Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Adventure Of The Three Garridebs--Robin Hood's Eleven?

There is one type of crime that audiences love.

No, not murder, not blackmail, not securities fraud, not jaywalking--although of course these all have their fans.

No, what the public loves--and loves so much that they revere the criminals as heroes--are con artists. Grifters. Players of The Long Game.

Which brings us to The Adventure Of The Three Garridebs.

Garridebs is the third of a "trilogy" involving elaborate scams to set up robberies and other crimes. In The Red-Headed League, most famously, John Clay lived under an assumed name for months, and came up with a so-crazy-it-must-be-true story to get Jabez Wilson to leave his shop every day while Clay tunneled into a nearby bank vault.

In Stockbrokers Clerk, the thieves convince a young clerk not to take up his new position at a prestigious firm, and come to work for them, while one of their crew took Pycroft's place and trued to burgle a hundred thousand pounds from their safe.

And here, in Garridebs, "Killer" Evans assumed a false identity and concocted another "too-crazy-not-to-be-true" scheme with a ridiculous bequest, to get poor Nathan Garrideb to leave his quarters for a few hours so Evans can get to a secret room with counterfeiting equipment and hundreds of thousands in queer bills.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's plots for these tales have been critiqued by some as too unbelievable (and too similar...we'll deal with that later).

Yet in a number of ways, Doyle was prescient, for a whole sub-genre of crime fiction followed these tales--the scam, the long con, and in some aspects, the heist.

In modern times, we have a vast supply of grifter fictions--and we love them. The Lady Eve. The Music Man. The Sting won an Oscar as best picture. Ocean's 11, followed decades later by Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven. The television shows Leverage and Hustle. Paper Moon. Inception. Mission Impossible--not the movies, which I love, but the television series, which was a different beast altogether, as every week the IMF essentially ran a brilliant confidence game to trick the bad guys and leave them baffled about where their money/prisoner/technology had disappeared to. The list goes on and on--and in a real way this Holmes "trilogy" is the father of all of those stories.

But as a precursor to the genre, these Doyle stories do differ in a few ways from the modern form of many of these tales. Somewhere in the past century, sentiment has shifted, and such scam artists--at least in our entertainment media--have become the good guys!!

In modern day confidence entertainments, the crooks are the heroes, portrayed as modern day Robin Hoods. They're the heroes. No one rooted for the cops to catch Danny Ocean or Henry Gondorff--the audience wants to see them succeed.

Of course, in a series of stories where Sherlock Holmes is the hero, any opposing him must be a villain. So, even if we admire their wits, no one roots for John Clay or Killer Evans or the Beddingtons to succeed--if they did, it would only lessen our regard for Sherlock Holmes!!

Part of the Robin Hood transformation of the genre came in the choice of villain. In the classics of the genre, our con artists don't go after the little guy; they don't rob grandmothers of their nest eggs or trick the witless with Nigerian email scams, as real life confidence men might. No, the modern grifter in entertainment goes after bad people--the victims are the villains! In The Sting, they were trying to defraud a gangster who had murdered a colleague. The IMF went after "organized crime" or dictatorial governments. Every week, the guys on Leverage went after evil corporations or millionaires who had ruined someone's life, or otherwise had it coming. When Jim Rockford put on an elaborate long game, it was to recover money from the people who had swindled it from Richie Brockelman's parents. The modern Ocean's movie go after wealthy and corrupt casino owners.

The opposite was true in the Holmes stories. First, Doyle had the people who hired Sherlock be sympathetic, if not pitiable, characters. Jabez Wilson, Hall Pycroft and Nathan Garrideb aren't the true victims of the scam--they're just the gulls who are being moved out of the way so the crooks can get to the real goal. Those three wouldn't have lost much if the scams had succeeded (although Pycroft surely never got his original job back, and so was unemployed...and Garrideb went insane from disappointment!!). But they put a human face on the crimes, so we're less inclined to root for the robbers.

We should also note that showing us some innocent victims cuts against an aspect that modern scam movies and TV shows choose to downplay or ignore--they may not be so victimless. The security guard that gets tricked away from his post, the secretary who is fooled into giving up private info, the tech guy who lets the heroes place cameras everywhere...these people would all likely be humiliated and fired in the aftermath of the scams, especially if the "victim" corporations and billionaires are as evil as portrayed. But we're distracted by all the "balls in the air" as the scripts juggle many scam threads in front of us, and we forget to ask about the inevitable collateral damage. Yeah, it's all wonderful fun in Ocean's Thirteen when Danny and the crew ruin Willy Banks' new casino. But what about the thousands of people who work there? They lose their jobs, right?

Meanwhile, the victims of the scams in the Holmes stores are mostly faceless corporations, or the government, instead of gross millionaires who deserve to be scammed. There's never any hints that these con games might in some way be justified. We meet Mr. Merryweather, the banker. He is a bit of an arrogant twit, but nothing so severe as to make the audience root for his bank to fail. We never meet anyone from  Mawson And Williams--it's just a stock brokerage, and there is no indication that they in any way deserved to be robbed. And in Garridebs, counterfeiting is presented as a bad thing, no questions asked. There can be little doubt that if these tales were retold today, though, that each company and the government would be portrayed as in some way "asking for it," with the crime itself portrayed as not hurting any "innocents."

