dupe Amberley so that he can do some investigating on his own.

BBC’s Sherlock alludes to “The Dancing Men” in two episodes. Ciphers feature in “The Blind Banker,” and the “AM HERE ABE SLANEY” cipher appears on a chalkboard at the end of “The Final Problem” episode. I didn’t notice any other references to these other stories in the series.

“The Abbey Grange”  Rating: ★★★★☆
“The Devil’s Foot” Rating: ★★★★☆
“The Dancing Men” Rating: ★★★★★
“The Retired Colourman” Rating: ★★★½☆

The Chronological Sherlock Holmes ChallengeI read these stories as part of the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. They are the 44th, 45th, 46th, and 47th stories in the chronology (time setting rather than composition). Next up is “Thor Bridge.”

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Three Sherlock Holmes Stories

The Missing Three-Quarters
Illustration for “The Missing Three-Quarters” by Sidney Paget for The Strand

I’m slowly catching up on the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. I read three stories today: “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans,” “The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger,” and “The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter.” I’m now caught up to where I should have been as of mid-December. I need to read four more stories to catch totally up.

Sherlock’s brother Mycroft shows up in “The Bruce-Partington Plans” to enlist Sherlock’s help in a matter of great importance to the government: plans for a submarine have been stolen, and one of the men who might have done it has been found dead in the subway.

“The Veiled Lodger” is a story about a former circus worker who wants to unburden her soul and tell her story to Sherlock Holmes before she dies.

In “The Missing Three-Quarters” Sherlock is on the case to find a missing football star.

Of the three stories I read today, my favorite was easily “The Bruce-Partington Plans.” Mycroft is a great character. The atmosphere in the story also plays a brilliant role: London is so foggy in this story that just about any crime might be committed. Parts of this story find their way into the BBC Sherlock episode “The Great Game”: Andrew West’s name is similar to murder victim Arthur Cadogan West in the story, and their deaths are similar; John Watson’s blog post also refers to the Bruce-Partington Plans. “The Veiled Lodger” was kind of weird and forgettable. There was no real mystery to it. “The Missing Three-Quarter” was a little better than “The Veiled Lodger,” but only because there was at least a little mystery to solve—although it does have some choice Sherlock Holmes-style sarcasm. I don’t think any parts of “The Veiled Lodger” or “The Missing Three-Quarter” have found their way into BBC’s Sherlock.

“The Bruce-Partington Plans” Rating: ★★★★★
“The Veiled Lodger” Rating: ★☆☆☆☆
“The Missing Three-Quarter” Rating: ★★★☆☆

The Chronological Sherlock Holmes ChallengeI read these stories as part of the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. They are the 41st, 42nd, and 43rd stories in the chronology (time setting rather than composition). Next up is “The Abbey Grange.” I am about four stories behind.

 

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Reading Challenge Check-In

I finished my first book for the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge this week. My husband and I listen to audiobooks when we cook dinner. He hadn’t read Jane Austen before. I’ve actually read all of the complete Jane Austen novels; I haven’t read the juvenilia, letters, Lady Susan or Sanditon. I steered him away from Mansfield Park, and Emma is a sort of long one. I actually recommended Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility, but Steve wanted to try Northanger Abbey because he’d heard that it was a send-up of gothic novels. It is also one of the shorter Austen novels, and it’s her earliest novel, though it wasn’t published until after she died. I’m counting this novel under the category of favorite classic re-read. I wouldn’t say it’s my absolute favorite classic novel, but it had been about ten years since I read it, and Jane Austen is one of my favorite authors. I hadn’t re-read this one as I had Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility, so it was probably time. My husband loved Mr. Tilney’s sense of humor and shook his head at Catherine’s drama. He figured out the Thorpes were horrible right away. A couple of observations: I teach teenagers, and man, teenage girls have not changed at all in 200 years. Re-read any of the parts detailing Catherine and Isabella’s intrigues and it could be set today. Actually, this novel might not make for a bad modernization à la Clueless. In fact, even Catherine’s infatuation with gothic stories works if one takes the vampire/werewolf/witch fads under consideration. One of the reasons I love Jane Austen in general and this book, in particular, is Austen’s famous wit. Juliet Stevenson read the audiobook, and she was excellent.

