Sherlockian Shorts #7 – The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes – Part 1

A series of posts, containing full spoilers, as I make my way once more through the complete canon, picking out points of interest and reflecting on my personal experience of the stories.

Silver Blaze

  • “Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention.” (said  Inspector Gregory.”                                                                                                                “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.” (said Holmes).”  “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”                                                                        “That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes. One of the most famous lines in the canon, which for some unknown reason I used to believe came from the Reigate Squires. The absence of something unusual, or the continuation of normality amidst strange events, can itself be a clue.
  • Features the secondmost famous animal murderer in crime fiction.

The Yellow Face

  • The ending is one of the most moving in the canon and probably quite unexpected for the time.
  • “Norbury” is to Holmes what “Chocolate box” is to Poirot.

The Stockbroker’s Clerk

  • Another example where if something seems too good to be true, in this case a stranger offering to increase your salary from £200 per annum to £500, then it almost certainly is.
  • Also, using a bet as a pretext to get someone to act in a particular way is quite an effective stratagem. Although if you have actually made a bet, your mark may not always be so obliging: an anecdote that I remember from GCSE history was that a man sitting next to the famously taciturn President Calvin Coolidge told him that he’d bet a friend he could make him say more than two words during the evening to which Coolidge said “You lose” and turned to his other neighbour.

Previous posts in this series:

#1 – A Study in Scarlet

#2 – The Sign of the Four

#3 -A Scandal in Bohemia, The Red-Headed League, and A Case of Identity

#4 – The Boscombe Valley Mystery. The Five Orange Pips, and The Man with the Twisted Lip

#5 – The Blue Carbuncle, The Speckled Band, and The Engineer’s Thumb

#6 – The Noble Bachelor, The Beryl Coronet, and The Copper Beeches

#71 – Passenger to Frankfurt

Sir Stafford is in the passenger lounge of Frankfurt Airport when a woman in fear for her life asks to borrow his voluminous cloak and passport so that she can evade her enemies. He agrees and sets in train events that will change his life forever. 

Events happen, meetings happen, there is a cast of what seems like thousands. It is an absolute mess. I’m deliberately not reading The Secret Notebooks until I’ve re-worked my way through the whole canon, but I’ll be fascinated what they have to say about this book. It comes between Hallowe’en Party, which got a bit silly but still had a coherent plot, and Nemesis, which as far as I recall made sense, but this book is a complete nonsense. What the publishers thought they were doing is anyone’s guess and there is a reason why it is one of the few Christie’s not to have been filmed because where would you start?

I have this as part of my complete matching partwork and for that reason only I will keep it but I have no intention of ever reading it again. Even if you are a completist, I’d say don’t bother, only being one myself, I know you’ll have to!

Signs of the Times

Written in 1970 and presenting a possible future, with a mention of Thursday, 11th November, this is presumably set in 1971.

Although now we would generally write “tannoy” and use it as a generic word for a public address system, here it is rendered as “Tannoy” reflecting the fact that it is actually a brand name, being derived from “tantalum alloy” which was the material used for one of the eponymous company’s early models.

Sir Stafford Nye is returning from Malaya, which is maybe how he still thought about it, but it had joined with North Borneo, Sarawak, and Singapore in 1963 to become Malaysia. Singapore was expelled in 1965 and became a separate country.

The quote “I wish I loved the Human Race; I wish I loved its silly face” which Nye thinks may by Chesterton is actually by Sir Walter A Raleigh (1861-1922).

A character called Lazenby is mentioned early in the book, who later turns out to be the Prime Minister. As this is a supposed spy thriller, hopefully he was named for the then James Bond, George Lazenby. 

Nye asks if people think he might be “another Philby”. Harold “Kim” Philby was a high ranking British spy who worked as a double agent for the Soviet Union. Despite being initially suspended for tipping off his fellow double agents, Burgess and Maclean (who are mentioned later in the book), enabling them to escape capture in 1951, he was later exonerated and resumed his career until he was finally exposed and defected in 1963.

I was very surprised that Christie used the phrase “arseing around” which just seems so out of character.

The Martin B referred to is presumably Martin Bormann, Hitler’s private secretary. He tried to escape Berlin at the end of the Second World War and for some time it was believed that he may have been successful. It wasn’t until a DNA comparison was done in 1998 that it was definitively proved that he had died in 1945.

References to previous works

In the Introduction when discussing settings for her books Christie refers to  a cruise on the Nile (Death on the Nile), a meal at a Chelsea café (The Pale Horse) and travelling on the Orient Express (Murder on the Orient Express).

Colonel Pikeaway first appeared in “Cat Among the Pigeons” as did Mr Robinson. Amy Leatheran first appeared in “Murder in Mesopotamia”.

 

Turning Japanese #12: Death Among the Undead (2017) by Masahiro Imamura (translated by Ho-Ling Wong)

Narrator Yuzuru Hamura had planned to join the Mystery Club when he started at Shinko University but as its members like light mystery and have no interest in classic orthodox mysteries he instead becomes the second member of the Mystery Society run by Kyusoke Akechi. As well as enjoying crime fiction, Akechi enjoys real life minor cases on campus as well as finding lost cats.

