Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Adventure Of The Red Circle--In Which I Am Hoist On My Own Petard!

I guess this is my own fault.

After all, I wrote at great length in my pieces on A Study In Scarlet and The Valley Of Fear of my disdain for the novella-length digressions in the stories. Did we really need 6 or 7 chapters of background to truly understand the background and motives of our killer and/or victims?

Which brings us to The Adventure Of The Red Circle.

Now here is a story which could have used a few more lines explaining exactly what was going on.

Don't get me wrong--Red Circle is a fine story, a good Holmes mystery. It is a story, however, where some of the answers seem to come a bit too easily, and without proper explanation.

Now, part of this is because of the story's structure. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has Holmes drawn into the mystery because of a landlady who is creeped out by an unusual border, which leads to the much more serious case.

It's a clever conceit. But the problem is, as a result, we never meet Gennaro Lucca, and we never meet Guiseppe Gorgiano. The killer and the victim are known to Holmes and Watson only third-hand (and therefore to the reader only fourth-hand!), the story told by in patches by people who only know parts of the story. And considering that the largest parcel of background comes from Emilia, who is hardly unbiased, we get a very haphazard and distorted look at the entire story.

As a result, we're left with definite gaps in the story. The reader is left with no idea what actually happened at keys points in the tale, of how certain characters got from point A to point B.

Now, these are not "plot holes" in the sense that "Hey, this thing couldn't have happened!" Most of the questions Red Circle leaves us with can be fairly easily answered, at least potentially so, with a teeny bit of imaginative elbow-grease. But should the reader have to do so much of the heavy lifting for themselves? Especially when a couple of sentences or paragraphs, or even the use of Gennaro himself in the story, could have cleared so much up?

Amongst the more fundamental questions he have:

A) What, exactly, was Gennaro doing in London for 10 days?

Mrs. Warren states that her mysterious lodger had been there for 10 days when the story begins, and it continues the next day. That's 11 days, and we know that for ten of those, it was really Emilia in the room.

So what, exactly, was occupying Gennaro all that time?

Emilia tells us that "he wished to be free that he might communicate both with the American and with the Italian police." But we're never given an explanation of why he's communicating with them, especially the Italians.

Communicating with American police may make sense...he left them evidence against Gorgiano before he fled. He could be giving them more information. Or he could be following up on the status of their hunt for Gorgiano. He might even be working on some kind of immunity deal in exchange for testifying against the other members of the Red Circle.

But why communicate with the Italian police? Well, Gennaro was a "sworn" member of the Red Circle in Italy before he left for the United States. Perhaps he was trying to ascertain his legal status, to see if he and his wife could return. Perhaps he was also trying for immunity in exchange for evidence in his homeland.

Still, even in the pre-international telephone era, why was this taking 11 days?!? What else was he doing with his time? And why, if he was so certain the red Circle would be pursuing him, didn't he contact the British police?!?

B) How innocent was Gennaro?

When he met Emilia, she believed that he "had neither money nor position." But we know from his later confession to her that he even then a member of the Red Circle, and the "secrets of this brotherhood were frightful." Who knows what crimes Gennaro had already committed by the time he and Emilia had fled to America?

Gennaro was drawn--forced?--back into the Red Circle in America. Emilia's tale is vague, and we can't really tell how long Gennaro was a participant--days? Weeks? Months? During that time, how many "rich Italians" had fallen prey to the Circle's extortion and violence? It wasn't until Gorgiano assaulted his wife and threatened his benefactor that Gennaro decided to inform the police and flee. How many other crimes did he carry at least partial responsibility for?

And did his benefactor even survive? Emilia tells us that Gennaro "had given our benefactor full warning of this danger, and had also left such information for the police as would safeguard his life for the future."

The clear implication of this is that Castalotte survived. Yet this is only the version of events told to Emilia, by her possibly guilty husband. The Granada adaptation comes right out and says that Castalotte and his invalid partner were murdered by Gorgiano! So Gennaro's warning to the police and Castalotte failed--if it was even given.

Again, this is all very difficult to evaluate, as Sir Arthur doesn't make Gennaro present in the story for even one moment. We have nothing to judge him by except the testimony off his terrified wife--and much of that information is merely tales that she wasn't even a witness to herself!

Was Gennaro involved in the Red Circle to a much greater degree than he let his wife know? Is that the reason for the two weeks of negotiations with American and Italian police? And could it be that his killing of Gorgiano is not the self-defense Emilia would have us believe? We can never truly know...

C) Who exactly was Leverton of the Pinkerton Agency working for?

The Pinkertons, although a private detective agency, did do work for the government. Indeed, until 1893, the U.S. Department Of Justice essentially outsourced "the detection and prosecution of those guilty of violating federal law" to the Pinkertons. So, depending on when you date this story, the Pinkertons could be working for the federal government in tracking down Gennaro. And even after that date, they still could have been employed by state or local governments who lacked the resources to pursue felons fleeing to Europe.

Yet, if Leverton was fulfilling a government mission, why did he have absolutely no idea about Gennaro and his wife? Lucca (supposedly) informed the authorities of Gorgiano's operations, and currently was in contact with the American police. Why, then, did Leverton know nothing of him? For someone who "KNOWS" of fifty murders that Gorgiano is responsible for, he seems oddly uninformed about the (attempted?) murder that led the ruffian to run to England.

Of course, the Pinkertons also did lots of private work, often for large businesses. Did some of the businesses victimized by the Red Circle's protection racket hire the Pinkertons to do what the police could not--find Gorgiano and put a stop to him? Castalotte, even, if he survived?

Or perhaps Leverton was just working on his own, seeking the reward for himself...

D) How in the hell did Gorgiano find Mrs. Warren's boarding house?

Let's review our timeline. On Day 1, Gennaro and Emilia arrive in England, with a "few clear days which our start had given us" ahead of Black Gorgiano. In the evening, they make their switch--Emilia goes into the boarding house, and Gennaro never returns there.

That's how security conscious they were--Gennaro didn't even trust letters being delivered there. Emilia never left the room. They communicated through ads in the "agony" column--but there was never anything there to indicate where Emilia was.

So how did Gorgiano find her dwelling?

We can guess easily enough how they found Gennaro. Maybe some Mafia thugs just spotted him tooling around London. [PRO-TIP: when the first thing anyone describes about you is your thick black beard, you might want to shave that off if you want to be incognito.] Gennaro was also in touch with police in New York and Italy, and as this is the Mafia we're dealing with, it's certainly possible that some bent coppers passed information to Gorgiano, such as the time his cables were sent, etc.

But that doesn't explain why two Italian gentleman turned up watching the boarding house, as Gennaro wasn't there, and there was nothing to indicate that he was. He hadn't been there in days, long before Gorgiano arrived! (Or had he? Certainly he wanted to keep tabs on Emilia, so perhaps he had the bad habit of hanging around, On The Street Where You Live style, and was spotted? That would prove Gennaro considerably dimmer than Holmes supposed, as "The man cannot come near the woman, or he will guide their enemies to her.")

And if they did think that he was staying there, why did the goons wait eleven days--11!!--to try to snatch him?!? Surely, this wasn't the first time Mr. Warren left the house, was it? Why wait so long?

