Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Adventure Of The Beryl Coronet--The Rich Are Different. Royalty? Even Differenter

OK, here's a little test for you all. This week, I'd like you all to go into the most respected bank in your community, and tell them you'd like to borrow $6 million, and promise that you'll repay it on Monday.

Didn't work? OK, show them the most valuable thing that you've taken from your workplace, even though it doesn't technically belong to you, and offer it up as collateral. And make sure that you insist on complete secrecy.

Still didn't work? That's odd; it worked just fine in The Adventure Of The Beryl Coronet...

Actually, in one case it works, and in one case it fails. Arthur Conan Doyle has presented us with an interesting compare and contrast in this story.

The honorable Alexander Holder, senior partner in the "second largest private banking concern," has two problems.

His son, Arthur, is a "grievous disappointment," "wild and wayward," a gambler at cards at horses, who is constantly asking for money to settle his debts.

Meanwhile, a new client at the bank--"one of the highest, noblest, most exalted names"--needs £50,000--in cash--for reasons he will not reveal, and he has refused to approach friends or family in this matter.

Arthur needs £200 pounds to settle gambling debts, lest he be dishonored. Holder refuses, and vows to not let Arthur have a farthing (a quarter of a penny!) Yet when the noble client wants £50,000 (the modern equivalent of roughly $6 million!), Holder is so eager to help, he avers that he would have loaned it "from his own purse," if he only had enough funds of his own!!

Arthur vows to find other means to raise the money; yet not only does he not steal, he actively tries to prevent others from stealing from his father. Meanwhile, the noble client takes, without permission and likely without any legal right, "one of the most precious public possessions of the empire," and is willing to essentially pawn it for a few days financial convenience. Depending on how you view the various legalities involved, the noble client is willing to steal from his family (and his subjects) to settle his debts.

To makes things crystal clear, let's acknowledge something that would have been quite obvious to contemporary readers: the "noble client" is almost unquestionably based on Albert Edward, then Prince of Wales and heir apparent to the the British throne. Albert had quite the reputation as a "Prince Hal," widely reputed to have had innumerable affairs, and living the life of what we would call a playboy (and no, not the Bruce Wayne kind). Less than a year before Beryl Coronet was published, Albert was tangentially embroiled in a very public illegal gambling scandal, and forced to testify in court about the affair.

So when the Victorian audience read about the "noble client" asking for an immense loan, with honor leaving him unable to turn to friends or family, and willing to risk unimaginable "public scandal" by putting up a national treasure as collateral, they could hardly help but think of their wastrel Prince and the sordid activities he had been involved in (both confirmed and rumored). Why could he so urgently need £50,000, that it couldn't wait 4 days (when he was expecting a "large sum due him")? Gambling debts? Blackmail over one of his peccadilloes? A bastard child, perhaps? To prevent yet another public and embarrassing court action? To help cover up his son's role in the Jack The Ripper murders? Certainly, it couldn't be anything good and innocent, right?

So we have two characters in very much the same situation, in need of immediate capital to avoid scandal. Holder's own son needs a (relative) pittance, and is practically disowned. The noble client? Holder is willing to fall all over himself to help him avoid scandal, brown-nosing the royal and practically promising to loan the vastly larger sum himself, no questions asked. Arthur refuses to resort to stealing, yet is still rebuked and mistrusted by his father; yet when the noble client is willing to fence the crown jewels, Holder falls all over himself to help.

I think Doyle meant this as a bit of social criticism, a note that genteel society was perhaps too willing to bend over backwards to accommodate the whims and sins of the royal class, while not extending the same largesse to even their own families. The public was continuing to fund the prince's playboy lifestyle while rebuking their own children enjoying the same activities. What was the point of following Victorian morality, after all, if it didn't even extend to Victoria's own family? How could people be more worried whether "the noblest in the land will suffer" than they are about their own family?

Or maybe that's just me imposing my 21st century democratic viewpoint upon a harmless 19th century story.


**Despite Holmes' declaration last week in The Noble Bachelor that he finds cases of humble origins much more interesting than those that come from the social elite, Watson clearly has a preference for choosing the more socially elite.

Let's inventory: Study In Scarlet--Holmes brought in by police. Sign Of Four--Mary Morstan, a governess. Scandal In Bohemia--hired by the King of Bohemia. Red-Headed League--hired by a pawnshop owner. Case of Identity--Mary Sutherland, who could live off of her bequest if she chose. Boscombe Valley Mystery--who hired Holmes wasn't precisely clear; if it wasn't the police, it was the daughter of the area's largest land-holder. Five Orange Pips--A wealthy heir. Man With The Twisted Lip--the wife of a well-to-do investor (or so she thinks). The Blue Carbuncle--no one hires Holmes precisely, but the case (and the goose) is brought to Holmes by the honest comissionaire. The Speckled Band--an heiress. The Engineer's Thumb--a man who could, if he chose, live off his inheritance. The Noble Bachelor? A Lord of the realm, son of a Duke. And in this tale, it was the senior partner in the 2nd largest bank in London.

There's not a lot of cases of "humble origins" there--Sign Of Four, Red-Headed League, and the Blue Carbuncle are the only ones that can be considered coming from the working class, depending on your definition. And certainly nothing from what wee might consider the "lower"classes.

That doesn't means Holmes didn't have many more such cases--these are just the one that Watson chose to publish. No wonder Sherlock is always so cranky about how the good doctor writes up his cases, as John Watson seems irresistibly drawn to ones that come from money, and are therefore the ones that the great detective considers less interesting...

**Mary Holder is quite a piece of work.

Even if we accept Holmes' bromide that "there are women in whom the love of a lover extinguishes all other loves," Mary's actions go beyond the pale.

Not only does she betray the trust of her uncle/adoptive father, but she does so even after he warns her of how ruinous the consequences of losing the coronet might be. In she so enamored of the blackguard Sir George Burnwell that she will not only immediately get word to him of the immense treasure they're holding there, but also steal it for him?

She seems concerned about Arthur's well-being--she repeatedly begs Holder to see him released--but takes absolutely no steps to help him out. Even when she leaves the household for good, she doesn't leave any kind of confession that would aid in freeing him.

Her farewell letter is a case study in failing to take responsibility (or even understand?) her role in the looming destruction of her family: "I feel that I have brought trouble upon you, and that if I had acted differently this terrible misfortune might never have occurred." She feels that she's caused trouble? This might not have occurred if she had hadn't, you know, stolen the coronet? Talk about deflection!

Mary's continued insistence that everything will be just fine if Holder only "lets the matter drop" shows that she is completely unable to appreciate the consequences of her actions. (Also, that she is perhaps unaware that her beau has already fenced the stones?) Is she besotted with love? An idiot? Or a sociopath? Given that there is no way Burnwell could have known that the coronet was at Fairbank other than for Mary to have told him, I'm leaning to the last of those options.

** Although this was written in 1892, Doyle--through Holder's words--gives us a lesson in what banking actually is that apparently still needs to be taught to many in the financial world more than a century later: a successful banking business as much depends upon our being able to find remunerative investments for our funds as upon our increasing our connection and the number of our depositors. One of our most lucrative means of laying out money is in the shape of loans, where the security is unimpeachable.
Hey, he forgot to mention foisting derivatives based on ludicrously-unsafe mortgage-backed securities! "Unimpeachable security"?!? Oh, how quaint!! Pump out those unsafe loans, baby, and then sell them to someone else! Not your problem anymore...

