Edgar Allen Poe’s detective stories

During Poe’s short, miserable life (1809-49) he struggled to make a living from writing in a wide range of genres: poems, tales of fantasy and horror, an adventure novel, lots of essays, criticism and piles of ephemeral journalism.

Not much of it was recognised or rewarded in his lifetime, but many of the stories grew in fame and influence in the decades after his death. Now he is predominantly remembered as author of the ballad poem The Raven, and of a series of disturbing, macabre and fantastical Gothic short stories. The Viking Portable Poe divides these into Tales of Fantasy, Tales of Terror, Tales of Death, Tales of Revenge and Murder – which gives a good flavour of the man.

But Poe also wrote three detective stories (classified here as Tales of Mystery and Ratiocination) and most historians of the genre now consider that these more or less founded the entire tradition.

  • 1841 The Murders in the Rue Morgue
  • 1843 The Mystery of Marie Rogêt
  • 1845 The Purloined Letter

Poe himself referred to them as ‘tales of ratiocination’. Merriam-Webster defines ratiocination as ‘the process of exact thinking; a reasoned train of thought’ and in these three stories Poe is more interested in the workings of the mind – the hyperanalytical mind of his hero Auguste Dupin – than in plot as such. All three lean more towards essays than stories, with long excursions into the workings of the mind, pure reason v practical reason, the normal v the abnormal mind etc etc.

Certainly in the first two there is a murder – and then Poe’s creation, the French philosopher Auguste Dupin, uses texts and one visit to the murder scene / in the second story, texts from newspapers and from the police alone – to piece together the course of events. That’s it. There are no subsequent events, no further puzzling discoveries, let alone a chase or race against time to find the murderer.

Just one clever analytical mind sifting the evidence presented in texts to arrive at a theory and witnessed by his more or less passive sidekick, the unnamed narrator.

The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841)

introduced the first fictional detective in English, the eccentric and brilliant C. Auguste Dupin, an impoverished Bohemian intellectual with esoteric and occult tastes, one of which is analysing crimes. In this medium length short story Poe is credited with inventing the main tropes of the detective story which have characterised it ever since.

In the 1945 edition of Poe I have, the American critic Philip van Doren Stern wrote that Poe was painfully aware throughout his life both of his intellectual superiority and of his relative failure to establish it. Hence one of the most characteristic aspects of his prose is a tiresome straining to impress. Rider Haggard, Louis Stevenson and Conan Doyle were not intellectuals. They knew their audience, their reading market in the 1880s, and they knew the importance of getting a plot ripping along on page one and then freshly supplied with incident. It’s a shock to turn to Poe in the 1840s who freights each ‘tale’ with lengthy ‘philosophical’ remarks, thus:

The mental features discoursed of as the analytical, are, in themselves, but little susceptible of analysis. We appreciate them only in their effects. We know of them, among other things, that they are always to their possessor, when inordinately possessed, a source of the liveliest enjoyment. As the strong man exults in his physical ability, delighting in such exercises as call his muscles into action, so glories the analyst in that moral activity which disentangles. He derives pleasure from even the most trivial occupations bringing his talent into play. He is fond of enigmas, of conundrums, of hieroglyphics; exhibiting in his solutions of each a degree of acumen which appears to the ordinary apprehension præternatural. His results, brought about by the very soul and essence of method, have, in truth, the whole air of intuition.

The Murders plot is simple. The narrator bumps into Dupin in a bookshop and, both being poor, they decide to take rooms together (cf Holmes and Watson). They share esoteric interests and often go walking the streets of Paris at night. On one occasion Dupin anticipates precisely what the narrator is thinking, from a process of deduction (exactly as Holmes startles Watson on countless occasions 50 years later). One night they read about the murder of two women in the Rue Morgue. They read the account in the papers; Dupin gets the keys to the apartment from a contact in the police so they can go and see it for themselves; based on a detailed survey of the rooms Dupin explains who the murderer must be. He has already placed an advertisement in the papers and, as he finishes explaining his theory to the narrator, they hear footsteps coming up the stairs of the man who confirms all their theories (exactly as countless feet tramp up the stairs at 221b Baker Street to confirm Holmes’s theories). A few days later the correct murderer is apprehended.

This, the ur-detective story, establishes a number of tropes which are to be repeated in thousands of its descendants:

  • there are two protagonists: the brilliant ‘detective’ or analyst, and his (in Poe unnamed) sidekick and admiring chronicler
  • our heroes read about a murder in the papers, the so and so affair
  • the case features a number of impossibilities, such as the room with the corpses in being sealed by doors and windows locked on the inside
  • it presents a number of unusual features – and Dupin points out (as Holmes does) that the unusual is the detective’s best aid
  • there is a puzzling lack of motive ie the gold left on the floor
  • Dupin’s early practice of forensics in taking the exact imprint of the bruises around the murdered woman’s throat
  • the detective’s outsiderness – both to society as a whole, to which Dupin is a down-at-heel Bohemian; and to the official police, whom he holds in cheerful contempt (as will all his descendants)
  • the police, in the form of the Prefect G—, come grovelling to him requesting his help
  • the exotic/colonial origin of the murderer who turns out to come all the way from Borneo – as so many of Conan Doyle’s stories feature murder brought by exotic criminals from far overseas
  • the culprit flushed out and brought to the detective’s rooms by a carefully placed advert in the newspapers (where they originally read about the case)
Poster for the 1932 'adaptation' in which a mad scientist seeks to mingle human blood with that of an ape, and resorts to kidnapping women for his experiments - ie nothing to do with the story

Poster for the 1932 ‘adaptation’ in which a mad scientist seeks to mingle human blood with that of an ape, and resorts to kidnapping women for his experiments – ie nothing to do with the story

The Mystery of Marie Rogêt (1842)

is Poe’s thinly fictionalised account of the real-life murder of young New Yorker Mary Cecilia Rogers which had caused a media sensation in 1842. Poe sets his fictional version in Dupin’s Paris and gives all the protagonists (and the newspapers whose reports he quotes at length) French names.

This is a deliberate sequel to Morgue. In the story Dupin’s success in the Rue Morgue affair gives him a great reputation with the Paris police, whose chief comes to ask his help a few weeks after the body of the unfortunate young lady is found (cf the bungling Scotland Yard plods Lestrade and Grigson in Holmes). Once he’s left, a) the narrator goes out & procures from the Police the full description of their evidence and theories, then buys every newspaper which has reported it: he summarises all this evidence for Dupin (and for us) and b) Dupin treats the narrator to a long analysis of the various theories proposed by newspapers and police, until he deduces the events and the murderer, viz. Marie was murdered by one man, not a gang, who dragged her body to the river using the torn shreds of her petticoats, stole a boat in which to take the body to mid-river where he dumped it overboard, later tying up the boat at a jetty, later still returning to steal the boat, having realised it could be evidence against him. Find the boat and you find the murderer, Dupin concludes.

It is striking that the entire story really amounts to a piece of practical criticism or close reading of the newspaper accounts. Dupin deconstructs them into individual sentences which he then submits to searching critique and, generally, dismissal. It is not so much an investigation as a reading. Seen from another angle, there is little or no story in the text: it is more an essay, or even a lecture, than a tale.

