My Copy: 9780880292610 (image from abebooks.com)
Well, looks like our duo’s at it again, though the timeline varies between our gents being relatively young or much older and “retired.” I have to say, though, for short stories, I couldn’t stop until I’d read them all, and ended up doing so in one day. They made me curious, and there were only 8 of them in this section, so here we go.
Oh, and by the way, there’s a short story called “His Last Bow” in this collection–just wanted to warn you in advance in case you get confused or think I mislabeled the section.
The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge
This is a two-part story that begins with a Mr. John Scott Eccles, who comes to consult Holmes and Watson on something very strange that happened to him. He struck up a rather quick friendship with a Spaniard named Garcia and was invited to Wisteria Lodge, his rented home to dinner and conversation. Eccles found the evening strange, especially after Garcia receives a note from his servant, and the morning even more baffling because he found the home deserted. This led him to consult Holmes, but in the middle of his story, Inspector Gregson enters to ask Eccles how his host came to be murdered in the course of the evening. Gregson also manages to get the cryptic note and they wonder which of the neighbors it must regard. So, Holmes and Watson go to investigate, only to find strange evidence, an Inspector Baynes working the case on his own, and some rather surprising neighbors.
As seems to be the norm with A.C.D.’s style, a two-part story has more surprises than you’d like to think. I found the first part odd enough, and wondered at Mr. Eccles’ story, and then the reason for the Spaniard’s death came about in part two. I don’t know how well I liked this story, exactly–I’m still thinking about it–but it did keep me interested and kept me guessing. I did feel like it was one of those “I’m going to explain something that wouldn’t happen in a million years” types of stories. Maybe that’s why I’m wishy-washy about it…but I admit, not bored.
“Well, we can only possess our souls in patience until this excellent inspector comes back for us. Meanwhile we can thank our lucky fate which has rescued us for a few short hours from the insufferable fatigues of idleness.” (pg 876)
“I can’t make the man out. He seems to be riding for a fall. Well, as he says, we must each try our own way and see what comes of it. But there’s something in Inspector Baynes which I can’t quite understand.” (pg 881).
The Adventure of the Cardboard Box
Holmes is bored on a hot day in Baker Street–but what else is new–and sees an article in the paper about an old woman of good disposition and no known enemies that received a cardboard box in the mail full of preserving salt and two severed ears. Lestrade is on the case and has requested Holmes to help, and so they go to meet the lady and take a look at the ears. The lady, Susan Cushing, is horrified and baffled at what’s happened, but much of what Holmes needs from the case he must carefully extract from the box itself and this introverted, flustered woman.
With this case, I had somewhat of an idea why this lady received the box–and I’m sure you could figure it out, too–but not the story behind the ears in the box. That was a little more interesting, and a big part of me wishes that A.C.D. had written more about what happened to the “other main person” in the story…ah, well. Just means it was compelling enough to make me care.
“What is the meaning of it, Watson? What object is served by this circle of misery and violence and fear? It must tend to some end, or else our universe is ruled by chance, which is unthinkable. But what end? There is the great standing perennial problem to which human reason is as far from an answer as ever.” (pg 901)
The Adventure of the Red Circle
This is a case of many twists and turns. A woman is very concerned about a reclusive lodger in her home. The lodger paid her well, but under the stipulation that no one should enter that room and if he needed anything he would ask. However, the lodger tends to be up much of the night, back and forth, and prints notes to the host as if to disguise his handwriting. She’s worried about who this person might be and if trouble will follow…but no one knows the odd ways trouble will come about and how it is exposed.
This story is hit or miss with me, but that’s because there’s no way to guess who the mystery lodger is throughout the story or the whole point of it. The story of the lodger is interesting, but I admit, I realized by the end that there’s no way I could’ve figured out any of it. There are some of these Sherlock Holmes stories where you can tell he was involved in the background and the motives more than the mystery and deduction side. Though I was interested the whole time, it was just afterward that I felt a little dismayed. Ah, well–I’d re-read it just for the setup.
He took down the great book in which, day by day, he filed the agony columns of the various London journals. “Dear me!” said he, turning over the pages, “what a chorus of groans, cries, and bleatings! What a rag-bag of singular happenings! But surely the most valuable hunting-ground that ever was given to a student of the unusual!” (pg 904)
The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans
Okay, anybody who’s seen Sherlock season 1, episode 3 will have an idea what’s going on in this story, or think they will, at any rate. There are quite a few additional things in this one, for sure.
Anyway, Mycroft asks for Sherlock’s help regarding the death of Cadogan West, a clerk at a government arsenal who was found dead on train tracks, no ticket in his pocket, but 7 of 10 pages of important government documents stuffed in his coat. Mycroft and others in the navy want to know why the man took the plans, how he got them when they were under several locks and keys, what foreign agents were in London who could have received them, and what happened to the other 3 pages. It’s a lot of pondering and careful watching as this case goes around, especially when a senior official with ties to this secret document dies, too.