Finally, in modern con entertainments, quite often our grifters explicitly disdain the use of guns and violence. In Ocean's Thirteen, Linus berates a rival thief for being so inelegant as to use a gun, instead of succeeding through guile and wits. The IMF crew could go entire seasons without a cast member holding a gun (although they were all too willing to leave victims to be later killed by angry superiors/partners). Leverage had a tough guy, but he was there for fisticuffs, and he refused to use lethal weapons. That's part of the new Robin-Hood mythology, you see--if these new "heroes" are to truly be heroes, they can't use guns and kill people. Tricking people with your mind and clever schemes? Admirable. Coercing them with deadly force? Not so much.

Yet the Holmes con artists were all far more violent. John Clay brought a gun with him, which Holmes knocked out of his hand with a riding crop. Beddington murdered a watchman in cold blood at Mawson & Williams. And Killer Evans was indeed a killer, convicted of manslaughter, and he actually took two shots at Watson. You couldn't find starker contrast between these older stories and modern scam entertainments--in the past scammer were vile villains, ready to kill to finish the jobs. That can't happen with our modern day Robin Hoods, or they wouldn't be heroes.

We love to watch people who are exceedingly clever. We love to watch heroes who are there to help the little guy. We love to watch heroes who can successfully go undercover in crazy disguise. We love to watch heroes who are willing to take the law into their own hands (but only up to a point). But with Sherlock Holmes, we already had a hero who fulfilled all of those qualities. So the con men, the players of the long game, even if clever, had to fail, and be shown to be morally retrograde.

But that's changed in modern fiction, to a large degree. There is no Sherlock Holmes to protect us. The banks and brokerages and the government are now often viewed as the bad guy. Who can protect the little people? Only those bold enough to nominally break the law, to take on unjust and overwhelming economic power armed only with wit and guile--just like Robin Hood, the bad guy has become the hero, and breaking the law is justified in the name of justice.

Unfortunately, in real life, the confidence men are usually also real villains, and the innocent and downtrodden are their victims. Just ask those victimized by Bernie Madoff--he was no Robin Hood. A thief is a thief, and while it may be entertaining, perhaps it's foolish to lionize even a fictional group of them in the name of "sticking it to the man." Because 99 times out of a hundred, they're sticking it to you.


**A lot of people mark this story down because of the huge similarity to Red-Headed League. And that's a fair enough observation: both scams involve using an alleged American millionaire making crazy conditional bequests in his will to complete strangers to get someone away from their place of business or residence so the crooks can get in to access ill-gotten goods.

Of course, if a type of con works, there's no reason that other crooks wouldn't use the same scam in the future. It's not like there's been only one Ponzi scheme in history, and people have been running variations of the Spanish Prisoner trick for centuries.

Still, fictional narratives have different demands than real life, and repeating yourself during a series of stories is seen as laziness, not efficiency.

But if you ask me, the bigger problem with Three Garridebs is that Killer Evans is a fairly big idiot. His scheme is nowhere as near as airtight as the one John Clay used in Red-Headed League. And Evans was hot-headed, as well as being a poor liar. Holmes has the scheme pretty much figured out after "Garrideb's" first visit.

It is the lack of a worthy enemy, rather than the originality of the scheme, that hurts The Three Garridebs.

**Granada worked The Three Garridebs into their adaptation of The Mazarin Stone. There, Evans was trying to get into Garridebs apartment because the secret room held the workshop of a deceased jewel cutter and fence, and he need to get in because it held the only tool in England capable of cutting up the great Mazarin Stone.


**Watson tells us, "It may have been a comedy, or it may have been a tragedy...Yet there was certainly an element of comedy."

It's difficult to see any comedy, unless you think that doddering old Nathan Garrideb is a ridiculous figure.

Remember, Watson and Holmes did laugh at poor Jabez Wilson and his consternation in Red-Headed League...perhaps they thought that victims of con men were fitting subjects for mockery?

**Before this story, Holmes had recently "refused a knighthood, for services which may be someday described." Why refuse it?

Ironically, this story was written soon after Arthur Conan Doyle himself had had been knighted--and he accepted!

**Garrideb really is a non-existent name--apparently no one in the world has been found, then or now, who ever actually had that surname.

Fitting choice as a name for this plot, then. But my question is...where did Doyle come up with it? Did he just generate a random name, and then check the phone directory or census to see if it was really rare? Did he take a variation on a real name? Or were there real Garridebs once, but the line died out (as it would have in this story, as Nathan had no children and no prospects for breeding?)

**What plot would Evans have come up with if Nathan had been named Smith?

Surely it couldn't have been that hard to get Garrideb out of the house for a bit--perhaps a fake flier for an auction or sale at Sotheby's or Christie's, which Garrideb was known to attend. Or perhaps a fawning letter from another "collector," asking Nathan to come as an expert to examine some rarities--that would certainly appeal to Nathan's vanity.

**Watson describing Evans: "...with the round, fresh, clean-shaven face characteristic of so many American men of affairs."

Still, that's not a compliment, it seems: "The general effect was chubby and rather childlike, so that one received the impression of quite a young man with a broad set smile upon his face."

So many American businessman are chubby and childlike? Well, OK, I'll give you Donald Trump? Still...

