Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Noble Bachelor

Illustration for “The Noble Bachelor” by Sidney Paget for The Strand

After reading last week’s story “The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor,” I am all caught up on the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge.

Sherlock Holmes receives a fancy-looking note from Lord Robert St. Simon, the son of the Duke of Balmoral. The nobleman’s curious marriage had recently been the subject of the gossip columns. The bride would be bringing a great deal of American money into the old (but cash-strapped) family. However, she appears to have disappeared without a trace right after the wedding, in the middle of the wedding breakfast. A dancer, likely a former dalliance of Lord St. Simon’s, is Lestrade’s main suspect. He believes the other woman led the bride out under false pretenses and has perhaps murdered her rival. Sherlock Holmes is positive the story is quite different, and he claims to have solved it as soon as his interview with Lord St. Simon has ended.

This story is one of the ones I have a quibble with because the deductions feel like cheats. The reader doesn’t have enough clues to reach the same conclusions as Holmes has, so his deductions appear to be based on other information not shared in the story. I don’t like it when Conan Doyle does this. Yes, it’s all very impressive how smart Holmes is, but Conan Doyle’s writing is at its best when he carefully lays clues that the reader might also string together. I’m complaining chiefly here about Holmes’s deduction on seeing the card with the note and initials and the hotel receipt that Lestrade shows Holmes. The reader is right with Holmes when he makes deductions about the identity of the man in the pew at the wedding and the comment the bride makes about “jumping a claim.” But how we could be expected to know the significance of the bill and the initials, I’m not sure. The character of Lord St. Simon is so odious, I’m glad he doesn’t get his way. He obviously married Hatty Doran only for her money, and their marriage wasn’t likely to be happy. I would have lain odds he’d have been back in the arms of his dancer before long. Hatty wouldn’t have been happy. The story does have some witty moments—the kinds of exchanges between Holmes and Watson, and also between Holmes and Lestrade, that make the BBC Sherlock series so much fun. Until going back to the stories for this challenge, I hadn’t remembered how much of the humor in that series is right here in the source material. Some choice excerpts:

“Here is a fashionable epistle,” I remarked as I entered. “Your morning letters, if I remember right, were from a fish-monger and a tide-waiter.”

“Yes, my correspondence has certainly the charm of variety,” he answered, smiling, “and the humbler are usually the more interesting. This looks like one of those unwelcome social summonses which call upon a man either to be bored or to lie.”

And this:

“I read nothing [in the newspapers] except the criminal news and the agony column. The latter is is always instructive.” (Sherlock Holmes)

I do not believe I recall any references to this story in the BBC series Sherlock, but in looking it up, I did learn about a couple of “mistakes” in the story. Lord St. Simon’s wife is referred to as “Lady St. Simon” in the story, which is apparently not correct. As the wife of the second son of the Duke (and therefore not his heir), the proper title should be “Lady Robert.” Likewise. “Lord St. Simon” should be “Lord Robert.” While one wouldn’t necessarily expect an American reader like me to get these nuances, it seems surprising that Conan Doyle would make such an error. Also, the description of Watson’s wound doesn’t match its description in A Study in Scarlet, where it was described as a wound in his shoulder: “I was struck on the shoulder by a Jezail bullet, which shattered the bone and grazed the sublavian artery.” In this story, Watson says, “I had remained indoors all day, for the weather had taken a sudden turn to rain, with high autumnal winds, and the jezail bullet which I had brought back in one of my limbs as a relic of my Afghan campaign, throbbed with dull persistency.”

I liked the characterization in this one, but not as much the story, and once again, Conan Doyle reveals a middling understanding of Americans at best. The dialogue he gives poor Hatty is dreadful. Not one of his best, but not terrible either.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

The Chronological Sherlock Holmes ChallengeI read this story as part of the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. It is fourteenth story in the chronology (time setting rather than composition). Next up is The Valley of Fear, the second novel in the challenge.