I’m also slowly catching up on the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. We had two snow days this week, so no school, and I read five Sherlock Holmes stories:

  • “The Adventure of the Norwood Builder”: Sherlock Holmes’s client John Hector McFarlane is a young lawyer accused of murdering one of his own clients but despite the mounting evidence, Holmes smells a fraud. Rating: ★★★★☆
  • “The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez”: Inspector Stanley Hopkins seeks Holmes’s help to solve the murder of a young secretary Willoughby Smith, in the employ of invalid professor Coram. Rating: ★★★★☆
  • “The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist”: Violet Smith seeks Holmes’s help when she notices a man following her as she rides her bicycle to the train station to return home on weekends from her job as a music teacher. While the man never harms her, she is uneasy about him, and she is also uneasy about her employer Mr. Carruthers and his weird friend Mr. Woodley. Rating: ★★★☆☆
  • “The Adventure of the Three Students”: University lecturer Hilton Soames contacts Holmes for help preventing a scandal. He left an exam he planned to give three students competing for a scholarship on his desk, but his servant left the key in the door, and Soames knows that one of the students has looked at the exam. Rating: ★★★☆☆
  • “The Adventure of Black Peter”: Peter Carey, a former whaler known as Black Peter, is found gruesomely murdered with a harpoon. While most people agree he probably had it coming, Holmes and Stanley Hopkins team up again to solve the murder. Rating: ★★★★½

Of these five stories, I probably liked “The Adventure of Black Peter” best, if only for the image of Holmes whacking away at a pig carcass with a harpoon to see how much strength it would take to murder someone with said instrument. Spoiler alert: a lot. “The Adventure of the Three Students” is one of those weird stories when Conan Doyle seems to be trying to prove his open-mindedness. For another example, “The Adventure of the Yellow Face” serves well. Of the three students, two seem more likely to cheat than the third mainly because this third is easygoing, clean-cut, and white, while the other two are 1) an Indian, and 2) a panicky, ragey guy that Soames suspects is probably behind it, but he doesn’t discount the Indian guy because he’s, you know, Indian. It’s almost like Conan Doyle is trying to say, “See? I made the bad guy be the clean-cut white guy and not the Indian or the dude with obvious issues.” “The Solitary Cyclist” is one of those damsel in distress stories that are fairly yawn-inducing. Give me Irene Adler who can take care of herself. Speaking of damsels in distress, it’s a weird thing, but no mention is made of Mary Morstan Watson. She just disappears, and all of a sudden Watson is living with Holmes at Baker Street. I know it’s mentioned in one of the stories that she died, but I don’t recall reading it. I mean, what gives? “The Norwood Builder” and “The Golden Pince-Nez” were pretty much run-of-the-mill Sherlock Holmes stories. The only reference to any of these stories from the BBC series Sherlock that I caught was from “Black Peter.” Holmes shows up covered and blood and carrying a harpoon in “The Hounds of Baskerville.”

I am now caught up with the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge through November, so now I’m just a month behind.

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Sherlock Holmes: Behind Again

I let myself get very behind in the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge, so I’m attempting to catch up a bit. I read four stories: “The Adventure of the Empty House,” “The Adventure of the Wisteria Lodge,” “The Adventure of the Three Gables,” and “The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone.” I will briefly summarize the plots of each story:

  • Conan Doyle wrote “The Empty House” after public pressure to revive Sherlock Holmes following the detective’s death in “The Final Problem.” In this story, gambler Ronald Adair is killed, but no one could have entered his room, which was locked from the inside. How did it happen? Holmes is convinced one of Moriarty’s lieutenants is behind it.
  • In “The Wisteria Lodge,” Holmes receives a note from a client, Scott Eccles, who insists he has been party to a “grotesque” event. While Eccles visits Holmes to describe his case, the London constabulary show up to arrest Eccles on suspicion of murder. Eccles is innocent, and Holmes takes his case, though Holmes meets his match in Inspector Baynes, one the only police officers in the stories to be able to reason like Holmes.
  • In “The Three Gables,” a street tough named Steve Dixie shows up to threaten Holmes, which only inspires Holmes to pursue the hint of a case Dixie brings in his door; he discovers a desperate woman eager to prevent a scandal attempting to steal a book her former lover had written about her from the possession of the young man’s unknowing mother.
  • “The Mazarin Stone” introduces a case of a stolen diamond. Holmes believes the man holding the diamond will try to murder him, and he has a brilliant wax effigy constructed to help fool the man into both revealing the location of the diamond and preventing his own murder.