And then, somehow, at the end, the Red Circle figured that Gennaro was in his hidey hole in the house on Howe Street. How? Surely, even if they recognized his messages in the personal ads, they couldn't narrow down his location from "High red house with stone facings."Again, did they find him by chance and follow him? Why was all of their attention focused on this block to begin with?

In the Granada version, it was an Italian immigrant who took a special interest in helping his countrymen who sent Gennaro to that boarding boarding house. Gorgiano went to him, and tortured the information out of him. Certainly something of the kind could have happened here: they torture the man, he gives them the location, they kidnap the wrong fellow, but figure that Gennaro must be close by, and spot him going into the signal house. But Doyle gives us absolutely no indication that this is what occurred...

E) Where the hell did Gennaro go?

He warns Emilia by signal of grave danger. he is attacked by Black Gorgiano, whom he kills in self-defense. And then...he vanishes!!

You would think that his first instinct would be to head for the boarding house, to make sure that Emilia was safe. Or when he saw her in Scotland Yard custody, he would rush in, declaring her innocence, taking all the heat himself, etc.

Yet there's not a trace of him. Was he wounded in the fight, perhaps even dying somewhere hidden? Gorgiano had at least two confederates--what happened to them? Did Gennaro fall prey to them? Did he know that his killing of Gorgiano wasn't really self-defense, so he fled?

Of course, Holmes could have suggested putting ads in the Daily Gazette's agony column, or perhaps sending candle singles in cipher from Emilia's windows. But he was too eager to go to the opera.

As I said, all of these questions are fairly easily answerable. It's just that Sir Arthur didn't seem all that interested in providing us these answers. Despite Holmes' paeans to "education" and "seeking knowledge," he doesn't seem particularly interested in seeking that knowledge here. Despite saying, "and yet one would wish to tidy it up," he does absolutely no tidying. Nor does Watson seem concerned. Is Gennaro ever found? How does the trial come out? What happens to the couple? What happens to the Red Circle members still at large? The mystery may be over, but the story isn't, and the audience is frustrated by the lack of closure.

So, unlike my criticism of a couple of the Holmes novels, this is a case where I wish Sir Arthur had given us just a little bit more information to work with. Not chapters' worth--but an additional paragraph here or there could have easily addressed the concerns.

So, my bad. Sorry. I shouldn't have said that Sir Arthur needed to wrap up this type of story more quickly. Mea culpa.


**Once again Holmes claims to be too busy to deal with a new client. This time, however, it really is very insulting:
"...nor do I understand why I, whose time is of some value, should interfere in the matter. I really have other things to engage me." So spoke Sherlock Holmes and turned back to the great scrapbook in which he was arranging and indexing some of his recent material.
Sorry, ma'am, your troubles aren't as important as my scrapbooking. Sheesh.

**Apocryphal case alert:  "You arranged an affair for a lodger of mine last year," she said--"Mr. Fairdale Hobbs." "Ah, yes--a simple matter."

**Mrs. Warren seems a bit high-strung to be a landlady, no?

Granted, her mysterious tenant's behavior is a bit unusual. But "I can't sleep for fright"? Really? "To hear his quick step moving here and moving there from early morning to late at night, and yet never to catch so much as a glimpse of him--it's more than I can stand"? "It's more than my nerves can stand"? "This is out of all reason"?

Yes, it did turn out to be a fairly serious matter. But at this point, it's nothing more than eccentricity, and the landlady acts as if Freddy Krueger is staying in her house!! On can only imagine how upset she would be if she had a boarder who was actually troublesome...

**You could rent a room without giving your name, or references? Those were the days, I guess. He did pay cash in advance. But just try to get a room somewhere today without a credit check and ID, and see how far you get...

**Gennaro, on the £10 he handed the landlady: "You can have the same every fortnight for a long time to come if you keep the terms."

"For a long time to come? How long, exactly, was Lucca planning on having his wife holed up there? Or was he lying, and just using the prospect of a long-term payday to entice Mrs. Warren to agree to his terms?

**Give credit to Mrs. Warren: bringing the notes, matches and cigarette stubs along with her was good thinking, and showed she had a healthy understanding of Sherlock's capabilities.

**Holmes on the doctor's facial hair: "Why, Watson, even your modest moustache would have been singed."

So Watson has a "modest" soup-strainer? Of course, a "modest" moustache by Victorian standards was likely pretty large by our standards...

**Holmes to Mrs. Warren, outlining his view on privacy:
After all, you have nothing to complain of. You have received your rent, and he is not a troublesome lodger, though he is certainly an unusual one. He pays you well, and if he chooses to lie concealed it is no direct business of yours. We have no excuse for an intrusion upon his privacy until we have some reason to think that there is a guilty reason for it.
So this is the limit to Holmes' desire to snoop: if you're not hurting anyone and not breaking a law, you can do as you will...that sounds like a lesson certain lawmakers and busybodies need to learn.

**Holmes on newspaper "agony columns":
"Dear me!" said he, turning over the pages, "what a chorus of groans, cries, and bleatings! What a rag-bag of singular happenings! But surely the most valuable hunting-ground that ever was given to a student of the unusual!...Bleat, Watson-- unmitigated bleat!
Of course, if this story took place today, there would be no shortage of ways for Gennaro to contact Emilia privately (not to mention the "lady with a black boa at Prince's Skating Club," "Jimmy," or "the lady who fainted on the Brixton bus.") Twitter, Facebook, email, Skype...not to mention just having cell phones!

But as we've discussed, "back in the day" newspaper personal columns were probably the only way to reach a mass audience cheaply and relatively clandestinely. You could try telegrams, but no doubt Gorgiano's men were watching such places.

Then again, if they found Gennaro's messages--perhaps a bit of a leap, as they would have to figure out which newspaper, and then which messages were from him--they might have posted someone to watch the newspaper offices...could that be how they found Gennaro, when he went to place his personal ads?

**Publishing the key to your cipher in the personal ad was pretty stupid. Seriously.

"The path is clearing. If I find chance signal message remember code agreed--One A, two B, and so on. You will hear soon. G."

Are we to believe that Emilia could not remember this simple children's cipher without having to tell it to the entire world? And why risk your enemies finding it?!?

**Deductive reasoning from amateurs:"
"And you connect this attack with your lodger?" 
"Well, we've lived there fifteen years and no such happenings ever came before."
Oh, Mrs. Warren, correlation does not equal causation...Still, she was right. Perhaps she would have made a fine detective, if her nerves were better...

**Much has been made of the cipher used, because the Italian alphabet, according to many, has no J and no K (not to mention no W, X or Y):

Now, Holmes did not know initially that the coded message was in Italian; he didn't figure that out after the first word was repeated three times. Therefore, the argument goes, his translation of every letter after I should have been off by two letters! T wouldn't be the twentieth letter! ATTENTA, should have been read by Holmes as AVVEPVA!

But perhaps it's not as clear cut as that. Italian, like most other languages, absorbs foreign words, and sometimes that requires adopting other letters, as well. Note this chart:
The J, K, etc, are presented as additional letters, adjuncts to the "regular" alphabet!! How else can you talk about koalas wearing jeans whilst using walkie-talkies on their yachts?

Some charts even work those letters into the Italian alphabet in our familiar English order:

I'm certainly not enough of a historical linguist to know if these letters were known, let alone accepted and integrated, to the Italian alphabet in the 1890s. But this is not as cut-and-dried example of a Doyle error as many portray it...