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Sherlock Holmes: The Five Orange Pips, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Five Orange Pips

Illustration for “The Five Orange Pips by Sidney Paget for The Strand

I have fallen behind in the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. I was to read “The Five Orange Pips” the week of April 9-15.

“The Five Orange Pips” probably needs little introduction, as it’s one of the more well-known (and best) Sherlock Holmes stories.

Holmes is visited by a young man named John Openshaw who has a most curious case for Holmes. He recounts the story of first his uncle then his father dying in mysterious accidents after receiving envelopes enclosing five orange pips and the initials KKK. Both deaths indicated no signs of violence or injury, but John Openshaw feels sure they were not mere accidents. John Openshaw himself has just received five orange pips and a note inscribed KKK, and Holmes urges him to act quickly, as he fears for his client’s life.

This story is a tight narrative. The case is an intriguing one, and the story itself has a nice example of Holmesian deduction that doesn’t feel like a cheat and yet still manages to stay a step or two ahead of the reader (though most readers today will more readily understand the reference to the KKK than readers in Conan Doyle’s day might have). I feel that I read somewhere, and I am afraid I can’t remember where, that the KKK never made use of the five orange pips as a warning device, but it does make for a great plot point in the story, and it’s an example of a device that doesn’t need to be true to work. Oranges would, of course, be common in Florida, where Elias Openshaw lived and owned a plantation for a time. This story is one of the first fictional references to the KKK, an organization which, when Doyle wrote about it, would seem to be in decline, but which, as we now know, had a resurgence in the 1920s and which is still with us today.

Once again, I find myself disagreeing with the chronology here. There are clear references to The Sign of Four, which hasn’t come up yet in the reading challenge, which is based on this chronology. I realize the effort involved in creating an accurate chronology for these stories, but I really can’t understand how so many stories in this chronology are placed before The Sign of Four with all the clear references to it in just the last several alone.

In any case, this story has been referenced in the BBC Sherlock series in a couple of fun ways. First, in the episode “The Great Game,” an assassin sends five pips, as in electronic beeps, as a warning signal. Second, in “The Abominable Bride,” a murder victim receives five orange pips in the mail before he is killed. Also, an organization similar to the KKK is featured in that episode, which was a one-off set in the Victorian era when the original Holmes stories took place.

Rating: ★★★★★

The Chronological Sherlock Holmes ChallengeI read this story as part of the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. It is the thirteenth story in the chronology (time setting rather than composition). Next up is “The Noble Bachelor.”

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Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Crooked Man, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Crooked Man

Illustration for “The Crooked Man” by Sidney Paget for The Strand

“The Adventure of the Crooked Man” begins with a late-night visit by Sherlock Holmes to Watson’s new home, a short time after Watson’s marriage. Holmes wants to take Watson on an adventure the following morning and after making a few (kind of annoying, to be honest) deductions about Watson’s smoking habits, home repairs, and lack of visitors, he settles down with a pipe and tells Watson the particulars of the case, which involves the death of James Barclay shortly after a verbal altercation with his wife. Mrs. Barclay is suspected of his death, but Holmes isn’t so sure. He has deduced there was a third party in the room—a third party, moreover, who had a mysterious animal Holmes can’t identify with him. He invites Watson to skive off doctoring and escort him to Aldershot to investigate the case further, and Watson readily accepts.

I am at a loss to explain why this story is in the twelfth position chronologically, as Watson is married, and we haven’t even met Mary Morstan yet in our chronological reading. I’ll keep going with the chronology as posted (and it is no conjecture of the challenge host, but rather that of Brad Keefauver of Sherlock Peoria), but this is the second time I’ve noticed a reference to Watson having married already and no introduction yet to Mary. In fact, I just don’t think this story takes place in 1887. That would be the earliest date for the story, but it doesn’t work out in other ways. It’s likely set a couple of years later.

