Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Adventure of The Veiled Lodger--Sherlock's Quantum Of Solace?

The James Bond short story Quantum Of Solace involves Bond listening as the governor of the Bahamas relates a tale about the tragic romantic history of a couple he once knew. That's it--Bond just listens to someone else's story. No spycraft or adventure for 007 whatsoever. It's not a bad story--indeed, it's pretty good--but it's really not a James Bond story, if you know what I mean.

Which brings us to The Adventure Of The Veiled Lodger.

The crux of Veiled Lodger is just Holmes sitting and listening to the tragic story of our mysterious woman. There is no mystery at all, no deductions to be had. Sherlock just hears her tale of woe, and offers her a bit of advice. He might as well have been a priest. It's a good enough story, but it's not really a Sherlock Holmes story, if you know what I mean.

Which leaves me frighteningly little to right about here.

Fortunately, the good doctor has rescued us. For, while this may not be much of a mystery, and not your standard Sherlock Holmes story, Watson provides us plenty of meat in this amazingly dense first paragraph:
When one considers that Mr. Sherlock Holmes was in active practice for twenty-three years, and that during seventeen of these I was allowed to cooperate with him and to keep notes of his doings, it will be clear that I have a mass of material at my command. The problem has always been not to find but to choose. There is the long row of year-books which fill a shelf and there are the dispatch-cases filled with documents, a perfect quarry for the student not only of crime but of the social and official scandals of the late Victorian era. Concerning these latter, I deprecate, however, in the strongest way the attempts which have been made lately to get at and to destroy these papers. The source of these outrages is known, and if they are repeated I have Mr. Holmes's authority for saying that the whole story concerning the politician, the lighthouse, and the trained cormorant will be given to the public. There is at least one reader who will understand. 
Well, there are a number of juicy morsels there. What can we unpack?

Let's start with Watson's comment of the length of their partnership:
When one considers that Mr. Sherlock Holmes was in active practice for twenty-three years, and that during seventeen of these I was allowed to cooperate with him and to keep notes of his doings...
Lots of good fodder there for chronologists and players of The Great Game.

I'll leave it to others to argue about when "active practice" started, or what stories count as part of that, or what this tells us about Watson's absences and marriage(s). Do the adventures during the Interregnum count as the active practice? What about the two years he spent building up to His Last Bow? Ohm the headaches...

What is interesting to me is that, while Holmes was in "active practice" for 23 years, Watson/Doyle published stories of that practice for 41 years, or nearly twice the length of Sherlock's career!

From another angle: doesn't 23 years seem rather short for Holmes' career? At least by modern standards, one finishes college and perhaps grad school at, let's say an average of age 25. Then you work until you retire. Which for most people would mean an active practice of 35-40 years (albeit often not at the same job). Which makes Holmes' 23 years seem surprisingly small.

Still, we shouldn't necessarily judge by modern standards. Life spans were shorter then, and retirement may have come early. Doyle never gives us a clear idea of Holmes' age when we first meet him. Stamford certainly seems to think that Holmes is a student; but that doesn't necessarily tell us much, as Sherlock may have been a "professional student," staying in college for years gathering his eclectic knowledge without approaching the normal degree path. And we're certainly not clear on his age when he retired. Perhaps he didn't retire because of old age, but because of ill health, or boredom, or sufficient wealth not to have to work, or the desire to get out of the city he spoke about in Lion's Mane. A late start to his "active practice," an early retirement, knock out 3 years for the could just about argue 23 years. Still feels short, though...

As to the matter of how much material Watson has... will be clear that I have a mass of material at my command. The problem has always been not to find but to choose. There is the long row of year-books which fill a shelf and there are the dispatch-cases filled with documents, a perfect quarry for the student not only of crime but of the social and official scandals of the late Victorian era.
Given that Watson has spoken of hundreds, if not thousands, of untold cases, well, that has to be an awful lot of material there.

Of course, it's practically required for any pastiche to begin with an "editor's" introduction explaining how some of those papers came into their possession--inheritance, estate sale, hidden compartments in old homes they just purchased--thus justifying the story as "real."

The real problem with that idea is that Watson never tells us that he has completed stories just laying around--just year books and documents. In fact, several times John has told us that he has to go back and refer to his notes when Sherlock has given him permission to write up an old case. These untold cases haven't been written up yet--which puts paid to any claims to anyone claiming to have found completed manuscripts written by Watson in those newly discovered dispatch cases! At best they would have found newspaper clipping and notes. Don't be fooled!!