**Holder had his cashier give the noble client "fifty 1,000 pound notes."

This is a further indication that his debt was probably somewhat illicit--he owed someone who would only take cash?

Than again, I imagine that £1,000 notes weren't all that disposable as currency--how many places could make change for one?--except as a bank deposit, perhaps. That probably makes the transaction a bit traceable, and not as covert as the parties might want...

**Many of Doyle's short stories present a challenge for TV adaptation.

Most of the tales start with a client showing up at Baker Street, narrating their experience while Holmes interjects a question or two.

That can be a bit static for the beginning of a television episode, so often, we're treated to a presentation of the crime/mystery, and then they'll show us the client arriving at 221B.

This presents its own set of problems, of course. In the case of the BBC '65 adaptation, that means that Holmes and Watson don't appear on screen until 20 minutes into a 48 minute show.

I think it would be wiser to show the events as the client narrates them, intercutting back to Baker Street occasionally for questions/comments. But it is an interesting problem, with no easy answer...

**One minor adjustment the BBC '65 version made that I liked was that the noble client himself brought the coronet to Fairbank, and Holder gave him the money there--all the better to keep the transaction on the down-low.

That makes sense...but then again, if Holder kept £50,000 in cash laying around, why didn't Mary steal that earlier? Or maybe that was the plan, and then she saw that the coronet was there...

**One other thing from the BBC '65 version--perhaps this is just me reading too much into it, but we do see Arthur gambling (badly) at his club. And I had the distinct impression that Sir George Burnwell was egging on Arthur a bit, trying to encourage his wild losses. Was Sir George trying to make Arthur broke, so he would be a suspect in the robbery? Or perhaps put Arthur so deeply in debt that he'd be tempted to help out Burnwell in his scheme?

It's probably not really there, but if it is--what a blackgaurd, trying to corrupt an entire family...

**I really was curious about one aspect of the story. The noble client warned Holder that "Any injury (to the coronet) would be almost as serious as it's complete loss." Oops.

So yes, I wanted to see the noble client's reaction. He couldn't get too publicly indignant, after all--the whole transaction had to remain secret. And it wouldn't prove to difficult to find a jeweler who could repair the coronet, and with the right incentive, secretly.

Still, would the noble client use this as an excuse to not pay interest on the payday loan, or even the full principle? "I'm taking the cost of repairs out of what I owe you, also, a penalty for your idiocy!" Given the need by both sides to avoid scandal, the negotiations on this point would have been very interesting.

Also, exactly how much interest was Holder planning to charge for a 4 day loan of £50,000? We never find out...

**It's noted more than once that, in the middle of the night, Arthur was dressed "only" in "his shirt and trousers."

Apparently, Victorians were supposed to remain fully dressed even in bed? Seriously, that's much less than I where around the house most nights...

**This is the second time that Holmes has believed the accused to be innocent because "if he were guilty, why didn't he invent a lie" (or at least a better lie)--see also The Boscombe Valley Mystery.

That's not a completely irrational basis for a hunch, I suppose. But then again, as these cases were being published by Watson, I would imagine that would of this position of Holmes' circulated fairly quickly amongst the wrong element: "Oi, if you're caught, just refuse to explain the full facts, and 'Olmes 'imself will believe you!"

As to Arthur's stubborn silence, especially as half of it was to protect the woman who was willing destroy his family and to let him personally rot in prison...what a schmuck.

**Holmes: "I am exceptionally strong in the fingers..."

Must be all that violin playing?

Some of you have dirty minds...

**Holmes' confrontation with Burnwell proves one thing:

Don't bring a club to a gun fight!

**Burnwell wasn't a particularly smart thief, when it came to fencing his stolen goods. He fenced the 3 beryls he had for £600. As that was only 1/13th of the gemstones in the coronet, that means he would have fenced the whole thing for £78,000. Even adding in for the gold work and the increased value of an intact headpiece, he was willing to part with a treasure worth at least double the £50,000 (according to the noble client), for less than $10,000. And if Mary had told him the story of its origin, well, he should have known that it could have been worth that much without even fencing it, by blackmail?

**Sir George and Mary are really going to have a great life together, eh?


Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Adventure Of The Noble Bachelor--A Comedy Of Manners

There are a few different ways in which you could look at The Adventure Of The Noble Bachelor.

On the surface, it's not a particularly involving mystery. The "man/woman who is approached by a supposedly dead spouse" has become something of a cliche by modern standards. Is there an American soap opera that hasn't played that card? The mystery is not that mysterious, and for once the audience is pretty much following right along with Holmes' deductions, and the story holds few real surprises.

Yet the story can have surprising depth if you decide to read it as a Wildean comedy of manners, with the redemptive ending of a late-Shakespearean romance.

First, can we agree that there is much in this story that is funny? Seriously, laugh-out loud funny?

Take when Watson is explaining the whole case to Holmes, who hasn't been keeping up on the gossips. Holmes is bored: "'Anything else?' asked Holmes, yawning." Yet when Watson continues, and gives Holmes the twist, watch his reaction:
Those are all the notices which appeared before the disappearance of the bride." 
"Before the what?" asked Holmes with a start.
 If you can't imagine Holmes doing a spit take there, we probably can't be friends.

And when Lestrade, looking ridiculous in his nautical garb, is so proud of a clue he found, the way Holmes deflates him is fairly hilarious:
He took up the paper in a listless way, but his attention instantly became riveted, and he gave a little cry of satisfaction. "This is indeed important," said he. 
"Ha! you find it so?"

"Extremely so. I congratulate you warmly."
Lestrade rose in his triumph and bent his head to look. "Why," he shrieked, "you're looking at the wrong side!"
Shrieked? Really? The thought of Sherlock complimenting Lestrade, and then it being revealed that he wasn't even looking at the "right" side of the clue, while the pea-coat-garbed inspector shrieks, is freaking hilarious. Throw in some other touches--such as Holmes finding his "suspects" based on the outrageous amount a hotel charged for sherry--have me convinced that Arthur Conan Doyle was aiming for comedy when he wrote this.

And you can't have a Wildean comedy without at least some mocking of the upper classes and nobility, can you? Much has been made of Holmes (and Watson, through his narration), taking the piss out of Lord Robert. Holmes declares that cases from "humbler" clients are much more interesting, and declaring upper class social functions as "unwelcome" and "boring." Watson describes St. Simon as "verging on foppishness," and having the "petulance...of a man whose pleasant lot it had ever been to command and to be obeyed." Sherlock immediately tries to cut off his new client's snobbery, telling him this case was actually a step down in class for him, as he had aided the King of Scandinavia. Lord Robert discusses describing someone as a gentleman, even though he was "quite a common-looking person," and distressing over the "liberties" between Hatty and her maid--an American affectation, he declares.

The reverse-snobbery of the Baker Street detectives  even seems to border on cruelty at points, though. Holmes questions Hatty's dowry at one point, and whether Lord Robert gets to keep it even though she disappeared--surely implying that he believes he might not be so anxious to find her, or even that he was involved in her vanishing! (See my discussion of the Granada version below...)