Some fun trivia: Holmes never says his famous line, “Elementary, my dear Watson” in any actual story, but he comes fairly close in this one when, after Watson praises Holmes’s deduction as “Excellent!,” he tells Watson it was “Elementary.” Another interesting bit of trivia: this story has one of the few examples of biblical allusion I’ve seen in the stories. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for more, but Sherlock surprised me by deducing this allusion Nancy Barclay made while fighting with her husband.

Why wouldn’t Holmes know what a mongoose is? That is a question I still have after reading this story. He seems to have encyclopedic knowledge in a variety of fields. One would think he would have at least have heard of the mongoose, but Henry Wood’s explanation of what a mongoose is seems to be necessary, so it stands to reason Holmes has no idea what they are. This story is set before Kipling wrote “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi,” but I should still think Holmes would have heard of them at least. And if not Holmes, why not Watson? I looked into it, and while they are not widespread in Afghanistan, they do live in the southern part. Would Watson never have heard of them while serving in the military in Afghanistan? I suppose it’s possible. I don’t know why I have such a mental block around believing Holmes and Watson are both completely unfamiliar with the mongoose. It’s probably just me.

I found no references in the Sherlock series to this story, either, and in my humble opinion, it’s a bit of a throwaway. For one thing, Holmes has just about solved the entire case before he ever visits Watson. Spoiler alert ahead: Holmes isn’t really investigating a murder after all, and as such, the case doesn’t really have anywhere to go. I suppose Holmes does make the correct deduction about the events involved, but it’s mostly Holmes and then Henry Wood who tell the story through exposition. It was interesting enough, but it doesn’t rank up near the top in memorable Sherlock Holmes stories for me, and once again, it contains some troubling racist attitudes among some of the characters. I suppose we are meant to give Conan-Doyle a pass because of the times, but he showed some remarkably different thinking in “The Yellow Face,” so I don’t know that he gets a pass regarding his depictions of Indians, even if that depiction matched the prevailing attitude of Britons at the time the story was written and in which it was set.

Rating: ★★½☆☆

The Chronological Sherlock Holmes ChallengeI read this story as part of the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. It is the twelfth story in the chronology (time setting rather than composition). Next up is “The Five Orange Pips.”

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Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Naval Treaty, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Naval Treaty

Illustration for “The Naval Treaty” by Sidney Paget for The Strand

Last week’s story for the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge is “The Adventure of the Naval Treaty.” This story is not completely dissimilar from “The Beryl Coronet” or “The Second Stain.” In all three stories, a high-ranking official is given something of great importance and finds it has been stolen. Of course, the man will be ruined utterly if the missing object cannot be located. In the case of “The Naval Treaty,” an old school friend of John Watson’s, Percy Phelps, has risen to high office with the help of his uncle (the term nepotism was invented to describe such circumstances), and his uncle asks him to copy out a sensitive naval treaty with Italy. As he is doing so, he finds he’s very sleepy, and he must finish the task. He rings for coffee, and when the charwoman goes to inform her husband, the butler, to make the coffee, Phelps copies out a bit more of the document. He waits. No coffee. He goes downstairs to find the kettle boiling over and the butler asleep. In the time he takes to sort out the coffee, he hears the bell used to summon the butler and dashes upstairs, but the treaty is gone. He falls into a desperate illness and writes Watson to see if his friend Sherlock Holmes can help.

Despite its similarity to the other stories, I felt the mystery and Holmes’s deduction were both more interesting and better executed in this particular story. Holmes’s character is also interesting. For instance, he stops to observe the beauty of a rose:

“What a lovely thing a rose is! …

Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its colour are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.”

Watson is as perplexed as anyone by this strange observation, and another about the school buildings “rising up above the slates, like brick islands in a lead-coloured sea,” which can be viewed as Holmes and Watson ride back on the train, follows his curious observation about the rose. Both observations are notable for their strange optimism. In any case, there is humor and a fairly intriguing mystery at the heart of this story, along with a false lead. Holmes’s revelation of the case at the end includes an unusual flair for the dramatic as well. I enjoyed this one. I didn’t notice any references to this story in the Sherlock series.