“This must be serious, Watson. A death which has caused my brother to alter his habits can be no ordinary one. What in the world can he have to do with it?” (pg 915)
“I play the game for the game’s own sake. But the problem certainly presents some points of interest, and I shall be very pleased to look into it. Some more facts, please.” (pg 917)
“My dear fellow, you shall keep watch in the street. I’ll do the criminal part. It’s not a time to stick at trifles. Think of Mycroft’s note, of the Admiralty, the Cabinet, the exalted person who waits for news. We are bound to go.” (pg 926)
The Adventure of the Dying Detective
Mrs. Hudson goes to find Dr. Watson and inform him that Sherlock Holmes might be dying. She gives him what little details she can on what’s been happening the past few days. Watson’s been asked for and hurries off to his friend, but finds that for a dying detective, Holmes is very particular about Watson not touching him or any of his things, but won’t have him leave to get help. The answers are coming, however, and understanding that maybe Holmes got in over his head somehow and is trying to figure things out, he does his best to follow Holmes’ directions though the doctor in him wants to treat the man. When Holmes finally lets Watson go for a second opinion, surprises abound in the diagnosis and the method of contracting the illness.
Since this is dialogue heavy, and Holmes is chattier than usual about any and every thing, I don’t want to pull out any Sherlock quotes that may spoil it for you.
The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax
Holmes remains in London to put a few cases to rest and Watson takes point on this one. There’s concern from friends of the Lady Carfax who have not heard from her in some time. She’d been in several European cities until she vanished, last seen with a Dr. and his wife as they were returning to London, and followed by what many witnesses described as a savage looking man. The pieces come together slowly, and Holmes joins Watson to wonder how such a lady could disappear so completely, until someone slips up…or does Holmes do the slipping up?
This story surprised me in a good way. It’s one you can follow, but with plenty of dead ends and forks in the road to keep your interest. It’s not overly complicated, but the way the story is lain out, it feels as though it was lulling me into some semblance of routine and boredom (which if you’re not careful, means you could neglect a vital clue!) It felt good to follow this adventure.
“One of the most dangerous classes in the world is the drifting and friendless woman. She is the most harmless and often the most useful of mortals, but she is the inevitable inciter of crime in others. She is helpless. She is migratory. She has sufficient means to take her from country to country and from hotel to hotel. She is lost, as often as not, in a maze of obscure pensions and boarding-houses. She is a stray chicken in a world of foxes. When she is gobbled up she is hardly missed.” (pg 942-43)
The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot
A vicar comes to consult Holmes about some terrible thing that happened to the family of his lodger. Turns out that his lodger, Mr. Tregennis, and his siblings were playing cards late one night at the siblings’ home. Mr. Tregennis went back to the vicar’s place to sleep. In the morning, Mr. Tregennis was intercepted by the local doctor on his walk and taken to his siblings’ place. The two men found the sister dead with a frightened look on her face and the two brothers laughing and gone mad. Tregennis told Holmes that one of his brothers and he noticed some movement outside the window the night before, but didn’t think much about who or what it might be. So, the investigation goes forth, which leads to a very dangerous experiment by Holmes that could either solve the case, or get he and Watson just as dead as the others.
I was wondering about this story, vague enough to keep me guessing, but enough info to keep my interest. I liked it immensely, and at one point wanted to smack Holmes upside the head Gibbs-style for a stunt he pulled, but I’ll let you see what happened (hee hee).
“To let the brain work without sufficient material is like racing an engine. It racks itself to pieces.” (pg 960)
“It would be superfluous to drive us mad, my dear Watson. A candid observer would certainly declare that we were so already before we embarked upon so wild an experiment. I confess that I never imagined that the effect could be so sudden and so severe.” (pg 966)
His Last Bow
It was nine o’clock at night upon the second of August–the most terrible August in the history of the world. One might have thought already that God’s curse hung heavy over a degenerate world, for there was an awesome hush and a feeling of vague expectancy in the sultry and stagnant air. (pg 970)
And so begins an interesting story of a German spy in England and the visitors that come to his door as WWI is possibly beginning (though the first two sentences probably gave that away). It’s a dialogue-heavy little story full of clues as to what’s happening, and all the other major questions that could come to mind. How our boys are involved, I couldn’t say–it’s too hard to describe this little story without spoiling it to death.
But it makes me wonder about some of the characters, I admit. I guess A.C.D. was in a patriotic fervor when he wrote this story, because Holmes’ closer is one that should make you hear the British National Anthem in the background.
“Good old Watson! You are the one fixed point in a changing age. There’s an east wind coming all the same, such a wind as never blew on England yet. It will be cold and bitter, Watson, and a good many of us may wither before its blast. But it’s God’s own wind none the less, and a cleaner, better, stronger land will lie in the sunshine when the storm has cleared.” (pg 980)
My take on it all…
Some worthwhile reading in here, and it probably won’t take but a few seconds for anyone reading these stories to figure out when in our boys’ lives the events take place, especially with locations. I admit I find it funny how Holmes tends to talk about the refreshing sea air in his older years when he practically sneered at the idea of healthy country air in his youth and filled the flat with tobacco smoke or wandered in the London fog for clues with his disguises. That’s the easiest way to tell, of course, since A.C.D.’s helping readers keep Holmes and Watson forever young by not describing their changed appearances much if at all, just some hints at rheumatism or slower movement.
Still, nice to know even Holmes forgets to “retire” once in a while, as he’s always done. And Watson’s not much better at it!