I liked “The Empty House.” The device of the airgun was clever, and the BBC show Sherlock adapted it for the episode “The Empty Hearse.” I didn’t care for “The Wisteria Lodge,” which didn’t hold my attention and was overlong, and I really didn’t like “The Three Gables,” where once again, Conan Doyle’s racism is on full display in his inept characterization of Steve Dixie. However, “The Mazarin Stone” was pretty good, though odd for not being told in the first person from Watson’s point of view. I discovered this is because it was adapted for a play, and Watson doesn’t actually appear much in the story. I missed the first-person point of view, but the story didn’t suffer too much from its lack. I don’t think BBC’s Sherlock used any elements from any of the last three stories I read.

“The Empty House” Rating: ★★★★½
“The Wisteria Lodge” Rating: ★★★☆☆
“The Three Gables” Rating: ★☆☆☆☆
“The Mazarin Stone” Rating: ★★★★☆

The Chronological Sherlock Holmes ChallengeI read these stories as part of the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. They are the 32nd, 33rd, 34th, and 35th stories in the chronology (time setting rather than composition). Next up is “The Norwood Builder.” I am about ten stories behind.

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Review: 1984, George Orwell

Review: 1984, George Orwell1984 by George Orwell, George Orwell, Erich Fromm
Published by New American Library ISBN: 0451524934
on July 1st 1950
Genres: Classic
Pages: 328
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
four-stars

Among the seminal texts of the 20th century, Nineteen Eighty-Four is a rare work that grows more haunting as its futuristic purgatory becomes more real. Published in 1949, the book offers political satirist George Orwell's nightmare vision of a totalitarian, bureaucratic world and one poor stiff's attempt to find individuality. The brilliance of the novel is Orwell's prescience of modern life—the ubiquity of television, the distortion of the language—and his ability to construct such a thorough version of hell. Required reading for students since it was published, it ranks among the most terrifying novels ever written.

1984 is one of those books I’d been meaning to get to for a long time, and I didn’t for one reason and another—partly perhaps because I didn’t much like Brave New World; partly because I knew it was pretty depressing; and partly because as an English teacher, I knew the plot and pretty knew much how it would end. It’s an occupational hazard. At any rate, the story is depressingly relevant in ways I’m not sure it was even ten years ago when I read Brave New World. I am glad to be able to cross it off my list. It’s one of those books people are surprised to learn I haven’t read. I guess most people read this novel in school, but I was never assigned many class texts to read until junior year when I moved to Georgia. I can’t even remember reading a book in English class at all in the tenth grade. I don’t feel there is any such thing as a required text that everyone should read. If we want to read classics, we will get to them when we get to them. On the other hand, I also see the value of books that show us who we are and help us understand ourselves and others.

I struggled with how to rate this book because while I can’t say I truly liked it—and it is possible, I think, to like dystopian fiction. I didn’t like the characters or really care too much about them. However, I can also admire it from a philosophical standpoint as a precursor to dystopian fiction that—in my opinion—is both more compelling and better written, such as The Handmaid’s Tale. I can also admire Orwell’s prescience in predicting the ubiquity of television and the creepy surveillance culture, though I’m not sure it existed in 1984 the way it does today. It’s hard to deny the book’s influence on our culture. Most distressing, perhaps, is the way in which our current president’s lies and the “doublespeak” presentation of “alternative facts” makes the book too alarmingly close to reality. Ultimately, I want to have too much faith in the people to prevent a vision like Orwell’s from happening in our time. Yet, Suzanne Collins has said about her series The Hunger Games that there isn’t anything in her books that hasn’t happened in history in one form or other. The same can be said of 1984. I am hoping we all stay vigilant.

Beat the BacklistI’m not sure if I’ll count any additional books for the Beat the Backlist Challenge this year, as 2017 is drawing to a close. This is only the sixth book out of twenty that I had planned to read, but I’ll save my reading challenge progress reflection for another day.

four-stars

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Review: The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin

I almost reviewed James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time on my education blog rather than here, where I mainly talk about books and other things. I consider it professional reading in addition to personal reading. However, I think I will write there more generally about the educational implications of this book and Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, which I finished earlier this week as well.

Baldwin writes lucidly and persuasively about the oppression of African Americans in 1963. I wonder what he would make of the world we live in today. Not much seems to have changed, and Baldwin’s warnings about the dangers we face if we cannot begin to love one another, if we cannot be free, seem to be boiling over in our current political climate. One wonders if what we see around us is the last gasp of white supremacy before it is submerged finally. I hope this is true, but I cannot tell.

