People may think that Sherlock Holmes stories are dark affairs filled with dead bodies and dark deeds, but this story, set at Christmas, is a lighter tale in the Holmes canon.
Holmes has been investigating the circumstances under which a commissionaire, Peterson, has come by a battered hat and a goose following a street scuffle which Peterson interrupted.
Whilst Peterson’s wife prepares the goose for the family dinner, she discovers a carbuncle, a blue gemstone in the goose’s throat. The carbuncle is at the heart of a police investigation which has the potential to convict an innocent man for a theft that he didn’t commit.
I have previous knowledge of this story through watching the Granada Television adaptation starring Jeremy Brett as Holmes and in comparison to the original story, it was a very faithful adaptation.
I must admit, the last couple of stories have made me wonder whether Holmes was a detective or Conan Doyle was simply doing the literary version of a conjuring trick by having his hero wrap the story in a pretty little bow at the end.
This story, however, reminds the reader that Holmes is a detective of some cunning and determination. Following an initial test of his powers of deduction on the hat which Peterson leaves in his care (and Watson’s apparent inability to use Holmes’ “method”), Holmes uses a variety of methods, including advertising and playing on a stall holder’s liking for a bet, as ways and means to build the links of his investigation together. Unlike the previous story where the solution seemed to come by magic, this story has Holmes move from clue to clue building a credible case against the true villain of the piece.
As befitting the story’s Christmas setting, this is a lighter tale, but don’t think of this as one without stakes as it ultimately revolves around the loss of an innocent man’s liberty. The story’s resolution is also suitably light, but could be seen as being at odds with Holmes’s usual sense of moral justice given the aforementioned threat of imprisonment of an innocent man.
There are references to previous stories in passing to act as a comparison to this story – namely “A Scandal In Bohemia”, “A Case Of Identity” and “The Man With The Twisted Lip” – for the reason that it doesn’t involve anybody getting murdered.
This is one of the lesser known stories in the Holmes canon, but for me, it’s as important as some of the classics such as “A Study In Scarlet”, “The Hound Of The Baskervilles” or “The Final Problem”. The reason for this is, as I have noted above, you follow alongside Holmes and Watson throughout the investigation. You don’t get left lagging behind with Holmes making inexplicable leaps in his solution “off stage”.
The next story in this reading challenge will be “The Adventure Of The Speckled Band”.