And the overall affect is disappointing. Dupin’s interpretation isn’t that different from what some newspapers had already suggested. And the 60-page story builds to a strange anti-climax, a note from the narrator inserted into the main text:

[For reasons which we shall not specify, but which to many readers will appear obvious, we have taken the liberty of here omitting, from the MSS. placed in our hands, such portion as details the following up of the apparently slight clew obtained by Dupin. We feel it advisable only to state, in brief, that the result desired was brought to pass; and that the Prefect fulfilled punctually, although with reluctance, the terms of his compact with the Chevalier. ]

Feminism

I am not a feminist, but it is dismaying that the first detective story, and the first real-life murder-turned-into-a-detective-story, both centre on murdered women. I find the 19th century focus on women as especially innocent, especially vulnerable, to be the corollary of the 19th century stifling, repression and exploitation of women, and the murder of women in fiction, drama and opera a rather nauseating epitome of it.

I used to go to opera a lot but gave up because I went to a run of operas which eventually made me sick of watching women die for entertainment: La Boheme, La Traviata, Rigoletto, Carmen, Tosca – watching women die with the suggestion that their murder or suicide was that bit more artistic or entertaining or sensational or aesthetic I eventually found sick and exploitative. And something the same feminist feeling in me is roused by these Poe stories. Luckily the third is the exception, though it still rotates around a woman and her ‘honour’.

The Purloined Letter (1844)

is the third in the Dupin trilogy, the shortest and most focused. Though larded with Dupin’s lectures about the human mind it is noticably more interested in describing the bachelor setup enjoyed by the narrator and Dupin:

At Paris, just after dark one gusty evening in the autumn of 18–, I was enjoying the twofold luxury of meditation and a meerschaum, in company with my friend C. Auguste Dupin, in his little back library, or book-closet, au troisieme, No. 33, Rue Dunot, Faubourg St. Germain. For one hour at least we had maintained a profound silence; while each, to any casual observer, might have seemed intently and exclusively occupied with the curling eddies of smoke that oppressed the atmosphere of the chamber.

An unscrupulous minister has palmed a compromising letter he found in the Queen’s boudoir (presumably she is having an affair) in order to blackmail her. The Queen employs the Prefect of Police to find and return it without causing a scandal. He has the minister’s apartment searched with fantastic precision and thoroughness but finds nothing and arrives at Dupin’s apartment to implore him to help. A month later he is back still without luck, moaning he would give 50,000 francs to have it. Dupin says, Well make out the check and will give it to you. And hand it over he does, to the amazement of the narrator and G—.

Stripped of fol-de-rol, Dupin explains it was about knowing his man, putting himself into the place, into the mind, of the Minister whereat he quickly realised how he would outwit the obvious hiding places suspected by the police. In fact he was so cunning that he didn’t hide the letter at all – tarnished and readdressed, it was in an open letter holder on his shelves throughout all the police’s searches.

Dupin arranges for a shot to go off in the street during his visit, and as quickly purloins the letter as the Minister originally did himself. Ta da! The theme of the stolen, incriminating letter recurs in the Holmes stories The Second Stain and The Adventure of the Naval Treaty and the arranged distraction in the street features in A Scandal in Bohemia, also about compromising love letters.

Edgar Allen Poe (1809-49)

Edgar Allen Poe (1809-49)

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King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild (1999)

Can’t remember the last time a book made me physically sick. About half way through another description of the murders, rapes, dismemberments, garrotings, hangings, torture and shootings carried out by Belgian rubber companies in the forced labour system set up by king Leopold II in his colony in the Congo (1885-1909), I thought I might spew.

Leopold II, king of the Belgians, and his genocide

If you like historical horror stories, you’ll love this book. It intertwines a biography of lonely unloved Leopold, aloof, shy king of the Belgians who conceived a great ambition to own one of the chunks of the developing world being claimed as colonies by all the other European nations – with detail of how, once he’d settled on the Congo, he commissioned the greatest explorer of the age, Henry Morton Stanley, to open it up; and then created a system of concessions to commercial companies which more or less guaranteed that at every level and in every way, the native peoples of the vast Congo basin would be worked to death, exploited, punished and murdered every bit as cruelly and needlessly as the genocides carried out by Hitler or Stalin.

Villages were razed to the ground, women and children were casually shot, or taken as hostages to force the menfolk to drain rubber from the vines which grew high up into the rainforest canopy. If enough rubber wasn’t collected, the women or children were murdered. Or their hands were cut off. Or their brains were dashed out with rifle butts. Or they were raped or tortured to death, or beaten, or tied in sacks and thrown into the river, or flogged to death, or left chained to trees till they died of thirst. And much more.

Leopold’s loot

This happened for 20 years or more over an area the size of western Europe. The profits to the Belgian, French and British companies who extorted raw rubber were big, but nothing compared to Leopold’s take. The book details the countless cunning ways the king screwed the maximum revenue out of every aspect of the operation. Hochschild quotes the scholar Jules Marchal who estimates Leopold’s total haul at around $1.1 billion in today’s money.

Leopold’s follies

This loot Leopold spent on turning his palace on the outskirts of Brussels into a new Versailles, building grandiose public monuments in cities around Belgium, on collecting a suite of villas on Cap Ferrat in the south of France, and on an impressive series of prostitutes and mistresses, until he fell in love with a 16 year old, Caroline Delacroix when he himself was an ageing 65.

The genocide

Modern scholars estimate the population of the Congo region was halved, from about 20 million to around 10 million, during the decades of Leopold’s homicidal rule. Hochschild quotes Alexandre Delcommune, ‘a ruthless robber baron’, saying that, if Leopold had ruled the Congo for another ten years, there probably wouldn’t have been a single rubber vine left, or, quite possibly, a single native. The genocide would have been complete.

It goes without saying the all this was done in the name of ‘civilisation’ and ‘justice’, of ‘law’ and ‘morality’. It is particularly disgusting that the Catholic church, right up until the end and beyond, supported Leopold, a crime just as egregious as its over-analysed relation with the Nazis.

The resistance

Speaking of Christians brings us to the resistance to Leopold’s bloody rule and among these were many Protestant missionaries, especially the non-conformists. It is reasonably well-known that what eventually became a worldwide campaign against Leopold’s rule was run by two passionate advocates, the doughty English businessman-turned-crusader-for-justice ED Morel, and the febrile but effective Irishman, Roger Casement. Through a brilliant series of books, pamphlets, newspapers, speeches, through fundraising and lobbying, they managed to discredit Leopold’s rule and make the scandal one of the great issues of the Edwardian world.

And Hochschild says their campaign was the most important and sustained crusade of its type between the mid-Victorian abolitionist movement and the worldwide boycott of South African apartheid in the 1970s and 80s.

Black heroes who campaigned against the horror

But above and beyond Morel and Casement, Hochschild goes out of his way to bring attention to the work of several remarkable black missionaries and campaigners, namely George Washington Williams, William Henry Sheppard and Herzekiah Andrew Shanu who, often at great risk, travelled far, took testimony, and publicised the horrors of what Model called ‘that infamous System’.

Review

I read Hochschild’s book immediately after Thomas Pakenham’s wonderful Scramble for Africa, which covers the same period and a lot of the same subject. Pakenham’s book has the breadth and scale and depth of War and Peace. It is an epic which also includes detailed portraits of key individuals, ranging across the whole continent throughout the scramble, 1880-1914.

Pakenham’s tone is judicious and, for the most part, detached; only occasionally does he pass judgement on the men he’s describing, and his biting criticism is all the more powerful for being rare. By contrast, Hochschild’s book is much shorter, much lighter, and he is ready with sarcasm and criticism from the start. He is sarcastic about Britain’s claims to abolish slavery after the 1830s, he is sarcastic about the so-called civilising mission of the explorer and colonisers, he is quicker to dismiss all high-falutin rhetoric and, in doing so, he misses the complexity to which these rhetorics, these discourses, were put. Many people believed what they said about bringing civilisation to the savages. A number of native tribes did practice cannibalism. The slave trade was rampant in east Africa and British authorities did do their best to stamp it out.