The structure of this book takes the form of two letters: one letter to Baldwin’s nephew on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the second letter to Americans in general. It was a little hard not to underline everything Baldwin says in the book. Not a word seems out of place or unnecessary. Like one of the best sermons or gospel songs, the entire book and every letter of every word in it is critical. Baldwin argues that Americans fear freedom and that none of us, black or white, is truly free. Baldwin could be writing about our current political movement when he says

We are controlled here by our confusion, far more than we know, and the American dream has therefore become something much more closely resembling a nightmare, on the private, domestic, and international levels. Privately, we cannot stand our lives and dare not examine them; domestically, we take no responsibility for (and no pride in) what goes on in our country; and internationally, for many millions of people, we are an unmitigated disaster. (89)

Baldwin says that our only constants are birth, death, and love, “though we may not always think so” and “safety… or money, or power” are “chimeras, by which one can only be betrayed” (92). Clinging to safety, money, and power will result in the disappearance of “the entire hope—the entire possibility—of freedom” (92). We do have a chance if we are willing to take it.

[I]f we, who can scarcely be considered a white nation, persist in thinking of ourselves as one, we condemn ourselves with the truly white nations, to sterility and decay, whereas if we could accept ourselves as we are, we might bring new life to the Western achievements, and transform them. (94)

Baldwin concludes that “we, the black and the white, deeply need each other here if we are to become a nation” (97). The way forward is through love. Radical love, which is the theme of the post I will write on my education blog if I can manage to string together my thoughts coherently. Radical love is what we need if we are going to survive, for “hatred becomes too heavy a sack to carry” (99).

Reading Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator writing about the effects of oppression on education, and Baldwin, writing about the impact of racism on human dignity, has helped me understand what happened in our recent election with a little more clarity. Some of us are afraid. The oppressed are not staying in “their place.” But as long as continue to think of each other in terms of superiority and inferiority and cannot love each other, we will none of us be free. I wish the world around us had changed since Baldwin wrote this book in 1963 and Freire wrote his in 1970, but alas, both books speak all too clearly about and to our times.

Rating: ★★★★★

The Backlist Reader Challenge 2017I don’t remember when I added this book to my TBR list, but I certainly wasn’t serious about moving up the list until recently. I have definitely wanted to read it since I read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. The title of Coates’s book comes from The Fire Next Time. I definitely want to read The Fire This Time. now.

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Sherlock Holmes: Charles Augustus Milverton and The Final Problem

The Final Problem
Illustration of “The Final Problem” by Sidney Paget for The Strand

I have once again fallen behind in the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge, which seems to have become a refrain. In any case, I read two short stories this morning, “Charles Augustus Milverton” and “The Final Problem.” I don’t claim to know a whole lot about it, but it’s my feeling that both are among the most popular stories—I can say with certainty that the latter is.

The first story, “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton,” concerns Holmes’s attempt to turn criminal himself and steal incriminating letters purchased and collected by odious master blackmailer Charles Augustus Milverton. A client engages Holmes to help her negotiate with Milverton, who is threatening to divulge the contents of her letters to her fiancé, but Milverton will not accept her terms. Holmes disguises himself as a plumber and gains the confidence (and affection) of Milverton’s maid. Holmes enlists Watson to help him burgle the Milverton House, but the two are nearly discovered when Milverton enters his study right after Holmes has cracked his safe. However, Milverton has another surprise visitor that night, and the adventure doesn’t end up exactly as Holmes planned.

“The Adventure of the Final Problem” is famous for being Conan Doyle’s attempt to kill off his famous detective. Holmes is pitted against criminal mastermind Professor Moriarty, who unsuccessfully attempts to convince Holmes to stop pursuing him. Holmes meets his match in Moriarty, who will stop at nothing to defeat Holmes. After several attempts are made on Holmes’s life at the behest of Moriarty’s gang, Holmes convinces Watson to travel with him to mainland Europe, where Holmes ostensibly dies at Reichenbach Falls, taking his nemesis over the falls with him. Of course, Conan Doyle would later famously resurrect his great detective amid public outcry.