Well, there's even more of this, until the end, when St. Simon is faced with a particularly embarrassing public humiliation, and is unable fully forgive his erstwhile bride. Watson declares that the nobleman was "certainly not very gracious!" And it is at this point that Holmes rebukes Watson for not being able to put himself in Lord Robert's shoes.

And of course, we should be sympathetic to Lord Robert at this point, because while we have been gently distracted by all the wry ripostes directed at British nobles, it's clear that everyone else involved in this case has behaved far more abominably! Start with Hatty's father, who, when he struck it rich, forbade his daughter from marrying someone economically beneath them--until he saw a chance to barter his daughter and dowry for access to nobility, that is! That by itself pretty much undercuts any "American commoners are better than snooty English upper class" theme you might think the story had.

Then we learn that Hatty and Frank didn't trust each other to remain pure during Frank's hunt for riches, to the extent that they had to be secretly married! That was the only way Frank could "feel sure of her." Some romance!

Of course, Frank Moulton followed Hatty to England, and apparently had made his fortune, as he was staying at a hotel whose prices were so exorbitant that it was easy to track him down. He claims that he couldn't find her before the ceremony, because the newspaper announcement didn't give her address! Oh, come now. You're staying at one of London's swankier hotels--you can't pay the concierge to find out where a wealthy American wedding party might be staying? You can't place ads in the papers, like Holmes does every other story? Your only course of action is confront her at the actual wedding ceremony, advise her to keep quiet and go through with it, slip her a note, and then help her steal away during the wedding breakfast?!? That's lazy and entitled at best, and shows a selfish callowness towards the feelings of everyone else involved at worst. The story may mock uppercrust manners, but surely this American was just as superior and self-centered as Lord Robert!

And then there is Hatty herself. There was no shame in a "business transaction" marriage like this in that era, and she was willing to go through with it. Lord Robert defends her when he hires Holmes, saying he "thought her to be at bottom a noble woman...capable of heroic self-sacrifice and that anything dishonourable would be repugnant to her." Well, that pretty much proves completely untrue.

Yes, it was a difficult situation, with no good way to handle it. Yet at every stage, she expressly chose the worst way. The secret marriage already showed she wasn't a terribly strong character, a woman who was afraid of confrontation and openness. So when she saw Frank--before the vows were taken!!--of course she remained silent, and continued with the ceremony. Why, we can't cause a scene in church, even if going through with the service is bigamy! And running off during the breakfast? Well, telling St. Simon the truth would have been "dreadful hard," so of course she just "made up her mind to run away and explain afterwards." Of course, "afterwards" was forestalled because she felt "ashamed," so she resolved to just "vanish away and never see any of them again," while "perhaps"--PERHAPS?!?!--sending a note to her pa. At every step she chooses the path to cause maximum pain to everyone involved except herself and Frank. And only Holmes himself patiently explaining could make her see how vast her mistakes were.

So we see, as in a true comedy of manners, everyone is behaving abominably! Doyle is critiquing everyone's manners and foibles. But perhaps because of the title of the piece draws our attention, or because of our era's greater skepticism about nobility, or because Watson goes out of his way to paint a negative picture of St. Simon, over the years the critique of the foppish lord gets much more attention than the terrible manners of the Americans! At the end, I actually feel sorry for St. Simon--he may be a jerk, but he behaved correctly in every way, and everyone else showed no consideration whatsoever for him or his feelings. (I will grant you that we do not know the truth of what happened betwixt him and Flora Miller, and why she is so aggrieved--were there promises of marriage made? A pregnancy?--so it's certainly possible that this could be viewed by some as Lord Robert's karmic payback. Discuss amongst yourselves.)

And at the end, Holmes brings everyone together for a friendly supper, a peace-making attempt, trying to find truth and forgiveness for everyone. It's an attempt at a redemption, the feast at the end of comedy where "all's well that ends well," and all of the much ado is forgiven and the wedded couple is sent on to a new life. And it works, mostly--yes, Lord Robert is not as gracious as Watson would like, but he does forgive Hatty, and shakes her hand--and at least he gets the closure that would have been denied, albeit with a terrible public humiliation.

 Of course, that's just my view...there are other ways to deal with the story...


**Which brings us to Granada.

For some reason, they decided to make this a "feature-length" adaptation. Which means that, stretching out a short story for an hour and 45 minutes, they needed lots of extra material to fill the time.

They also changed the title to "The Eligible Bachelor," which I guess made sense, as they was nothing noble about this version of Lord Robert.

For instead of a low-intensity missing person case as a comedy of manners, they chose to go complete grand guignol Gothic terror, a bloodbath and symoblism-fest that has to be seen to be believed.

They start out with Holmes sleepless because of recurring nightmares (which turn out to be prophetic dreams of the case to come. Why? How? DON'T ASK!) Then Lord Robert hires Sherlock, and the case is much as it was...except:

A mysterious veiled woman keeps sending Holmes notes and clues trying to steer the investigation. And it turns out Hatty was St. Simon's third wife!! The first died abroad in a robbery in Paris. The second marriage was annulled, for reasons Lord Robert refuses to reveal. Then we learn that St. Simon is in extreme financial distress. And that the man who murdered his first wife, Thomas Floutier, is now employed by St. Simon at his mysteriously decrepit estate (which used to have a zoo, and now has a wild leopard and baboon running around--just because), because of course Lord Robert hired him to kill wife #1. And that inherited fortune wasn't enough, as it turns out that the second marriage was annulled because the wife, Helena, had gone insane. Except Lord Robert had his girlfriend Flora Miller (here an actress instead of a ballet dancer) pose as an insane Helen so the doctors would agree to have her declared nuts and her could get her fortune, and then he proceeded to lock Helena is one of the animal cages of the former zoo for 8 years. And the veiled women was Helena's sister Agnes, whose face had been mauled by Floutier when she came around looking for Helena. And now feeling spurned, Flora had gone to Hatty and told her the whole tale, which is part of the reason Hatty chose to vanish (yes, her supposedly-dead first husband showed up, too). Then St. Simon kills Flora to keep her silent; when Floutier tries to kill Hatty, Watson shoots him and leaves him for the leopard to eat; and when St. Simon goes to the bear pit to kill Helena, she springs a trap she had set and brings the walls tumbling down on him, so he dies. And somehow Hatty and Frank end up with the estate and live there happily ever after.

No, I'm not making a word of that up. And really, I've only scratched the surface of how weird the story is.

Granada is by far the best series of Holmes adaptations, but man, they sometimes go off on these insane tangents that make you wonder what the hell they were thinking.

**The picture Watson paints of himself on a lazy, lazy die is priceless:
With my body in one easy-chair and my legs upon another, I had surrounded myself with a cloud of newspapers until at last, saturated with the news of the day, I tossed them all aside and lay listless...
You and me both, John. Except in my case it's usually comic books...