Pakenham’s book, maybe four times longer than Hochschild’s, has the space and depth to explore the highly complicated ways scores and scores of contemporaries struggled to make sense of their world and of the made scramble for African colonies. As such it is a much deeper and more satisfying read.

But what it lacks in scale and depth, King Leopold’s Ghost makes up for in intensity and horror. After you’ve read a certain amount, it’s hard not to share his sense of indignation, his anger, that human beings from so-called civilised, so-called Christian, Europe were allowed to get away with such barbarity and depravity for so long.

The end?

Leopold died of cancer in 1909. Despite the worldwide success of the campaign against him, in the end he was only forced to sell the Congo to the Belgian state a year or so before his death (he had planned to leave it to the Belgian people in his will). And in a depressing final chapter Hochschild makes clear that, although the scale of wanton murder was reined in, forced labour of some sort continued in Congo, and in neighbouring European colonies, well into the 1930s, and was even intensified during the Second World War with the Allies’ bottomless need for tyres for all types of war machinery.

One of the most powerful lessons for me was the link Hochschild draws between the occasional tribes who managed to rebel against the system, who stole arms and killed their white torturers and escaped into the jungle to wage prolonged guerrilla campaigns against their oppressors – and the similar tactics adopted by anti-colonial nationalists fighting the British and French following the Second World War, the Mau-Mau et al. If, as Hochschild book makes you, you powerfully and emotionally root for the first group of freedom fighters – then surely you must, at the very least, sympathise with their descendants.

European civilisation

Leopold II, king of the Belgians. Note the smart uniform, the shiny medals, the impeccable manners. What a Christian gentleman!

Leopold II, king of the Belgians

Leopold II, king of the Belgians

And now some of the hundreds of thousands of Africans whipped, chained, mutilated, raped and murdered by Leopold’s officers to incentivise them or their parents to gather more rubber for the wise and good king.

Children in the Belgian Congo whose hands have been cut off to encourage their parents to gather more rubber for King Leopold

Children in the Belgian Congo whose hands have been cut off to encourage their parents to gather more rubber for King Leopold

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The Maracot Deep by Arthur Conan Doyle (1927-9)

Following in the footsteps of Jules Vernes, and of his own Professor Challenger science adventure stories, in this short, late novel Conan Doyle recounts the tale of eminent marine scientist Dr Maracot, sensible leading man Cyrus Headley, and gung-ho American engineer Bill Scanlan, as they ship out for the the deepest part of the Atlantic Ocean and then descend to explore it in an ingenious diving bell (see illustration below).

But, no sooner have they arrived at the very edge of the deepest sea trench in the world and seen a few weird fish, than disaster strikes in the shape of a monster lobster which crawls all over the diving box and then – quelle horreur! – snips the hawser which connects it to the expedition boat. Down and down and down they plummet, into the bottomless abyss of the deepest trench in the seas. And what do they find there?

You’ll have to read it to find out 🙂

Science

Interestingly, the bathysphere or diving bell which is at the centre of the yarn, was only just being deployed in real life. The world pioneering one was designed by American engineer Otis Barton, to be used by the naturalist William Beebe in 1928/9, and first used 1930-34 (see the Wikipedia article). So Conan Doyle was bang up to dat with contemporary technology in this field.

Lineage

The Maracot Deep was serialised in The Strand magazine from October 1927 to February 1928, then continued as The Lord of the Dark Face in April and May 1929, ie right at the end of Conan Doyle’s long adventurous life. Jules Verne with Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea and certainly HG Wells and maybe Edgar Rice Burroughs had done this sort of thing before.

But reading it wakes numerous echoes of later films or TV shows where voyagers fall into the hands of an alien and more scientifically advanced race, where they are initially made to feel welcome until…

In fact it does feel like a late work in that Conan Doyle doesn’t really develop either story or characters. The five brief chapters of the part one barely get us to the underwater city, a scrape with a deep sea monster and the discovery of their own ship, wrecked in a hurricane shortly after they were set adrift – and our heroes have returned to civilisation and safety.

Spiritualism

The last two chapters (of seven) were written and published a year after the main body and are clearly and clumsily bolted onto the original story. In them the narrator hilariously say, ‘I forget if I have said before that the Professor was a world-famed specialist on Comparative Religions and ancient primitive beliefs.’ This comes in handy when the three adventurers meet none other than the Devil himself! who turns out to have had a personal hand in the destruction of Atlantis (which is what they’ve discovered).

This turn of events is ludicrous but, as always, in Doyle’s sensible lucid and clearly imagined prose, it has a strange persuasiveness. It has the same plausibility as a Hollywood movie. You know it’s rubbish but, for the hour or so that you watch it, you let yourself be impressed by the special affects, the acting, the directing.

Read The Maracot Deep

Front cover of the 1927 edition of the Strand magazine, containing the first chapter of the Maracot Deep

Front cover of the 1927 edition of the Strand magazine, containing the first chapter of the Maracot Deep

The short stories of Arthur Conan Doyle

Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) wrote some hundred and twenty short stories, excluding the 56 Sherlock Holmes stories and the 17 or so Brigadier Gerard stories. The excellent Société Sherlock Holmes de France website estimates the total number of all Conan Doyle’s fictions as 239, for he also wrote some 20 short novels. His first story was published when he was 20, the last when he was 70.

For  boys

The overall affect is rip-roaring adventures for boys. None of them are really for adults, none of them have much psychology, much interiority, and the plots – though superficially gripping – are all wound up in a brisk few final paras. They anticipate hundreds of adventure movies and comics and graphic novels. They are short and punchy and great fun.

Reassuring

Even the horror and science fiction stories, though they ostensibly deal with the bizarre and grotesque, are ultimately reassuring because there is never any doubt as to the good sense and decency of the narrator(s). It is always a man and he is always soundly for the Empire and the natural fair play of the British, innately superior to all other nations and divinely ordained to rule vast tracts of the world and over their occasionally troublesome natives (and, quite often, over the great unwashed back here in Blighty).

Many of the stories exemplify that specially British sense of justice and fairmindedness which, in the mind of Imperialists, justified, indeed demanded, our Imperial role and which, similarly, justified the existence of a landed aristocracy with its Justices of the Peace, Lord Lieutenants and whatnot.

GM Young, historian of the Victorian era, writes about ‘the most precious element in Victorian civilisation, its robust and masculine sanity’, and Conan Doyle is a kind of quintessence of this, a charmingly unreflective, unquestioning, untroubled supporter of everything British.

Conan Doyle comes over as everyone’s favourite uncle, full of rattling good stories and anecdotes – but nobody for a minute takes any of his opinions seriously. He is Mr Chips.

Magazines

The stories were written for money to be published in the impressively wide variety of magazines which flourished in the 1890s. They were reprinted in numerous subsequent collections. One of the collections was titled Round the Fire Stories and that perfectly captures the Boy Scout ambience of so many of them.

The 1880s and 90s were a golden age of little magazines, created to feed the appetite of the middle and lower classes who had been taught to read as a result of the 1870 Education Act and its sequels, who increasingly had the means to buy cheap titles. Conan Doyle’s most effective outlet was the Strand magazine (established 1891), packed with articles, news and stories by leading writers of the day, all for the bargain price of one shilling in which he continued to publish to the end of  his career.