Still, these year-books and dispatch cases full of documents are irresistible, aren't they? As he says, they form a record of late Victorian life, of crime and scandal and society. We've already been given such a glimpse of that era through the 60 stories we have...just think how much more we could learn with access to all of Watson's files!

Alas, it was not to be:
...I may say that the writers of agonized letters, who beg that the honour of their families or the reputation of famous forebears may not be touched, have nothing to fear. The discretion and high sense of professional honour which have always distinguished my friend are still at work in the choice of these memoirs, and no confidence will be abused.
Damn you and your discretion, Watson!!

Of course, we can question how legitimate those requests for privacy are. By Victorian standards, a relative suffering from a rare disease was seen as bringing great shame upon a family. Women who had written indiscreet letter before they even met their husbands were driven to insane lengths to "protect their honour" and cover up their past, as if they were expected to have been emotional as well as physical virgins before they wed.

So by our standards, a lot of the "honour" and "reputation" used to justify covering up these tales would surely be trivial. Not only that, but now you're protecting the reputation of forebears? Come on now, John and Sherlock--surely the records of your cases are far more important that the world learning that some upper-class twit was a twit!!

But some people go beyond begging:
Concerning these latter, I deprecate, however, in the strongest way the attempts which have been made lately to get at and to destroy these papers. The source of these outrages is known, and if they are repeated I have Mr. Holmes's authority for saying that the whole story concerning the politician, the lighthouse, and the trained cormorant will be given to the public. There is at least one reader who will understand.
Whoa!! Watson is laying down some serious smack there!! Veiled threats directed at a reader! Mysterious attempts to steal Watson's papers! Allusion to an insane sounding apocryphal case!! Holy crap!! There's a whole story there, just in someone's attempts to suppress a story that Watson had no intention of telling!! Egads!!

Well, that's an awful lot to digest from one paragraph. Unfortunately, that's about it, as we now transition to Sherlock not solving a mystery or making any deductions, but just listening to a woman's confession. "But the most terrible human tragedies were often involved in those cases which brought him the fewest personal opportunities, and it is one of these which I now desire to record," Watson tells us. Quantum of solace, indeed...


**Watson on this story: "In telling it, I have made a slight change of name and place, but otherwise the facts are as stated."

How many other lion attacks were there in England?? How many circus owners killed by their show beasts.

Unless you changed the species of the animal involved, it doesn't seem like it would have been too hard for Watson's interested readers to track down the "real" story, discretion be damned.

**Holmes is in high humor:
When I arrived I found [Holmes] seated in a smoke-laden atmosphere...

"Mrs. Merrilow does not object to tobacco, Watson, if you wish to indulge your filthy habits.
**Holmes: "You will understand, Mrs. Merrilow, that if I come to Mrs. Ronder I should prefer to have a witness."


**Let's build the Gothic terror:
"You say that Mrs. Ronder has been your lodger for seven years and that you have only once seen her face." 

"And I wish to God I had not!" said Mrs. Merrilow. "It was, I understand, terribly mutilated." 

"Well, Mr. Holmes, you would hardly say it was a face at all. That's how it looked."
**Mrs. Ronder had some money:
"Did she give references when she came?" 

"No, sir, but she gave hard cash, and plenty of it. A quarter's rent right down on the table in advance and no arguing about terms. In these times a poor woman like me can't afford to turn down a chance like that."
Let's remember that a little further on, shall we...?

**More terror building:
She seems to be wasting away. And there's something terrible on her mind. 'Murder!' she cries. 'Murder!' And once I heard her: 'You cruel beast! You monster!' she cried.
**Mrs. Merrilow counseling her boarder to find some help: 'Mrs. Ronder,' I says, 'if you have anything that is troubling your soul, there's the clergy,' I says, 'and there's the police. Between them you should get some help.'

Perhaps there's something in the middle of those two options?

**When  Mrs. Merrilow suggests Sherlock Holmes: 'That's the man,' says she. 'I wonder I never thought of it before.'

Perhaps because no one would think of a famous detective as a confessor where no detection was involved?

**The terrible crime scene:
Ronder lay, with the back of his head crushed in and deep claw-marks across his scalp, some ten yards from the cage, which was open. Close to the door of the cage lay Mrs. Ronder upon her back, with the creature squatting and snarling above her. It had torn her face in such a fashion that it was never thought that she could live.
**Holmes actually admiring a policeman: "...young Edmunds, of the Berkshire Constabulary. A smart lad that!"

**Mrs. Merrilow perhaps isn't the good Samaritan the beginning of the tale would have us think:
It was very clear that her chief preoccupation was lest she should lose a valuable lodger, and she implored us, before showing us up, to say and do nothing which could lead to so undesirable an end.
**Watson waxing lyrical: "From keeping beasts in a cage, the woman seemed, by some retribution of fate, to have become herself a beast in a cage."