**The Adventure Of The Noble Bachelor is, of course, the story which contains Holmes wonderful opinion of Americans:
It is always a joy to meet an American, Mr. Moulton, for I am one of those who believe that the folly of a monarch and the blundering of a minister in far-gone years will not prevent our children from being some day citizens of the same world-wide country under a flag which shall be a quartering of the Union Jack with the Stars and Stripes.
I'm not sure upon what Holmes is basing this...most of the Americans he's encountered that we've seen have been murderers (A Study In Scarlet) and racist murderers (The Five Orange Pips). I guess Irene Adler was even more influential than we knew.

Yet despite Sherlock's prediction, there is still no "united in one world-wide country," though. Maybe the debut of Doctor Who tonight (last night by the time you read this) will be enough to finally join the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes...

**Not everyone in England shared Holmes' opinion of Americans. The "society page" in an unnamed paper opined (no doubt with tongue slightly in cheek):
There will soon be a call for protection in the marriage market, for the present free-trade principle appears to tell heavily against our home product. One by one the management of the noble houses of Great Britain is passing into the hands of our fair cousins from across the Atlantic.
 American women are stealing our noble men!!

Of course, such an attitude (assuming it really existed) was no doubt part of fear and or envy of the growing economic clout of Americans without the benefits/restrictions of the British class system. "Those uncouth cousins of ours are just buying everything without earning it the way we have!!" Such is always the dispute between old money and the nouveau riche...

**Along with the unnamed service Holmes did for the King of Scandinavia, Watson tantalizes us with "the little problem of the Grosvenor Square furniture van."

**Homes pulls out "a red-covered volume" from his reference books to look up Lord Robert. That there is actually a guidebook to all the English royalty, like a bird-watcher's guide to nobles, always amazes me.

**With Lestrade once again arresting the wrong person when he seizes Flora Miller, his wearing a fairly ridiculous get-up, and his ignoring the crucial clue Holmes interpreted for him, it's difficult to see how much more pathetic Doyle could make him look. Lestrade needs to have some base level of competence, or he becomes a cartoon character. Yes, we need a foil who only exists to make Holmes look brilliant by comparison--but wouldn't it be more impressive if Holmes were superior to a good but limited police officer, rather than an idiot who is never, ever even close to right?

**Holmes: "American slang is very expressive sometimes."

Hellz, yeah, beyootch!

**Moulton took Hatty's wedding dress and veil and shoes and wedding ring and "dropped them away somewhere where no one could find them."

Except, of course, they were fairly promptly, floating--floating--in the lake. They weren't even weighted down!!

I suppose it's a good sign that he makes such a poor criminal?

**I still love that the story's resolution turned on a hotel charging eightpence for a glass of sherry. Save your receipts, kids!!


Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Adventure Of The Engineer's Thumb--You Call That An Adventure?

At the beginning of The Adventure Of The Engineer's Thumb, Watson tells us that, of all the problems Sherlock Holmes has taken on, "there were only two which I was the means of introducing to his notice--that of Mr. Hatherley's thumb, and that of Colonel Warburton's madness."

We would have been better off if Watson had told us the tale of Colonel Warbuton's madness.

The Adventure Of The Engineer's Thumb is a tale where, well, pretty much nothing whatsoever happens.

All of action is narrated to us by the titular Victor Hatherly. Holmes makes no noteworthy deductions, nor do we learn anything interesting about him or his worldview. When our crew arrives in Reading, the house in question is already burned down, and the criminals fled without a clue, never to be captured, their true identities never revealed.

This was an odd choice of a tale for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to have presented us with. Had Holmes and Watson never gotten involved, quite literally not a single thing in the story or its outcome would have changed. Hatherly would have gone to a different doctor, would still have gone to the police, and not a single thing in the story's outcome would have changed.

Not that there aren't interesting elements at play here--severed thumbs! A man trapped in a hydraulic press, about to be crushed to death! A counterfeiting ring! Foreign intrigue (?)!! But all of these are presented to us in front-loaded flashback narration, which robs us of all of the potential drama. When Hatherly is trapped in the press, for example, he is telling his tale to Holmes and Watson--so we already know he escaped, which undercuts any tension the scene might have had.

We should also compare this tale with The Five Orange Pips, another story that I found underwhelming. When Sherlock never evens meets the villains, and has nothing to do with their final fate, we lose a fundamental sources of interest--seeing our hero confront the malefactors. Yet even in Pips, for all its weakness, Holmes at least did some detective work to figure out who the perpetrators were (probably), and took steps to ensure their capture. In Engineer's Thumb, we're even denied that. Despite the fact that we know this crew has murdered at least one person, Holmes does absolutely nothing to track them down, or even identify them. Essentially, he just shrugs and says, "Well, at least you have a nice story to tell at parties!" Talk about unsatisfying.

It is little wonder that the usual suspects, the 1960s BBC series and Granada, chose to pass on this story. There's very little here, and what little there is is of no credit to the the series' hero. Yet we're not completely without adaptations here, as the 1954 American series Sherlock Holmes took on Engineer's Thumb.

I haven't spoken about that series yet, mainly because they did very few straight adaptations from the Canon. Filmed in France and syndicated in America, the 39-episode series starred Ronald Howard (son of Leslie Howard) as Holmes and Howard Crawford as Watson. With an episode length of only 25 minutes, many of Doyle's stories were simply too long to justice to, so the producers went with mostly original material, while sprinkling in bits and pieces of the Canon here and there. Some of the episodes were "loosely inspired" by Doyle's stories, by which they meant they took the basic plot premise and tortured into a shape to fit their production. On the whole, it wasn't a terribly good show.

But their "The Case Of The Shoeless Engineer" is perhaps instructive. It's one of only 3 stories they pretty directly adapted. Not that there aren't differences, as the title indicates. While a severed thumb is all well and good for Victorian readers of 1892, it was considered far too gory for American TV viewers in 1955, so they changed it so that Hatherly kept his thumb, but lost his shoe (and almost his foot) in the hydraulic press. Also, Elise the helpful (German?) woman changed to Ruth Connors, a mute Englishwoman, the niece of one of our crooks. The shock of their ordeal cures her psychological muteness, and she and Hatherly make a nice couple at the end.

But perhaps most important, the show gives Holmes a much more active role in the story. He deduces where the house must be; he deduces that the bad guys haven't escaped, but are hiding in a secret cellar; and, in a clumsy bit of gunplay and fisticuffs, captures our villains. How novel--having our hero actually involved in the story!

I'm not sure why Doyle chose to have Holmes completely in the background of the story, or choose a scenario that did so little to display his deductive talents. Perhaps the pressures of putting out the stories on a monthly basis for The Strand were causing him to rush a bit. After all, there were issues of potential interest in the story, had he chosen to rework it a bit. When even a show as unambitious as 1954 Sherlock Holmes can improve on your story, there was certainly opportunity to make a stronger tale.

But sadly, as it is, Engineer's Thumb reads as if it were the product of Colonel Lysander Stark--a hasty counterfeit.


**Interestingly enough, the Russians have always seemed fascinated by Sherlock Holmes, and have had a number of movies and TV series dedicated to the character. The 1986 TV movie "The Adventures of Sherlock Holes And Doctor Watson--The Twentieth Century Approaches" took on four different stories, including Engineer's Thumb. And like any good Soviet production, this adaptation took a bit of a Marxist bent: our counterfeiters were agents of the German government, attempting economic sabotage of the British Empire. When they're caught, Mycroft declares that, to "balance the warp to our economy," England will pump out an equal amount of counterfeit German currency!! Every story is tied in to the economic clashes of capitalist nations!

