Following Holmes and Watson’s out of town excursion in the last story, “The Boscombe Valley Mystery”, it’s a return to Baker Street for the pair as Watson recounts the story of John Openshaw, a young man who has been living with his uncle, Elias, who has returned suddenly from the States.
One day, Elias receives an envelope containing five orange pips with the initials “K.K.K.” written on the envelope. Within seven weeks of receiving the letter Elias is found dead. Upon his death, John’s father inherits Elias’s property, where upon he receives an envelope containing five orange pips with the same initials written on the envelope and is found dead a few days later.
Now, having inherited Elias’s property, it appears that John himself is the next target as he receives a similar envelope to the previous two.
This is the fifth of the Holmes short stories from “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” collection and you get the feeling that Conan Doyle is really hitting his stride with his creation. Gone is the once an story explanation of Holmes’s method and you’re pretty much thrown into the investigation following a brief scene setting that establishes that Watson has been temporarily been living with Sherlock whilst Mary is out of town.
For a short story, it is also a dense story with a lot of information within it where the clues come thick, fast and, more importantly, in a logical progression. Whereas previously the reader marvels at the links that Holmes makes to the clues provided by his client, this time there is a sense that Conan Doyle wants to give Watson equal billing. Although he does not have Holmes’s razor sharp mind, the character of Watson is portrayed with a degree of intelligence in this story and, in fact, guides the reader to the solution of the story alongside Holmes’s encyclopaedic knowledge of crime.
Although it is a dense story, there is also room for continuity references, albeit fleeting ones, such as the Sholtos from “The Sign of Four” and a reference to the fact that only one woman has bested him in his investigations in Irene Adler in “A Study In Scarlet”. In addition to these references, there are additional references to off-stage investigations with colourful titles such as “the adventure of the Padoral Chamber” or “the Amateur Mendicant Society”.
And it’s appropriate that I speak of off-stage investigations as this one is resolved, from Holmes’s perspective certainly off stage, but it also reveals an aspect to Holmes that has been previously unseen. Previously Holmes has been the cool, calculating investigator and this story maintains that image but his wrapping up of the investigation sees Holmes become, for want of a better phrase, an agent of vengeance and appears to take delight in twisting the knife in his off-stage opponents – for obvious reasons that I don’t wish to reveal due to spoilers.
For the “Sherlock” fans out there, there is a brief, but vital, series of references to this story in “The Great Game” where Jim Moriarty uses the Greenwich Pips in his testing of Sherlock throughout the story.
Although “The Five Orange Pips” is one of the Holmes short stories, it manages to pack in a clear storyline and add character development for both Holmes and Watson.
If you’re following this reading challenge, the next Holmes story will be “The Man With The Twisted Lip”.