**Watson again: "His accent was American, but was not accompanied by any eccentricity of speech."

Well, let's be clear here: American don't have accents--the English do. And what the hell do you mean by "eccentricities?"

**Holmes sussing out Evans right away:
"You are, of course, the Mr. John Garrideb mentioned in this document. But surely you have been in England some time?"
"Why do you say that, Mr. Holmes?" I seemed to read sudden suspicion in those expressive eyes. 
"Your whole outfit is English."

**Perhaps a man named "Killer" doesn't have the proper demeanor to be a top-tier con man, as he loses his cool pretty easily at the least sign of someone scrutinizing his story.
"Why did he ever drag you into it at all?" asked our visitor with a sudden outflame of anger. "What in thunder had you to do with it? Here was a bit of professional business between two gentlemen, and one of them must needs call in a detective! I don't want police butting into a private matter."
Dude, you're supposed to be playing a role here, and you're blowing it!

**So, were American millionaires making really odd bequests common in those days? Was it a common  common entertainment trope? Is there any chance of someone I've never heard of leaving me $5 million bucks?

**Evans: "It was the queerest will that has ever been filed in the State of Kansas."

That should have been easy enough for Holmes to verify, right? A quick telegram to one of Sherlock's police or press friends in America?

**"It's five million dollars for each if it is a cent..."

That was quite the princely sum, worth more than $100 million in 2010 dollars.

Some sources put the net worth of the top 1% in Victorian England at a mere $265,000, according to Leslie Klinger in The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes. Which means Evans was promising to make Garrideb wealthier than almost everyone else in the country. No wonder his head was turned.

**Evans falls for a rather obvious ploy by Holmes: "I used to have a correspondent -- he is dead now -- old Dr. Lysander Starr, who was mayor in 1890."

Again, this is an example of how poorly qualified Evans was for a job like this. He should have performed at least some minimal research, in case someone asked a question like this. Or a better answer, perhaps..."I don't follow politics?"  "I would have been a child then?" etc.,

**As it is, Holmes has the falsehood of the whole enterprise figured out before the fake Garrideb left.
"I was wondering, Watson, what on earth could be the object of this man in telling us such a rigmarole of lies. ...The whole of this Garrideb invention was apparently for no other end. I must say, Watson, that there is a certain devilish ingenuity about it, even if the queer name of the tenant did give him an opening which he could hardly have expected. He wove his plot with remarkable cunning."
**Holmes spots another transparent lie from Evans:
There have been no advertisements in the agony columns. You know that I miss nothing there. They are my favourite covert for putting up a bird, and I would never have overlooked such a cock pheasant as that.
Seriously, the man went to confront Holmes without being prepared in any way whatsoever.

**Holmes: "I think the fellow is really an American, but he has worn his accent smooth with years of London."

I thought we covered that--you guys are the ones with accents, not us! Enough of this anti-American propaganda!

**The "real" Garrideb:
...a very tall, loosejointed, round-backed person, gaunt and bald, some sixty-odd years of age. He had a cadaverous face, with the dull dead skin of a man to whom exercise was unknown. Large round spectacles and a small projecting goat's beard combined with his stooping attitude to give him an expression of peering curiosity. The general effect, however, was amiable, though eccentric.
**Today, Garrideb would likely be described as a hoarder:

[The room] was both broad and deep, with cupboards and cabinets all round, crowded with specimens, geological and anatomical. Cases of butterflies and moths flanked each side of the entrance. A large table in the centre was littered with all sorts of debris, while the tall brass tube of a powerful microscope bristled up among them. As I glanced round I was surprised at the universality of the man's interests.

**Seriously, is Garrideb already wealthy enough?

With no visible means of income, he maintains his household, and spends his time collecting anything and everything. It seems he was fairly well off.

But Garrideb begs to differ:
"No, sir. I am not a rich man. It is a good collection, but not a very valuable one..."

Later, though, he tells us
There are a dozen specimens in the market at the present moment which fill gaps in my collection, and which I am unable to purchase for want of a few hundred pounds. Just think what I could do with five million dollars.
If filling the "gaps" in your collection would take "a few hundred pounds," what must the bulk of the collection itself be worth?

Certainly there might be some thieves interested in that. And surely you have sufficient things to sell if you need money...

 **Of course, the victim's ego is crucial in many con games: "Why, I have the nucleus of a national collection. I shall be the Hans Sloane of my age."

Dream high, Nathan Garrideb. Dream high!

**More anti-Americanism (although this time it is Evans trying to justify Garrideb traveling to Birmingham): "Why should he believe what I tell him? But you are a Britisher with solid references, and he is bound to take notice of what you say."

**Evans finishes with, "I would go with you if you wished, but I have a very busy day to-morrow, and I could always follow you if you are in any trouble."

Busy doing what?!? Your whole story is that you were in England to look for Garridebs. You claim you've found one, and now you have something more important to do?!?!

**Clever repartee:
"Our little problem draws to a close," said he. "No doubt you have outlined the solution in your own mind."
"I can make neither head nor tail of it." 
"The head is surely clear enough and the tail we should see to-morrow.
**More proof that when it comes to clever schemes, Evans is a complete nitwit, as his "advertisement" was riddled with errors easily spotted, even by Watson:
"I saw that the word 'plough' was misspelt."
"Oh, you did notice that, did you? Come, Watson, you improve all the time. Yes, it was bad English but good American. The printer had set it up as received. Then the buckboards. That is American also. And artesian wells are commoner with them than with us. It was a typical American advertisement, but purporting to be from an English firm."
Seriously, these are minor league errors, especially when you're facing Sherlock Holmes!