Hey, at least it's more motive and information about the crooks than Doyle ever gave us in the story...

You can view this Russian version of the story here.

**When Hatherly frets that he won't be paid his promised £50, my first thought was, "Idiot--even if they did pay you, it would have been counterfeit!" I mean, come on now!!

**Hatherly, "having also come into a fair sum of money through [his] poor father's death," is the latest in a line of characters who don't actually have to work, thanks to bequests. Mary Sutherland, the Stoner twins, John Openshaw...was that really that common in those days? Or was it just the class of people Doyle moved in, and thus put into his stories?

It's a good thing Hatherly had his inheritance--having earned only £27 over two years, he pretty clearly wasn't go to earn a living running his own hydraulic engineering business...

**A particularly horrifying scene, as Hatherly has to decide how he will meet the descending ceiling inside the press:
Then it flashed through my mind that the pain of my death would depend very much upon the position in which I met it. If I lay on my face the weight would come upon my spine, and I shuddered to think of that dreadful snap. Easier the other way, perhaps; and yet, had I the nerve to lie and look up at that deadly black shadow wavering down upon me?
 See, with keen observations like that, it should have been a much better story. Sadly, no.

**Great moments in bad decisions:
Was there a police-station anywhere near? There was one about three miles off. "It was too far for me to go, weak and ill as I was. I determined to wait until I got back to town before telling my story to the police.
Granted, Hatherly was doubtless weak and disoriented due to blood loss and trauma. But the "wait until after I take a long train ride home to notify the police" was silly. No doubt that was responsible for giving the villains more than ample time to get away.

Of course, Hatherly hadn't made a single good decision the entire story, why start now? Tries to start his own business; accepts a cleary dubious offer for the money; turns down a perfectly good chance to escape; decides to get lippy with the obvious crooks, resulting in their trying to kill him; going home first before contacting the police...if Hatherly makes even one intelligent decision anywhere along the line, it's a very different story.

**Holmes reads from the year-old newspaper ad: "Listen to this: 'Lost, on the 9th inst., Mr. Jeremiah Hayling, aged twenty-six, a hydraulic engineer. Left his lodgings at ten o'clock at night, and has not been heard of since. Was dressed in,' etc., etc."

It's clear that this gang has killed before, even if we hadn't already inferred that. So why no desire by Holmes to track them down after they flee?

**I did enjoy the station-master describing the fat suspect and the skinny suspect: "there isn't a man in the parish who has a better-lined waistcoat. But he has a gentleman staying with him, a patient, as I understand, who is a foreigner, and he looks as if a little good Berkshire beef would do him no harm." Wonderful understated colloquialism.

**The theory that Hatherly's oil lamp, crushed in the press (it was a candle in the 1954 TV version), somehow set the fire is odd. If true, given the timing (the fire would have started at 1am-ish, and the fire wasn't "subdued" until sunset that night), the house burned for 16-20 hours. That's a pretty long time for a house to burn. Given the unlikelihood that oil lamp could have started the fire like that, it seems more likely that Stark and company set the fire to cover their tracks when they decided that flight was required.

**The closing scene: Hatherly laments. "I have lost my thumb and I have lost a fifty-guinea fee, and what have I gained?" The reply? "Experience," said Holmes, laughing. "Indirectly it may be of value, you know; you have only to put it into words to gain the reputation of being excellent company for the remainder of your existence." Man, I would have smacked Holmes there, myself.

The bad guys got away unscathed, doubtless to set up the counterfeiting ring again, and continue murdering people who got in their way. Hardly time for the jocular sit-com fade out...


Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Adventure Of The Speckled Band--Holmes' First Bond Villain!

There is something that I like to call the Twilight Zone Phenomenon.

There reaches a point when, through overexposure, an audience begins to lose touch with what a story actually does or says, and seems content to distill it down to a one or two sentence summary, letting all the subtleties and meanings of the work vanish into a jaded, post-ironic ether.

Take the Twilight Zone, for example. We've seen all of those episodes, especially the "classic" ones, dozens of times. We've seen parodies and pastiches (and out-and-out stealing) of their ideas by television and movies and comics (not that Serling and company were above *ahem* borrowing an idea from other sources). At times, it seems as if we've become jaded to the original stories, and are unable to engage with them on any level except the tagline and the twist. "Oh, that's the one where William Shatner sees the monster on the plane wing!" or "The one where Burgess Meredith breaks his glasses!" or "The planet where everyone is ugly!" To heck with any of the themes of the cautionary tales, the nuances, the details--what they're really about. The modern audience just wants it boiled down to "It's a cookbook!"

Which brings me to The Adventure Of The Speckled Band, or as many people--who look puzzled initially when I begin to describe the story--exclaim, "oh, the one with the snake!!"

Yes, the one with the snake. Sigh.

Speckled Band, along with The Red-Headed League and Silver Blaze, is one of the most reprinted of the Holmes short stories. It even appears quite often in English textbooks. It has been adapted to stage and screen more often than any of the other short stories (by my unofficial, doubtless incomplete count). Arthur Conan Doyle himself declared it his favorite story, and produced a very successful and long-running play based on the story.

And there is a tremendous amount of stuff going on in this story. Start with the fact that it is Sherlock Holmes' first locked room murder mystery. Add in the fact that you have a marvelous villain--who'd make a great Bond Villain--who comes up with a overwrought scheme worthy of a Columbo killer. Beautiful twin sisters threatened by "gipsies" and exotic foreign animals make this a wonderful bit of Gothic melodrama. Add in some interesting thematic nuggets--musings about the plight of a declining aristocracy, thoughts about the financial (and physical) plight of women in Victorian England, and a symbolic acknowledgement of the fear many felt about the cultural influences from Britain's empire that were beginning to seep back to the home country.

And all anyone wants to talk about is the damned snake. Sigh.

Don't get me wrong--the snake is cool and all--but come on, people, there's much, much more to this story than "the twist."


**Doctor Grimesby Roylott of Stoke Moran is a tremendously wonderful name for a villain, isn't it? And it's not just the name--Doyle gives him a creepy physical presence:
So tall was he that his hat actually brushed the cross bar of the doorway, and his breadth seemed to span it across from side to side. A large face, seared with a thousand wrinkles, burned yellow with the sun, and marked with every evil passion, was turned from one to the other of us, while his deep-set, bile-shot eyes, and his high, thin, fleshless nose, gave him somewhat the resemblance to a fierce old bird of prey.
He also dresses distinctively: "His costume was a peculiar mixture of the professional and of the agricultural, having a black top-hat, a long frock-coat, and a pair of high gaiters, with a hunting-crop swinging in his hand." He has immense physical strength, and a violent temper. Yet he is also cunning and devious. Throw in a menagerie of exotic creatures--a cheetah! A baboon! Poisonous snakes!!--and Grimesby Roylott is only one symbolic physical infirmity or affected foreign accent from being a James Bond villain!