I enjoyed both of these stories quite a bit and would rank both of them among the best I’ve read. The BBC series Sherlock adapted both stories. Charles Augustus Milverton becomes Charles Augustus Magnussen, and he is played by the brilliant Lars Mikkelsen, brother of Hannibal actor Mads Mikkelsen, in the episode “His Last Vow.” Magnussen is a master blackmailer like Milverton but keeps his information locked in his “mind palace. Sherlock winds up shooting Magnussen and has a great deal of trouble getting out of being punished for the crime. I was interested to learn that Milverton was based on a real person: Charles Augustus Howell, who was an art dealer by trade and is believed to have blackmailed many of his former friends. Of course, Sherlock adapted “The Final Problem” in one of its most popular episodes, “The Reichenbach Fall.” The episode features Sherlock faking his suicide to convince John Watson that he is dead and then going into hiding as his own Moriarty kills himself on the roof of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. Sherlock wonders for the rest of the series if Moriarty has managed to escape death and is hiding, biding his time until he can defeat Holmes for once and for all.

“Charles Augustus Milverton” Rating: ★★★★★
“The Final Problem” Rating: ★★★★★

The Chronological Sherlock Holmes ChallengeI read these stories as part of the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. They are the thirtieth and thirty-first stories in the chronology (time setting rather than composition). Next up is “The Empty House.”

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Sherlock Holmes: Three Short Stories

The Red-Headed League
Illustration of “The Red-Headed League” by Sidney Paget for The Strand

After school started again, I fell a bit behind in the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge, in part because I needed to finish our all-school summer reading book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. As of today, I’m all caught up, having read “The Copper Beeches” and “The Red-Headed League.” I had read “The Blue Carbuncle” some time back but neglected to blog about it.

“The Blue Carbuncle” takes place at Christmas and involves the loss of a large, blue jewel. An innocent man is accused of stealing the jewel. After the jewel is found in the crop of a Christmas goose (geese don’t have crops, by the way), Holmes deduces how the theft was carried out and by whom.

In “The Copper Beeches,” a young woman consults Holmes over whether she should accept a governess job that seems too good to be true. The pay is three times as high as typical pay, but she will need to cut off her long chestnut hair, wear a blue dress, and sit in a window. Discomfited by the odd requests, but attracted by the pay, the client retains Holmes’s help after finding a hidden room in an unused wing of the house.

“The Red-Headed League” is the story of a mysterious beneficence offered to redheaded men in exchange for light work four hours a day. Jabez Wilson consults Holmes after showing up for this work only to see a cardboard sign indicating the League has been dissolved. Holmes quickly deduces that Wilson has been taken in and that a more serious crime is about to take place.

All three of these stories are classics, frequently filmed or otherwise anthologized. I enjoyed all three. It had been a long time since I had read them. All three are excellent examples of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle at the height of his mystery-writing powers. If forced to pick a favorite of the three, I’d say “The Copper Beeches” for its atmosphere.

None of the three is explicitly the focus of any BBC Sherlock episodes on their own, but the deduction competition in the episode “The Empty Hearse” has a phrenology reference similar to the one in “The Blue Carbuncle.” Other than that minor reference, I can’t recall any references to either “The Copper Beeches” or “The Red-Headed League” in the series.

“The Blue Carbuncle” Rating: ★★★★☆
“The Copper Beeches” Rating: ★★★★★
“The Red-Headed League” Rating: ★★★★½

The Chronological Sherlock Holmes ChallengeI read these stories as part of the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. They are the twenty-seventh, twenty-eighth, and twenty-ninth stories in the chronology (time setting rather than composition). Next up is “Charles Augustus Milverton.”

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Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of the Baskervilles, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Hound of the Baskervilles
Illustration for The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sidney Paget for The Strand

The Hound of the Baskervilles is the fourth and final novel in the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. It’s one of the most memorable stories in the Sherlock Holmes canon, and as such, is one of the most frequently adapted stories. Dr. James Mortimer consults Sherlock Holmes regarding the mysterious case of a legendary curse on the Baskerville family. Sir Charles Baskerville has recently died under suspicious circumstances, and his heir and nephew will soon arrive from Canada to claim his inheritance. Dr. Mortimer hopes young Henry Baskerville will not also inherit the Baskerville family curse. Holmes agrees to take the case, but even before Henry Baskerville leaves London for his Devonshire estate, strange things happen. Someone seems to be following him, and one of his shoes turns up missing. Holmes sends Watson on to Baskerville Hall with Henry Baskerville and asks Watson to keep him updated regarding events until he can extricate himself from a case. Watson soon discovers that there may be some truth the family legend of a vicious dog that hunts Baskervilles, and he also discovers the dog may not be the only mysterious being hiding on the moor.