**"Garrideb's" true identity:
'James Winter, alias Morecroft, alias Killer Evans,' was the inscription below." Holmes drew an envelope from his pocket. "I scribbled down a few points from his dossier: Aged forty-four. Native of Chicago. Known to have shot three men in the States. Escaped from penitentiary through political influence. Came to London in 1893. Shot a man over cards in a night-club in the Waterloo Road in January, 1895. Man died, but he was shown to have been the aggressor in the row. Dead man was identified as Rodger Prescott, famous as forger and coiner in Chicago...Very dangerous man, usually carries arms and is prepared to use them.
**Some have questioned why, when the infamous forger Prescott died, the police didn't search his residence for his counterfeiting works.

The answer is fairly obvious, as Holmes tells out directly: Prescott rented his flat under an assumed name!
The previous tenant was a gentleman at large named Waldron. Waldron's appearance was well remembered at the office. He had suddenly vanished and nothing more been heard of him. He was a tall, bearded man with very dark features. Now, Prescott, the man whom Killer Evans had shot, was, according to Scotland Yard, a tall, dark man with a beard.
Obviously, a known criminal would use an alias, lest his hideout be easily found. 

**Evans entering the flat: "Then came the sharp, metallic snap of a key, and the American was in the room."

Where did he get a key?!?

Presumably, when he saw Garrideb off at the train station, he either surreptitiously lifted it, or borrowed it from Nathan on some pretext ("I left my briefcase at your apartment earlier").

**As we discussed above, unlike the "modern" version of the con men, Evans would anger Matt Damon by resorting to gunplay, even after he is caught:
His face turned upon us with a glare of baffled rage, which gradually softened into a rather shamefaced grin as he realized that two pistols were pointed at his head...In an instant he had whisked out a revolver from his breast and had fired two shots.
**Watson has been wounded by bullets before, perhaps more than once. So when he describes his pain , he's not whining: "I felt a sudden hot sear as if a red-hot iron had been pressed to my thigh."

If this tale was not explicitly dated in 1902, we could use it to answer the enigma of Watson's "wandering gunshot wound."

**Perhaps the grandest moment in the Holmes/Watson friendship:
 Then my friend's wiry arms were round me, and he was leading me to a chair. "You're not hurt, Watson? For God's sake, say that you are not hurt!" It was worth a wound -- it was worth many wounds -- to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask. The clear, hard eyes were dimmed for a moment, and the firm lips were shaking. For the one and only time I caught a glimpse of a great heart as well as of a great brain. All my years of humble but single-minded service culminated in that moment of revelation.
His face set like flint as he glared at our prisoner, who was sitting up with a dazed face. "By the Lord, it is as well for you. If you had killed Watson, you would not have got out of this room alive.
**Holmes can't be bribed, and asserts that it's a property of all Englishmen:
"Yes, sir," said our prisoner, staggering slowly to his feet and then sinking into the chair. "The greatest counterfeiter London ever saw. That's Prescott's machine, and those bundles on the table are two thousand of Prescott's notes worth a hundred each and fit to pass anywhere. Help yourselves, gentlemen. Call it a deal and let me beat it."

"We don't do things like that, Mr. Evans. There is no bolthole for you in this country."
**Evans, on why he didn't just kill or incapacitate Garrideb in the first place: "It would have been easy enough, but I'm a soft-hearted guy that can't begin shooting unless the other man has a gun also."

Let's remember that he shot three men in America, as well as Prescott. Hardly soft-hearted, I think.

**A key question--at this point, what exactly can Evans be charged with?
"But say, Mr. Holmes, what have I done wrong, anyhow? I've not used this plant. I've not hurt this old stiff. Where do you get me?"
"Only attempted murder, so far as I can see," said Holmes. "But that's not our job. They take that at the next stage."
 At least Evans seems to be fairly clever in facing the legal possibilities of his acts.

Perhaps he could be charged with trespassing, as well? And surely, posing as a lawyer must have been an offense?

**Garrideb, sadly, was crushed by the disappoinment of not recieving $5 million:
We heard later that our poor old friend never got over the shock of his dissipated dreams. When his castle in the air fell down, it buried him beneath the ruins. He was last heard of at a nursing-home in Brixton.
Watson, in his introduction, told us that Garrideb had "lost his reason," so his "nursing-home" is not merely a quiet retirement.


Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Adventure Of The Sussex Vampire--The Giant Rat Of Sumatra!!

One of the more fascinating aspects of any continuing fictional enterprise is the sheer amount of what we don't know, but want to know.

Even in a series that has had hundreds of episodes, all the background cannot be filled in--yet the reader or viewer has an insatiable demand to know. What was Picard's first command, the Stargazer, like? The Doctor left Amy and Rory behind for months--what adventures did he have then? No matter how many adventures we're given, the audience craves more.

Which brings us to The Adventure of The Sussex Vampire.

Sussex Vampire is a treasure trove of the "apocryphal stories," the untold stories that Watson or Holmes keep referring to, that sound so fascinating.