Akechi has his sights set on greater things, and wants to join the Film Club’s summer trip to the Villa Violet, reasoning it’s the type of place where something interesting might happen. He is unsuccessful in getting an invitation until Hiruko Kenzaki, who has her own reasons for attending, persuades the club president, Ayumu Shindo, that all three of them should be allowed to come.

The first day of the holiday goes reasonably well, but that evening the group are attacked by zombies and barricade themselves in the hotel. As if that wasn’t enough, the next morning they find that one of them has been killed inside their locked bedroom apparently by a zombie. Except a zombie couldn’t have left the note wedged in the door saying “Thanks for the delicious meal” and surely no human could have killed a person by biting them to death and gnawing off their face.

So the Mystery Society have to solve the puzzle and avoid the internal threat of a determined killer who continues to strike whilst dealing with the external threat posed by the undead.

As detailed in Soji Shimada’s introduction this book is effectively shin shin honkaku, making reference to Ayatsuji’s “House” series and the intriguing sounding “Flower Burial” series by Mikihiko Renjo- can we have one of these please Locked Room International?

There is a three storey floor plan, which includes a clue, if you want to look for it and a cast list as Hamura himself writes “Having to remember eleven names in one day was a little too much for me. Whenever I read mystery novels, I always forget the names of the characters, and have to go back to the list on the front page.”

The presence of the zombies as well as cutting the students off from the outside world and giving them less and less space in which to manoeuvre like the fire in Ellery Queen’s The Siamese Twin Mystery are integral to the how and why of the murders and so are no mere gimmick.

This an absolute triumph and a reminder that the Golden Age tradition is alive and well for those writers who choose to embrace it and is not limited by time, place, or even genre itself.

Previous posts in this series:

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada

The Moai Island Puzzle by Alice Arisugawa

The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo

Murder in the Crooked House by Soji Shimada

The Inugami Curse by Seishi Yokomizo

The 8 Mansion Murders by Takemaru Abiko

Death in the House of Rain by Szu-Yen Lin

The Decagon House Murders by Yukito Ayatsuji – WITH SPOILERS

The Red Locked Room by Tetsuya Ayukawa

Ellery Queen’s Japanese Mystery Stories

Lending the Key to the Locked Room by Tokuya Higashigawa

Cecily Disappears: Moonflower Murders (2020) by Anthony Horowitz – WITH SPOILERS

This contains spoilers throughout so do not proceed unless you have read the book. As you have read the book, I don’t need to give a rough outline of the story – this is my random thoughts having finished the book.

  • I’d read this just for the Atticus Pünd story. We know Conway wrote only nine of them but even if Susan Ryeland finds no more connections between his books and real-life murder cases, I’m sure someone like Anthony Horowitz could be approached to write a continuation series!
  • The naming of the characters after mystery writers completely passed me by – with the exception Mrs Green of Leavenworth Cottage who Susan Ryeland doesn’t cite.
  • I loved the Ludendorff Diamond short story which foreshadowed the fact that the murder of Melissa took place after everybody thought it had occurred. Once it had been revealed that Francis Pendleton was going to confess because he thought he had killed his wife, I expected that was the reason that Stefan Codrescu’s confession was for the same reason. Re-thinking this I can see this was half-baked – if Stefan had just knocked Frank Parris out with a single blow then he would have known someone else had hit him multiple times.
  • As I’m re-reading the Chronicles of Narnia at the moment I picked up on the double mention of Narnia and was sure that because it had been mentioned twice it must have a significance. The only thing I could come up with was that it pointed to someone having hid in a wardrobe. It’s interesting that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is used as one of many hidden references to lions in a book, when it itself contains many references to Jupiter which author C. S. Lewis deliberately hid in the text.
  • SPOILERS IN ROT13 – ONLY READ IF YOU HAVE READ THE WHOLE CHRISTIE CANON – V ybir ubj raqyrffavtug vf ersreraprq ol fhfnaelrynaq nf bar bs nynapbajnl’f uvqqra wbxrf qrfpevovat gur ivyyntr ol avtug jura npghnyyl V oryvrir vg vf ubebjvgm’f sberfunqbjvat gur snpg gung nvqra znparvy vf nf urnegyrff n xvyyre naq fpurzre nf zvpunryebtref jnf va gung obbx. 
  • My nitpicking mind did notice that Susan says that when they were designing the covers for the  Pünd books they wanted them to stand apart from vintage editions such as my beloved British Library Crime Classics range. However they only started in 2014 whereas the third of Conway’s books is copyright 2009!
  • I don’t know whether all editions have Alan Conway’s interview with Richard and Judy at the end in which we are told that he has hidden anagrams of ten named Golden Age writers in his responses. It’s great fun so if you don’t have it, please contact me and I’ll try to send you a copy.