**Meanwhile, if Emilia's English was good enough to understand English-language personal ads, why not use English for your cipher messages conducted via candle flash? Indeed, since you're being tracked by Italians, it seems more reasonable to give your warnings in English.

**Holmes:"Ah, yes, Watson--severely practical, as usual!"

Hmm, usually Holmes chides Watson as being unpractical, and fanciful, and sentimental. One suspects that his "severely practical" here might be slightly sarcastic!!

**When Holmes has the solved the outlines of the mystery, Watson wants to know why he continues with the case:
"Why should you go further in it? What have you to gain from it?"
"What, indeed? It is art for art's sake, Watson. I suppose when you doctored you found yourself studying cases without thought of a fee?"
"For my education, Holmes."
"Education never ends, Watson. It is a series of lessons with the greatest for the last. This is an instructive case. There is neither money nor credit in it, and yet one would wish to tidy it up.
That's a nice thought, from a man who initially rejected the case because he would rather cut and paste newspaper articles!

**Gregson!!  "Journeys end with lovers' meetings." Sadly, this will be our last case with the Inspector.

**Wait, a Scotland Yard inspector AND a top Pinkerton agent are staking out the house--but they never noticed the signals? And heard no sounds from what must have been a death struggle from a room facing the street? Certainly, this was not Gregson's finest hour.

**Holmes praises Leverton as "the hero of The Long Island cave mystery."

Some have cited this as an error, as there are apparently no caves in Long Island.

This is perhaps technically true, but modern news stories tell us that "at least a half-dozen large caves within a day's drive of Long Island are open to the public." It wouldn't surprising that some caves near Long Island earned the mystery its title.

Also, there are plenty of Long Islands around besides the most famous one in New York. That include Long Island in the Bahamas, which apparently has an extensive system of caves. It's not hard to image Leverton chasing down some miscreant there.

And of course, it could just be an ironically named mystery:
Holmes: He's the hero of the Long Island Cave Mystery!
Watson: But there are no caves in Long Island!!
Holmes: Precisely! That is the mystery!!
**Gregson, it turns out, would have made a fine rule-breaking American detective:
Leverton:"What do you suggest, Mr. Holmes?"
Holmes: "That we go up at once and see for ourselves."
Leverton: "But we have no warrant for his arrest."
Gregson: "He is in unoccupied premises under suspicious circumstances," said Gregson. "That is good enough for the moment. When we have him by the heels we can see if New York can't help us to keep him. I'll take the responsibility of arresting him now."
Ah, the equivalent of pulling over someone suspicious looking for a broken tail light!

Gregson would fit right in on an episode of (American) Law & Order!

**Watson, on the virtues of the English police:
Our official detectives may blunder in the matter of intelligence, but never in that of courage. Gregson climbed the stair to arrest this desperate murderer with the same absolutely quiet and businesslike bearing with which he would have ascended the official staircase of Scotland Yard. The Pinkerton man had tried to push past him, but Gregson had firmly elbowed him back. London dangers were the privilege of the London force.
Scotland Yard: dumb but brave!! Sheesh, no matter so many felt ill at ease working with Sherlock--Watson did a great job by himself of publicly disparaging them!

**Emilia, upon seeing Gorgiano's bloody body:
Then I heard a sudden sharp intake of her breath, and she sprang into the air with a cry of joy. Round and round the room she danced, her hands clapping, her dark eyes gleaming with delighted wonder, and a thousand pretty Italian exclamations pouring from her lips. It was terrible and amazing to see such a woman so convulsed with joy at such a sight.
Terrible and amazing is right, doctor.

Not the the sudden relief from months of terror won't make you do funny things...but really, this is kind of behavior that makes you and your husband look guilty in the eyes of the police!

**Emilia: "But once as I looked through my window, I saw two Italians watching the house, and I understood that in some way Gorgiano had found our retreat."

So, how did she know they were Italian? Some style of dress or hair that only Italians wore, and no one else in England?

**Once again, foreign quarrels settled on British soil. It's well past motif, and even beyond cliche at this point.

I mean, c'mon, can't British citizens commit crime against other British citizens anymore? Or perhaps all of the stories are representative (perhaps subconsciously) of an English xenophobia of the era--"all foreigners are trouble!"

**This is the most closure we get from this story:
"I don't know what your British point of view may be, but I guess that in New York this lady's husband will receive a pretty general vote of thanks." "She will have to come with me and see the chief," Gregson answered. "If what she says is corroborated, I do not think she or her husband has much to fear.
At least The Valley Of Fear gave us a sentence telling us the outcome of the self-defense trial. C'mon, Sir Arthur, don't leave us hanging for over a century!!

**Holmes: "By the way, it is not eight o'clock, and a Wagner night at Covent Garden! If we hurry, we might be in time for the second act."

Or, you could find Gennaro, find the other Red Circle members, and actually finish the case...


Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Adventure Of Wisteria Lodge--Just One More Thing, Sir!

The Adventure Of Wisteria Lodge leaves me lukewarm, for a number of reasons.

The first is that our heroes seem terribly detached from anything in the mystery.

An interesting client, Mr. Scott Eccles, comes to Baker Street with a quandary. The police burst in, wishing to question him, as it turns out that quandary has evolved into...a murder!! And as Scotland Yard leads him away for a formal statement, Scott Eccles declares, "Certainly, I will come at once. But I retain your services, Mr. Holmes. I desire you to spare no expense and no pains to get at the truth."

We never hear from him again. He may be the client, but Holmes and Watson seem to feel no obligation to communicate at all with him after this.

We never meet the victim while he's alive--not so unusual in a mystery short story, after all. But we never meet the killer, either--Holmes apparently has a brief conversation with him, off-screen as it were, but Watson is never in his presence, so neither are we. There is no battle of wits, just a description of a guy who may or may not be involved.

After "day succeeded day," we're really no closer to solving the mystery. Sherlock has no idea who Henderson really is, and no evidence to justify any action. It seems likely that Holmes' inactivity would continue, were it not for his certainty that a woman was being held captive.

So, we're ready for some positive action, finally--a break-in, with the threat of arrest and disgrace awaiting our heroes. And then...the house is empty, everyone has left! No confrontation, no stealth rescue...nothing. Holmes and Watson never even leave their room!

Well, surely, they rescue the lady? Uh...nope. That's done by a character we haven't met yet, off-screen: "They've gone, Mr. Holmes. They went by the last train.The lady broke away, and I've got her in a cab downstairs."

Oh, OK, then.

It almost seems as if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is deliberately trying to tease us in this story. We have an interesting premise for a mystery. He he quickly removes the client, never shows us the victim, never has us meet the villains, and has our heroes uninvolved in rescuing the damsel. The villains even get away scot-free! What the hell kind of Sherlock Holmes story is this? And don't get me started on the offensive racial stuff...

So there's one thing, and one thing only, that makes Wisteria Lodge particularly noteworthy: Inspector Baynes.

What an interesting creation!! At last, a police detective who is a worthy challenger for Sherlock Holmes!! One who is not a dolt, who has the imagination that Holmes so often demands, one who implement plots as clever as the Great Detective!

Baynes doesn't sound like much, based on Watson's initial description, except for one crucial detail: "The country detective was a stout, puffy, red man, whose face was only redeemed from grossness by two extraordinarily bright eyes, almost hidden behind the heavy creases of cheek and brow."

