The Great British Sherlock Read Off – The Adventure Of The Blue Carbuncle

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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”.

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The Great British Sherlock Read Off – The Man With The Twisted Lip

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Into the eighth, and probably the most bizarre so far, story of the Holmes canon.

Following a request from a family friend to track down her husband who has been frequenting opium dens, Watson bumps into Holmes who is investigating the disappearance of Neville St. Clair, last seen by his wife through one of the upstairs of the den.

There is no sign of a body, but there are traces of blood and the man’s clothes and the only suspect for St. Clair’s disappearance is a beggar of repute in the City, Hugo Boone.

There are some books and short stories that are easy to review, because you can follow the story and the plot logically flows… and then there are the ones where you wonder how it reaches its conclusion.  “The Man With The Twisted Lip” is one of those stories, made all the more difficult because you don’t want to give away any spoilers.

As in the previous story, you now get the feeling that Conan Doyle is hitting his stride with his creations.  As with the previous “Adventures” stories, Watson and Holmes are not living in each others pockets, as is so often represented in other media, and there is less need for Holmes to explain his “method” to the audience.  There is scope in this story for continuity points for Holmes – firstly, his talent for disguise and, secondly, his habit of taking narcotics.

Apart from two glaring clues, one recounted by Holmes of the initial police investigation and a second which will have more prominence for the story’s conclusion (as this provides the motive for the mystery), there is very little for Holmes, and indeed the audience, to go off.  No wonder Holmes declares that he is “one of the most absolute fools in Europe” because if the world’s greatest consulting detective couldn’t string the clues together straight away (he stays awake overnight to put the puzzle together), what hope has the audience.

The final revelation and resolution to this mystery comes over like some form of detective sleight of hand.  That said, the two clues are in plain sight and when you read through the final recounting of what happened, as is now becoming common in these stories, you do get a bit of a Homer Simpson “D’oh!!!!” moment.

As I say earlier in this post, this is a bit of “non-review” because I can’t actually say too much to risk spoilers.  Needless to say, on the face of it “The Man With The Twisted Lip” is a story that tricks the audience into thinking that it’s a harder story to fathom than what it actually is (by the end), plus you get the stereotypical Victorian detective story location of the Opium Den.

All in all, a clever story that is only seems clever in hindsight.

The next story in this challenge will be “The Adventure Of The Blue Carbuncle”.

The Great British Sherlock Read Off – The Five Orange Pips

Sherlock Challenge

 

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”.

 

The Great British Sherlock Read Off – The Boscombe Valley Mystery

Sherlock Challenge

The sixth story in my Sherlock Holmes reading challenge sees the Baker Street detectives leave the confines of London Town for rural Herefordshire to investigate the murder of Mr Charles McCarthy – this time though, they are there not only to catch a murderer… but to save a man from the threat of the hangman’s noose.  The man – McCarthy’s son, James.

After five adventures within the confines of London, it was time for Conan Doyle to allow his literary creations to stretch their legs a little, after all Holmes has been gaining a reputation “offstage” within three continents for his powers of observation and detection.

The change of location isn’t the only change for the tale as the main purpose for Holmes’ investigation isn’t to catch the perpetrator of a crime, but to get a man acquitted despite an overwhelming amount of evidence against him.  (The person employing Holmes, via Inspector Lestrade, being James’s childhood friend Alice Turner whose father shares land with McCarthy Sr.).

Another change is that Watson, whilst still being steps behind Holmes as far as being a consulting detective is concerned, is becoming more interested in the art of deduction, specifically when an article about the murder piques his medical interest.

Despite the changes, this is still early days in the Holmes canon and whilst continuity is well known and accepted nowadays, whether it be in literature or on film or television, it isn’t a modern day trend as this story employs several strands of continuity to link it in with what has gone before.

Watson’s wife, Mary, features at the start of this story, albeit that she is not mentioned by name, only as “my wife” (which feel a little like Arthur Daley of “Minder” talking about “‘Er indoors” – which is a little strange when you think about it considering that she is written very much as the love of Watson’s life in “The Sign of Four”).  As with the “Sherlock” incarnation of Mary, she actually encourages Watson to participate in the investigation.

Yet again, Sherlock employs his powers of deduction upon Watson as a demonstration of his method.  This time, the demonstration revolves around the fact that Watson uses natural light as his method for seeing whilst shaving.  Unlike the previous story, “A Case Of Identity” where you never see Holmes leave Baker Street, he also manages to display his deductive powers during the investigation.  Conan Doyle is clever in making his reasoning seem like a sleight of hand trick, but pay attention to the clues as they are there.  I have to admit that I felt like Watson when Holmes pieces the clues but when the eventual perpetrator comes to light, you do have a “lightbulb” moment which makes you think “Ahhhhhh, now I get it”… especially as the perpetrator explains their motive for the crime.

Lestrade makes a small “guest” appearance as part of this story, but this seems to be very much in the manner of scoffing at Holmes’ method of investigation – very much in the manner of Athelney Jones of “The Sign of Four – by dismissing him as a theorist, which is strange given the fact that Holmes ran rings both around him and Gregson in “A Study In Scarlet”.