**"She sat now in a broken armchair in the shadowy corner of the room."

What, the well-paid landlady can repair or replace a chair for her only boarder?

**Why had Ronder lied to the police? "Because the fate of someone else depended upon it. I know that he was a very worthless being, and yet I would not have his destruction upon my conscience. We had been so close -- so close!"

Not to be too indelicate, but perhaps the reason she lied is because she were a participant in a plot that successfully murdered your husband? That seems slightly less altruistic than she's trying to present it, right?

**More from Eugenia: "I could not stand the scandal and publicity which would come from a police examination. I have not long to live, but I wish to die undisturbed." MURDERED another human being. One would think that avoiding scandal and publicity would be the least of your opposed to avoiding the gallows!

**Ronder: "And yet I wanted to find one man of judgment to whom I could tell my terrible story, so that when I am gone all might be understood."

Holmes is an odd choice for that role, isn't he? He's known for solving crimes, yet she's seeking absolution.

"That when I am gone" might suggest that Watson waited until her death to publish this account--which perhaps means she lived another 30 years.

**Watson still hung up on physical corruption representing spiritual corruption, and vice versa: "Ronder was a huge porcine person and that his wife was a very magnificent woman." And:
It was a dreadful face -- a human pig, or rather a human wild boar, for it was formidable in its bestiality. One could imagine that vile mouth champing and foaming in its rage, and one could conceive those small, vicious eyes darting pure malignancy as they looked forth upon the world. Ruffian, bully, beast -- it was all written on that heavy-jowled face.
It's interesting, then, that Watson didn't make the same leap to suggest that Eugenia's facial injuries were a reflection of her role as a murderess...

**"When I became a woman this man loved me, if such lust as his can be called love, and in an evil moment I became his wife."

Not sure by what she means "an evil moment," unless she means that her own "lust" caused her to say yes to his proposal...

**Eugenia on her co-conspirator: "Compared to my husband he seemed like the angel Gabriel. He pitied me and helped me, till at last our intimacy turned to love -- deep, deep, passionate love, such love as I had dreamed of but never hoped to feel."

 Apparently a one-sided love, as Leonardo ran--and even after Eugenia lied for him and he was in the clear, he abandoned her...

**The moment that happens in every noir film: "Soon my lover and I understood that it could not be avoided. My husband was not fit to live. We planned that he should die."

I'm in no way defending Ronder's treatment of his wife. And the draconian divorce laws of the era limited her options.

But couldn't Eugenia and Ronder just have taken off? As two people who left a traveling circus troupe, it's hard to see that the police would have spent much time hunting for her, even if the "porcine" husband filed a complaint. And there are plenty of places--even other countries--they could have gone to to live in bliss and safety.

So why not leave, instead of stooping to cold-blooded murder?

**A cunning plan:
We made a club -- Leonardo made it -- and in the leaden head he fastened five long steel nails, the points outward, with just such a spread as the lion's paw. This was to give my husband his death-blow, and yet to leave the evidence that it was the lion which we would loose who had done the deed.
It worked well enough to fool local coroners and constabulary...

**The flaw in the cunning plan:
You may have heard how quick these creatures are to scent human blood, and how it excites them. Some strange instinct had told the creature in one instant that a human being had been slain. As I slipped the bars it bounded out and was on me in an instant.

The sad part is, that even if the lion hadn't turned on them, the poor guy likely would have been destroyed anyway, framed as a "man-killer." At least this way, he got a little of his own back.

**The "deep, deep passionate love" of her life:
Leonardo could have saved me. If he had rushed forward and struck the beast with his club he might have cowed it. But the man lost his nerve. I heard him shout in his terror, and then I saw him turn and fly.
**So what does a mauled circus widow do?
I had but one desire, Mr. Holmes, and I had enough money to gratify it. It was that I should cover myself so that my poor face should be seen by none, and that I should dwell where none whom I had ever known should find me.
**Go back to that line: "I had enough money to gratify it."

According to Eugenia herself, she started as a "poor circus girl." Now, she has "money enough" to gratify her wishes, and "plenty of hard cash" to throw at her landlady.

That's one detail that Mrs. Ronder omits from this tale--because the death of her husband was declared an accident, she inherited his money and property (and perhaps insurance money?). The murder left her well-off enough to fulfill her desires--although admittedly they might have been better desires had she not been mauled.

So there's the motive that hasn't been shared with us, and the probable reason Eugenia and Leonardo went straight to murder instead of flight as their first option: the money.