Ah, the smart fat man. A Nero Wolfe, a Frank Cannon, a Fatman with no Jake! And you can tell how smart he is, because Watson never brings up the "grossness" again, instead focusing on Baynes' demeanor and intelligence.

I'll admit, that same demeanor had me thinking of TV's Lt. Columbo. The detective who doesn't look like much of a threat, the polite mien, the deferential attitude to those who think themselves superior while making the slow and steady progress, solving the case despite people taking him too lightly.

Most amazing is the instant respect that he and Holmes seem to have for each other. Other inspectors we've might might have bristled when Holmes declared that they had missed some clues. Not Baynes: "The country detective chuckled. 'I thought I had squeezed all the juice out of it, but I see there was a little over,' he said." No jealousy or resentment, as you'd get from many a pompous Scotland Yard git, but a verbal bow of respect!

And it is a mutual admiration society, as Holmes congratulates Baynes: "I must congratulate you, Inspector, on handling so distinctive and instructive a case. Your powers, if I may say so without offence, seem superior to your opportunities." High praise, indeed, from the bedeviller of police detectives!

Most interest is the little competition the two detectives set up between themselves:
"You have a theory then?"
"And I'll work it myself, Mr. Holmes. It's only due to my own credit to do so. Your name is made, but I have still to make mine. I should be glad to be able to say afterwards that I had solved it without your help."
Holmes laughed good-humoredly. "Well, well, Inspector," said he. "Do you follow your path and I will follow mine. My results are always very much at your service if you care to apply to me for them.
It's a competition that Baynes wins handily, in my opinion. The country detective is the one who comes up with the Holmes-like plan to capture the missing chef, and succeeds. Yet Holmes doesn't see it:
 "I have looked into this case with some care, and I am not convinced that you are on the right lines. I don't want you to commit yourself too far unless you are sure."
"You're very kind, Mr. Holmes." 
"I assure you I speak for your good." It seemed to me that something like a wink quivered for an instant over one of Mr. Baynes's tiny eyes. "We agreed to work on our own lines, Mr. Holmes. That's what I am doing."
"Oh, very good," said Holmes. "Don't blame me."
"No, sir; I believe you mean well by me. But we all have our own systems, Mr. Holmes. You have yours, and maybe I have mine."
"And you think you have evidence that he murdered his late master?"
"I didn't say so, Mr. Holmes; I didn't say so. We all have our little ways. You try yours and I will try mine. That's the agreement."
Holmes shrugged his shoulders as we walked away together. "I can't make the man out. He seems to be riding for a fall. Well, as he says, we must each try our own way and see what comes of it. But there's something in Inspector Baynes which I can't quite understand."
It's interesting that Holmes can't see his own methods in another detective,and doesn't realize that the trap for the chef was really a trap for the true villain.

Baynes also figures out that High Gable is the source of all the mischief, apparently at the same time as Holmes. And while Holmes' hireling manages to rescue the girl (without Sherlock's knowledge, or help), Baynes is the one who figures out that Henderson's true identity is Don Murillo. Exactly how he manages to do that is unexplained--but the country detective somehow has traced all of the ex-dictator's movements since his exile!! All Holmes managed during this time was to look up some information on voodoo that was completely irrelevant to the case.

No, it's a solid victory for Baynes her, as Holmes manfully acknowledges: Holmes laid his hand upon the inspector's shoulder. "You will rise high in your profession. You have instinct and intuition," said he. Baynes flushed with pleasure.

One fascinating detail is how much Baynes' prospects have been limited by his posting in Surrey. Despite Sherlock telling us how much scarier the countryside is in The Copper Beeches, it seems that there's not enough spectacular crime in rural areas for a police detective to get noticed and advance: Inspector Baynes's small eyes twinkled with pleasure. "You're right, Mr. Holmes. We stagnate in the provinces. A case of this sort gives a man a chance, and I hope that I shall take it." That puts a copper in the absurd position of almost rooting for sensational murders to solve.

Yet it's not as if Baynes' became smart overnight--he obviously was always this smart. But his tame beat, and no doubt partially his looks, kept him from bigger things. No wonder he latched onto this opportunity, and refused to take help from Holmes. This might have been his only real chance to prove himself! A spotlight murder, the attention of Scotland Yard, the esteem that would come when colleagues learned he had solved a case better than the great Sherlock Holmes...this was his chance to get out of the "minor leagues," and he was taking it!

Why, oh why, did we never see Baynes again? He is so much more interesting than most of the other police that Holmes has worked with!

I suppose that it would be a too difficult a balancing act to pull off much more often: A detective as smart (or smarter) than Holmes? How would that sell, when one of the reasons people love Sherlock Holmes is they love to see the "civilian" sticking it too stuffy bureaucratic "official" police? And how, in a short story, do you provide many cases that can equally challenge both men, without making one or the other look the sidekick? Two smart detectives might spoil the broth, as it were.

But in a story where Doyle seems to be doing everything possible to distance the readers, Inspector Baynes stands out. It's too bad that he was destined to become Doyle's forgotten detective.


**"How do you define the word 'grotesque'?" "Strange--remarkable," I suggested. He shook his head at my definition. "There is surely something more than that," said he; "some underlying suggestion of the tragic and the terrible."

Perhaps. But the examples he goes on to cite as having started as "grotesque at the outset...yet deepened into the criminal"--The Red-Headed League, or the Five Orange Pips--weren't particularly tragic or terrible, especially poor Jabez Wilson. Baffling? Perhaps? Odd? Sure. But grotesque?

Most modern definitions of the word include the concept of something "repulsive" or "distorted" or "unnatural." One might think that The Hound Of The Baskervilles, or The Speckled Band, might be more accurately be described as "grotesque."

Then again, perhaps our use of the word has shifted somewhat since the early 20th century...

**Is Holmes jabbing Watson with his "Watson, we must look upon you as a man of letters..."? He does, after all, preface it with "I suppose." And he immediately disagree with Watson on the one thing he need a man of letters for...

**Accurate observation of gender differences by Holmes, or sexism? "Oh, man, of course. No woman would ever send a reply-paid telegram. She would have come."

**Apocryphal case: "you know how bored I have been since we locked up Colonel Carruthers."

Another evil colonel. What is it that turns so many colonels evil (at least in the Canon)? Frustration at not being able to move up any higher?!?

**Watson making Holmes-worthy deductions:
His life history was written in his heavy features and pompous manner. From his spats to his gold-rimmed spectacles he was a Conservative, a churchman, a good citizen, orthodox and conventional to the last degree.
Not the hardest or deepest deductions in the world, of course. But it shows that Watson does, indeed, know his flatmate's methods.

**Maybe insulting a guy before you hire him is bad form...
Private detectives are a class with whom I have absolutely no sympathy, but none the less, having heard your name--"
No wonder Sherlock never got back to him in the story...

**"Come, come, sir," said Holmes, laughing. "You are like my friend, Dr. Watson, who has a bad habit of telling his stories wrong end foremost."

So, what end should they be written from? From the solution backwards?!?

Unless, of course, Sherlock is critiquing the massive historical digression in A Study In Scarlet (and later in The Valley Of Fear). In which case we agree, putting 60 pages of flashback at the end of your mystery is indeed "telling stories with the wrong end foremost."

