Sherlockian Shorts #5 – The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Part 3

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.

The Blue Carbuncle

  • This was my first Holmes story – in comic strip form in the Early Learning Centre Book of Spies and Detectives (or something like that). It included a make your own model of 221B Baker Street and figures of Holmes, Watson, and Peterson, the commissionaire. As the latter had a figure I assumed he also was a recurring character, but as far as I remember he never appears again.
  • Holmes has this to say about jewels in general and the Blue Carbuncle in particular: “It’s a bonny thing. Just see how it glints and sparkles. Of course it is a nucleus and focus of crime. Every good stone is. They are the devil’s pet baits.  In the larger and older jewels every facet may stand for a bloody deed. This stone is not yet twenty years old…in spite of its youth, it has already a sinister history. There have been two murders, a vitriol-throwing, a suicide and several robberies brought about for the sake of this forty-grain weight of crystallised charcoal. Who would think that so pretty a toy would be a purveyor to the gallows and the prison?”
  • Reading the comic strip I could never understand the scene where Holmes bets Breckinridge that the goose is country bred when he believes it to be town bred.
  • In the story itself, whilst a copy of the “pink ‘un” may give an indication that Breckinridge likes a wager I don’t believe that the cut of whiskers is also the sign of a gambling man.
  • Holmes recognises when he lets Ryder go free, as is still often the case “Send him to gaol now, and you make him a gaolbird for life.”

The Speckled Band

  • I think all the cases preceding this have been in chronological order, but here Watson specifically tells us this takes place whilst they were still bachelors.
  • Dr Grimesby Roylott bends Holmes’ steel poker to demonstrate his strength, but Holmes shows he is the stronger by straightening it out again.

The Engineer’s Thumb

  • Includes one of the most memorable and terrifying illustrations in the canon.Thumb
  • Holmes does not actually impact the outcome of this story in any way but his deduction from the initial freshness of the horse that the engineer was driven around and back to his starting point is neat. I recently read a short story that put this device to a satisfyingly deadly effect.

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

#67 – Third Girl

A young woman comes to consult Hercule Poirot because she might have67. Third Girl committed a murder but on meeting him face to face decides that he is “too old” and leaves hurriedly without saying any more.

So he is feeling sorry for himself when crime writer Ariadne Oliver calls him to invite him to speak at the annual dinner of the Detective Authors’ Club. To cheer him up she invites him round for a hot chocolate and they discover that it was she who pointed the girl, Norma Restarick, in his direction.

Soon they find that she has disappeared, so they embark on a double quest to find her and a murder against a backdrop of Sixties London.

I thought I knew who the murderer was from a previous read and so when I spotted some of the clues I thought they were the red herrings being laid on a little bit thick. There are a lot of classic Christie elements and it was fun seeing Mrs Oliver try her hand at shadowing a suspect but overall the atmosphere was wrong and the killer could have achieved their aim in a much less risky fashion.

Recurring Character Development

Hercule Poirot

Has changed his bakery of choice to a local Danish patisserie.

Has just seen his Magnum Opus, “an analysis of great writers of detective fiction”, through publication. This may have come out of the reading he was doing in “The Clocks”.

He reads “The Times” but only the births, deaths, and marriages and such articles as he finds of interest.

Doesn’t normally pick up hitchhikers.

Ariadne Oliver

Has changed her hairstyle and her wallpaper – the tropical birds are out and cherries are in.

Does not really like alcoholic drinks.

Has now written forty-three books.

Signs of the Times

Mrs Oliver thinks of a number of songs as she tries to recall Norma’s name. “Speak to me, Thora” is from the 1905 song “Thora” by Fred E. Weatherly and Stephen Adams. “I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls” or “The Gipsy Girl’s Dream” is an aria from the 1843 opera by Michael William Balfe and Alfred Bunn.

The cleaner of number 67 refers to David Baker as “one of these Mods by all accounts”. The mod subculture took its name from “modernists” as it began with those who liked modernist jazz in the late 1950s.