Rating: ★★★★½

The Chronological Sherlock Holmes ChallengeI read this story as part of the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. It is the eleventh story in the chronology (time setting rather than composition). Next up is “The Crooked Man.”

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Sherlock Holmes: The Second Stain, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Second Stain

Illustration for “The Second Stain” by Sidney Paget for The Strand

This week’s story for the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge is “The Adventure of the Second Stain.” In this story, two high-ranking government officials, Prime Minister Lord Bellinger and Secretary of European Affairs Trelawney Hope, seek Holmes’s help in locating a letter the latter has noticed missing. The contents of the letter are so incendiary that the two men fear Britain will soon be at war in Europe unless the letter can be recovered before the contents are made known to the public. Watson is cagey on the details because he feels the matter remains delicate even at the time of publication. The situation is described Lord Bellenger:

The whole of Europe is an armed camp. There is a double league which makes a fair balance of military power. Great Britain holds the scales. If Britain were driven into war with one confederacy, it would assure the supremacy of the other confederacy, whether they joined the war or not.

After the two men leave, Holmes rattles off a short list of suspects who might be interested in the sort of intrigue captured in the letter and is shocked to learn that one of them, Eduardo Lucas, had been murdered the previous night. Meanwhile, Trelawney Hope’s wife Lady Hilda shows up at 221B Baker Street seeking information about the contents of the letter, which Holmes refuses to share. Lestrade calls Holmes in on an interesting development in the murder of Eduardo Lucas. Lestrade ordered the police officer on duty to monitor the crime scene and leave it undisturbed. However, Lestrade has noticed that the bloodstain from Lucas’s murder has gone right through the carpet, but has not spread to the floor underneath. Instead, there is a second stain in another part of the floor covered by the carpet. Someone has obviously disturbed the crime scene.

I found this story to be one of the more enjoyable ones I have read so far. I read that Arthur Conan Doyle himself ranked it among his favorites. It has a little bit of everything—international intrigue, a damsel in distress (yuck, how tired, but a trope of Victorian fiction), bumbling police officers, and politicians put in their place. I loved it when Holmes refused to help Bellinger and Hope until they confided in him. Many accounts say that the figure at the center of the letter was none other than Kaiser Wilhelm, who did indeed start war in Europe some time after the events of the story. As far as I could remember, no references to this story appeared in the BBC’s Sherlock series, with the possible exception of a general attitude Cumberbatch’s Holmes has toward both government officials and the police. He doesn’t mind helping either group, but he doesn’t feel beholden to share his methods or thinking with either group. The woman with something to hide is a well Conan Doyle goes back to time and again as well. Given that it was published about ten years before World War I, it’s also surprisingly prescient (or perhaps Conan Doyle was in the know?) and accurate regarding the climate of Europe.

Rating: ★★★★½

The Chronological Sherlock Holmes ChallengeI read this story as part of the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. It is the tenth story in the chronology (time setting rather than composition). Next up is “The Naval Treaty.”

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Sherlock Holmes: The Reigate Squires, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Reigate Squires

Illustration for “The Reigate Squires” by Sidney Paget for The Strand

“The Reigate Squires,” also known as “The Reigate Puzzle” or “The Reigate Squire,” was this week’s read for the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. In this short story, Holmes appears to be recovering from some illness, and he goes into the country with Watson and Watson’s army buddy Col. Hayter, ostensibly so he can rest and recover. However, he finds himself plopped in the middle of a mystery upon finding out that Col. Hayter’s neighbors, the Actons, are the victims of a burglary. One morning early in Holmes’s stay, another of Hayter’s neighbors, the Cunninghams, report that their butler has been killed in an attempted burglary. The local constabulary are keen to have Holmes’s help with the case, and he agrees to take it on—despite Watson’s admonition to rest—after finding the torn corner of a note crumpled in the hand of the deceased butler. Watson has misgivings about Holmes’s health, but knows it’s hopeless to argue when Holmes is on the scent of a trail.