**Look!! It's Inspector Gregson!! He vanishes very quickly, though...Did we really need him to make the introduction of Baynes?

**The "police burst in wanting to question someone just as they're about to tell Holmes his story" shtick is, of course, a reprise from The Norwood Builder:
"Wait a bit, Gregson," said Sherlock Holmes. "All you desire is a plain statement, is it not?" "And it is my duty to warn Mr. Scott Eccles that it may be used against him." "Mr. Eccles was going to tell us about it when you entered the room. I think, Watson, a brandy and soda would do him no harm. Now, sir, I suggest that you take no notice of this addition to your audience, and that you proceed with your narrative exactly as you would have done had you never been interrupted."
A lot of people want to argue that Holmes has a legal degree, or at least extensive training. However, these instances would certainly argue against Holmes ever having been a lawyer. He's more interested in hearing the story, no matter who it's in front of, than in protecting his client from the possible legal repercussions of making a statement in front of the police--in both cases, a statement that Holmes has no idea of what the content of the statement will be!

**Scott Eccles: "I am a bachelor," said he, "and being of a sociable turn...[Garcia] spoke perfect English, was pleasing in his manners, and as good-looking a man as ever I saw in my life...In some way we struck up quite a friendship, this young fellow and I. He seemed to take a fancy to me from the first, and within two days of our meeting he came to see me at Lee. One thing led to another, and it ended in his inviting me out to spend a few days at his house...

Some have suggested that this language hints that Scott Eccles was gay, and his stay at Wisteria Lodge was intended to be of a romantic nature.

I'm not saying that's not possible (nor do I have any problem with that). But we later learn that Garcia was attempting to establish an alibi by providing a witness of impeccable character:
He is the very type of conventional British respectability, and the very man as a witness to impress another Briton. You saw yourself how neither of the inspectors dreamed of questioning his statement, extraordinary as it was
 Given the prevailing attitude of authorities at the time, choosing a homosexual lover for that role would likely prove counter-productive. Nothing would shatter the police's trust in Scott Eccles' statement quite like "oh, you're one of them! How do we know you're not covering for your lover? Etc."

The Granada adaptation gives the men a clearer reason to get together--they're cartography buffs. At least Scott Eccles is...Garcia is probably just pretending as a pretext to build their friendship...

**Another graphic death:
"His head had been smashed to pulp by heavy blows of a sandbag or some such instrument, which had crushed rather than wounded...He had apparently been struck down first from behind, but his assailant had gone on beating him long after he was dead. It was a most furious assault."
Is it me, or has the Canon been getting bloodier and more graphic? Keeping up with post-Victorian styles and morals? Presaging the pulps? Or just Sir Arthur feeling his oats?

**The voodoo stuff is pretty much pointless. It has, ultimately, absolutely nothing to do with the mystery. Any number of excuses could have been made for the cook to want to come back. With the blood and the animal sacrifice and the fetish, it all seems to be sensationalism, not to mention probably a tiny bit racist--"ignorant savages can't leave their voodoo charms behind!'"

Granada wisely ignored the voodoo angle all together in their adaptation.

**Speaking of a Columbo-like mystery:
The attempt, whatever it may be, is to come off, we will say, before one o'clock. By some juggling of the clocks it is quite possible that they may have got Scott Eccles to bed earlier than he thought, but in any case it is likely that when Garcia went out of his way to tell him that it was one it was really not more than twelve. If Garcia could do whatever he had to do and be back by the hour mentioned he had evidently a powerful reply to any accusation. Here was this irreproachable Englishman ready to swear in any court of law that the accused was in the house all the time. It was an insurance against the worst.
The TV series Columbo used a similar gimmick--a villainous actor (played by William Shatner!) slipped his friend a mickey while they were watching a baseball game on TV. Then he taped the game with his VCR--incredibly new and expensive and rare technology at the time--while he ran out to commit the murder. When he got back, he rewound the tape, woke his buddy up, and said "You fell asleep for a minute there--but it's still only the third inning!"

**Poor Watson tries to make a deduction:
"The man was a Spaniard. I suggest that 'D' stands for Dolores, a common female name in Spain."
"Good, Watson, very good--but quite inadmissable. A Spaniard would write to a Spaniard in Spanish. The writer of this note is certainly English."
D'oh!! Poor Watson...

**One of the more uncomfortable bits of the story is the vile racism against "half-breeds" and "mulattos."

Look, I understand that black people probably weren't the most common sight in rural Victorian England, and persons of mixed race probably even less so.

But it is simply inconceivable how someone of mixed race could appear terrifying or frightening to grown men. We're talking different skin tones, not the Frankenstein Monster. Yet Constable Walters acts like he's seen a creature from Hell:
The devil, sir, for all I know. It was at the window...Lord, sir, what a face it was! I'll see it in my dreams..but it shook me, sir, and there's no use to deny it. It wasn't black, sir, nor was it white, nor any colour that I know but a kind of queer shade like clay with a splash of milk in it. Then there was the size of it--it was twice yours, sir. And the look of it--the great staring goggle eyes, and the line of white teeth like a hungry beast.
But we can't write it off as just the ignorance of a country bumpkin policeman--Watson himself describes the cook as a "man of most remarkable appearance--being a huge and hideous mulatto, with yellowish features of a pronounced negroid type."

Sweet Jesus, what a pile of racist nonsense. For shame, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle--for shame.

**Inspectors have very high standards for constables--no metaphors allowed!
"Out I ran and through the shrubbery, but thank God there was no one there."
"If I didn't know you were a good man, Walters, I should put a black mark against you for this. If it were the devil himself a constable on duty should never thank God that he could not lay his hands upon him."
**John Watson clearly hasn't kept up with his medical training: "At first, as I examined (the fetish), I thought that it was a mummified negro baby, and then it seemed a very twisted and ancient monkey. Finally I was left in doubt as to whether it was animal or human."'s a good thing all the voodoo stuff was completely irrelevant. No CSI: Baker Street from Watson!

**Watson making good observations again:
I could tell by numerous subtle signs, which might have been lost upon anyone but myself, that Holmes was on a hot scent. As impassive as ever to the casual observer, there were none the less a subdued eagerness and suggestion of tension in his brightened eyes and brisker manner which assured me that the game was afoot.
**Holmes: "I say 'criminal' because only a man with a criminal enterprise desires to establish an alibi."

Really? That's hardly true, is it? I can come up with many reasons a man might want an alibi without the involvement of a "criminal enterprise." Wanting to hide an affair, wanting to hide one's involvement in a legitimate business dealing (to keep competitors from knowing you're involved, e.g.,), etc.

**Holmes describing "Henderson" a.k.a. Don Murillo:
I managed to see him on a plausible pretext, but I seemed to read in his dark, deepset, brooding eyes that he was perfectly aware of my true business. He is a man of fifty, strong, active, with iron-gray hair, great bunched black eyebrows, the step of a deer and the air of an emperor--a fierce, masterful man, with a red-hot spirit behind his parchment face. He is either a foreigner or has lived long in the tropics, for he is yellow and sapless, but tough as whipcord.

**So, why didn't "Miss Burnett" kill Don Pedro herself?

She's been with the household for quite awhile; she knows which room he sleeps in each night. Heaven knows there may have been ample opportunity to poison him, or kill him in his sleep.