References to previous works

Although Poirot makes up his acquaintance with Sir Roderick, the stories he tells of WWII may have a basis in reality – he may have had some unofficial rôle in Intelligence. He mentions Colonel Race who he last met in “Death on the Nile” and Giraud, which may be a reference to his rival from “The Murder on the Links”.

Chief Inspector Neele appears in this book – could he be a promoted Inspector Neele who appeared alongside Miss Marple in “A Pocket Full of Rye”?

 

#67 – Third Girl – WITH SPOILERS

A young woman comes to consult Hercule Poirot because she might have67. Third Girl committed a murder but on meeting him face to face decides that he is “too old” and leaves hurriedly without saying any more.

So he is feeling sorry for himself when crime writer Ariadne Oliver calls him to invite him to speak at the annual dinner of the Detective Authors’ Club. To cheer him up she invites him round for a hot chocolate and they discover that it was she who pointed the girl, Norma Restarick, in his direction.

Soon they find that she has disappeared, so they embark on a double quest to find her and a murder against a backdrop of Sixties London.

I thought I knew who the murderer was from a previous read and so when I spotted some of the clues I thought they were the red herrings being laid on a little bit thick. There are a lot of classic Christie elements and it was fun seeing Mrs Oliver try her hand at shadowing a suspect but overall the atmosphere was wrong and the killer could have achieved their aim in a much less risky fashion.

Recurring Character Development

Hercule Poirot

Has changed his bakery of choice to a local Danish patisserie.

Has just seen his Magnum Opus, “an analysis of great writers of detective fiction”, through publication. This may have come out of the reading he was doing in “The Clocks”.

He reads “The Times” but only the births, deaths, and marriages and such articles as he finds of interest.

Doesn’t normally pick up hitchhikers.

Ariadne Oliver

Has changed her hairstyle and her wallpaper – the tropical birds are out and cherries are in.

Does not really like alcoholic drinks.

Has now written forty-three books.

Signs of the Times

Mrs Oliver thinks of a number of songs as she tries to recall Norma’s name. “Speak to me, Thora” is from the 1905 song “Thora” by Fred E. Weatherly and Stephen Adams. “I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls” or “The Gipsy Girl’s Dream” is an aria from the 1843 opera by Michael William Balfe and Alfred Bunn.

The cleaner of number 67 refers to David Baker as “one of these Mods by all accounts”. The mod subculture took its name from “modernists” as it began with those who liked modernist jazz in the late 1950s.

References to previous works

Although Poirot makes up his acquaintance with Sir Roderick, the stories he tells of WWII may have a basis in reality – he may have had some unofficial rôle in Intelligence. He mentions Colonel Race who he last met in “Death on the Nile” and Giraud, which may be a reference to his rival from “The Murder on the Links”.

Chief Inspector Neele appears in this book – could he be a promoted Inspector Neele who appeared alongside Miss Marple in “A Pocket Full of Rye”?

SPOILERS

My faulty memory told me it was Frances/Mary and David who were working together so I was surprised when he wound up dead and so all the stuff that pointed at Andrew being a fake I dismissed as red herrings.  The trick with using a fake painting to support an imposter’s claim is good but I’ve seen it before in a much earlier short story.

The main question is why the murderers were determined to frame Norma? The first murder was easily passed off as suicide and after that Frances could have killed David and then just disappeared back into her Mary persona which to me leaves much less to chance than drugging someone in the hope they will believe they killed someone.

Asimov’s Mysteries (1968) by Isaac Asimov

“You should never judge a book by its cover” is the old adage, and this volumeAsimov gives weight to that argument. I’ve no idea what it is supposed to represent but I think this edition was published at a time when Isaac Asimov was science-fiction and so as long as it said “Asimov” on the cover, it didn’t matter what else was on there.

Following the success of his futuristic detective novel The Caves of Steel, Asimov wanted to demonstrate that short-form sci-fi mysteries were also possible and so penned the following thirteen short stories between 1955 and 1967.

The Singing Bell

This inverted mystery shows master criminal Louis Peyton committing the first murder on the Moon. His non-alibi seems unbreakable until the case is brought before Dr. Wendell Urth, an extraterrologist, who eschews all forms of transport except walking, and consequently never leaves the university campus, let alone Earth.