**Holmes, though, seems fooled: "Poor girl!" he said. "Poor girl! The ways of fate are indeed hard to understand. If there is not some compensation hereafter, then the world is a cruel jest."

**Again, why she didn't turn in Leonardo: "He had left me under the beast's claws, he had deserted me in my need, and yet I could not bring myself to give him to the gallows."

Damned conveniently, lying to the police also spared herself the gallows...but surely that never entered her thinking, did it?

**Of course, perhaps Holmes did figure all this out. After all, I'm not making any of this up--all is this is straight from Watson's narrative, even if he doesn't give it the interpretation I do. Surely Holmes saw the same things?

It's not the first time he has let a wife go unmolested for the death of an abusive husband. But unlike Abbey Grange, there's no plausible way that this incident can be written off as merely an "accident." Eugenia by her own words admitted to enthusiastically and successfully participating in a plan to murder her husband.

Perhaps Holmes felt the disfigurement was punishment enough. Or that enough time had passed, and no good could come of making it a police matter. Or maybe...

**Holmes, sensing that Eugenia is planning suicide:
"Your life is not your own," he said. "Keep your hands off it."
"What use is it to anyone?"
"How can you tell? The example of patient suffering is in itself the most precious of all lessons to an impatient world."
A very Catholic attitude.

But then again, we know she was no mere "patient sufferer," but ultimately the author of her own pain.

There's nothing to support this reading, and it's likely not in character, but part of me likes to think that while Holmes didn't think she any longer deserved civil punishment, he felt she should remain alive, to suffer with her guilt and bad dreams. But that's just me projecting, in all likelihood.

**Watson on her terrible injuries:
It was horrible. No words can describe the framework of a face when the face itself is gone. Two living and beautiful brown eyes looking sadly out from that grisly ruin did but make the view more awful.
**Eugenia relinquishes her poison:
"'I send you my temptation. I will follow your advice.' That was the message. I think, Watson, we can guess the name of the brave woman who sent it."
Brave woman? Please....

That also makes two stories in a row with people carrying around cyanide. How easy was that stuff to get in those days??

**I suppose you can tell that I'm not terribly sympathetic to Eugenia.

Not to minimize her torment before the killing (assuming it was real, as we only have her word for it), but my more modern sensibilities can't help but read this like a classic noir, be it Double Indemnity or Body Heat. A woman takes a lover, dupes him into killing her husband for the money, and the dumps the guy. In this case, of course, she's the one who suffers for her crime, not the dupe...but the injuries from the lion were essentially self-inflicted, a punishment for her crimes. Murder will out, even if the bastard had it coming.

Or perhaps I'm just a lot more hard-hearted than Holmes and Watson (and Doyle).


Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Adventure Of The Retired Colourman--Paint-By-Numbers Mystery With One Colour Missing?

The Adventure Of The Retired Colourman is not a bad set-up for a story. 

But in too many ways, it doesn't go beyond the set-up, the basic sketch. The story has a few good things going for it, but it feels like there a lot of details missing, a lot of necessary connective tissue to make us care about the mystery.

Take, for example, our victims. Let's start with the wife, uh...umm...well....she's never even named in the story!!

That's not all that unusual for Doyle--he has a bad habit of not naming wives, sometimes, as if they're just adjuncts of their husbands. The era, and sexism, and all.

But in this case, it's also indicative that after Sir Arthur came up with the killer and how he did it, the rest of the backstory was too much to be bothered with. 

What of Mrs. Amberley, then? We're told that Josiah retired at 61, and one year later married "a woman twenty years younger than himself." So she's presumably in her forties. Why does a woman like woman marry a man like Josiah? Did she have no idea what an abusive miser he was? Did he somehow manage to fool her? He certainly, as Holmes said, "has few outward graces, whatever his inner virtues may be." Or was this a marriage of convenience? Perhaps she was recently widowed, with no means of support, and any port in a storm? Maybe he promised to take care of her family's debts if she married him?

Without understanding why she married him, and what the basis of their relationship was, it's hard to judge the state of their marriage, and whether she was likely to have had an affair. Remember, everything we know about Mrs. Amberley comes to us third hand. Perhaps most importantly, it comes to us through a mind so unbalanced that Holmes believes he may belong in an asylum and not the gallows.

Despite this, Holmes seems to accept all of Josiah's accusations at face value. "Ernest was frequently in the house, and an intimacy between him and Mrs. Amberley was a natural sequence"? "So also is it that young Dr. Ernest, an unmarried man, played chess with Amberley, and probably played the fool with his wife."? Given what we know of Josiah after the case is over, isn't it just as likely that either he is lying, or it is all in his paranoid imagination?