I noticed a couple of interesting things in this story. First, I thought of the episode in the BBC series Sherlock episode “The Sign of Three” when Sherlock attends John and Mary’s wedding, and the guest of honor is Major Sholto, who was Watson’s commander in Afghanistan. Of course, I will look for more references in that episode when I read The Sign of the Four, but I thought perhaps Col. Hayter was a reference to Major Sholto, but I discovered that Major Sholto is actually a character in that book rather than this story, so the Hayter and Sholto are not the same. I know Sherlock’s predisposition to run himself ragged and even to make himself ill in working on a case has been shown on the series, but I can’t recall a specific episode. Also, I had a memory of Sherlock feigning illness in the course of a case, but again, I can’t figure out which episode it was. I may be remembering incorrectly. The only reference I could really find was an Easter egg reference to a Chinese restaurant in “Reigate Square” in the episode “The Six Thatchers.”

In any case, this was an enjoyable story. I liked it more for the relationship it shows between Holmes and Watson. For instance, in convincing Holmes to go to Col. Hayter’s house, he says, “A little diplomacy was needed.” He knew Holmes would not willingly go “rest” in the country. I also loved Holmes’s explanation that “[t]here were twenty-three other deductions which would be of more interest to experts than to you” in the course of revealing how he solved the case. Naturally there were! The relationship between Holmes and Watson was quite similar to what I have seen Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman enact on screen. I don’t know how it was established to take place at this point in the chronology, as I didn’t notice any helpful chronological clues as such.

Rating: ★★★★☆

The Chronological Sherlock Holmes ChallengeI read this story as part of the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. It is the ninth story in the chronology (time setting rather than composition). Next up is “The Second Stain.”

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Sherlock Holmes: The Resident Patient, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Resident Patient

Illustration for “The Resident Patient” by Sidney Paget for The Strand

This week’s story in the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge is “The Resident Patient,” which was published in The Strand in 1893 and collected in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. Holmes and Watson go for a walk, and upon returning, they discover they have a client, Dr. Percy Trevelyan. He has a most unusual story to tell about his benefactor and resident patient, Mr. Blessington. Blessington invested in Dr. Trevelyan’s practice in return for a large percentage of the earnings Dr. Trevelyan made. Dr. Trevelyan is visited by a new patient, a Russian count with a form of catalepsy and brought to see Dr. Trevelyan by his son. The patient and son mysteriously disappear in the middle of their consultation when Dr. Trevelyan leaves the room for a moment, and Blessington insists someone has been in his rooms. The two men seek the help of Sherlock Holmes, who insists, upon hearing Blessington’s story, that the man is not being truthful. He leaves. Early the next morning, he and Watson are called and informed Blessington has committed suicide. A cursory investigation of the matter reveals that Blessington was murdered.

This was a good story, and it also stands out as one of more well-written Sherlock Holmes stories I’ve read so far. I liked Holmes’s insistence on the truth and refusal to help until he got it. It was a nice bit of characterization on Doyle’s part. As a side note, crooks are really stupid to leave behind any of their smoking evidence when Holmes is in London. He knows way too much about all forms of cigars, ash, and smoking ephemera. He also knows everything, it would seem, about footprints. At any rate, the story is satisfying with a deduction that is somewhat difficult, but that a reader can still follow and not feel cheated by a left-field leap of logic. I believe there is a tenuous connection between this story and the Sherlock series (SPOILER ALERT) in that Blessington is an informant for a gang of thieves, and once the gang is released from prison, they hunt him down and murder him. In the series, Mary Morstan Watson had been a member of a group of assassins called AGRA, after the group members’ initials. They are surprised and betrayed on one of their missions. Two of the members die, leaving Mary (aka Rosamund) and AJ left. Mary escapes, but AJ is captured. Mary believes him dead. AJ is tortured and imprisoned, and when he is released, he hunts down Mary with the goal of killing her for what he perceives as her betrayal. It’s a fairly loose connection, but it’s the closest one I noticed in the story. Also, Blessington uses an assumed name just as Mary did after the incident that broke up each of their “gangs.” A nice little Easter egg: one of the characters is named Moffat, like the writer and producer of Sherlock.