I love the simplicity of the way in which Urth proves the case against Peyton and this is one of the few solutions that I remembered from a previous reading.

The Talking Stone

Wendell Urth has to find a hidden treasure in the asteroid but without a map to guide him.

What’s in a Name?

One of the “Twin” Librarians made the coffee for both of them and then one of them died – but was it suicide or murder?

The Dying Night

Villiers was the best in his class but a bout of rheumatic fever left him unable to go into space. Despite being Earthbound he claims to have out done his former classmates. Which of them has stolen his research?

Pâté de Foie Gras

A shaggy dog story – feel free to skip this one.

The Dust of Death

Everyone wants to kill Llewes but only Edmund Farley actually puts his feelings into action. This is similar to some of the Inspector French short stories where a minor error on the part of the killer proves fatal, as once observed, it gives the investigator a starting point that ultimately leads to the truth coming out.

A Loint of Paw

A two page joke but one which raises an interesting philosophical question.

I’m in Marsport without Hilda

Galactic Service Agent Max has planned an illicit liaison in the fleshpots of Marsport when he is recalled to duty to deal with an urgent matter. Can he identify the VIP smuggler in time to keep his date?

Marooned off Vesta & Anniversary

The first of these stories, as explained in Asimov’s linking material, was the first of his stories that was ever published. He was asked to write a sequel twenty years later to mark the occasion. This reduces the tension somewhat in the first part where three men have to figure out how to survive the aftermath of an asteroid strike as we know that at least two of them must make it through.

The second story is the actual mystery and features Multivac, which is effectively the internet, thirty years before it was invented.

Obituary

A previously unsuccessful scientist finds a way to read his own obituary and achieve scientific immortality. But is he doomed to fail once again?

Star Light

Brennmeyer had planned the perfect crime for thirty years – what could possibly go wrong?

The Key

Karl Jennings is dying but manages to hide an alien artifact from his killer. H. Seton Davenport eventually realises what half Jennings’ final message means and takes it to someone else to decipher the remainder. 

This feels quite like a Black Widowers tales which often involve messages or symbols with multiple possible meanings, which only make sense when looked at from the right angle.

The Billiard Ball

James Priss has two Nobel prizes but Ed Bloom has millions of pounds. When the latter tries to publicly humiliate the former no one is prepared for what happens next.

It’s a brilliant idea with a great final line but on re-reading I feel Asimov should have tweaked the first few paragraphs and better hidden the ultimate point of the story.

Summary

Not all the stories were quite as good as I remembered but there is enough here to satisfy both sci-fi and mystery fans and secondhand copies are easily and cheaply available. The linking material provided by Asimov is entertaining and shows how later discoveries can impact on a story – see also “Strong Poison” by Dorothy L. Sayers – and how consistency between stories involving the same characters can be quite difficult.

I re-read this in preparation for reading “Future Crimes”, the latest anthology in the British Library Science Fiction Classics. A review of that book will appear at some point soon.

Sherlockian Shorts #4 – The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Part 2

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.

The Boscombe Valley Mystery

  • The famous deerstalker hat appears for the first time!Deerstalker
  • Lestrade is described as “a lean, ferret-like man, furtive and sly-looking” which Agatha Christie later borrowed for Inspector Japp “a little, sharp, dark, ferret-faced man”.
  • Shouting “Cooee” marks someone out as being Australian – something also used by Christie in “Peril at End House”.
  • Watson ends by saying “there is every prospect that the son and daughter may come to live happily together in ignorance of the black cloud which rests upon the past”. Hopefully they don’t read the Strand Magazine then!

The Five Orange Pips

  • Holmes, by his own admission “has been beaten four times – three times by men, and once by a woman” but Watson’s comments at the start of the story would imply more occasions than these.
  • This opening sets the scene for another failure. Whilst Holmes cleverly deduces that the interval between the threatening letter being received and the threat being carried out points to a particular boat, he allows his client to return home and be killed. It is unclear to me why anyone, especially Doyle himself, should include this in their Top 12 Sherlock Holmes stories.