Yet, for all his fiendish cleverness, his murder plan is a little much, isn't it? For it to work, he has to bolt Julia's bed to the floor, install a fake bell-pull rope in her room, and install an unnecessary ventilator between his room and hers--all very soon prior to the murder! And don't forget the long weeks (months?) it would have taken to train the snake. That's an investment of time a Columbo villain might hesitate to make. That's an awful lot of work, and it still requires us to believe that the local coroner was not particularly curious about odd coincidences.

And then he contrives to move Helen into Julia's old room, and have her die in exactly the same way? How can he expect to get away with that? Even the most Barney Fifish of local constabulary would have to declare that to be too much coincidence, and lead to a much more intense investigation. This indicates, to me, that cunning has slid into madness (if he wasn't already there, having beaten a "native butler" to death in a fit of rage).

And given that local doctors couldn't identify the poison, or even find the fang marks on Julia's body, I'm not sure he needed to go too all that trouble. Just milk some poison from the adder, and surreptitiously jab her with a hypodermic (he was a doctor, after all). Or hell, just let the snake bite her right out in the open; if the "slow process of official inquiry came to the conclusion that the doctor met his fate while indiscreetly playing with a dangerous pet" for Roylett's death, it's unlikely they would call a similar accident murder if it happened to Helen instead.

**Holmes opines. "When a doctor does go wrong he is the first of criminals. He has nerve and he has knowledge." Hence, Doctor Doom, Dr. Phibes, Doctor Polaris, Doctor Demonicus, Dr. Shrinker, Dr. Evil, etc.

**Roylott and Holmes have one of the most glorious exchanges, all in favor of Holmes, as the detective is able to goad the evil doctor by smiling and ignmoring him.
My stepdaughter has been here. I have traced her. What has she been saying to you?"
"It is a little cold for the time of the year," said Holmes.
"What has she been saying to you?" screamed the old man furiously.
"But I have heard that the crocuses promise well," continued my companion imperturbably.
"Ha! You put me off, do you?" said our new visitor, taking a step forward and shaking his hunting-crop. "I know you, you scoundrel! I have heard of you before. You are Holmes, the meddler."
My friend smiled.
"Holmes, the busybody!"
His smile broadened. "Holmes, the Scotland Yard Jack-in-office!"
Holmes chuckled heartily. "Your conversation is most entertaining," said he. "When you go out close the door, for there is a decided draught."

**This is the second Holmes story in which a young woman's evil step-father is willing to go to extreme lengths to keep her from marrying, so he may maintain control of her money. And unlike A Case Of Identity, this time it's murder, not just pretend-incest.

I'm no economic/sociology scholar, but surely Doyle intended this as something of a statement about the plight of single women in Victorian times. He was famously anti-women's suffrage, but we shouldn't allow that one political stand to paint him as totally misogynist; he also campaigned hard for reform of England's draconian divorce laws, which was viewed as being pro-women's rights, and for other social reforms supported by feminists of the era.

Certainly the recurrence of this story in his work--the young woman forced to choose between living at home and effectively surrendering her inheritance to uncaring "family," with the only exit a marriage that would be challenged by humiliation of death--shows he had some awareness and concern over the difficulties faced by single women in society, their access to family money and their ability to support themselves.

Perhaps the best lesson we can draw is, if you're leaving a young female relative a sizable bequest, don't attach conditions about marriage or the such on it. Just give her the damn money.

The other lesson: Step-fathers are evil bastards...

**When Helen Stoner describes the history and slow decline of the Roylott clan, I'm sure many a reader gave an unsympathetic chuckle at "[t]he last squire dragged out his existence there, living the horrible life of an aristocratic pauper." Aww, poor rich people!

But of course, England was undergoing massive economic and social changes, and the decline of the landed gentry was a serious issue--perhaps not because they would turn to murder, as this story suggests, but because the economic support systems of whole regions was vanishing, without anything to replace them. Yeah, the Roylott's problems might not induce a tear, but the many servants and tradesmen and shopkeepers who depended on their money were no out of luck, too. Take Watson's description of the manor, "In one of these wings the windows were broken and blocked with wooden boards, while the roof was partly caved in, a picture of ruin." No one benefited from something like that, and the collapse of the Roylott's doubtless meant a lot of other people had to leave for the not-really-great conditions in the cities or mine to earn a living.

At least give Grimesby Roylott credit, for he tried to break out of the cycle. He took a loan from a relative, got an education, and took up an important (and lucrative) trade. Unfortunately, his (hereditary, perhaps, reading his family history) madness caught up with him. But at in the beginning, he tried to save his family.

**A cheetah and a baboon? Oh, you eccentric Britishers and your wacky pets.

Surprisingly enough, the 1964 BBC version actually had a real cheetah and baboon, proving that not every show of the era suffered from Doctor Who-like production budgets.

The Grenada adaptation apparently couldn't get their hands on a cheetah, so they changed it to a leopard. Growwllll!

If you're of a particularly literary bent, you might interpret these exotic, foreign animals and the fear they cause as symbolic for the unease caused by the growing cultural influence of Britain's holdings on the homelands. And the fact that they weren't truly the evil at work here a symbolic rejection of those fears.

Or perhaps, sometime a cheetah (or leopard) and a baboon are just a cheetah (or leopard) and a baboon...

**In the BBC '64 version, there is definitely some attraction/flirtation going on between Watson and Helen Stoner. No problem there on Watson's part; in the original writings, this takes place while he's still a bachelor, and in the TV series he was never married. But Miss Stoner is engaged at this point!!

Yet she is not too enchanted with her fiancee, Percy Armitage. She complains that he's not too supportive of her worries: "even he to whom of all others I have a right to look for help and advice looks upon all that I tell him about it as the fancies of a nervous woman. He does not say so, but I can read it from his soothing answers and averted eyes."

We have to wonder if, now that she no longer had to marry to get away from Roylott, she followed through on marrying Mr. "You're Just A Scared Female."

**Given Roylott's violence and cunning, many commentators have been suspicious of the death of the Stoners' mother: "Shortly after our return to England my mother died--she was killed eight years ago in a railway accident near Crewe." Could her death have been staged, as well? Could she have been murdered by Grimesby, so he could access her money?

There's no real evidence either way. But perhaps the greater question is why people aren't more suspicious about the untimely death of Helen Stoner. At the beginning of the tale, Watson tells us that he is released from his pledge not to tell the story because of  "the untimely death of the lady to whom the pledge was given." Given the troubling family history here, perhaps we should be questioning the surprising death of the sole survivor a mere nine years after the events of Speckled Band. I can't help but suspect foul play might be involved...

**Watson also says the he has decided to tell the tale because "there are widespread rumours as to the death of Dr. Grimesby Roylott which tend to make the matter even more terrible than the truth." Really, Doctor? Rumours that are worse than "Roylott murdered one step-daughter with a snake and tried to kill the other one the same way"? Unless the locals are starting rumours about Satanic ceremonies and unholy relations between Roylott and the baboon, I have trouble conceiving of rumours which could more terrible than the truth.

**Doyle once again skimps a bit at the ending, depriving us a bit of the closure we desire:
It is not necessary that I should prolong a narrative which has already run to too great a length by telling how we broke the sad news to the terrified girl, how we conveyed her by the morning train to the care of her good aunt at Harrow, of how the slow process of official inquiry came to the conclusion that the doctor met his fate while indiscreetly playing with a dangerous pet.
No, Sir Arthur, that is exactly the kind of thing we do want to hear.