Not that it necessarily matters--even if she was having an affair, that hardly justifies her murder, particularly in such a gruesome fashion. But without victim-shaming, it is important to know what drove the killer. Was she fooling around with Dr. Ernest, or was Josiah just foolishly jealous over nothing? A cold-blooded murderer, or truly insane?

The same applies to Dr. Ernest. What do we know about him? He plays chess. End of story.

We're told that Josiah "made his wife so wretched by his niggardly ways that she was a ready prey for any adventurer." An adventurer? A doctor who goes to play Josiah at chess--at Josiah's invitation--qualifies as "an adventurer?"

How about Ernest's looks? Age? Type of doctor? Disposition? Any history of wooing wedded women (and fleeing with her husband's fortune)? As Holmes asked, "Was he the gay Lothario one would expect?" Again, there is no actual evidence shown to confirm Amberley's accusations. Holmes claims that "the opinion of the neighbours" is enough to "confirm" Josiah's story, but come now--that's also getting your story third or fourth-hand. The detective is willing to put local gossip above actual evidence? Pshaw. Even after Amberley has been caught, and Holmes declaims on the level of his madness, he is still willing to declare "so also is it that young Dr. Ernest, an unmarried man, played chess with Amberley, and probably played the fool with his wife." That is truly unsupported by anything except the claims of a murdering madman and local gossips. We expect Holmes to make such declarations based on actual evidence.

Oh, and Dr. Ernest's family was willing to hire a detective to investigate his disappearance, which is at least one indication that those close to Ernest didn't believe Josiah's calumny. (There's no indication that Mrs. Amberly's family did the same, but then again, we don't know anything whatsoever about her, including whether she had family).

And it should be emphasized--even if we believed that Ernest and Mrs. Amberly were having an affair, there is even less evidence that they planned to abscond with any money or securities. Holmes often proclaims that he seeks justice--well, in this case, he should have spent some time securing justify for the slandered victims of an insane murderer.

Some of these details could have been--should have been--explored. It would have been easy to make the story a bit longer (it is very short), or if necessary, to spend less time on Watson and Amberley's amusing but overly-long trip to the hinterlands.

But without this information, how can we understand the murderer? What about Josiah? Was he truly justified in his fears of an affair? Again, not that that would excuse homicide--but it would broaden our portrait of the character. Had he been married previously, and cuckolded before? If his jealousy could reach the point of a "frantic mania," why invite Ernest into his home? Was he, in his madness, trying to "test" her loyalty?

There are also some inconsistencies in Sir Arthur's portrayal of Josiah. He is such a good actor that he completely fools Watson and Holmes on his first visit. But later, he does nothing but complain about following any investigative path, when an innocent victim would have been eager to follow up any such "clues." He has the "swank" (we Americans would say "balls") to beard the lion in his den, and go to Sherlock Holmes to "solve" his wife's "disappearance." But the first time that someone mentions that he's a suspect, he tries to commit suicide? Someone so arrogant as to think he could best Holmes wouldn't be carrying around cyanide pills, because he wouldn't be able to conceive of being caught--at least that's how my armchair psychology reads it.

So we have a chilling murder, and an interesting (if confusing) murderer. But by completely ignoring the victims, and not properly examining the truth of the killer's claim, Doyle weakened leaves some of the colours out of this mystery's palette. It's an incomplete picture, which does disservice to the victims (and the readers), and ultimately makes the murderer himself less interesting.


**Welcome back, John Watson. You've been missed!!

**Geez, Sherlock, cheer up a bit! "Exactly, Watson. Pathetic and futile. But is not all life pathetic and futile? Is not his story a microcosm of the whole? We reach. We grasp. And what is left in our hands at the end? A shadow. Or worse than a shadow -- misery."

Sounds like someone needs some drugs...

**Scotland Yard has a habit of foisting of low priority cases upon Holmes?
He has been sent on by the Yard. Just as medical men occasionally send their incurables to a quack. They argue that they can do nothing more, and that whatever happens the patient can be no worse than he is.
So how, then, can they complain about Holmes "stealing the glory" and taking credit for cases?

**Amberley must have been a pretty good actor, as Holmes seems to be taking his claims at face value: "The old story, Watson. A treacherous friend and a fickle wife."

**The real crime? "What is more, the faithless spouse carried off the old man's deed-box as her personal luggage with a good part of his life's savings within." Mess with his heart, but not his money!

Contrast with Three Gables, where Holmes says more and more poeple are using banks now, and not hiding their money on the premises.

I guess that didn't apply to paranoid misers...