These magazines demanded sensational storylines, glamorous protagonists, short, sharp doses of the mysterious, the macabre, the haunting or the humorous, and this well-defined format and sensation-seeking audience should be kept in mind when reading Conan Doyle’s stories.

Themes

  • Patriotism ‘I do not go so far as to say that the English are more honest than any other nation, but I have found them more expensive to buy.’ (The Lost Specia’l) “He was a villain, but he was a Briton!” said the captain, at last. “He lived like a dog, but, by God, he died like a man!”‘ (The Slapping Sal) ‘No more striking example could be given of the long arm and steel hand of the British law than that within a few months this mixed crew, Sclavonian, negro, Manila men, Norwegian, Turk and Frenchman, gathered on the shore of the distant Argentine, were all brought face to face at the Central Criminal Court in the heart of London town.’ (The Tragedy of Flowery Land)
  • The British Empire The colonies, especially Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, are the playground of white men – the existence of the Empire goes without saying ie that native peoples should have their land taken and their goods stolen doesn’t occur. Vide his goodhumoured and openhanded pamphlets justifying the Second Boer War which don’t consider the possibility that the British might have been motivated solely by power politics and greed. In The Green Flag even mutinous Irish republicans, when faced with the fuzzy wuzzies, turn out to be the stoutest defenders of the British Empire.
  • London ‘…now gradually overtaken and surrounded by the red brick tentacles of the London octopus.’ It is always growing, throwing out everexpanding avenues of redbrick terraces. The ones we live in, now.
  • Women Chivalry is the way the patriarchy, men, reassured themselves that they deserved to be in charge, that it was OK to keep women in powerless subjugation. Chivalry was men’s reply to women demanding the vote or control of their own lives: look, we defer to you in everything sweet ladies, why on earth would you need the vote? ‘Ladies are in danger of losing their privileges when they usurp the place of the other sex. They cannot claim both.’ (Doctors of Hoyland) Women in Conan Doyle are tall, stately, and the most beautiful woman in England. Defending their ‘honour’ is the motivation for quite a few of the stories.
  • Diamonds seem to be the treasure and currency of choice, the bigger the better, and feature in his very first story, The Mystery of Sasassa Valley as well as The Stone of Boxman’s Drift, Our Midnight Visitor,  The Club-Footed Grocer.
  • Comedy A constant throughout is Conan Doyle’s bluff good humour. Rising to overt comedy in the GP reminiscences and Brigadier Gerard stories, or just lying low, purring in the background. Constantly, pervasively there is his confidence and solidity, as ubiquitous as his splendid Edwardian moustache.
  • Crime of the most sensational and puzzling sort, of course eg The Story of the Lost Special or The Story of the Lost Watches.
  • Sensation The stories were published in popular magazines which often contained sensational news or features. The stories take this tone from their surroundings. Nothing is subtle or underplayed. Everything is the most sensational scandal in London or England or the world. ‘Stanniford, the banker! I remembered the name at once. His flight from the country some seven years before had been one of the scandals and sensations of the time.’ (The Sealed Room) ‘Such was the position of affairs when, upon the evening of Monday, June 21st, there came a fresh development which changed what had been a mere village scandal into a tragedy which arrested the attention of the whole nation.’ (The Black Doctor). The same breathless sensationalism which characterises the Holmes stories.
  • Scandal and the fear of scandal is a motivation in these and the Holmes stories to a degree which is hard for us to understand. The reputation of upper middle class people was so important that they were willing to kill or die to preserve it. Just the hint that some misbehaviour in a former life abroad might revisit someone in respectable England causes numerous Conan Doyle protagonists to drop dead of horror. The Jew’s Breastplate is a particularly preposterous example of a story driven by this ludicrous sentiment.
  • Secret societies flourished in the 1880s and 1890s. They merged in the public  mind with terrorist groups such as nihilists, anarchists, Fenians, even the violent suffragettes. They are routinely offered as explanations when some crime, especially a murder, goes unsolved and were so familiar a subject that Conan Doyle can make a comic story about a chemist who is mistakenly invited to give a lecture about dynamite to a group of nihilists.
  • Murder plenty of people get murdered and the murders are horrible and yet, in some difficult-to-define way, romantic and exciting. They upset the characters – but they don’t upset us, because they are so transparently the engines of a rattling good yarn.
  • Horror The great horror trope of the pale ghastly face at the window occurs in scores of the stories – Uncle Jeremy’s Household, A Pastoral Horror – and melodramatic horror is one of the commonest emotions: ‘… and she realized, with a thrill of horror, that what she had taken to be a glove was the hand of a man, who was prostrate upon the floor.’

And now I come to that portion of my story which fills me even now with a shuddering horror when I think of it (The Striped Chest)

could be the epigraph to many of the collected stories.

The 1880s

  • The Mystery of Sasassa Valley (September 1879) ‘Tell it? Oh, certainly; but it is a longish story and a very strange one; so fill up your glass again, and light another cigar, while I try to reel it off’ sets the tone for the entire oeuvre. Jack Turnbull as an old man recalls how he and Lucky Tom Donahue, two young lawyers who packed in study to emigrate to South Africa, took their cue from a native tale of a haunted valley and discovered the weird glowing was given off not by demons but by diamonds!
  • The American’s Tale (December 1880) “Deuced rum yarn!” said young Sinclair. Hard core Western redneck Jefferson Adams regales a posh English literary club with a tall tale about a feud in 1870s Arizona between cool Brit called Scott and short-fused Alabama Joe which ends with Joe being eaten alive by a giant Venus flytrap plant!
  • A Night Among the Nihilists (April 1881) ‘”By the way,” he remarked, as we smoked a cigar over our wine, “we should never have known you but for the English labels on your luggage.”‘ Robinson, a clerk in a corn merchant’s, is sent to Russia to open up trade with a major landowner. There is a mix-up and he is introduced into a secret society of Nihilists and saved just as he is rumbled, when the police burst in!
  • That Little Square Box (December 1881) ‘Dick was just the man I wanted; kindly and shrewd in his nature, and prompt in his actions, I should have no difficulty in telling him my suspicions, and could rely upon his sound sense to point out the best course to pursue. Since I was a little lad in the second form at Harrow, Dick had been my adviser and protector.’ The narrator is a nervous, solitary, literary type who, when he boards the ship from Boston to London, overhears two foreign men whispering about a secret box and when to set it off, thinks he is hearing anarchist/terrorists. In fact, they are releasing racing pigeons!
  • The Gully of Bluemansdyke: A True Colonial Story (December 1881) ‘The two men lapsed into silence for some time, moodily staring into the glow of the fire, and pulling at their short clays.’ New Zealand in the 1850s. A posse is formed to hunt down seven men who bushwhacked the young sons of two old-timers. A paean to the rugged spirit of the emigrant colonial trooper. Trooper Braxton and his capture of the Bluemansdyke murderers. The Australia stories are linked.
Cover of The Gully of Bluemansdyke

