His Last Bow by Arthur Conan Doyle (1917)

Unlike previous collections these aren’t twelve or 13 stories published in monthly instalments but a collection of just seven Sherlock Holmes stories published intermittently between September 1908 and December 1913, plus the one-off title story published in September 1917. Ie these were written by the successful and well-off author as and when he had an idea or needed some cash.

Anglo-Saxon good, foreign bad

Villains are generally foreign and frequently compared to animals. Mr Henderson aka the Tiger of San Pedro is both, as well as being the characteristic ‘superlative’ ie very worst of his type (Holmes rarely tangles with average criminals):

He is a man of fifty, strong, active, with iron-gray hair, great bunched black eyebrows, the step of a deer and the air of an emperor – a fierce, masterful man, with a red-hot spirit behind his parchment face. He is either a foreigner or has lived long in the tropics, for he is yellow and sapless, but tough as whipcord… The Tiger of San Pedro! The whole history of the man came back to me in a flash. He had made his name as the most lewd and bloodthirsty tyrant that had ever governed any country with a pretence to civilization. Strong, fearless, and energetic, he had sufficient virtue to enable him to impose his odious vices upon a cowering people for ten or twelve years. His name was a terror through all Central America. (The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge)

I got past it and got one in with my stick that crushed his head like an egg. I would have spared her, perhaps, for all my madness, but she threw her arms round him, crying out to him, and calling him ‘Alec.’ I struck again, and she lay stretched beside him. I was like a wild beast then that had tasted blood. (The Adventure of the Cardboard Box)

The murderer Georgiano is, of course, foreign (being Italian) and a monster to boot:

Not only was his body that of a giant but everything about him was grotesque, gigantic, and terrifying. His voice was like thunder in our little house. There was scarce room for the whirl of his great arms as he talked. His thoughts, his emotions, his passions, all were exaggerated and monstrous… and even when his words were to my husband those terrible, glaring, wild-beast eyes of his were always turned upon me. (The Adventure of the Red Circle)

In The Adventure of the Dying Detective Culverton Smith isn’t foreign, but the ambience of the dirty Eastern world and the deadly disease he used to kill his nephew, certainly are. A rare literal example of a foreign infection killing an innocent Anglo-Saxon.

In The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax the Rev. Dr. Shlessinger, missionary from South America, is none other than Holy Peters, one of the most unscrupulous rascals that Australia has ever evolved.. [with his wife] This poor lady is in the hands of a most infernal couple, who will stick at nothing.’

For Queen and country

It is noticeable that the final story of The Return ie The Adventure of the Second Stain, and here in the Bruce-Partington Plan, Holmes can rise no higher. In both he finds purloined documents whose loss jeopardised England’s safety. In the latter he is rewarded by an emerald tie-pin from mthe Queen-Empress herself.

At the same time, in the same story, it is made perfectly plain that Holmes is the classic English gentleman-amateur: When Mycroft says he will be rewarded with an honour, Holmes smiles and replies: ‘I play the game for the game’s own sake.’

Until the tone is changed forever by the outbreak of the Great War and the Buchanite setting and mood of His Last Bow (1917).

Multitextuality

It is an endlessly pleasurable feature of the stories the way that the mysteries have to be pieced together from varying bits of evidence and so the texts are themselves made up of various types of text patched and sown together. Lots of letters and notes and diaries and telegrams and secret messages. It also makes the stories feel swift and punchy, since sudden revelations can come in very brief new texts which interrupt the 3rd person narrative.

The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge features a crucial message sent to Garcia telling him the coast is clear for an assassination attempt. The Adventure of the Cardboard Box features the box and message, as well as an exchange of telegrams and a long confession, taken down in shorthand, from the murderer Browner. The Bruce-Partington Plan is not the first story to hinge on messages sent via the agony column of popular newspapers, apparently a routine place for crims to send coded messages.