The Man with the Twisted Lip

  • Watson’s wife refers to him as “James” when his name is “John”!
  • Despite Holmes often deploring Watson’s narratives he likes them really as he says “a trusty comrade is always of use; and a chronicler still more so”.
  • If St Clair hadn’t cried out in surprise upon seeing his wife she would never have noticed him. The moral of the story is to keep your cool.

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

#66 – At Bertram’s Hotel

For the first and only time we have back-to-back Miss Marple novels. This66. At Bertram's Hotel time she is enjoying a staycation at Bertram’s Hotel, of which she has very fond memories having stayed there once when she was fourteen.

Entering Bertram’s is to go back in time to Edwardian England, although there is now hidden central heating and “also, tucked down a passage, in a secretive way, a television-room for those who asked for it” (presumably where the BBC2 channel may be reserved for the duration of a televisual feast).

Whilst Miss Marple enjoys her holiday Chief-Inspector “Father” Fred Davy is concerned with an increase in “bank hold-ups, snatches of pay-rolls, thefts of consignments of jewels, and train robberies”.  Strangely, some well-respected people have been seen in the vicinity of some of these crimes and they all seem to have a connection with Bertram’s and so Father heads there to see if he can find out any more. Shortly after the absent-minded Canon Pennyfather disappears from the hotel in the middle of the night – just what is going on?

Well that’s a good question – if I was doing spoilers I wouldn’t really know how to sum things up. Murder doesn’t happen until quite late and Christie uses something once too often. Also, a clue that I thought had been cleverly hidden was actually not a secret at all which should make things obvious – not that I solved it first time round!

It’s not a good msytery and its only redeeming feature for me is the information we are given about Miss Marple’s background (see below).

But if you do give it a try then you will finish by wishing you could eat well-buttered muffins at Bertram’s Hotel.

Recurring Character Development

Miss Marple

Lady Selina thought she was dead years ago and now looks about a hundred. She met Miss Marple when she moved to St Mary Mead to be close to the nearby airfield where her second son was stationed.

Had stayed at Bertram’s with her aunt and Uncle Thomas, then Canon of Ely. This was nearly sixty years ago.

Has remarkable eyesight for her age.

Has outlived most of her contemporaries.

Though she cried herself to sleep for a week after her mother nipped an unsuitable friendship with a young man in the bud, she was ultimately glad as when she met him years later she found him to be quite dreadful.

Her one celebrity acquaintance – forgetting Sir Henry Clithering – is the Bishop of Westchester who she refers to as “dear Robbie” who as a child had said “Be a crocodile now, Aunty Janie. Be a crocodile and eat me.” He is now dead.

Always takes a small devotional book with her and reads the allotted page and a half for the day.

An aunt Helen (possibly the wife of Uncle Thomas?) enjoyed buying groceries at the Army & Navy stores and her trips with young Jane ended by going “up in the lift to the fourth floor and having luncheon which always finished with a strawberry ice. After that, they bought half a pound of chocolate creams and went to a matinée in a four wheeler”.

“Rather shamefacedly she paid a visit to Madame Tussaud’s, a well-remembered delight of her childhood.”

She can’t find Bradley’s which is where Aunt Helen went “about her sealskin jacket”.

She had a Great-uncle Thomas who was a retired admiral and a distant cousin, Lady Ethel Merridew.

She had a governess called Miss Ledbury.

She has a stuttering cousin called Fanny Godfrey.

Went to Paris with her mother, Clara, and her grandmother.

Joan West

Is now close to fifty years old.

Has had an exhibition of her paintings recently and whilst she was modern about twenty years ago is now considered completely old-fashioned by young artists.

Signs of the Times

Bertram’s china “if not actually Rockingham and Davenport, looked like it”. I read this as being made by a single firm but they are actually two distinct manufacturers of pottery.

Colonel Luscombe believes that racing driver Ladislaus Malinowski is a better hero for Elvira to have than “one of those pop-singers or crooners or long-haired Beatles or whatever they call themselves”.

Miss Marple thinks of the lyric “Oh where have you been all my life” from a long-forgotten song.  I can’t find what this is at all but in 1962 Arthur Alexander released “Where Have You Been (All My Life)” as the B-side to “Soldier of Love”.