Cover of The Gully of Bluemansdyke

  • Bones, The April Fool of Harvey’s Sluice (April 1882) Comic tale. ‘Boss, with the keen power of calculation which had made him the finest cricketer at Rugby in his day, had caught the rein immediately below the bit, and clung to it with silent concentration.’ Another tale of derring-do in the New Zealand outback, but lightened with romance and humour, as two English miners, posh John ‘Boss’ Morgan and herculean Abe ‘Bones’ Durton save the life of pretty young Miss Carrie Sinclair who transforms the life of mining shanty Harvey’s Sluice. ‘With these few broken words the strangely assorted friends shook hands and looked lovingly into each other’s eyes.’ Reminiscent of Paint Your Wagon. Climaxes with a big shootout as the pals save Miss Sinclair from bushrangers.
  • Our Derby Sweepstakes (May 1882) Two men compete for the hand of the fair Miss Eleanor Montague and decide the winner of the Derby will win her hand. Told in 1st person by Eleanor in an impersonation of a Victorian airhead.
  • That Veteran (September 1882) Very amusing. A gentleman on a walking holiday in Wales pulls into an inn where he is regaled with stories of the Crimean War and a soldier’s career by one sergeant Turnbull until his head is swimming and he passes out. The soldier is a fake, a criminal, who has drugged him and stolen his watch.
  • My Friend the Murderer (December 1882) A further New Zealand story: the prison doctor narrator (Conan Doyle/Watson) hears the life story of Maloney, the Bluemansdyke murderer who escaped the rope by turning queen’s evidence and had sundry adventures trying to escape revengers as he fled to Australia, England, France and then back to Oz where he finally dies in a bar brawl.
  • The Captain of the Polestar (January 1883) ‘Being an extract from the singular journal of John McAlister Ray, student of medicine’. Doctor on the Polestar which travels unwisely far into the northern, Arctic ice fields, supposedly in search of whales, but in fact driven by the haunted captain Nicholas Craigie who is pursuing the phantom of his murdered sweetheart which flees across the ice. (Interesting article about the story’s origins in Conan Doyle’s actual Arctic voyage aboard the whaler Hope.)
Illustration to the Captain of the Polestar

Illustration to the Captain of the Polestar

  • Gentlemanly Joe (March 1883) The narrator is a young man working at a bank along with four other blue-bloods and the vulgar, jumped-up son of a bookie who they ironically name Gentlemanly Joe. They mercilessly rib him, especially when he falls in love with little Miss Cissy who is in fact engaged to one of them. Then comes the night of the great fire when the Newsome house burns down and it is big strong Gentlemanly Joe who breaks down the door and rescues Miss Cissy. Though she marries her fiancee she and the others will never forget Gentlemanly Joe!
  • The Winning Shot (July 1883) A genuinely eerie supernatural story. One Octavius Gaster arrives at a charming upper class household in Dartmoor where Lottie Underwood is due to marry her sweetheart. He casts clouds over the gathering, defends spiritualism, has a newspaper cutting implicating him in black magic, falls in love with Lottie, which leads to a fight with Charley and he is evicted. Then the great shooting match between soldiers at locals where Gaster turns up and, at the climax of the match, appears to make Charley shoot through a phantasm of himself, killing himself. The spookiest thing is that after weeks of delirium Lottie is seen getting into a train with him.
  • Selecting a Ghost (December 1883) Comic story told by a preposterously pretentious narrator Mr d’Odd, a successful grocer who has bought a big old house and now wants a ghost to go with it so he asks his brother-in-law in London to find one, resulting in a crook from London coming down and pretending to be a purveyor of ghosts who audition for him as he drinks some magic potion. When he awakes, he has of course been robbed.
  • The Silver Hatchet (December 1883) ‘On the 3rd of December 1861, Dr. Otto von Hopstein, Regius Professor of Comparative Anatomy of the University of Budapest, and Curator of the Academical Museum, was foully and brutally murdered within a stone-throw of the entrance to the college quadrangle.’ Then another victim is found. Then the friendship of two medical students who stumble across a silver-handled ax and, as he holds it, one goes homicidally mad. They are arrested it and the police inspector handling it also becomes homicidal. It is cursed: ‘Ever evil, never good, Reddened with a loved one’s blood.’ The inclusion of the students makes it seem like the short melodramatic plot of an opera.
  • An Exciting Christmas Eve or, My Lecture on Dynamite (December 1883) Odd tone of tale about a short bespectacled Herr Doctor Otto von Spee to whom lots of accidents occur, the final one being kidnapped on Christmas Eve to deliver a lecture on gunpowder to a secret, presumably revolutionary, society which climaxes with some sample guncotton being detonated and Dr von Spee escaping.
  • J. Habakuk Jephson’s Statement (January 1884) Remarkably powerful fiction which claims to be a true account of what happened on the Marie Celeste (discovered drifting December 1873): the boat is slowly taken over by an evil half-caste – Mr. Septimius Goring – who along with two black sailors murders all the white crew and passengers, steering to a remote African settlement where he lords it over the natives instead of to Portugal. When the natives see the lucky charm an old slave gave him in America their superstitious reverence forces Goring to set Jephson adrift and so be picked up by a passing ship.
Martha the old slave gives Jephson the stone ear

Martha the old slave gives Jephson the stone ear

  • The Heiress of Glenmahowley (January 1884) 1st person. Bob Elliott and John Vereker are two unsuccessful lawyers marooned in a pub in the west of Ireland, passing the time being unpleasantly racist about the locals when the publican tells them of a local widow who is fabulously wealthy and her beautiful young daughter the heiress. Comedy as both men pretend not to be interested but next day climb over the big spiked wall, tumbling into the ditch and scrambling through briars to try to woo and win the beauty. It is made plain he English narrator is a pompous preening twerp.
  • The Blood-Stone Tragedy: A Druidical Story (February 1884) The narrator begins to discuss the recent case of Williams the druid when the other man in the railway carriage says, Hush, don’t mention the word, it might wake my sleeping wife. And then proceeds to tell the story of  how his then fiancee got lost in the mountains and fell into the clutches of a maniac who thinks he is a druid and plans to sacrifice her at midnight.
  • John Barrington Cowles (April 1884) Longer and more psychologically penetrating than usual: the narrator’s friend falls for an ice cold beauty who is associated with two men who went mad, with cruelty to her dog, with tyranny over her mother, the daughter of a soldier in India who indulged in black magic. She beats a mesmerist at a public lecture and then, at the height of their engagement, she reveals something hideous to John Barrington Cowles. He raves that she is a werewolf. He goes down with brain fever and then is taken by the narrator to the Isle of May to recover. One night with a storm approaching, JBC hears her calling and runs to his death over a cliff.
  • The Cabman’s Story: the Mysteries of a London ‘Growler’ (May 1884) A London cabbie tells a few of his colourful experiences like carrying a corpse, and carrying a forger. Nice ventriloquism of the cabbie, similar to My Friend The Murderer.
  • The Tragedians (August 1884) Young Mr Barker the narrator enters the happy life of the Latour family in Paris, the widowed Madame, young Rose and brother Henry the would-be actor. In another part of town the famous actor and seducer of women Lablas wins at cards and plans the abduction of Rose. Barker and the brothers are walking home late when they encounter Lablas and accomplices abducting Rose. Fight. Broken up with the promise of a duel. And, as Henry had just got the role of Laertes opposite Hamlet, the duel is fought for real onstage in a scene which rises to real intensity and power.
Poster for The Winning Shot and An Actor's Duel (1894)

Poster for The Winning Shot and An Actor’s Duel (1894)