Rating: ★★★★☆

The Chronological Sherlock Holmes ChallengeI read this story as part of the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. It is the eighth story in the chronology (time setting rather than composition). Next up is “The Reigate Squires.”

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Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Beryl Coronet

Illustration for “The Beryl Coronet” by Sidney Paget for The Strand

This week’s story in the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge is “The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet,” which was published in The Strand in 1892, and collected in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Banker Alexander Holder seeks Holmes’s help in finding a missing beryl coronet, offered to him as security for a loan to a high-ranking government official. Holder suspects his son of taking the coronet, as his son has had some problems with money and has been borrowing from his father. Holmes, on the other hand, isn’t so sure that young Arthur Holder is the guilty party.

This story contains Holmes’s famous statement: “It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” Other than that, I didn’t find too much to like about it, to be honest. It was an easy mystery. There were not too many people who could be guilty, and Doyle seemed to be rather leading the reader away from suspecting Arthur from the outset. The line, “I knew my man, however, and I clapped a pistol to his head before he could strike. Then he became a little more reasonable” struck me as funny in the way of many of the best lines Holmes delivers in the series Sherlock are funny. We also have Holmes in disguise in this story. Ultimately, however, it didn’t satisfy as a mystery, and I didn’t find the client and his family all that interesting or likable. This one gets a “meh” from me.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

The Chronological Sherlock Holmes ChallengeI read this story as part of the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. It is the seventh story in the chronology (time setting rather than composition). Next up is “The Resident Patient.”

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Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Red Circle, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Brock Red Circle

Illustration by H. M. Brock for The Strand

This week’s story in the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge is “The Adventure of the Red Circle,” which is one of many stories that seems to follow a similar patter for Doyle: a mysterious “foreigner” shows up in London bringing intrigue from their country of origin with them, and Holmes must get to the bottom of it. In the case of this mystery, Holmes is initially uninterested, but he is moved to investigate by the pleas of a landlady, Mrs. Warren, who is increasingly suspicious of her new boarder. In spite of himself, Holmes finds himself interested Mrs. Warren’s story and agrees to help.

Holmes and Watson discover several suspicious anomalies as they begin investigating the case: first, the lodger’s notes are printed rather than written in cursive, and Holmes can somehow tell from the cigarette butts the lodger leaves behind that he does not have a mustache, while Mrs. Warren insisted he did have one. Holmes discovers that the landlady has no contact with the lodger aside from these written requests and a ringing bell for meals, which she leaves outside the lodger’s rooms. Breakfast includes copy of the The Daily Gazette. Holmes begins searching the Daily Gazette‘s extracts for messages and believes he is onto something when he finds a series of messages signed “G.”

This one didn’t grab me, though I did enjoy the fact that Holmes didn’t figure out all the pieces of the mystery before everyone else did. Gregson from Scotland Yard was a bit ahead of him on who the mysterious occupant boarding with Mrs. Warren is connected to, and he has a Pinkerton agent with him who is after the same man. I enjoyed Holmes’s comment to Watson, who questions why he is taking on this case when there doesn’t seem to be much substance to it: “Education never ends, Watson. It is a series of lessons with the greatest for the last.” That said, it was long on exposition at the end when the mysterious lodger is revealed, and Holmes doesn’t play much of a role in his deduction, except for a few wild leaps that don’t make as much sense (to me) as his deductions typically do, as well as some substantial lack of resolution in the end. If you want to know what the Red Circle is all about, you’ll be disappointed. The villain is easily dispatched, given he is such a threat, and the man who obtained the lodgings from Mrs. Warren disappears, his fate unknown, though Doyle alludes to an escape.