**If I were in a particularly conspiratorial state of mind, I would note that with Julia dying unmarried, and Grimesby declared dead 'by accident," Helen now controls the entire £750 annual income. Perhaps a reread looking at the story from this angle might reveal that Holmes and Watson were duped by a clever and cunning murderess...?


**Watson writes that Holmes "work[ed] as he did rather for the love of his art than for the acquirement of wealth..." Holmes himself tells Miss Stoner that, "As to reward, my profession is its own reward; but you are at liberty to defray whatever expenses I may be put to, at the time which suits you best." This seems to once again belie the notion of Holmes being greedy. It certainly makes Granada's conceit that Holmes kept the Blue Carbuncle seem baseless.

**The Granada version decided for some reason that the Stoners were not twins--Julia was 5 years older than Helen. Go figure...?

**Only 1 prior case specifically mentioned this time, and it comes from Miss Stoner and Holmes, not Watson--the case of Mrs. Farintosh, which "concerned an opal tiara. I think it was before your time, Watson."

**The "gipsies" were a pretty effective red herring, and Doyle went so far as to have Holmes latch onto them as suspects at the outset. Given Doyle's prior proclivities for making foreign groups and outsiders responsible for many crimes, the reader begins to make that leap as well. Well played, Sir.

**Maybe it's just me, but could anyone possibly go 2 plus without realizing the bell-pull was a dummy? Even if you "never" used it,wouldn't you at some point test it, just to see if it worked? Just because it was there? How could you resist? I know I couldn't. Is it a guy thing? Or just a me thing?

**There have probably been more pages written debating what kind of snake appears in this story then there have been debating the Kennedy assassination.

A slight exaggeration, but only slight. The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes has a 3-page chart examining all the snake species that have been suggested as possibilities, explaining how they fit Watson's description and how they don't, with references to no fewer than 12 articles by Holmesian scholars on the subject. One gentleman goes so far as to suggest a hybrid between a Mexican Gila monster and an Indian cobra as the likely culprit.

Just stop. It's a piece of fiction. It's a snake. Suspend disbelief, move on, and enjoy the story, please.

**Final lesson: If you have time for dying words, please avoid fancy metaphors. "Oh, my God! Helen! It was the band! The speckled band!" is nice and all, but in that same amount of time you could have said, "I was bitten by a damn snake! Here's the wound!" And Roylott would have been in jail long ago.

 So don't get cute with your dying words, is what I'm saying.


Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Adventure Of The Blue Carbuncle--The Quality Of Mercy?

The Adventure Of The Blue Carbuncle (the first of many, many stories to be titled "The Adventure Of...") is a delightful little story, a holiday season hunt along an unlikely chain from a homely goose to a stolen gem. Holmes is in fine form, witty and clever, and yet an avenging angel dispensing appropriate justice.

Or is it appropriate justice? This isn't the first time that Sherlock has taken upon himself to let a villain go unpunished, or at least unrevealed. The question we must face is this: was Holmes' allowing Ryder to flee true justice? For everyone involved?

It turns out that this story, and two television adaptations (BBC 1968, and Granada) all take subtly different approaches to this story, and those differences can make some large variances in how just we think the resolution is.

Let's look at four questions: A) Who ends up with the jewel? B) What about the unfairly accused John Horner? C) Who gets the reward? D) What about Catherine Cusack, the maid?

A) Who ends up with the jewel?

You'd think was a no-brainer, but Arthur Conan Doyle's impatience and Granada's nuttiness introduce all sorts of questions.

In the original story, Holmes keeps the stone while they continue the investigation, but he "lock[s] it up in [his] strong box now and drop[s] a line to the Countess to say that we have it." Like many of the Holmes stories, though, Doyle has no patience to give us a true dénouement--he ends the story abruptly after the climax, leaving the final details of the plot's true resolution to our imaginations (See, for example, The Man With The Twisted Lip). So we never actually see Holmes return the stone to the Countess of Morcar, even though we know he does.

In the BBC 1968 version, though, we actually witness Holmes return it to the Countess personally. It is a fun scene, and Peter Cushing has great fun annoying the Countess, who is portrayed her as a fairly mean and cruel person.

By the Granada version? Well, here's where things get odd. Holmes does not send a note to the Countess explaining that he has recovered the gem. He tells Watson that he shall keep the jewel "in his museum." At the end, he locks the carbuncle in a drawer, along with his picture of Irene Adler and his cocaine needle. The clear implication is that he keeps the gem for himself!!

What the hell? Aside from the fact that Holmes has never been portrayed as greedy before, keeping the jewel threatens to keep commissionaire Peterson from collecting his reward, and could jeopardize the freedom of the falsely accused John Horner. We will discuss these problems below...

The Granada version does start with a dumb show illustrating the history of the carbuncle and the killings committed to possess it. (Interestingly, while Holmes says there have been two murders in the gem's brief life, we're shown three). Perhaps the production wished to emphasize the corrupting influence of the jewel, and then imply that Holmes himself was corrupted by it. Still, it is hardly an ennobling view of our hero, as he goes directly from an act of mercy to one of avarice.

Holmes also mentions in the original story that he has "reason to know that there are sentimental considerations in the background which would induce the Countess to part with half her fortune if she could but recover the gem." Perhaps Granada has taken this to imply that Holmes is merely keeping the carbuncle to leverage a greater reward from the Countess (The "reason to know" also suggests that Sherlock has had previous dealing with the Countess, so perhaps there is some measure of repayment for past wrongs?) Again, such extortion is hardly ennobling.

And even if you wish to make a point that the Countess didn't deserve to have the gem, the production itself does nothing to illustrate this point; and Holmes himself certainly has no greater claim to it. It's not as if he's putting it in an actual museum, or returning it to some prior and theoretically more-legitimate owner.

No, Granada (and screenwriter Paul Finney) just went way off the reservation on this point, and for the life of me I can't figure out what they were thinking.

B) What about the unfairly accused John Horner?

The original story has the thieves do a fairly good job of framing Horner, ransacking the bureau and the leaving the jewel box open and empty, ensuring prompt discovery. (Neither TV adaptation has such an obvious burglary awaiting the Countess--she just opens her jewel box to find it empty ) Multiple witnesses placed Horner there around the time of the theft, and he had had a prior conviction for robbery. A pretty solid circumstantial case.

The Doyle story's resolution is therefore somewhat unconvincing. Both Ryder and Holmes assert that when Ryder vanishes, the case against Horner will "collapse," and he will be freed.

Perhaps. But there was another witness (the maid--does she flee, too? See below.), and the rest of the circumstantial case stands--Horner was in the suite, he did have a record of robbery. There are any number of reasons why Ryder might have left London, so it's hardly conclusive that this proves he was lying about Horner. The jewel is recovered and returned, but essentially there is only the word of Sherlock Holmes (and Watson, of course) that Horner is innocent. Perhaps that would be enough...if only Doyle would give us one or two more paragraphs at the end of the story!!

The BBC '68 version deals with it the best--Holmes makes Ryder sign a confession before he's allowed to flee! Granted. this makes for a slightly less dramatic moment when Holmes declares "Get out!" But along with the returned jewel, it certainly means the police have more than sufficient evidence to free Horner.