  • Crabbe’s Practice (December 1884) Pure comedy as two medical students cook up a fake drowning and electrical resuscitation to boost Crabbe’s practice.
  • The Man from Archangel (January 1885) 1st person. Lonely young scientist John M’Vittie inherits money and a barren stretch of property in Scotland to which he moves to carry out his obscure experiments. One stormy night a schooner is shipwrecked on the shore and, out of character, he rows out and saves a beautiful young damsel who doesn’t speak English. Days later a tall, brown-faced, red-shirted, leather-booted pirate-type comes snooping claiming the woman is his bride. But she hates him. He and his crew kidnapped her from her wedding.
  • The Lonely Hampshire Cottage (May 1885) 3rd person. Very moody landlord John Ranter is advised by his doctor to retire and moves to a remote cottage where he beats his wife and is a byword. Then a strange sailor appears, walking to Southampton, in need of a bed for the night. Ranter offers it and slowly unravels that the stranger has struck it rich in California and bears dollars and gold. In the middle of the night he creeps up the stairs to murder him but is caught by the stranger who reveals himself as Ranter’s runaway son.
  • The Great Keinplatz Experiment (July 1885) Professor von Baumgarten is an expert on mesmerism and spiritualism and carries out an experiment with his daughter’s fiance and his student, Fritz von Hartmann, to see if souls leave the body during hypnosis. They do, but re-enter the wrong bodies, the professor’s soul entering the student’s body and vice versa, with hilarious consequences. Played for laughs, this reminded me of a Laurel and Hardy short.
  • The Parson of Jackman’s Gulch (December 1885) 1853 in this rough mining settlement 150 miles from Ballarat when a pastor arrives and wins over the miners by reading the Bible whenever they blaspheme. His campaign climaxes with the first ever sermon in the back of the pub where he proceeds to lock them in and reveal himself to be the noted bushranger Conky Jim while his partners rob the assay office of its entire haul of gold.
  • The Fate of the Evangeline (December 1885) 1st person. John Vincent Gibbs reveals the true story behind the loss of the ‘Evangeline’, namely that, rejected in love he had become an anchorite on a remote Scottish island when who should turn up but his erstwhile fiancee, mercenary father and calculating suitor, all of whom he overhears, before swimming out to the yacht Miss Lucy is sleeping aboard, cutting the painter and absconding with her. The schooner is run down in the Irish Sea by a freighter bound for Australia where they make a new life and, ultimately, write this ‘true account’. Quotes the Scotsman quoting Poe’s detective Dupin about eliminating the impossible etc.
  • Touch and Go: A Midshipman’s Story (April 1886) 1st person. It is 1868 and the narrator was a lad of 14 back on the banks of the river Clyde from his first journey as a seaman. He, his sister and cousin fool old Jock their minder and take a sailing boat out for a pleasure run alone and on impulse decide to sail to the mouth of the river where a storm pushes them out into the Irish Sea. Caught in heavy waters they are like to drown when they are rescued by a steam launch, dried and slept and dropped on the beach of the Isle of Man.
  • Cyprian Overbeck Wells : A Literary Mosaic (December 1886) 1st person. Humorous: the narrator Smith fancies himself a writer and after 10 years a clerk leaves his job to write a masterpiece, decides to read all English literature to give himself a boost: then one night hallucinates a tableful of the great novelists who proceed to tell a story in tag.
  • Uncle Jeremy’s Household (February 1887) 1st person. Long one. Student Hugh Lawrence goes to Dunklethwaite House in Yorkshire to stay with his friend John Thurston who is staying with old eccentric, poetry-obsessed Uncle Jeremy and the nanny, Miss Warrender, an attractive Indian young woman, orphan of a famous Indian chief, and Uncle J’s amanuensis, the tall creepy Copperthorne. Hugh becomes curious about the troubled relationship between secretary and nanny and puzzled by her sometimes savage demeanour until one night, he overhears their conversation in the greenhouse and discovers she is the daughter of a Thuggee leader, worships a goddess of murder, killed her adopted father’s daughter and the little girl Uncle J had adopted; and now they both plan to murder old Uncle J as the secretary has got himself named in the will. In the end a) Miss Warrender escapes having b) tasked a wandering Indian stranger in the village to murder Copperthorne.
  • The Stone of Boxman’s Drift  (December 1887) 3rd person. The early 1870s in the Vaal valley near Kimberley, South Africa, barren land except for the diamonds and therefore wild prospectors from all over the world. ‘Headley Dean, with his crisp, neatly-trimmed hair and beard, his quick, glancing eyes, and his nervous, impulsive ways, had something of the Celt, both in his appearance and in his manner. Eager, active, energetic, he gave the impression of a man who must succeed in the world, but who might be a little unscrupulous in his methods of doing so. Big Bill, on the other hand, quiet, unimpressionable, and easy-going, with a sweeping yellow beard and open Saxon countenance, may have had a stronger and deeper nature than his partner, but was inferior to him in fertility of resource, and in decision of character in all the minor matters of life. ‘ A morality tale whereby the Celt comes over selfish and greedy when they find a huge carbuncle. In their struggle it bounces into a bottomless pit. The dim Saxon reveals he had found it earlier and placed it for the Celt to discover, who is then covered in guilt and shame.
  • John Huxford’s Hiatus (June 1888) John works in a cork factory in Brisport which is forced to close down by competition from south America. He is offered a job in Canada and leaves his weeping fiancee, promising to write. Within days of arriving he is attacked and beaten over the head in a low dive. He recovers but has amnesia. He rises by hard work to be a rich man and, upon hearing Devon voices down at the docks, suddenly remembers everything. He sails over the sea and is reunited with his sweetheart who has stayed true to him these past seventy years.

The 1890s

  • The Ring of Thoth (January 1890) 3rd person. An Egyptologist in the Louvre stumbles upon a 4,000 year old Egyptian who discovered the secret of eternal life and now is going to end his life in the arms of his mummified love.
Illustration of The Ring of Thoth - audiobook read by Edward French

Illustration of The Ring of Thoth – audiobook read by Edward French

  • A Physiologist’s Wife (September 1890) 3rd person. Social comedy/satire in which cold-hearted rationalist and scientist Professor Ainslie Grey marries one Mrs. O’James. A younger colleague is due to marry his daughter, until he meets the new Mrs Grey and is stunned to realise she is his first wife from Australia who ran off and left him and was drowned in a shipwreck. In fact she didn’t take the boat but came to England to start a new life. Cold rationalist Professor tells them to go be happy and reunited. He dies of a broken heart.
  • A Pastoral Horror (December 1890) 1st person. Murder in a beautiful Alpine valley. An Englishman awaiting the outcome of a bankruptcy case in England has moved to the isolated village of Laden where he is witness to several gruesome murders of peasants in a small Alpine village. The one other educated man in the village is the curé Father VerhagenTurns so imagine everyone’s horror when it turns out to be him, going insane.
  • The Surgeon of Gaster Fell (December 1890) 1st person. 1885. James Upperton moves to an isolated cottage on the Yorkshire Moors to study but becomes embroiled with several mysterious people, Miss Cameron, the Italianate beautiful young woman staying in the boarding house he puts up in, and the self-styled surgeon of Gaster Fell who is the only neighbour, who warns him to bolt his door at night and who he sees cruelly mistreating a wizened old man. One stormy night his front door creaks open and a ghastly evil figure is revealed by lightning. Chased off by another man. In the cold light of day it turns out the old man is clinically and violently insane and being ‘cared’ for by his son and daughter, the surgeon and mysterious young lady.
  • Our Midnight Visitor (February 1891) 1st person. A long atmospheric story set on the small isle of Uffan near Arran. The scenery and mood painted very well a la Robert Louis Stevenson. A stranger appears, a wealthy American calling himself Digby, dropped by his yacht who comes to stay with young MacDonald and his bad-tempered father. The narrator’s suspicions mount until a newspaper cutting reveals that Digby is  Frenchman who has stolen a fabulous diamond and is on the run.
  • A Straggler of ’15 (March 1891) A patriotic portrait of Corporal Gregory Brewster, last survivor of the battle of Waterloo. Superpatriotic and vivid description of working class Chatham.
  • The Voice of Science (March 1891) 3rd person. Drawing room comedy as Mrs Esdaile’s son Rupert takes advantage of the new ‘phonograph’ to record a message listing the conquests and cheating of his sister Rose’s fiance Captain Beesley, who mysteriously runs out the french windows and down the drive never to be seen again.
Illustration for The Voice of Science