As with the previous Holmes short stories that I have read, this story is the Victorian equivalent of a police procedural story – maverick detective included.  (Think “CSI: Baker Street”).  That said, it’s a clever little story which manages to fit in a clear beginning, middle and end that flows better than “A Case of Identity”, if only for the fact that you actually see Sherlock actually do some investigating.

I don’t think that there is a “Sherlock” equivalent to this story (If somebody knows of an equivalent, please feel free to let me know).  However, this story has featured several times on television and radio, most prominently in 1991 as part of Granada Television’s long running Sherlock Holmes series with a young James Purefoy, now known for portraying serial killer Joe Carroll in hit US television series “The Following”, in the role of James McCarthy.

For anybody who is following this reading challenge, the next story that I’ll be reading will be “The Five Orange Pips” – which I know will have a passing relevance to fans of “Sherlock”.

The Great British Sherlock Read Off – A Case Of Identity

Sherlock Challenge

It seems an age since I’ve posted on this blog, but those of you who follow me on Twitter and my own blog will understand the reasons for my absence.  Anyway, I’m back with the next part in my ongoing Sherlock reading challenge.  This time it’s “A Case Of Identity” which was published 1891 and became part of “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” anthology.

The story centres around a client by the name of Miss Mary Sutherland.  She is a woman with her own income from an investment fund and who has met a man by the name of Mr Hosmer Angel, much against the wishes of her stepfather.  On the morning that she is due to marry Angel, he disappears from the hansom cab which has been ordered to drive him to the wedding, at which point she engages Holmes into finding her missing fiance.

This is probably the shortest story from the Holmes canon that I’ve read so far… and probably the least rewarding.  The reason for this is that there is little substance behind it, in fact, Holmes never leaves Baker Street during the “investigation”.

You can tell that the readership is getting increasingly familiar with the Holmes and Watson pairing as there is little actual deduction taking place, apart from Holmes’s observations of Miss Sutherland’s dilemma and profession and the tying up of the actual story at the end.  The reader doesn’t get given any new facts about Holmes and Watson – apart from a line which states the Watson has to deal with a medical case whilst Holmes carries out his investigation, which is done “off stage”.

Without wishing to reveal any spoilers, it’s a basic “procedural” storyline in the same mould as “The Red Headed League”.  That said, you don’t get the evidence trail laid out in front of you as with previous stories, which leaves you in the Watson role of playing catch up at the end when Holmes does the “big reveal”.

For fans of “Sherlock”, I would recommend reading this story first and then going back to the Season Three story “The Empty Hearse” as there is a brief scene of Holmes and Molly carrying out the modern day equivalent of this story.

For those of you who are following this reading challenge, the next story in reading order will be “The Boscombe Valley Mystery” which I’ll post about in the next couple of days or so.

A very special Sherlockian YouTube… Tuesday???

Hi my hot cute girly geeks and boy geeks, I know I have been absent a lot. For those who stand close to me know the reasons. Let’s just say I’m really busy with studying and working and other stuff.

But sometimes, just sometimes, you come across something so amazing and epic and beautiful and truly geeky you just want to share it with everyone else.

Despite all the terrible political things going on in Russia, one thing for me stands out, and it’s to do with this vid.

I can truly say, the Russian Sherlockians are… Sherlocked.

Watch this amazing Sherlocked Flash mob and decide for yourself.

Oh and that Russian Sherlock, he does wear the purple shirt of sex very well, if I may say so. And did you notice bluebell??? Cute little bunny.

As always, leave your comments below if you like. And I promise to make it up to you somehow after the 18th of June, when hopefully my life will be a bit quieter in some ways.

Love, your own hot cute girly geek, Mendy.

The Great British Sherlock Read Off – A Scandal In Bohemia and The Red Headed League

Sherlock Challenge

 

As I’m heading into the Holmes short stories, I thought that it would be better to combine posts rather than doing an update for each story.  So, for this update I am focussing on the first two stories from “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” collection, “A Scandal In Bohemia” and “The Red-Headed League”.

 

A SCANDAL IN BOHEMIA

People who are viewers of “Sherlock” will know that the contemporary parallel to this particular story is “A Scandal In Belgravia” and Sherlock’s opponent is, of course, the only woman to best him in “The Woman”, Irene Adler.

Unlike the “Sherlock” version of the story, Watson is happily married to Mary by the time the time Holmes encounters Irene Adler and has been living away from Sherlock, as in the television story “His Last Vow”.  In fact, fans of “Sherlock” will recognise some of the dialogue from “Vow” in this story, specifically the dialogue regarding the fact that Watson has settled into married life from the evidence of him putting on weight.

You can sense that this is still early days for the Holmes mythos because, yet again, Holmes gives Watson another lesson in observation and deduction with John as the example – the third time in three stories – as though Conan Doyle was still trying to drive home Sherlock’s powers of detection.

Given that this is a shorter story than “A Study In Scarlet” or “The Sign Of Four”, this story is particularly Sherlock heavy.  It starts with Watson relaying the fact that Sherlock doesn’t see women in the romantic sense, which given the fact that Irene bests Holmes in this story lends the story a tinge of the romantic.