Instead, despite having as strong a motive as everyone, she has to wait for a man to sneak into the house in a complicated plan and kill him for her.

If she was a fervently set on revenge as her speeches would have us think, she should have cut out the middle man and done the job herself.

It's more Victorian sexism, it would seem...

**Sherlock describes the time limit on the female libido: "Miss Burnet, an Englishwoman of forty or thereabouts...I may add that Miss Burnet's age and character make it certain that my first idea that there might be a love interest in our story is out of the question."

So, forty year old women can't take on lovers, or have secret rendezvous for making love. Good to know.

**Holmes and labor relations: "For the rest, his house is full of butlers, footmen, maidservants, and the usual overfed, underworked staff of a large English country house."

I suggest Holmes take a job serving the gentry, on call 24/7 and subject to the whims of the master, and see how long he feels underworked and overfed...

**John is less than eager for a bit of burglary, even though a woman's life might be jeopardy:
It was not, I must confess, a very alluring prospect. The old house with its atmosphere of murder, the singular and formidable inhabitants, the unknown dangers of the approach, and the fact that we were putting ourselves legally in a false position all combined to damp my ardour.
**Wait--how exactly did Baynes find out Henderson's true identity? Did he recognize the deposed dictator from old newspaper photographs or drawings?

We have to give Baynes full credit for actually solving the mystery while Holmes is off checking out books on voodoo from the library. But the story doesn't give us one lick of information as to how Baynes pierced Murillo's disguise, or how he tracked his previous movements through Europe.

**Sadly, this is still a thing 100 years later:
He had made his name as the most lewd and bloodthirsty tyrant that had ever governed any country with a pretence to civilization. Strong, fearless, and energetic, he had sufficient virtue to enable him to impose his odious vices upon a cowering people for ten or twelve years.
**A fierce condemnation of first world complacency from Burnet:
 What does the law of England care for the rivers of blood shed years ago in San Pedro, or for the shipload of treasure which this man has stolen? To you they are like crimes committed in some other planet.
Again, all too true today...

**Ah, once again England is the battleground for the settling of foreign grievances. Seriously, the government should consider setting aside some sparsely populated area and establishing a Murderworld or Thunderdome or whatever--if all of these foreigners insist on using your country to get their revenge, at the very least you can charge them admission and participation fees...

**The villains get away? Shades of The Greek Interpreter, or The Five Orange Pips or The Resident Patient or...

**Baynes claims to be certain that the murdered Marquess of Montalva was really Don Murillo from a printed description? "A printed description of the dark face of the secretary, and of the masterful features, the magnetic black eyes, and the tufted brows of his master."

Really? We will learn in The Valley Of Fear the danger of taking identifications from vague physical descriptions...

**A final Columbo-like note: "Our difficulties are not over," he remarked, shaking his head. "Our police work ends, but our legal work begins."

I always wondered easy it was to convict those murderers Columbo caught once they lawyered up and recanted their confessions. The chain of reasoning the rumpled detective put together was frequently pretty damn far from actual evidence, and unlikely to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.

The same, of course, can be said for many Holmes mysteries. There's a huge leap between solving a crime and convicting someone of it. We can imagine that a Law & Order: Baker Street would be filled with motions to suppress and other legal complications...


Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Valley Of Fear--Why A Novel?

As I've discussed here, the first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study In Scarlet, had some serious structural problems, breaking off after the "out of nowhere" capture of the killer for a 6-chapter digression/flashback.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's second attempt, The Sigh Of (The) Four, proved much more adept at giving us our back story, weaving in bits and pieces of exposition throughout the story. That way, the final info dump was much shorter, and much less jarring.

And in the Hound Of The Baskervilles, Doyle has pretty much mastered the form.

Which brings us to The Valley Of Fear, and what seems to be a huge step backwards.

I suppose the first question is, why is Valley a novel?

The tale was serialized in The Strand, after all of the stories eventually collected in His Last Bow, but before the story His Last Bow had been published.

Last Bow was the shortest of all the Holmes collections, with the fewest stories. Why not write the tale of Valley Of Fear as a short story, and include it in the collection? Valley could work as a short story--remove the second half, incorporate all of that exposition as a confession of Douglas, get rid of the pointless Moriarty noodling, and the story really isn't any longer than The Naval Treaty or Wisteria Lodge.

Yet Doyle chose to write it as a novel, publish it separately, and then wait two years to write the next short story and collect the most recent ones. Why? Perhaps he had a contract that called for a novel. Perhaps he was paid more for a novel, and he was in need of money at the time. Perhaps he was tiring of Holmes again, and wished to "stretch his legs" literarily. maybe he found the whole Molly Maguires case, upon which the "Scowrers" is based, fascinating, and felt the need to incorporate it into a Holmes story. Who can say?

The second, and more prominent problem, is why make it a novel in the style of A Study In Scarlet? Why do the same thing you had done with your first, unsuccessful novel--halt the story after the killer is caught, and immediately launch into a 7-chapter heap of exposition? Did Doyle unlearn the lessons he had seemingly taken to heart in Sign Of Four and Hounds?

In one way, Valley's digression is less annoying than Study In Scarlet. In the latter, we leapt away from "present day" immediately after the killer had been revealed; no time was taken to explain who the murderer was, or what his motives were, or even how Holmes had caught him. So the reader had to sit through 70-80 pages of, while not necessarily tedium, digression and distraction from what they wanted to read.

Valley, on the other hand, has the good graces to allow all of our explanations of whom killed whom, and how they killed him, and how Holmes arrived at the truth, before jumping away to the world's longest flashback. In this case, Doyle had the kindness not to leave the readers in suspense whilst they waded through 7 chapters of historical prose.

Yet, in some ways that makes this case worse than Study In Scarlet. We already know the whodunnit and howdunnit--do we really need 50-plus pages on the whydunnit? In The Dancing Men, a not dissimilar story, Doyle managed to tell us in just a few paragraphs how an American gangster had come to track down his former fiancee. Couldn't the same have been done here? Did the story really require 7 chapters of exposition to make us understand?

As with The Country Of Saints in Study In Scarlet, The Scowrers was not a bad tale. But is it ever wise to have both Holmes and Watson off stage for half of your novel?

Also, the device Doyle uses here is pretty ineffective. It's fairly obvious that John McMurdo, the point of view character for The Scowrers, is actually John Douglas. After all, Douglas gave Watson the papers that this tale was based upon, so either it's a total fiction, or it's presenting Douglas' story. Yet, The Scowrers tries very hard to convince the reader that McMurdo is a bad guy, a thug not much better than the rest of the "Eminent Order of Freeman." That seems pretty inconsistent with Douglas' story--that he's being hunted by bad men--so there is really no surprise whatsoever when it's revealed that McMurdo is really Pinkerton man Birdy Edwards, working undercover to bring down the evil Lodge from within. Seriously, was there any reader who was startled by the revelation?

The core mystery of The Valley Of Fear is very good--"This case is a snorter," as Detective White Mason said. It's essentially a locked room mystery, a corpse that proves not to be who we thought it was, with plenty of clues and interesting , well-developed characters. It's written crisply, with some wit and charm. But that basic story is not as esteemed as it should be, I think, because Doyle pads it out to a novel, and reverts to his early days of trying to stick another novella inside the tale. There's a reason that Valley has almost never been adapted to the screen, unlike the prior two novels, which TV and film can't seem to get enough of.