**It's good to be needed:
"What will you do about it?" 

"Well, the immediate question, my dear Watson, happens to be, What will you do? -- if you will be good enough to understudy me.
**Apocryphal  case: "You know that I am preoccupied with this case of the two Coptic Patriarchs, which should come to a head to-day. I really have not time to go out to Lewisham,"

**Swank: "The old fellow was quite insistent that I should go." Just think about that. Amberley was so confident that he actually wanted Sherlock Holmes to examine the scene of the crime.

**Watson: "I set forth to Lewisham, little dreaming that within a week the affair in which I was engaging would be the eager debate of all England."

What's to debate? I suppose whether Amberley gets a straight jacket or the noose...

**See, this is why we missed Watson:
Holmes lay with his gaunt figure stretched in his deep chair, his pipe curling forth slow wreaths of acrid tobacco, while his eyelids drooped over his eyes so lazily that he might almost have been asleep were it not that at any halt or questionable passage of my narrative they half lifted, and two gray eyes, as bright and keen as rapiers, transfixed me with their searching glance.
There's no way we would have gotten that same kind of self-description from Holmes as narrator...

**"The Haven is the name of Mr. Josiah Amberley's house."

I really think I missed out, growing up in an era where houses have numbers, not names. Or was that only a British thing? Do they still do that?

Maybe I'll just rechristen my apartment. From henceforth, I shall call my domicile "The Glade." Now I just have to explain it to the mailman...

**Holmes is not of fan of having to listen to Watson's detailed descriptions of architecture:
"I think it would interest you, Holmes. It is like some penurious patrician who has sunk into the company of his inferiors. You know that particular quarter, the monotonous brick streets, the weary suburban highways. Right in the middle of them, a little island of ancient culture and comfort, lies this old home, surrounded by a high sun-baked wall mottled with lichens and topped with moss, the sort of wall --" 

"Cut out the poetry, Watson," said Holmes severely. "I note that it was a high brick wall."
**Our mysterious stalker is first seen:
He was a tall, dark, heavily moustached, rather military-looking man. He nodded in answer to my inquiry and gave me a curiously questioning glance, which came back to my memory a little later...It was undoubtedly the tall, dark man whom I had addressed in the street. I saw him once more at London Bridge, and then I lost him in the crowd. But I am convinced that he was following me." 

"No doubt! No doubt!" said Holmes. "A tall, dark, heavily moustached man, you say, with gray-tinted sun-glasses?" 

"Holmes, you are a wizard. I did not say so, but he had gray-tinted sun-glasses." 

"And a Masonic tie-pin?" 

Some have complained that it would a violation of rules for a Mason to wear his pin where it could be seen by the public. But if that were true, how would anyone outside of the group ever know what the pin looked like in the first place?

More seriously, that's part of the disguise, the superfluous detail that, while perhaps not strictly accurate, distracts the witness...

**There seems to be a lot of confusion among commentators about Barker, and that Holmes' statements seem to contradict themselves.

Nonsense. Although we not presented the information on Baarker in a proper chronological order, so the reader has to do a little bit of lifting for himself, it's all their, and not contradictory.. Allow me to help.

Holmes: "You had not met Barker, Watson. He is my hated rival upon the Surrey shore." The "hated rival" is a bit facetious, as Sherlock later describes Mr. Barker as "my friend and rival." He's been successful, and Scotland Yard is well acquainted with him: "He has several good cases to his credit, has he not, Inspector?"

Ernest's family hired Barker to look into the doctor's disappearance, so he and Holmes were on the same case, just from different ends: "He has been interesting himself also in your business, Mr. Josiah Amberley, though we have been working independently."

Once they stumbled upon each other, "Of course, I told him how matters stood and we continued the case together."

So when Holmes says, "as to Barker, he has done nothing save what I told him," he's referring to the conduct of this particular case, not his entire career.

Barker is a friendly rival detective, they both ended up working the same case, and this one time they decided to pool their efforts. No confusion at all, really.

There, was that so hard?

**Wait, so Barker operated "upon the Surrey shore?" Is he still there when Holmes retires? Does he consult Holmes on cases?

Or, with the vacuum from Holmes' retirement, has Barker moved his operation to London?

**Watson (and Doyle) continue to adhere to the "moral deformity must be echoed by physical deformity" school of literature:
"He seemed to me like a man who was literally bowed down by care. His back was curved as though he carried a heavy burden. Yet he was not the weakling that I had at first imagined, for his shoulders and chest have the framework of a giant, though his figure tapers away into a pair of spindled legs." 

"Left shoe wrinkled, right one smooth." 