The stories

  • The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge (1908) March 1892. John Scott Eccles makes friends with a Hispanic man and goes to stay with his odd household in Wisteria Lodge, when he awakes the house is empty but the dead body of his host is found. The tale is in two parts because it takes a while to work out that Garcia and his accomplaices were part of a brotherhood dedicated to tracking down and killing The Tiger of San Pedro, a deposed Latin American dictator on the run. Esher.
  • The Adventure of the Cardboard Box (1892) Date n/a. This story was the second of the twelve Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes in most British editions of the canon, and second of the eight stories from His Last Bow in most American versions. It was suppressed in some editions because it deals with actual adultery. Miss Cushing receives a cardboax with two ears in and calls in the police. Turns out her sister, with the same initial, was part of an adulterous menage in Liverpool with the sailor who married the third Cushing sister, she introduced a second man into Jim Browner’s household who began to make love to Browner’s wife, Mary – Browner said if he ever found Fairbairn in his house he’d send Sarah Cushing his ear. He finds him, kills his wife and the adulterer, and does send the severed ear of wife and lover, but to the wrong Cushing sister. Croydon and Wallington.
  • The Adventure of the Red Circle (1911) Date n/a. Mrs Warren comes to see about a mystery lodger who never moves from his room, now her  husband has been kidnapped! Holmes quickly deduces the lodger is a woman, different from the man who arranged it. They notice signals being sent by lantern from a room across the street; on entering the room find the body of the giant Gorgiano who is head of the Red Circle, an offshoot of the Carbonari, an Italian secret society. The hidden woman, Emilia then tells the backstory about herself & husband falling love in Italy, fleeing to New York, him being asked to murder his patron for the Red Circle, and so fleeing on to London.
  • The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans (1912) November 1895. Mycroft makes a rare visit about plans for the Bruce-Partington submarine which have gone missing – 7 out of 10 papers were found on the body of a young engineer from the Woolwich office, his body found by Aldgate tube railway lines, after he ran off deserting his fiancee in the fog. Holmes makes the key deduction that the body had been laid on the roof of a tube train and fallen off at Aldgate because of a curve in the line. Cross-referencing against foreign spies in London he finds one whose dwelling backed onto the railway, and he and Watson break in. Once again the agony columns of the papers come in useful where they find coded correspondence between buyer and seller and publish an invite to collect more secret papers, thus entrapping the traitor and, ultimately, the German spy.
  • The Adventure of the Dying Detective (1913) Date n/a. Holmes fakes an obscure Asian illness and worries Watson in order to lure over Culverton Smith who promptly admits to the dying Holmes that a) he poisoned him with a spiked box sent through the post b) he killed his nephew using the same device. At which point the police enter and Watson comes out of his hiding place. Culverton Smith isn’t foreign, but the ambience of the deadly Eastern world and disease he used to kill his nephew, is.
  • The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax (1911) Date n/a. A middle aged noblewoman, famous for her inherited jewels, goes missing. Holmes sends Watson blundering round Europe on her trail for she had seemed to be trying to evade a large ‘savage’ man trailing her. Turns out to be a nobleman back from the colonies to woo her. Back in London that they track down a missionary Lady C is reported as meeting who turns out to be none other than the Australian swindler Holy Peters. After a lot of fuss, Lady C is found in a double decker coffin!
  • The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot Spring (1910) March 1897. Many of the other stories use the word horror or describe moments of horror, but this is a sustained meditation on people who have been horrified to death. It is close in spirit to Conan Doyle’s fantasy and science fiction stories. Briefly, for his health Holmes and Watson decamp to a cove in  Cornwall, where they are interrupted by vicar and tenant Mr Mortimer Tregennis. His sister and brothers have died and been driven mad by horror. A day later the vicar rushes up to announce Mortimer himself has also been scared to death. Holmes identifies gravel in the garden with that at the cottage of famous African adventurer Dr Leon Sterndale and forces a confession. Leon, married, in secret loved Tregennis’s sister. Tregennis stole some obscure African horror powder from Sterndale’s house, when he was showing it once, and used it against his siblings, with whom he had a financial dispute. Sterndale realises it and takes more powder to Tregennis, throws it on the lamp, and watches him died horribly as revenge for the only woman he ever loved. On reflection, Holmes lets Sterndale return to Darkest Africa. Cornwall.
  • His Last Bow (told in the third person) (1917) August 1914. An epitome of Anglo-Saxon good, foreign bad, this story is, uniquely, told in the 3rd person, with a description of two German spies standing on the cliffs of Dover in the last days before the Great War breaks out, congratulating themselves on all the spying they’ve done for Berlin. One leaves and the other awaits the Irish-American traitor who’s supplied him so much material over the past few years. It is of course Holmes in disguise who hears the German spy explain everything then chloroforms him and explains the backstory to Watson, the chauffeur ie how he came out of Sussex Downs retirement to save his country in its time of need.
Holmes, Watson and Inspector Lestrade inspecting the two ears by Sidney Paget (1892)

Holmes, Watson and Inspector Lestrade inspecting the two ears by Sidney Paget (1892)

Novels

A Study in Scarlet (1887, in Beeton’s Christmas Annual)
The Sign of the Four (1890, Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine)
The Hound of the Baskervilles (serialised 1901–1902 in The Strand)
The Valley of Fear (serialised 1914–1915 in The Strand)

Short story collections

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (stories published 1891–1892 in The Strand)
The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (stories published 1892–1893 in The Strand)
The Return of Sherlock Holmes (stories published 1903–1904 in The Strand)
His Last Bow: Some Later Reminiscences of Sherlock Holmes (stories published 1908–1917)
The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (stories published 1921–1927)

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