Holmes turns to the V section in his index. And what does he find?
Victor Lynch, the forger. Venomous lizard or gila. Remarkable case, that! Vittoria, the circus belle. Vanderbilt and the Yeggman. Vipers. Vigor, the Hammersmith wonder.
And that's just some of the V's!! (And if I ever start a band, it will be called Vigor The Hammersmith Wonder. And no, we will never play Hammersmith.

In fairness, Watson tell us that the Index isn't just old cases, as they are "mixed with the accumulated information of a lifetime." So sure, maybe some of those were just news stories Holmes kept clippings on. But aside from "The Voyage Of The Gloria Scott," which we know was an actual case, the "gila lizard" was a "remarkable case," as well. And we have a mix of the seemingly prosaic--"Victor Lynch, the forger"--with the interesting, macabre, or just plain baffling. Vittoria the circus belle? Vanderbilt and the Yeggman?!? Vigor, the Hammersmith wonder?!?!?! How can we not be fascinated by those "titles," and crave to know more?

Of course, the capstone is perhaps the most infamous apocryphal case of all, as the law firm references a job Holmes once did for them:
"Matilda Briggs was not the name of a young woman, Watson," said Holmes in a reminiscent voice. "It was a ship which is associated with the giant rat of Sumatra, a story for which the world is not yet prepared."
Oh, come on now! No matter what you think of the Sussex Vampire, you want that story to be put on the back burner immediately, and have Holmes tell us all about Matilda Briggs and The Giant Rat Of Sumatra!! (Sounds like a great title for a YA book!!) A mysterious ship!! A giant rat?!? A story for which the world is not yet prepared?!?! Why aren't we prepared?!?! It's a hundred years later--we're damn well prepared now!! OMG, tell us now!!!!!

Do you see what a little off-hand reference can do to us? Because we love or Holmes and Watson, because we want to know everything about them, these tantalizing tidbits that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle loved to pepper his tales with are alluring, engaging, frustrating, and absolutely brilliant.

Why does this seem so unique to the Sherlock Holmes Canon? Well, first of all, Doyle did it A LOT. There  were 60 stories and novels. Depending on how you count them (is an off-hand mention actually a unique case?), there are over 100 "unreported cases" mentioned in those stories. Over 100!!!! Click here for a list of the most colorful-sounding 61 of the untold tales.

Think about that--61 (and probably dozens more) apocryphal cases!! That's double what we already have!! You could make an entire alternate Canon out of those!!!

Even when other fictive universes do something like this, the named-dropped off-screen apocrypha rarely seem substantial enough to justify a whole episode. If they have a good enough idea, the creators will actually use it, and make the story. Eventually, Hellblazer had to explain what happened at Newcastle. Not Doyle! He would take these wonderful concepts--Bert Stevens, the mild-mannered murderer--and just leave them laying around for us!! "Merridew of abominable memory"? What does that even mean?!? Other series wouldn't just drop something like that--they follow up, if for no other reason than "fan service."

But the amazing, frustrating, novel thing was, Doyle almost never followed up. The Adventure of The Second Stain was, maybe, an exception--twice Watson told of "the story of the second stain," each time sounding like a completely different case...and then he actually gave us a tale with that title, that seemed in most ways to contradict two prior references. Other than that, though? The Vatican cameos? The bogus laundry affair? The peculiar persecution of John Vincent Harden? The repulsive story of the red leech? Doyle was tossing off multiple story ideas nearly every month--and then not using them!!

And that's another thing--these seemed like ideas for actual stories, for the most part. A lot of times, when other genre series do something like this, it's just tidbits of personal information: Why was Spike called William The Bloody? Han Solo making the Kessel Run? They're character-building tidbits, valuable in and of themselves. Yet there's usually not an entire story there...but Watson and Holmes were name-dropping entire cases, and telling us how remarkable they were! Indeed, most of the apocrypha has been used as the basis for pastiches--each often several times!

We're not satisfied with the weekly, or monthly, adventures of our various heroes. We want to think that they're like us--"something is happening every day"--and better than us--"something INTERESTING is happening every day"! That's why we have literally thousands of novels (of varying canonicity) for Star Trek and Star Wars, for Doctor Who and for Buffy, for Monk and for Columbo--because fans are hungry for more, more, more of their heroes.

But perhaps Doyle realized that, as Spock said, having is not so pleasing a thing as wanting. After all, actually seeing Kirk cheat and beat the Kobayashi Maru was not nearly so entertaining as our imaginations made it, was it? Maybe Doyle was right to just tease us, because could the actual case of Wilson the notorious canary-trainer ever live up to our imaginations? How could the story of the depth which the parsley had sunk into the butter ever be as wonderful as we story we created in our own minds? If Doyle had ever sat down to write The Darlington Substitution Scandal, maybe it would have turned out to be as poor a story as The Mazarin Stone!

Perhaps, then, it's for the best that Sir Arthur never wrote The Adventure Of The Giant Rat Of Sumatra. Perhaps it's in the perfect form already, in our minds and imaginations, each of us with our own personal version of what happened aboard the Matilda Briggs.


Naaaah. Someone get me a time machine. I'm going make to force Doyle to write the damn story!!


**Sussex Vampire is a fine story, but it does have a glaring problem: A large story element is a virtual repeat from two stories earlier. 