Illustration for The Voice of Science

  • The Colonel’s Choice (July 1891) Colonel Bolsover marries young Miss Hilda Thornton despite rumours and the attempt of friends to dissuade him. Several years of happiness follow but then Captain Tresillian appears from India and, in a confrontation scene, he reveals that he and Hilda were engaged but he was penniless. A fire breaks out at Melrose Lodge and the colonel saves his wife then nobly steps into the flames to give her a better life.
  • A Sordid Affair (November 1891) A hymn to honest working women. Mrs Raby is trying hard to support her ex-drunk husband by dressmaking. She makes a beauty for posh women but her husband steals it, panws it and gets blind drunk, forcing Mrs Raby to spend all her savings buying the original dress from its Bond Street shop in order to keep her promise to her client. Then she recovers her husband from the gutter and takes him home. ‘Oh, blind, angelic, foolish love of woman! Why should men demand a miracle while you remain upon earth?’
  • A False Start (December 1891) 3rd person. Comedy about young Dr Horace Wilkinson who has several false starts of first patients including the gas man and an impoverished gypsy before he called quite by mistake to the house of the local millionaire. Turns out to be a comedy case of mistaken identity in which Wilkinson shines nobly.
  • Out of the Running (January 1892) Pretty young Dolly, farmer’s daughter, has two suitors Adam and Elias and in a number of scenes we meet them and hear her mother’s opinion about which one to take. Dolly thinks it is Adam leaves a dog rose on her window sill every morning and so accepts him. There is an accident with the hayrick which crushes the orphan inarticulate farmhand Bill. Next morning, unable to walk, he crawls to her window to leave another rose sprig and is found there dead. Dolly distraught. Hardy territory.
  • The Great Brown-Pericord Motor (March 1892) 3rd person. Short, grotesque story of two inventors who fall out over a flying machine they’ve created. They fight and one is killed in the struggle. Pericord attaches Brown’s  body to the machine and sends it off out to sea, then goes mad. ‘He walked swiftly down the stair and was quickly reabsorbed into the flood of comfortless clammy humanity which ebbed and flowed along the Strand.’
  • De Profundis (March 1892) Strange and gruesome. Starts with a hymn to the British Empire and its insatiable need for British men. Then the tale of John Vansittart a planter from Ceylon who visits the narrator, goes staying with his friends, marries suddenly but just before departing comes down with smallpox. He sails early and is due to be met by his wife and friend at Falmouth; the ship goes on to Madeira and JV appears in a vision to the narrator out of the calm Atlantic waves…
  • A Regimental Scandal (May 1892) A tale of our fine men in the Army, specifically rich Major Errington who tries to help Colonel Lovell when his shares crash by cheating against himself at cards – until it is revealed. Far from being a scandal this is a hymn to how jolly decent the British Army is.
  • A Question of Diplomacy (summer 1892) Comedy. The Foreign Secretary, laid up with gout, is outwitted by his wife who arranges for his daughter’s fiance to get a position in Tangiers and for the daughter to accompany him and for them to get married asap, all against the FS’s wishes.
  • Lot No.249 (September 1892) At an old Oxford college a fat evil undergraduate has been conducting experiments, bringing a 4,000 year old mummy back to life, and increasingly using it to terrorise his enemies – before a steady young sporting chap steps in and stops it.
Illustration of Lot 249

Illustration of Lot 249

  • Jelland’s Voyage (November 1892) Henry Jelland and Willy McEvoy get into serious debt in a trading port in Japan, and steal the money from their employer who’s on a long trip. When he unexpectedly returns they steal more money to buy a yacht, which is then pursued by the irate employer until the men shoot themselves but their empty yacht is then carried by storm into the wastes of the Pacific.
  • The Los Amigos Fiasco (December 1892) A very short light-hearted comic-horror piece about a town which tries to execute a man with electricity by increasing the voltage, but only succeed in giving him superhuman life.
  • The Green Flag (June 1893) The Irish Question: ‘For Irish regiments have before now been disaffected, and have at a distance looked upon the foe as though he might, in truth, be the friend; but when they have been put face on to him, and when their officers have dashed to the front with a wave and halloo, those rebel hearts have softened and their gallant Celtic blood has boiled with the mad Joy of the fight, until the slower Britons have marvelled that they ever could have doubted the loyalty of their Irish comrades.’ In faraway Sudan a British force is overcome by attacking dervishes, the square collapses, things are going badly, when the Republican leader Dennis Connolly unexpectedly rallies the Irish contingent and dies saving the day. Propaganda how even dissidents within rally to the Empire when faced with opponents from without.
  • The Slapping Sal (August 1893) An 18th century yarn. ‘But the splendid discipline of the British service was at its best in such a crisis.’ ‘”He was a villain, but he was a Briton!” said the captain, at last. “He lived like a dog, but, by God, he died like a man!”‘ A British man o’war is struggling against a more powerful French ship but is saved by the mutineers of another British boat, the Slapping Sal and their fierce leader Hairy Hudson who turned out to be a true Brit.
  • The Case of Lady Sannox (November 1893) A dashing surgeon is having an affair with a high society lady, is called late at night to operate on the wife of a Turkish merchant; he horribly disfigures the woman, then it is revealed it is his high-born lover and the merchant her husband who has taken a horrific revenge.
  • The Lord of Château Noir (July 1894) During the Franco-Prussian War a French aristocrat terrorises a Prussian officer in vengeance for his dead son.
Illustration of the Lord of Chateau Noir