"I did not observe that." 

"No, you wouldn't. I spotted his artificial limb. But proceed."
Seriously, how could he not be a bad guy?

 **Watson's thought on the role of Victorian women:
I have never seen a worse-kept place. The garden was all running to seed, giving me an impression of wild neglect in which the plants had been allowed to find the way of Nature rather than of art. How any decent woman could have tolerated such a state of things, I don't know.
Of course, how a "decent woman" is expected to an estate in good repair when her husband is a miser might be the question you should be asking, John.

Of course, deeper commentary about how decent women not allowing plants "to find the way of Nature" and the metaphor of "nature" being a bad thing is invited here, but I'll leave that to others.

**The husband doth protest too much, methinks:
And human nature, Dr. Watson -- the black ingratitude of it all! When did I ever refuse one of her requests? Was ever a woman so pampered? And that young man -- he might have been my own son. He had the run of my house. And yet see how they have treated me! Oh, Dr. Watson, it is a dreadful, dreadful world!
Well, at least he didn't go on about it forever..."That was the burden of his song for an hour or more..." Oh.

**Holmes tempers his usual criticism of Watson:
It is true that though in your mission you have missed everything of importance, yet even those things which have obtruded themselves upon your notice give rise to serious thought." 

"What have I missed?" 

"Don't be hurt, my dear fellow. You know that I am quite impersonal. No one else would have done better. Some possibly not so well."
High praise from Sherlock.

**Holmes has adjusted quite well to the existence of telephones: "Thanks to the telephone and the help of the Yard, I can usually get my essentials without leaving this room."

Wait until he sees the internet...

**Amberley begins to break character:
"It's perfectly absurd, Mr. Holmes," he said. "What can this man possibly know of what has occurred? It is waste of time and money." 

"It would make the worst possible impression both on the police and upon myself, Mr. Amberley, if when so obvious a clue arose you should refuse to follow it up. We should feel that you were not really in earnest in this investigation." 

Our client seemed horrified at the suggestion. "Why, of course I shall go if you look at it in that way," said he.
Obviously, the man who really wanted to find his wife (and his money) wouldn't turn up his nose at a clue like this.

The BBC 1965 adaptation sweetens the pot here , by telling us that Mrs. Amberley had a sister in the area of Little Purlington, thus making a communication from the area vicar not completely random and unlikely...

**Obviously, at this point Holmes is fairly convinced Amberley is guilty: "Whatever you do, see that he really does go," said he. "Should he break away or return, get to the nearest telephone exchange and send the single word 'Bolted.' I will arrange here that it shall reach me wherever I am."

Of course, it's difficult to believe that this direction doesn't tell Watson what the game is. Let's just write that up to authorial discretion, and trying to preserve the mystery until the end of the story.

**Watson's road trip from hell:
My remembrance of the journey is not a pleasant one, for the weather was hot, the train slow, and my companion sullen and silent, hardly talking at all save to make an occasional sardonic remark as to the futility of our proceedings. When we at last reached the little station it was a two-mile drive before we came to the Vicarage.
Holmes was surely laughing at how perfectly remote his choice of ruse was.

**Elman the Vicar is rather a douche:
A big, solemn, rather pompous clergyman received us in his study. Our telegram lay before him.

"Well, gentlemen," he asked, "what can I do for you?" 

"We came," I explained, "in answer to your wire." 

"My wire! I sent no wire." 

"I mean the wire which you sent to Mr. Josiah Amberley about his wife and his money." 

"If this is a joke, sir, it is a very questionable one," said the vicar angrily. "I have never heard of the gentleman you name, and I have not sent a wire to anyone." 

Our client and I looked at each other in amazement. "Perhaps there is some mistake," said I; "are there perhaps two vicarages? Here is the wire itself, signed Elman and dated from the Vicarage." 

"There is only one vicarage, sir, and only one vicar, and this wire is a scandalous forgery, the origin of which shall certainly be investigated by the police. Meanwhile, I can see no possible object in prolonging this interview."
What a self-important prig. Sure it's an inconvenience, this mistaken meeting, but what would it cost you to be polite to people come to seek your aid? Some man of God...

**By the way...would a forged telegram really be a police matter, as long as there was no attempt at defrauding someone of money or property?

**Miser: "It was soon apparent to me that my companion's reputation as a miser was not undeserved. He had grumbled at the expense of the journey, had insisted upon travelling third-class, and was now clamorous in his objections to the hotel bill."

**The big reveal:
But we both have the same question to ask you!" 

Mr. Amberley sat down heavily. He sensed impending danger. I read it in his straining eyes and his twitching features. "What is the question, Mr. Holmes?" 