In both this story and Thor Bridge, a wealthy white man travels to South America, woos and weds a woman from there, brings her to England, and only then realizes that they have nothing in common, and feels that he's falling in love with her, despite her hot "tropical" love for him:
This gentleman married some five years ago a Peruvian lady the daughter of a Peruvian merchant...The lady was very beautiful, but the fact of her foreign birth and of her alien religion always caused a separation of interests and of feelings between husband and wife, so that after a time his love may have cooled towards her and he may have come to regard their union as a mistake. He felt there were sides of her character which he could never explore or understand. This was the more painful as she was as loving a wife as a man could have -- to all appearance absolutely devoted.
Granted, there were two years between the publications of these stories, so it perhaps wasn't as noticeable contemporarily. But reading the stories consecutively, it's a blindingly obvious and annoying rerun.

Why did Sir Arthur resort to the exact same set up so soon? Why return the the "white guy marries Latin American woman and cools in his ardor but she loves him more" motif, with just one story between? Was this a pressing phenomenon in Britain of the 1920s (or maybe the 1890s, when the stories were likely set), with wealthy men taking foreign wives and then regretting it? Did Doyle know a couple like this, and was sending someone a coded "message," or even a rebuke? Was he running out of ideas?

Given the similar setups, we have to consider the ethnic/gender stereotypes being portrayed. White males are portrayed as, if not mislead, then at least temporarily bewitched by exotic foreign women. It's only after marriage and returning to normal, stable England that they realize that there love was merely based on physical passion, and they have "nothing in common." Ah, but the hot. "tropical" love of the woman will not fade, and is regarded by the rich white man as "immature" or overly passionate. 

Is Doyle perpetuating these stereotypes, or critiquing them? Is he warning against taking foreign wives, are suggesting that the men are ninnies for "falling out of love" with their brides while the women remain devoted?

I honestly don't have the answers.

**There are differences, of course. Certainly, in this story, the wife does not use her own suicide to frame a rival for murder. Indeed, she goes to ridiculous lengths to keep from accusing anyone. And she's only referred to as "tropical" once!

But did you notice...the wife is never named in this story at all? Not even once?!? She's not even referred to as "Mrs. Ferguson'!! She is always referred to as "my wife" or "your mistress" or "the woman." We do not know her name!! A pivotal character, the accused "vampire," the woman who saved her child's life...has no name.

That's extraordinarily careless of Doyle, to leave such a strong character completely nameless throughout the entire tale. Wasn't anyone editing his work at this point?

Of course, the baby is also never given a name. It's always referred to "the baby" or "my child." 

What an odd household, where 1/2 of the inhabitants (not counting servants, of course) can only be called by, "Hey, you!"

**Holmes, introducing the best lawyer letter ever: "For a mixture of the modern and the mediaeval, of the practical and of the wildly fanciful, I think this is surely the limit."

It is a masterpiece of British understatement:
Re Vampires
SIR: Our client, Mr. Robert Ferguson, of Ferguson and Muirhead, tea brokers, of Mincing Lane, has made some inquiry from us in a communication of even date concerning vampires. As our firm specializes entirely upon the assessment of machinery the matter hardly comes within our purview, and we have therefore recommended Mr. Ferguson to call upon you and lay the matter before you.
Wonderful. And the echoing of it at the end, in Sherlock's reply, is most gratifying.

**We've discussed it before, but this story quite distinctly summarizes Holmes' skepticism, and disdain for any "supernatural" cases.

"But what do we know about vampires? Does it come within our purview either? Anything is better than stagnation, but really we seem to have been switched on to a Grimms' fairy tale."

"Rubbish, Watson, rubbish! What have we to do with walking corpses who can only be held in their grave by stakes driven through their hearts? It's pure lunacy."

Ever practical Watson, even though more open-minded, doesn't accept the supernatural. Perhaps there are more prosaic causes that are misinterpreted as the work of the undead?: "The vampire was not necessarily a dead man? A living person might have the habit. I have read, for example, of the old sucking the blood of the young in order to retain their youth."

Yet Holmes rejects it out of hand: "But are we to give serious attention to such things? This agency stands flat-footed upon the ground, and there it must remain. The world is big enough for us. No ghosts need apply."

"The idea of a vampire was to me absurd. Such things do not happen in criminal practice in England."

This seems a pretty strong of principal, without any loopholes. But that doesn't stop people from writing stories where Holmes does indeed pursue vampires and things that go bump in the night. Some have gone so far as to suggest that Van Helsing was actually Holmes in disguise, and Dracula was actually Moriarty!! Sigh...

I think we know what Sherlock himself would say about these efforts. 

**For what it's worth, most chronologists set Sussex Vampire before Bram Stoker's famous novel was published, so vampire legends would not have been quite so prevalent in the consciousness of Holmes and Watson. Had the story been set later, Holmes likely wouldn't have needed to grab his index to look up obscure foreign references to vampires.

**As we've noted before, it seems as if all houses in England at the time--especially estates of the wealthy--had names: "I know that country, Holmes. It is full of old houses which are named after the men who built them centuries ago. You get Odley's and Harvey's and Carriton's -- the folk are forgotten but their names live in their houses."