Miss Marples goes to look at the real linen sheets at Robinson & Cleaver’s. This department store chain was founded in 1874 in Belfast and prided itself on being “the most famous store in the world for Irish linens”. There was a London store by 1910 but the flagship Belfast store closed in 1984.

Canon Pennyfather sees a friend from SOAS. The School of Oriental and African studies was founded in 1916 and is part of the University of London.

Canon Pennyfather sees “The Walls of Jericho” at the cinema. It is not the Biblical epic he is expecting. There was a 1948 film of that name, which included Kirk Douglas in the cast, but it isn’t meant to be this as we are later given some fictional cast members.

The National Anthem is played at the end of the film. I can’t find when this practice ended in the UK.

The Irish Mail train is robbed. This service started in 1848 and linked London Euston to Holyhead in North Wales where the ferry could be caught to Dublin.

Mrs McCrae puts the Dover sole away in the Frigidaire. The Guardian Frigerator Company was founded in 1916 and developed the first self-contained refrigerator. It changed its name to Frigidaire in 1919 and is now a division of Electrolux known as Frigidaire Appliance Company.

Mrs McCrae thinks “the scatty ones seemed always to be looked after by a special providence. Whilst taking no care or thought, they could still survive even a Panda crossing. These existed in the UK from 1962 to 1967 and were a precursor the pelican crossing which was introduced in 1969 following the even shorter lived X-way.

Father Davy sings “Why must they call me Mary when my name’s Miss Gibbs?” This is from the 1909m musical comedy “Our Miss Gibbs”. He sings another song from what is spelled as “Floradora” but is actually “Florodora” an 1899 musical.

“The Walls of Jericho” reminds Miss Marple of a play by Mr Sutro. Alfred Sutro (1863-1933) did write such a play in 1904.

References to previous works

Referring to “A Caribbean Mystery” Joan West says “She enjoyed her trip to the West Indies, I think, though it was a pity she had to get mixed up in a murder case. Quite the wrong thing at her age.”

Father Davy consults the mysterious Mr Robinson who first appeared in “Cat Among the Pigeons”.

Police at the Funeral (1931) by Margery Allingham

I have been inspired to review, if possible, a case involving each of the sleuthsFuneral listed in 100 Greatest Literary Detectives (ed. Eric Sandberg) and whilst I have lazily linked in some previous reviews to the page that will summarise my progress, this is the first review written specifically for this purpose.

Joyce Blount’s Uncle Andrew is missing and whilst her fiancé, Marcus Featherstone, sees nothing sinister in this, he does point her in the direction of his friend and amateur detective, Albert Campion. 

Joyce explains that Andrew’s disappearance is unexpected as like her other relations, Uncle William and Aunts Julia and Kitty, he has no money of his own and is dependent on Great-Aunt Caroline Faraday, an imposing matriarch who still lives as if it is the 1880s. As her explanations finish, a telegram arrives from Marcus, to say that Andrew has been found murdered.

Whilst Lord Peter Wimsey is happy to detect under his own name, with the advantages and disadvantages that brings, Mr Campion, also the younger son of an aristocratic family, hides his true identity for professional purposes. Great-Aunt Faraday refers to him initially as Rudolph and trusts him to act on behalf of her family as she knows all about him having corresponded with his grandmother for the last forty-five years.

It soon becomes clear that someone has it in for the Faraday family and that they are all in imminent danger. Can Campion catch a killer before they strike again?

Whilst things hang together neatly, especially regarding the psychology of the characters, and Stanislaus Oates is confirmed in his prejudice against coincidences I did have a problem with Campion’s actions because SPOILER IN ROT13 vg frrzf gung ur qbrfa’g jnag gb gvc-bss gur zheqrere ol univat gur ubhfr frnepurq sbe qrngugencf – ohg ur oryvriref gur zheqrere vf nyernql qrnq fb jung qbrf ur guvax jvyy unccra vs ur vf jebat?

This is the fourth Campion novel that I’ve read and none of them have particularly excited me. However I did enjoy the short-story collection “Mr Campion and Others”.