This story originally appeared in His Last Bow and was 44th in composition. Those who have ordered the stories chronologically must have their reasons for ordering this story number 6, but I’m not sure how they figured it out, as there did not seem to me to be any timeline indicators, but I admit I’m not a Sherlock Holmes scholar. I didn’t notice any connections to the Sherlock TV series, possibly because as Sherlock Holmes stories go, this is not one of the more memorable.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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

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Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Yellow Face, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Yellow Face

Sidney Paget illustration for “The Adventure of the Yellow Face” in The Strand

This week’s story in the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge is one I don’t remember reading about 20 years ago, though I must have because I did read all the stories. It’s interesting that I don’t recall it because of the stories I have read so far, I probably enjoyed it the most. A man named Grant Munro shows up to obtain Sherlock Holmes’s services to solve a mystery concerning his wife. Holmes makes a series of impressive deductions about the man’s background and money situation based on the man’s pipe. Munro relates that new neighbors appear to have moved into the cottage across the street from where he lives in Norbury, and he has seen a ghastly face looking out the window. Upon searching the house, he discovers a mysterious portrait of his wife. Further, his wife sneaks out in the middle of the night, and Munro deduces she is visiting the house. Holmes concludes that the occupant of the house must be none other than Mrs. Munro’s first husband, and he must be blackmailing Mrs. Munro. However, once Holmes travels to Norbury at Grant Munro’s request to help Mr. Munro uncover the truth, Holmes discovers he was wrong—the woman is not hiding a first husband at all. The remainder of the review is a tiny bit spoilery.

I have to say, this story surprised me for several reasons. First, it’s refreshing to see Holmes make an incorrect deduction. His deduction makes perfect sense, but he, like many others in the Victorian era, couldn’t have imagined the truth. In addition to the revelation of Holmes’s failure, the ending is a surprise given the times in which the story was written. I would imagine quite a few readers found it shocking, and I know the readers in America would have found it so. I’m not sure if it matters or not, but Mrs. Munro’s first marriage would not have been legal in America in the time at which the story is set (or at least not legal in Georgia, where she lived). Mrs. Munro would not have had an easy time being married to an African-American man at that time. It was not accepted, and Mrs. Munro’s fear regarding the exposure of the truth about her first marriage is quite realistic, though perhaps Mr. Munro’s reaction is less so—it’s the reaction we would want him to have, with our more modern sensibilities, and Watson definitely approves, but it is not the reaction most men in that era would have had.

I see a few references to “The Adventure of the Yellow Face” in the BBC’s Sherlock. First, Mary Morstan’s secretiveness through the series as she hides her past as a hired assassin mirrors Mrs. Munro’s secretiveness about her past. Mary’s behavior is not that different from that of Mrs. Munro’s, and both women seem to expect their new marriages will crumble if their husbands find out about their pasts. There is also a yellow happy face painted on the wall in Sherlock’s apartment. In addition, when Mary is killed by Vivian Norbury, Lady Smallwood’s secretary, Sherlock echoes the request made at the end of this story:

“Watson,” said he, “if it should ever strike you that I am getting a little overconfident in my powers, or giving less pains to a case than it deserves, kindly whisper ‘Norbury’ in my ear, and I shall be infinitely obliged to you.”

In the series, Sherlock makes the request not of Watson (who wasn’t in any shape to listen to it), but of Mrs. Hudson:

Sherlock Holmes: If you ever think I’m becoming full of myself, overconfident or cocky, would you just say the word “Norbury” to me, would you?

Mrs. Hudson: Norbury?

Sherlock Holmes: Just that. I’d be very grateful.

Rating: ★★★★★

The Chronological Sherlock Holmes ChallengeI read this story as part of the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. It is the fifth story in the chronology (time setting rather than composition). Next up is “The Red Circle.”

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