**Holmes didn't always give credit for the sources of his vast knowledge: "It was one of the peculiarities of his proud, self-contained nature that though he docketed any fresh information very quietly and accurately in his brain, he seldom made any acknowledgment to the giver."

**The letter from Ferguson: "It concerns a friend for whom I am acting."

It's comforting to know that even Victorians used this dodge. "Well, doctor, my friend has this problem..."

Holmes, of course, has no patience for such stumbling shyness: 
"'Your case!'"
"We must not let him think that this agency is a home for the weak-minded. Of course it is his case...It is simpler to deal direct," said Holmes
**Holmes perhaps betraying Doyles' attitude on over-hasty marriages abroad: "I gather that you did not know your wife well at the time of your marriage?" "I had only known her a few weeks." 

Holmes seems somewhat disapproving here. Perhaps Doyle is being critical of men sweeping foreign women off their feet, uprooting them from their homes, and then "falling out of love" when the first blush of physical passion finally fades.

**So, to Ferguson at least, Catholicism is an "alien religion"?!? 

I'm presuming that, coming from Peru, she is Catholic--so perhaps I'm just as guilty of stereotyping as anyone speaking of her "tropical" passion.

But surely Catholicism is not so completely "alien" to Ferguson's (presumed) Protestantism? Was her religion a surprise to him? Who married them? 

Or did his concerns about her religion emerge only after the passion cooled (and she had borne him a child)?

**More from Ferguson and his fading ardor: "He felt there were sides of her character which he could never explore or understand. This was the more painful as she was as loving a wife as a man could have -- to all appearance absolutely devoted."

Well, you could try, oh, I don't know, actual conversation? Try talking to your wife?!? Building a relationship on communication?!? (Maybe start by finding out her name?)

Jesus, this guy pisses me off.

**Even if you don't buy the vampirism idea any more than Holmes did, there certainly is strong reason to be suspicious about Mrs. Ferguson's behavior:
Twice the wife was caught in the act of assaulting this poor lad in the most unprovoked way. Once she struck him with a stick and left a great weal on his arm...she saw her employer, the lady, leaning over the baby and apparently biting his neck. There was a small wound in the neck from which a stream of blood had escaped. The nurse was so horrified that she wished to call the husband, but the lady implored her not to do so and actually gave her five pounds as a price for her silence...he saw his wife rise from a kneeling position beside the cot and saw blood upon the child's exposed neck and upon the sheet. With a cry of horror, he turned his wife's face to the light and saw blood all round her lips. It was she -- she beyond all question -- who had drunk the poor baby's blood.
This provide ample reason for concern, surely. 

So it strains credulity that the wife cannot be bothered to make any explanation whatsoever of her behavior. The entire story is over if she just speaks up. But instead she chooses to remain silent about the fact that someone is trying to murder their baby!
"She would not even speak. She gave no answer to my reproaches, save to gaze at me with a sort of wild, despairing look in her eyes. Then she rushed to her room and locked herself in. Since then she has refused to see me."
Even when an outsider, who wouldn't be heartbroken at the news about Jack, tends to her, she can only babble in vague generalities: "No. No one can help. It is finished. All is destroyed. Do what I will, all is destroyed."

Holmes explanation: "She saw it made and saved the child's life, and yet she shrank from telling you all the truth, for she knew how you loved the boy and feared lest it break your heart."

And she confirms this: "How could I tell you, Bob? I felt the blow it would be to you. It was better that I should wait and that it should come from some other lips than mine."

I can sympathize with her dilemma. BUT SOMEONE IS TRYING TO MURDER YOUR BABY! And she was willing to tell the nurse, so her insistence on silence was hardly absolute. Why not tell Watson? Why wait until Holmes has figured out the whole story to come out and confirm it?

Silly, silly plot device.

**Sherlock on Watson: Holmes looked at me thoughtfully and shook his head. "I never get your limits, Watson," said he. "There are unexplored possibilities about you.

**Watson on the sad physical ravages of aging:
There is surely nothing in life more painful than to meet the wreck of a fine athlete whom one has known in his prime. His great frame had fallen in, his flaxen hair was scanty, and his shoulders were bowed. I fear that I roused corresponding emotions in him.
**Ferguson: "How am I to go to the police with such a story?" Well, SOMEONE WAS TRYING TO MURDER YOUR BABY!!!!  I would think that, no matter what the explanation, protecting your offspring would be big enough a priority to act.

Seriously, I rather like this story, but this whole Victorian "I can't bear to cause the one I love any upset, and I can't bear the weight of any potential scandal" emotional repression is really driving me nuts...

**Obviously, Bob Ferguson has no idea what a 15 year old boy is really like:
"Yet you say he is affectionate?"
"Never in the world could there be so devoted a son. My life is his life. He is absorbed in what I say or do."
Obviously, adolescence in Victorian England wasn't the same as in modern America (or England). But we'll see how odd a duck Jack is soon enough.

**Of course, Holmes has already solved the mystery by the end of the first meeting: "He would certainly seem to be a most interesting lad. There is one other point about these assaults. Were the strange attacks upon the baby and the assaults upon your son at the same period?"

He knows, all right. 

**However, Holmes upbraids himself for jumping the gun by rushing to conclusions: "One forms provisional theories and waits for time or fuller knowledge to explode them. A bad habit, Mr. Ferguson, but human nature is weak. I fear that your old friend here has given an exaggerated view of my scientific methods."