"Only this: What did you do with the bodies?
**Great moments in over-acting:
The man sprang to his feet with a hoarse scream. He clawed into the air with his bony hands. His mouth was open, and for the instant he looked like some horrible bird of prey. In a flash we got a glimpse of the real Josiah Amberley, a misshapen demon with a soul as distorted as his body.
Seriously, he was a good enough actor to convince Holmes (initially) of the truth of his story. But at the first word of doubt he completely loses it?

**I mentioned this above, but it bears repeating:
As he fell back into his chair he clapped his hand to his lips as if to stifle a cough. Holmes sprang at his throat like a tiger and twisted his face towards the ground. A white pellet fell from between his gasping lips. "No short cuts, Josiah Amberley. Things must be done decently and in order."
Someone as arrogant and calculating as Amberley just doesn't strike me as the type who would throw in the towel at the first doubting word. That kind never believes they could lose, so they never prepare for defeat. Holmes described him as "He felt so clever and so sure of himself that he imagined no one could touch him." That doesn't seem like someone who would end his own life at the first setback.

I could see suicide later, in his cell. But to carry around a pill means planning to be caught, and that's not how I read Josiah. Then again, crazy is crazy, so...?

Not to mention, Holmes has not yet presented a single piece of evidence against him. He just says, essentially, "I think you did it." And Josiah immediately gives up?

**Holmes being a bit cavalier about civil rights and the like:
The irregulars are useful sometimes, you know. You, for example, with your compulsory warning about whatever he said being used against him, could never have bluffed this rascal into what is virtually a confession.
Which is why the courts often take a dim view of "irregulars" doing work for the police, often at their behest.

**So, is an alleged suicide attempt "virtually a confession"? Again, remember no one official witnessed this, just the "irregulars." And if Amberley is mentally ill, then any attempt at self-harm could have multiple meanings besides an admission of guilt.

Fortunately, the bodies were found, and the ersatz gas chamber, so it's rather a moot point. Still, "bluffing" rascals into attempting suicide doesn't have a ton of evidentiary value, if you ask me.

**Inspector MacKinnon: "You will excuse us for feeling sore when you jump in with methods which we cannot use, and so rob us of the credit."

But you sent him to Holmes!!

In fairness, it quite likely wasn't MacKinnon himself who sent Amberley to Holmes. Still, you're surely not allowed to complain when you pass of loser cases to civilians and they go and solve them for you. You clearly made yourself look bad in that case.

**Rather a broad defamation: "Amberley excelled at chess -- one mark, Watson, of a scheming mind."


Of course, Ernest played chess, too--was he a schemer? Should police haunt chess clubs, looking for potential master criminals and murderers?

**Paint, obviously, was way stinkier back in the day.

**Josiah's alibi was pretty terrible, as it was so easily checked: "I had examined the box-office chart at the Haymarket Theatre -- another of Dr. Watson's bull's-eyes -- and ascertained that neither B thirty nor thirty-two of the upper circle had been occupied that night."

**Holmes again boasting of his criminal prowess: "Burglary has always been an alternative profession had I cared to adopt it, and I have little doubt that I should have come to the front."

**The death chamber:
You see the gas-pipe along the skirting here. Very good. It rises in the angle of the wall, and there is a tap here in the corner. The pipe runs out into the strong-room, as you can see, and ends in that plaster rose in the centre of the ceiling, where it is concealed by the ornamentation. That end is wide open.
Many have asked how long it took to fashion this gas chamber; how it was done without the wife or servant noticing; and what that tells us about how long Josiah had been planning this double homicide.

The BBC 1965 clarifies (or perhaps retcons) this, having Holmes explain that the gas line was pre-existing, running to lighting in the room. Amberley had removed the light fixture, and removed the shut off knob on the gas line. So no expensive and time-consuming alterations needed...

**The dying words:
'We we --' That's all. "What do you make of that?" "Well, it's only a foot above the ground. The poor devil was on the floor dying when he wrote it. He lost his senses before he could finish." "He was writing, 'We were murdered.' "
Talk about confirmation bias! Couldn't it just as well have been a confession--"We were having an affair"? "We were guilty, so we decided to kill ourselves"??

**Sherlock's diagnosis of Josiah:
But, first, I would give you an insight into this man's mentality. It is a very unusual one -- so much so that I think his destination is more likely to be Broadmoor than the scaffold. He has, to a high degree, the sort of mind which one associates with the mediaeval Italian nature rather than with the modern Briton... Like all misers, he was a jealous man, and his jealousy became a frantic mania. 
 Or, just a murdering bastard.