 

#65 – A Caribbean Mystery

“Like to see the picture of a murderer?” 65. A Caribbean Mystery

Major Palgrave was a bit of a bore but when he dies suddenly shortly after uttering these words Miss Marple’s suspicions are aroused. She finds the picture he was talking about has disappeared – or  has it? Had he moved onto a different subject? And the sight of which of their fellow guests had caused him to end his story so abruptly? If only she’d paid more attention because the next day the Major is dead, seemingly of natural causes, but naturally she is not satisfied.

Miss Marple is especially devious in her investigations – inventing a dead nephew in an attempt to get hold of the mysterious photograph and later damaging a shoe and faking a fall in case she should be observed spying on someone.

In the absence of Sir Henry Clithering or Dermot Craddock she has to enlist the help of irascible, but influential, millionaire Mr Rafiel, to give her investigation some weight.

If you can no longer be sure who your neighbours might really be (A Murder is Announced) how much more uncertain are you of fellow holidaymakers who have no one else to vouch for their bona fides. And even Miss Marple isn’t exactly who she appears to be as she takes on the mantle of Nemesis!

Recurring Character Development

Miss Marple

Her nephew, Raymond West, sends her modern novels which she does not enjoy reading.

Last winter “she had had a bad go of pneumonia and medical opinion had advised sunshine”. Raymond has arranged and paid for her holiday.

Has rheumatism in her neck.

Once met a young man at a croquet party who seemed so nice but when he was warmly welcomed by her father she found that after all he was very dull.

Towards the end of the book reads a few verses from Thomas à Kempis, turns out the light and sends up a prayer.

Signs of the Times

Major Palgrave says “Take all this business about Kenya” and given the book was published in 1964 he is likely to be referring to the fact that it became an independent country in 1963.

The Hillingdons have articles published in the National Geographic and the Royal Horticultural Journal. The former has been published monthly since 1888, currently with 33 different versions around the world. The latter has been known since 1975 as The Garden.

Miss Marple misquotes from Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”: Duncan is dead (should be “Duncan’s in his grave”). After Life’s fitful fever he sleeps well.

What’s In A Name Quiz – The Answers

A number of the British Library Crime Classics contain a subtitle on the front cover. Here are the answers to last week’s quiz:

An Alpine Mystery – Crossed Skis by Carol Carnac

A Cambridge Mystery – The Incredible Crime by Lois Austen Leigh

A Christmas Crime Story – Mystery in White by J. Jefferson Farjeon & Portrait of a Murderer by Anne Meredith

A Devon Mystery – Fire in the Thatch & Murder in the Mill-Race by E. C. R. Lorac

A Fireworks Night Mystery – The Progress of a Crime by Julian Symons

A Lancashire Mystery – Fell Murder by E. C. R. Lorac

A London Mystery – Bats in the Belfry by E. C. R. Lorac, The Lost Gallows by John Dickson Carr, & Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert

A Paris Mystery – It Walks by Night & The Corpse in the Waxworks by John Dickson Carr

A Rhineland Mystery – Castle Skull by John Dickson Carr

A Seasonal Mystery – The Christmas Egg by Mary Kelly

A Second World War Mystery – Checkmate to Murder by E. C. R. Lorac, Death Has Deep Roots & Death in Captivity by Michael Gilbert, & Murder’s A Swine by Nap Lombard

A Scottish Mystery – Murder of a Lady – by Anthony Wynne

A Staffordshire Mystery – The Spoilt Kill by Mary Kelly

A Yorkshire Mystery – The Body in the Dumb River by George Bellairs

What’s In A Name Quiz

A number of the British Library Crime Classics contain a subtitle on the front cover. Can you identify the title(s) that go with these description – there are 22 books in total:

An Alpine Mystery

A Cambridge Mystery

A Christmas Crime Story

A Devon Mystery

A Fireworks Night Mystery

A Lancashire Mystery

A London Mystery

A Paris Mystery

A Rhineland Mystery

A Seasonal Mystery

A Second World War Mystery

A Scottish Mystery

A Staffordshire Mystery

A Yorkshire Mystery