Which is a shame, because it is a corkin' good mystery. We just didn't need the extraneous history lesson.


**The other big "problem" with Valley Of Fear is Moriarty.

I complained a while back about Grenada series trying to make Moriarty the secret actor actually behind a lot of the crimes that Sherlock was solving. It was "big bad" syndrome, trying to use a behind-the-scenes master villain to enforce a narrative on stories that didn't really need one.

Well, Valley suffers from that big time.

It is important to note that this story would be exactly the same if Moriarty is never mentioned. Yes, the mysterious "Porlock" warns Holmes of an impending crime. Holmes and Watson spend the entire first chapter trying to decode his warning. Yet that warning was both late, and completely unnecessary, as Inspector MacDonald came to Holmes with the exact same case literally seconds later. The whole chapter spent decoding the cipher was pointless!

And even though, as far as we're told, Moriarty has no direct role in the crime--except perhaps as the man who located Douglas for the criminals--we spend the entirety of Chapter 2 listening to Holmes lecture MacDonald on the hows and whys and wherefores of the Napoleon Of Crime. Naming the chapter "Sherlock Holmes Discourses" was literally true--98% of the chapter is just Holmes on and on about his enemy--and virtually not a single word is given to the actual case at hand!!

And in the epilogue, we come back to Moriarty. Edwards had died on a sea voyage--lost overboard in a gale--and Holmes leaps to the conclusion that of course the professor must be behind it, despite there not being a scrap of evidence! (Holmes' admonition in this very story--"The temptation to form premature theories upon insufficient data is the bane of our profession"--obviously doesn't apply when Moriarty is involved!)

So we're left with 2 entire chapters and the epilogue focused on Moriarty, who has nothing to do with the mystery at hand--at least, one hopes such a crime genius would have come up with a better plan than "get an American sawed-off shot gun and hide behind a curtain!" All of this could be excised without any harm to the actual story. Eliminate that, and the extraneous 60-page history lesson, and you have a great length for a mystery short story...and then Valley Of Fear would be much better remembered than it is today.

**Of course, bootstrapping Moriarty into this case creates all sorts of continuity problems that drive people nuts. In The Final Problem, where we meet Moriarty for the first time, Watson has never heard of him. And since Moriarty dies and his organization is smashed at the end of the tale, Valley Of Fear must be set before Final Problem. Yet in this story, Watson already knows of the professor, and listens to Sherlock's lengthy disquisition about him.

That can be elided over easily enough--Watson wrote up Final Problem first, and as that's the tale that introduced Moriarty to the public, in the story he pretended not to know who he was in order to justify Holmes'unneccesary exposition to educate the reader.

As to why Watson wrote Final Problem first? Well, while Moriarty was alive, the accusations made in Valley were libelous, so Watson had to wait until the professor was convicted--or dead--to print them. And if Moriarty and Holmes were dead, well, the story in Valley Of Fear would sort of be burying the lede...

**Yet another foreign-born feud comes to England so the participants can Thunderdome it out and hope that the tender mercies of British law won't be too harsh on them.

Seriously, was this a common thing back in the day? I know London was the cosmopolitan metropolis...but was it really the crossroads for everyone seeking vengeance/lost lovers/stolen property?

Sir Arthur was also fascinated with foreign secret organizations/cults coming to Great Britain to do their business. Mormons, the Ku Klux Klan, Scowrers, Mafia...I think Doyle would have had a real good time with S.P.E.C.T.R.E., SMERSH, THRUSH...

**So who was Holmes' mysterious informant, Fred Porlock? The fact that he's not mentioned at all in The Final Problem makes us suspect that Moriarty was suspicious, and probably had him eliminated.

We do have to wonder how trustworthy Mr. Porlock was (if indeed he existed, and wasn't just a ruse of Moriarty's!). After all, his warning to Holmes about trouble coming to Birlstone wasn't sent until after Ted Baldwin had shown his face there, which means that Moriarty had already aided the Scowrers. Hardly the most timely or useful tip, then.

Holmes' description of Porlock doesn't inspire all that confidence, either: "Led on by some rudimentary aspirations towards right, and encouraged by the judicious stimulation of an occasional ten-pound note sent to him by devious methods..."

**Isn't sending the second message, that "I don't dare send you the key to the cipher," just as dangerous as sending the key itself would have been? Watson nails it: "Why did he write at all? Why did he not simply drop it?" 

Holmes reply, "Because he feared I would make some inquiry after him in that case, and possibly bring trouble on him," is hardly convincing. Sherlock insisted quite loudly that Porlock knew that the detective would keep his word and not try to locate him!

And taking an envelope addressed to Holmes to the mailbox when Moriarty is already giving you the stink-eye is borderline suicidal...

**This cover, attempting to sell The Valley Of Fear as a hard-boiled crime novel, just may be my favorite thing ever:

**Holmes is very, very snarky to Watson in this tale, uncharacteristically so, I think. Early on, the detective takes a lot of sarcastic potshots at Watson's intelligence, and they don't seem like the usual good-natured ribbing:
"I am inclined to think--" said I. "I should do so," Sherlock Holmes remarked impatiently.

"Your native shrewdness, my dear Watson, that innate cunning which is the delight of your friends..."

"Perhaps there are points which have escaped your Machiavellian intellect."

Especially given the context of each occasion, it seems Sherlock is being needlessly mean.

Holmes does mellow later, especially after he learns that his theory of the case was completely wrong...

**Of course, Watson gives some of his own, famously:
"The famous scientific criminal, as famous among crooks as--"
"My blushes, Watson!" Holmes murmured in a deprecating voice.
"I was about to say, as he is unknown to the public."
"A touch! A distinct touch!" cried Holmes. "You are developing a certain unexpected vein of pawky humour, Watson, against which I must learn to guard myself.

**This story is our first--and only--meeting with Inspector Alec MacDonald, although Watson does refer to an unknown number of apocryphal adventures with the inspector.

Holmes keeps affectionately referring to him as "Mr. Mac," which is highly unusual. A sign of familiarity and respect?

Watson says that eventually, MacDonald will achieve "national fame," although he doesn't tell us what was responsible for such fame.

Important MacDonald note: "his accent became more Aberdonian as he lost himself in his argument."

**This story is full of competent and respected policeman, a far cry from what Holmes feels that he usually has to deal with.

Aside from Inspector MacDonald, there is also detective White Mason, who both Watson and Holmes had respect for: "He impressed me, this country specialist. He had a solid grip of fact and a cool, clear, common-sense brain, which should take him some way in his profession...Holmes listened to him intently, with no sign of that impatience which the official exponent too often produced."

Sergeant Wilson was also portrayed as smart and capable. This is by far the best array of officers in the Canon. And you can see it through the lengthy and intricate discussions of facts and theories that Holmes conducts with them throughout.

**Then again, they were slow to twig to the threat of Moriarty: "I won't conceal from you, Mr. Holmes, that we think in the C.I.D. that you have a wee bit of a bee in your bonnet over this professor."

**Wise words: "Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself; but talent instantly recognizes genius..."

**"I may remind you," Holmes continued, "that the professor's salary can be ascertained in several trustworthy books of reference. It is seven hundred a year."