**Even without a real vampire, Cheeseman's seems a fine setting for a Gothic tale: "An odour of age and decay pervaded the whole crumbling building."

**Inside Cheeseman's: "There was hung a fine collection of South American utensils and weapons, which had been brought, no doubt, by the Peruvian lady upstairs."

Wait--so Peruvian brides bring weapons collections as their dowry?!? Weapons still coated with poison?!?! And display them on the walls?!? 

Not to disagree with Watson, but it seems at least as likely that the collection is Robert Ferguson's, picked up in his business travels to Peru. That would increase the irony of his providing what he no doubt thought of as mere trophies being used to kill his infant son...

**The paralyzed dog provides the final confirmation that Holmes needs.

But it's also the take-off point for a lot of criticism of the story, as countless people insist that curare would not leave a lingering paralysis in the dog.

But these people need to read the story more carefully. Holmes did not say it was curare. His exact quote was "curare or some other devilish drug."

"Some other drug." Ahem.

**Watson as medical man: "On the bed a woman was lying who was clearly in a high fever. She was only half conscious, but as I entered she raised a pair of frightened but beautiful eyes and glared at me in apprehension."

So was she actually physically ill? Or was it an emotional breakdown? It has been awhile since we've seen "brain fever," where extreme emotional duress provoking dangerous sickness.

Watson seems to go with the brain fever possibility: "I took her pulse and temperature. Both were high, and yet my impression was that the condition was rather that of mental and nervous excitement than of any actual seizure."

Of course, we could also speculate that her health problems may have been caused by accidentally ingesting the poison sucked out of the baby's neck...

**Watson, appealing Ferguson's case to the wife: "He is full of grief, but he cannot understand." 

Her reply: "No, he cannot understand. But he should trust."

Hold on, Ma'am..YOU don't trust him! You refuse to tell him one syllable of the truth. Sheesh...

**The father is always the last to know...

To modern eyes, at least, the descriptions of Jack are fairly unsettling, and even back in 1924 the reader must have gotten the sense that there was something not quite right about the lad:
He was a remarkable lad, pale-faced and fair-haired, with excitable light blue eyes which blazed into a sudden flame of emotion and joy as they rested upon his father. He rushed forward and threw his arms round his neck with the abandon of a loving girl. "Oh, daddy," he cried, "I did not know that you were due yet. I should have been here to meet you. Oh, I am so glad to see you!" Ferguson gently disengaged himself from the embrace with some little show of embarrassment...
"Jacky has very strong likes and dislikes," said Ferguson, putting his arm round the boy. "Luckily I am one of his likes." The boy cooed and nestled his his head upon his father's breast. Ferguson gently disengaged him.
Again, this is a 15 year old boy...

**Unlike earlier stories, where the very physical appearance of someone of mixed ethnicity was a justifiable cause for horror, Watson approves of the unnamed baby: "a very beautiful child, dark-eyed, golden-haired, a wonderful mixture of the Saxon and the Latin."

Quite a contrast from early pictures of horrifying race mixing, as in Wisteria Lodge...

**Holmes admits that he solved the case before even getting out of his chair at Baker Street:
"It has been a case for intellectual deduction, but when this original intellectual deduction is confirmed point by point by quite a number of independent incidents, then the subjective becomes objective and we can say confidently that we have reached our goal. I had, in fact, reached it before we left Baker Street, and the rest has merely been observation and confirmation."
**"Did it not occur to you that a bleeding wound may be sucked for some other purpose than to draw the blood from it? Was there not a queen in English history who sucked such a wound to draw poison from it?"

This is a reference, although likely apocryphal, to Eleanor of Castille, who allegedly saved Edward I's life during a Crusade by sucking a wound he received from a poisoned knife.

**Again, the father may have been to close to see what was fairly obvious to an outside observer:
It is the more painful because it is a distorted love, a maniacal exaggerated love for you, and possibly for his dead mother, which has prompted his action. His very soul is consumed with hatred for this splendid child, whose health and beauty are a contrast to his own weakness.
**The worst prescription in the history of crime-fighting: "I think a year at sea would be my prescription for Master Jacky," said Holmes, rising from his chair.


Look, this youngster has been poisoning pets and trying to murder infants. Jacky is a serial-killer waiting to happen, right? Can anybody seriously believe that "a year at sea" would cure him of his pathology? That a little salt air would heal his "distorted, maniacal, exaggerated love" and "soul-consuming hatred"? When Jacky comes home in a year, would you going let him anywhere near the child? Near the wife? Around any pets? 

I'm sorry, Sherlock, but two counts of attempted murder calls for something a little stronger than a vacation/exile. I fear Jacky went on to become quite the killer, and you're responsible.

**Finally, we get a bit of closure in a Holmes story--if only a bit:
Ferguson was standing by the bed, choking, his hands outstretched and quivering. "This, I fancy, is the time for our exit, Watson," said Holmes in a whisper. "If you will take one elbow of the too faithful Dolores, I will take the other. There, now," he added as he closed the door behind him, "I think we may leave them to settle the rest among themselves."
 **The Granada adaptation of this story is quite possibly the worst thing that I have ever seen. It is terrible in every way possible. I will say no more.