Granada is again more troublesome. To their credit, Watson refuses to just wait and let the case fall apart. He insists that they cannot in good conscience let an innocent man spend another moment in jail. So he and Holmes head off--after midnight--to demand Bradstreet release Horner. And he does, as we see his reunion with his family on Christmas morning!!

But remember--in this version, Holmes has not returned the carbuncle!! And this version does not have Ryder leave a confession. So Inspector Bradstreet apparently releases Horner just because Holmes says so. And since the production had earlier made clear that Bradstreet was under heavy pressure from the Countess to secure the gem and get a conviction, it is questionable whether he would just capitulate to Holmes under these circumstances.

C) Who gets the reward?

Obviously there are a number of ways to look at this. The "very honest" commissionaire Peterson found the goose, and his wife found the jewel in the goose's crop. He brought the problem to Holmes' initially, and immediately brought the lovely gem to him, as well. So he seems to have the best claim, and is probably the most deserving.

Of course, it was Henry Baker's goose to begin with, so he might lodge a protest, even though Holmes left him in the dark about what was actually contained in the fowl's disjecta membra. Still, he did leave the goose, so finders' keepers, I suppose. Yet, much is made of the hard financial times he's experiencing...

And Holmes himself spent no little time and money on tracking down the true thief--he has to place ads in all the papers (something Baker was too poor to do), buy a replacement goose, buy a round of drinks at the Alpha House, lose a sovereign in a "wager" with Breckenridge, etc.

The Doyle story, in its haste to conclude, leaves us unclear who gets the reward, or what any division might be.

BBC '68 shows the detective bringing Peterson the the Countess' suite, to ensure that he gets the reward.

In the Granada edition, both Holmes and Watson promise Peterson that he will get the reward. But they never show that actually happening; and if Holmes keeps the carbuncle in his "museum," there is no reason for the Countess to ever pay up!! So Holmes has robbed Peterson of £1,000! Of course, if we believe that Holmes is keeping the gem only to squeeze more money from the Countess, perhaps ultimately everyone got paid. But that requires us to assume an awful lot...

D) What about Catherine Cusack, the maid?

If Ryder's confession is to be believed. Cusack was in on the theft from the beginning. She told Ryder of the carbuncle's existence, and she backed up his account of finding the room burgled after Horner left. So there should be some measure of justice (or mercy) awaiting her, as well.

But not in Doyle's story. She's not mentioned again. So we have no idea whether she flees, or is arrested, or never has her part in this revealed and remains in the Countess' employ. We simply haven't a clue from the text.

BBC '68 makes it clear that Cusack and Ryder are lovers. During his confession, he mentions leaving the country with her. And at the end, we find that she did indeed flee with Ryder--the Countess tries to hire Holmes to find her!

Granada also indicates that they are lovers, and in his confession, Ryder says "She put me up to it!" But, as with the Doyle story, there is absolutely no indication of what Cusack's fate is.

All 3 versions, of course, have Holmes allow Ryder to flee. You can debate whether sending such a pathetic wretch to live abroad, with no means of support, will actually "save his soul," or make him more likely to return to a life of crime. But it was the season of forgiveness, and it's not as if Ryder was a murderer (ahem, Boscombe Valley Mystery...). Debate amongst yourselves whether this is justice.

Taken as a whole, though, it's the BBC '68 version that best completes the story and gives the audience proper assurances that justice was done. We see the jewel returned, and the proper person rewarded. We see strong enough evidence left to assure that Horner will be freed, not just a haphazard "oh, it will all work out." And we find out the maid's fate, instead of just forgetting all about her.

And of course, in the BBC '68 version, Holmes isn't a thief . So there's that. Seriously, Granada, what were you on that week?


**Both TV versions change the time from two days after Christmas to Christmas Eve. All the better for a tale of mercy, I suppose. But would pubs and goose-sellers be open so late that night?

**As I mentioned, Holmes is at his poetic and puckish best in this tale, particularly when it comes to the carbuncle: "Of course it is a nucleus and focus of crime. Every good stone is. They are the devil's pet baits. In the larger and older jewels every facet may stand for a bloody deed." and "this forty-grain weight of crystallised charcoal. Who would think that so pretty a toy would be a purveyor to the gallows and the prison?" Wonderful stuff.

Sherlock also makes me laugh several times during the story, particularly when Peterson comes in yelling about the goose: "Eh? What of it, then? Has it returned to life and flapped off through the kitchen window?" And his "It is always awkward doing business with an alias" tickled my funny bone, too. "Battered billycock?" "Some small jollification"? "The ultimate destiny of a goose"? This story gives us Holmes at his most playful.

But it's not just his rhetoric that's at the top of his game--Holmes' various (successful) tactics to wheedle information without giving away the goal of his search to Baker, to the landlord of the Alpha, and especially the hostile Breckenridge the goose seller are top-notch. This story is Holmes at his best.

**This story featured some of Sidney Paget's best illustrations. He and Doyle were very much in sync here:

**Much can be made over Holmes' deductions regarding the owner of the hat, and many commentators have raised objections to their accuracy, especially when other interpretations might be available.

BBC '68 manages to defuse that a bit, by having Watson raise those objections as his own during Holmes' lecture, and having Holmes answer them. Best of all, Watson derives much amusement when it turns out the goose was not for Henry Baker's wife, but sister-in-law. Nigel Stock's finest moment.

**Both TV adaptations raise the stakes in making us care about Horner in more than an abstract way. Doyle doesn't give us much beside his fainting at his arraignment.

BBC '68 has his fiancee leave him as a result, and he tries to hang himself in his cell. Dr. Watson is summoned to see to him (is he always on call for the police?), and become convinced of his innocence. As a result, Watson keeps prodding Holmes at slow points in the investigation.

Granada has Horner married. He and his wife are buying Christmas gifts for their children when he is arrested. He vowed to give up crime when he wed, and now his wife doubts him, and is prepared to leave. But we get a tearful Christmas morning family reunion at the end.

**Holmes is not at his best when you wake him up early:

**I must confess, as a youth I always confused the word "carbuncle" for "barnacle." I could never figure out why the story wasn't about a boat...

**No allusions to untold cases this time out.

**Ah, the glory days of newspapers. According to the ads Holmes wants placed, London had (at least) the following evening papers: Globe, Star, Pall Mall, St. James's, Evening News, Standard, Echo. Yes, London was a major metropolis, but to support 7 (or more) evening papers?

It seems foreign to us, in the age of "dying" physical newspapers. But pre-Craig's List, pre-widespread telephone, this is how you communicated with a lot of people at once. We've seen in several stories that it is assumed that people watch the papers for ads of interest to them--there's no "But what if he doesn't read the papers, Holmes?" There was no other means of mass communication, and given the era of (generally) mass literacy and (relatively) inexpensive papers, the press thrived. I'd imagine that the sheer number of ads that Holmes alone took out kept several publications in the black...

**The full list of crimes the carbuncle has caused? "Two murders, a vitriol-throwing, a suicide, and several robberies." Which is why I shy away from the bling, thank you.

**A fairly good mission statement: "My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other people don't know."