Really? There is not just one book, but several, that list the salaries of university professors?

**Holmes: "That's paying for brains, you see--the American business principle."

I suppose at the time of writing, American capitalism must have been viewed as swift and agile next to hidebound, nepotism-riddled, class-restricted British businesses. Not so much anymore...

**Holmes again serves as an early version of the NSA: "I made it my business to hunt down some of Moriarty's checks lately--just common innocent checks that he pays his household bills with. They were drawn on six different banks."

Viewing peoples checks, obtaining their telegrams--Sherlock Holmes had little sense of a person's right to privacy, when he was on a scent...

**Moats!! The house had not one, but TWO moats!!! Yes, one was filled in...but come on, a freakin' moat!!! You're not going to see that in any mystery set in America!! Moats!!

And a drawbridge!! A. Draw. Bridge. Heavens, I'm experience some nerd nirvana here!!

**For a Sherlock Holmes story, this was fairly graphic: "It was clear that this had been fired at close range and that he had received the whole charge in the face, blowing his head almost to pieces."


**"But surely I have heard that the drawbridge is kept up all night." 
"Yes, it was up until I lowered it." 
"Then how could any murderer have got away? It is out of the question! Mr. Douglas must have shot himself."

It's a pretty big manor (the pantry is so far away your can't hear a shotgun blast). Wouldn't it have been possible for the killer to have hidden somewhere in the house until Ames lowered the drawbridge, and then escaped when he went for the police? Obviously, we know that's not what happened. But within the fiction our conspirators set up, it seems to be that the murderer certainly could have gotten away without some locked-room miracle...

**The tale is that Ted Baldwin snuck in the house before the drawbridge was closed--6 pm at the latest--and then hid behind a curtain in the study until he attacked at 10:45ish.

So the assassin hid behind the curtains for almost 5 hours?!? That's patience!

**Oh, the bucolic English life: "That, of course, proves nothing at all," remarked Inspector MacDonald. "There has been many a hammer murder and no trace on the hammer."

"Many a hammer murder."

Don't let them tell you that America is naturally more violent than England...

**"That is very helpful, Mr. Holmes. No doubt you are right. Wonderful! Wonderful! Do you carry the names of all the gun makers in the world in your memory?" Holmes dismissed the subject with a wave.

Well, duh. Of course he would...

**MacDonald has to reassure White Mason that Holmes isn't there to steal credit for solving the case:

"I have worked with Mr. Holmes before," said Inspector MacDonald. "He plays the game." 

"My own idea of the game, at any rate," said Holmes, with a smile. "I go into a case to help the ends of justice and the work of the police. If I have ever separated myself from the official force, it is because they have first separated themselves from me. I have no wish ever to score at their expense."

**Inspector MacDonald makes the case for bicycle registration: "It would be a grand help to the police," said the inspector, "if these things were numbered and registered."

Apparently, there was a fair amount of bicycle-based crime in the late 1880s.

Just don't let the bicycle rights nuts hear you say something like that, Mr. Mac!

**Doyle gives an awful lot of behavioral bits to Ivy and Cecil that are pretty both good red herrings and, upon re-reading, nice tip-offs to the big revelation at the end. Well played, sir.

**Watson's conception of Holmes' independence: "Mr. Holmes is an independent investigator," I said. "He is his own master, and would act as his own judgment directed. At the same time, he would naturally feel loyalty towards the officials who were working on the same case, and he would not conceal from them anything which would help them in bringing a criminal to justice.

Well, unless he felt justice were better served by concealing the truth. Which he has done plenty of times before...

**Holmes eating like a Dalek: "My dear Watson, when I have exterminated that fourth egg I shall be ready to put you in touch with the whole situation."

**Ululation? Ululation?!? Oh. Sir Arthur...

**"And yet there should be no combination of events for which the wit of man cannot conceive an explanation."

Another clear statement over why I have little time for Holmes pastiches involving the supernatural...

**"Well, bar the expression, that might almost be a description of Douglas himself," said Holmes. "He is just over fifty, with grizzled hair and moustache, and about the same height. Did you get anything else?"

Well, if modern readers were in doubt, that sort of gives the game away, doesn't it?

It's another case of something that might seem cliche to modern readers--the defaced corpse isn't who you think it is--so we probably solved this case in our heads a lot more quickly than Edwardian fans.

**Holmes, realizing how wrong he was: "I say, Watson," he whispered, "would you be afraid to sleep in the same room with a lunatic, a man with softening of the brain, an idiot whose mind has lost its grip?"

This is probably as close as Sherlock comes to an apology.

**Holmes, claiming to be playing fair whilst being maddeningly oblique:
On the other hand, I said that I would play the game fairly by you, and I do not think it is a fair game to allow you for one unnecessary moment to waste your energies upon a profitless task. Therefore I am here to advise you this morning, and my advice to you is summed up in three words--abandon the case.
That's hardly playing fair, though...just because they're looking at the wrong victim, doesn't mean that there isn't a crime to investigate!

And more from Sherlock:

 "I consider your case to be hopeless. I do not consider that it is hopeless to arrive at the truth."

"Why in the name of goodness should we abandon the case?" "For the simple reason, my dear Mr. Mac, that you have not got the first idea what it is that you are investigating."

Dude, you could just tell them. But no, that's not you at all, is it, Holmes?
"Watson insists that I am the dramatist in real life," said he. "Some touch of the artist wells up within me, and calls insistently for a well-staged performance. Surely our profession, Mr. Mac, would be a drab and sordid one if we did not sometimes set the scene so as to glorify our results. The blunt accusation, the brutal tap upon the shoulder--what can one make of such a denouement? But the quick inference, the subtle trap, the clever forecast of coming events, the triumphant vindication of bold theories--are these not the pride and the justification of our life's work?
**Holmes, on how reading up on ancient architecture helped him solve the case: "Breadth of view, my dear Mr. Mac, is one of the essentials of our profession. The interplay of ideas and the oblique uses of knowledge are often of extraordinary interest."

Please note the marked contrast to Holmes' early position, as described by Watson in Study In Scarlet: "[T]he skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic."

Apparently, Sherlock has mellowed on that front a bit, no longer fearing that he shall run out of brain room.

**What a great reveal: "I should strongly recommend that you ask Mr. Douglas to tell us his own story."

**Just as Study In Scarlet proved to be somewhat controversial in its portrayal of the early Mormons, some have called into question the cases against the historical "Scowrers," the Molly Maguires. Doyle seems to have based his fictionalization largely on the book by Allan Pinkerton, founder of the detective agency. But a number of historians have suggested the cases were exaggerated, or perhaps even completely made up to justify cracking down on labor movements.

At least in this case, Doyle did indeed fictionalize the groups and events, a lesson he no doubt learned from the reaction to his portrayal of Mormons earlier.

**Mr. Schafter and his daughter Ettie were German originally, and in the American edition. But WWI made sympathetic German characters unacceptable in England, so editions there changed them to Swedish extraction...

**Despite my reservations about the length and appropriateness of the Scowrers tale, it is a good story, well told--a Donnie Brasco for the Pennsylvania mining scene.

**I really don't like the epilogue. Why kill the man we just spent 60 pages getting to know? The sole reason to end the affair on such a down note, it seems, is to prove that Moriarty was a badass. Well, we already knew that! What a terrible way to end the story!