As in “Belgravia”, this story hinges around the fact that Irene is seeking to blackmail a notable royal, in this case the King of Bohemia, due to an indiscretion when he was the Crown Prince.  Holmes is entrusted to be the agent to recover the evidence.

The narrative is very pacey, in comparison to the first two stories (it took me a couple of hours to read), which is fitting as Holmes’s adventures were being chronicled in newspapers and the character of Holmes and Watson are consistent with how they are portrayed in “Scarlet” and “Sign” – Holmes as the cold, calculating investigator and Watson as his chronicler – as intelligent and ready to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with his comrade in arms, but always half a step behind due to his view of the world in comparison to Sherlock.

The King of Bohemia is very much seen as just a client in this case, as opposed to Mary Morstan, who is very much somebody who accompanies Holmes and Watson in their previous adventure.

The character of Irene Adler is an interesting one as she seems to have been retconned through the passage of time.  If you’ve seen the Downey Jr. “Sherlock Holmes” films, Adler has become a career criminal, of sorts, whilst the “Sherlock” version is a dominatrix who deals with obtaining classified information and working as an agent of Jim Moriarty.

In the book, Irene is a totally different kettle of fish – she’s an opera singer, actor and “adventuress”.  Her driving motivation a sense of injustice, as in the cases of Holmes’s two previous adversaries, and is described at the end of the story.

Another interesting thing is that, unlike the adversaries from the first two stories, you hardly see a great deal of “The Woman” herself.  A lot of what is described of her is through conversation, observation and by a significant letter.  In fact, we only see her interact with Holmes twice in the story and briefly so.

The fact that her appearances are so fleeting, the fact that she beats Holmes, plus the fact that there is no case of murder in this story, are really what gives “Scandal” it’s romantic touchstone, even though Holmes himself would not see it so.

Unlike the previous two stories, it’s not essential to have seen the “Sherlock”, in fact, it may be helpful to try to put aside Lara Pulver’s fantastic portrayal as the modern day Adler when reading this story as the two versions motives are poles apart, even though her actions aren’t.

 

THE RED-HEADED LEAGUE

For fans of “Sherlock” and who haven’t read the books before, this is a story that you may not be familiar with.

Basically, the story involves a pawnbroker by the name of Jabez Wilson who consults Holmes on a case where he has felt that he has been on the receiving end of a practical joke.  Wilson, a man with red hair, answered an advertisement for a job with a beneficiary trust called “The League of Red-Headed Men”.  His job, to copy all of the entries in the Encyclopedia Brittanica.

There are conditions to his job, however. He must work there between 10 am and 2 pm, he must not leave his place of employment and he cannot take a day’s absence or he will forfeit his role with the League.

However, after two months service with the League, Wilson finds on attending work that the League has been dissolved and that nobody has heard of the League’s administrator, Mr Duncan Ross.

I do have a familiarity with this story through the first series of the Sherlock Holmes stories as transmitted by Granada Television.

The story, like “A Scandal In Bohemia” is a short one and therefore means that the narrative is fast-paced, but manages to be full of detail, partly down to the exposition that the character of Jabez Wilson provides at the start of the story and partly because, unlike the previous three Holmes stories that I’ve read, there are no establishing demonstrations of Holmes’s powers of detection, apart from his ascertaining and linking up clues as to Wilson’s past.

With readers now becoming more familiar with the partnership of Holmes and Watson, there is also less need to describe specifics about Holmes’s methods of detection in this story, with the clues coming in a “blink and you’ll miss them fashion”, something that to this day appears in many a detective or procedural television programme, book or film.

One area of interest in this particular story is Watson’s observations of Holmes himself – in particular, the two sides to Holmes’s character.  On the one hand, he is a man who is in his chosen vocation for the thrill of the hunt, whilst on the other, he is an admirer of the calm atmosphere of the musical arts – whilst dispelling the popular myth that Holmes was poor at playing the violin as he describes Holmes as being both a competent violinist and a composer.  (A trait that “Sherlock” fans will certainly recognise from the episode “The Sign Of Three”).

The story itself is a straight-forward procedural story with a beginning – Jabez’s story flowing swiftly into Holmes and Watson’s investigation and the final act of their apprehending the suspects.  It’s also a less emotionally led story than what I have read before, certainly less so than “A Scandal In Bohemia” or “The Sign Of Four” which attempts to shine some light on the emotional character of Sherlock and John.  In fact, this is a much lighter, in fact slightly comedic, story in comparison to the previous three.

For fans of the televised “Sherlock Holmes” version of this story, there is a major change between the original work and the TV version in the fact of who actually masterminds this plot.  No doubt due to the fact that even in the 1980′s we were being treated to a minimal story arc which culminated at the end of the first series of Granada’s adventures for the Brett incarnation of the role.

In summing up, a pleasant read and a story that can be read with ease in a couple of hours.

 

 

For those of you following this challenge, the next story that I’ll be reading will be the short story “A Case Of Identity”.