This story is easily one of Conan Doyle’s best Sherlock Holmes mysteries. It has everything that Conan Doyle does well, including an atmospheric setting, suspense and mystery, and a hint of the supernatural. It also refrains from including some of the things Conan Doyle doesn’t do as well, such as exotic settings (India, America). Conan Doyle plants enough clues that many astute readers will begin to suspect the truth behind the mystery, but not so many that it feels obvious to everyone. It’s easily the best of Conan Doyle’s four Sherlock Holmes novels, and it ranks among the best of his Sherlock Holmes stories in general for this reader. The setting of Baskerville Hall and the surrounding moor is captured well, and it perhaps the setting that is most remembered about this story.

The BBC series Sherlock adapted this story in the episode “The Hounds of Baskerville.” In this modern adaptation, Sherlock and Watson take on a case at Baskerville, a military research facility. Henry Knight claims his father was killed by a gigantic hound on the moor, but it turns out that the hounds are images produced as the result of mind-altering drugs, and H.O.U.N.D. was a secret government project adapting the drugs as chemical weapons. Because this story is one of the most popular Sherlock Holmes stories, Sherlock creator Mark Gatiss has said he felt he needed to be more careful to keep the most well-known aspects of the story intact. The story is, however, updated to reflect modern concerns.

Rating: ★★★★★

The Chronological Sherlock Holmes ChallengeI read this story as part of the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. It is the twenty-sixth story in the chronology (time setting rather than composition). Next up is “The Blue Carbuncle.”

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Sherlock Holmes: “The Engineer’s Thumb” and “The Cardboard Box,” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Engineer's Thumb
Illustration for “The Engineer’s Thumb by Sidney Paget for The Strand

After finishing “The Engineer’s Thumb” and “The Cardboard Box,” I am caught up on the  Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. It’s strange that these two stories would fall one after the other in the chronology as both feature grisly dismembered appendages.

“The Engineer’s Thumb” is unique in that Watson first encounters a mystery that he brings to Sherlock Holmes rather than the other way around, which is more typical. Watson receives a patient whose thumb has been severed—the patient says purposely and with murderous intent—and he takes Victor Hatherley, the unfortunate engineer of the title, to Sherlock Holmes so that his friend can look into the man’s case. Hatherley recounts his story to Holmes, and it is clear the man was lucky to escape with his life after discovering an illegal counterfeit operation. This story is unique also in that Holmes does not bring the criminals to justice, as the remote house where they carried out their operation has burned and they have escaped.

In “The Cardboard Box,” Holmes is consulted because a woman named Susan Cushing has received a mysterious package addressed to “S. Cushing” containing two ears, and she can’t imagine why on earth anyone would send her such a ghastly package unless it is a couple of disgruntled former boarders who happened to be medical students. Holmes deduces that the package was not meant for the Susan, but for her sister Sarah, who until recently lived with the woman. He also deduces that one of the ears belongs to a third sister Mary, based on its similarity to those of Susan. With a few quick deductions, he nabs the culprit, who confesses all.

Both of these stories are a bit more grisly than is typical for Sherlock Holmes stories, and both contain surprises, but I wouldn’t rate either among the best I’ve read. The BBC Sherlock series doesn’t allude to either story that I can recall. Also, it appears that Conan Doyle has mixed up his chronology, as Watson is living at Baker Street during “The Cardboard Box,” supposedly after he has married Mary. I’m not going to theorize that there was trouble in the Watson marriage. Looks like a simple goof to me.

“The Cardboard Box” does have an interesting and introspective ending, furnished by Sherlock Holmes:

“What is the meaning of it, Watson?” said Holmes solemnly as he laid down the paper. “What object is served by this circle of misery and violence and fear? It must tend to some end, or else our universe is ruled by chance, which is unthinkable. But what end? There is the great standing perennial problem to which human reason is as far from an answer as ever.”

“The Engineer’s Thumb” Rating: ★★★★☆
“The Cardboard Box” Rating: ★★★★☆

I read these stories as part of the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. They are the twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth stories in the chronology (time setting rather than composition). Next up is the final novel in the chronology, The Hound of the Baskervilles.

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