Illustration of the Lord of Chateau Noir

  • Round The Red Lamp (1894) COLLECTION of 15 stories themed around medicine, the red lamp being the sign of a GP
  • A Medical Document (October 1894) Three old doctors – a GP, a surgeon and an alienist – sit around discussing eerie cases. There’s passing reference to the way popular fiction uses very rare or vague conditions (‘brain fever’) but rarely actually common diseases (typhoid). And how fiction rarely uses those outbreaks of vice which are so common. I think he’s talking about sex.
  • Behind the Times (October 1894) Comic, warm-hearted memoir of an old-fashioned doctor way behind modern scientific times, but with a magical healing touch and bedside manner.
  • His First Operation (October 1894) Comic, warm-hearted memoir of a young student attending his first operation and fainting.
  • The Third Generation (October 1894) Seasoned Dr Horace Selby is visited by Sir Francis Norton who, it quickly tanspires, is infected with syphilis. He explains the taint comes from his hard-living Regency grandfather. He is due to marry the following week. The doctor suggests creating a sudden reason to go abroad and cancel the nuptials. But next morning Dr Selby reads that the noble aristocrat has thrown himself under the wheels of a heavy dray and died, in order to spare the damsel and kill the hereditary taint. True Brit.
  • Sweethearts (October 1894) The doctor in a seaside town meets an old man on a bench who wastes and declines over three consecutive days. Finally he reveals it is because he is waiting for his wife, his childhood sweetheart, to return. I wonder whether Conan Doyle’s readers found this sickly sweet, or lapped it up.
  • The Curse of Eve (October 1894) The nondescript life of Robert Johnson, gentleman’s outfitter, is turned upside down when his wife begins her labour. He chase all over town for one doctor, and then again for a second opinion. After an all-night vigil, his son is delivered. ‘Lives had come and lives had gone, but the great machine was still working out its dim and tragic destiny.’
  • The Doctors of Hoyland (October 1894) Dr James Ripley of Hoyland in Hampshire is astonished when a lady doctor moves to the town. Quickly she establishes herself a practice and ends up treating Ripley himself after he fractures his leg falling from a carriage. His initial sexist resistance to a female doctor is completely overcome by close experience of her ability and he inevitably falls in love with her. Thankfully, Conan Doyle foresees the utter hopelessness of such a resolution and has her remaining devoted to Science, departing for further education in Paris, leaving the country doctor sadder and wiser.
  • The Surgeon Talks (October 1894) Like A Medical Document this consists of paragraph-long anecdotes: how they removed the ear from the wrong patient; how most people receive the diagnosis of impending death nobly etc. The woman who hides her cancer form her husband. ‘…Besides, [a doctor] is forced to be a good man. It is impossible for him to be anything else. How can a man spend his whole life in seeing suffering bravely borne and yet remain a hard or a vicious man? It is a noble, generous, kindly profession, and you youngsters have got to see that it remains so.”‘
  • The Parasite (December 1894) ‘He has to thank his phlegmatic Saxon temperament for it. I am black and Celtic, and this hag’s clutch is deep in my nerves.’
  • A Foreign Office Romance (December 1894) Introduces the figure of the comically garrulous old Frenchman who would mutate into Brigadier Gerard. Here he is named Alphonse Lacour, assistant to the French ambassador who is finalising a treaty with the English Foreign Secretary when a messenger arrives to say the French have handed over Egypt ie lost their bargaining power; at which Alphonse kidnaps the messenger and drives him up and down in a carriage reciting the Koran until it is too late, the treaty is signed, and Alphonse flees back to France a national hero.
  • The Recollections of Captain Wilkie (January 1895) On a train an experienced doctor carries out some Holmesian analysis of the man sitting opposite. He reveals himself to be a reformed professional thief and recounts a number of his adventures. The collection-of-anecdotes story.
  • The Three Correspondents (1896) Incredibly Kiplingey.  Three newspaper correspondents riding through the heat of Egypt to join the army. Racial stereotypes: ‘Mortimer was Saxon—slow, conscientious, and deliberate; Scott was Celtic—quick, happy-go-lucky, and brilliant. Mortimer was the more solid, Scott the more attractive. Mortimer was the deeper thinker, Scott the brighter talker.’ and Anerley the nube. They are attacked by four Arabs who they shoot, Anerley is wounded. But it is he who finds the Arabs’ camel and beats his colleagues back to the telegraph station to send a famous despatch to his paper.
  • Tales of the High Seas: I. The Governor of St. Kitt’s (January 1897) Set in the early 18th century, time of pirates in the Caribbean and among all the pirates the most feared and savage is Captain Sharkey. Captain Scarrow of the ship Morning Star is told a) Sharkey is captured and due to hang next morning b) ordered to take the governor of St Kitts back to London. The governor is duly rowed out the next morning and off they set and he proves a jovial guest who can hold his liquor and tell a good yarn. Having crossed the Atlantic to Beachy Head he rips off his disguise to realise that he is Captain Sharkey, who had cut the governor’s throat and stolen his clothes! With his loyal mate he departs on the only seaworthy boat left and Scarrow watches them commandeer a fishing barque and disappear.
The Governor of St Kitts

The Governor of St Kitts

  • Tales of the High Seas: II. The Two Barques (March 1897) Stephen Craddock, an American Puritan gone bad, volunteers to the governor of Kingston to lead an expedition to trap Sharkey when his boat is reported as drydocked on a remote island, with a similar boat painted to look the same. Doubles. Craddock and crew go hunting for him ashore for several days, then return to their own ship, only to find it is Sharkey’s own Happy Delivery. They imprison him and sail to Kingston where they are greeted as victorious heroes and are about to capture the governor and leading citizens, when heroic Craddock breaks free of his bonds, dives into the sea, and raises the alarm before being shot and drowned by Sharkey.
  • Tales of the High Seas: III. The Voyage of Copley Banks (May 1897) Captain Sharkey murdered Copley Banks’s wife and two children. He plans his revenge, hiring a crew of wrong ‘uns and himself becoming a pirate then fast friends with Sharkey before tricking him aboard his ship, tying him to the muzzle of a gun and booby trapping it all with gunpowder. Boom! End of Captain Sharkey.
  • The Striped Chest (July 1897) Captain Barclay and mate Allardyce go aboard a Portuguese barque which has foundered in a storm. It is abandoned except for a corpse they find. They carry to portable cargo aboard their ship, including an enormously heavy chest which has a note on saying, Don’t open. The second mate, overcome by greed, is discovered dead with his head cloven in like the corpse on the wreck. As the first mate goes to open it Captain Allardyce pulls him back just as a mechanism springs out to crush his head. This is a genuinely atmospheric and powerful story.
  • The Fiend of the Cooperage (October 1897) Mr Meldrum, skipper of the private yacht The Cooperage, puts into an island off Sierra Leone where two Brits are maintaining a trading outpost cf Conrad’s An Outcast of the Islands. The nautical terms and atmosphere of the island very well described. But something evil is haunting the island, scaring the negro servants, and stealing away a man every third day… Meldrum and Dr Spelling stay up all night in a tropical thunderstorm to find out what…
  • The New Catacomb (1898) Two archaeologists in Rome, one of them a dashing bounder just returned from a failed elopement with an English girl. His colleague takes him at night to a new catacomb then traps him there; for he had loved the girl he had ‘ruined’.
  • The Confession (January 1898) ‘She looked down at the grating, and shrank in terror from the sight. A convulsed face was looking out at her, framed in that little square of oak. Two terrible eyes looked out of it—two eyes so full of hungry longing and hopeless despair that all the secret miseries of thirty years flashed into that one glance.’ Very short. A Jesuit priest accidentally reunited with his long-lost love who has herself taken the veil, and they bemoan the doomed love affair which separated them.
  • The Story of the Beetle-Hunter (June 1898) This and the following stories make a set in the Strand of longish, factual stories about mysterious crimes, Holmes stories without Holmes. An unemployed doctor answers an advert in the Standard and goes for an interview with Lord Linchfield who requires a strong man with a good knowledge of beetles. They go by train to Pangbourne to Delamere Court, home of tall eccentric beetle expert Sir Thomas Rossiter. In the middle of the night Rossiter sneaks into their bedroom and attacks the dummy figure in the bed. They are able to accost him and show that he is subject to mad fits, as his wife had claimed.
  • The Story of The Man with the Watches (July 1898) A long puzzle concerning that could almost be a Holmes mystery. A man and lady enter a train to Manchester, having refused to enter a carriage with a bearded man smoking. At Manchester all three are gone, and a young man no-one can account for is found shot dead. The article describes the various theories of police detectives before quoting a long letter form one of the protagonists which explains what happened. It is one of Doyle’s favourite tropes, the ‘revenge from overseas’. A Holmes story without Holmes.
Illustration of the Story of the Man with Watches by Frank Craig

Illustration of the Story of the Man with Watches by Frank Craig

  • The King of the Foxes (July 1898) The setting is a crew of old fox hunters telling yarns and one tells the story of Wat Danbury, whose doctor had told him to lay off alcohol before he began hallucinating, who goes an epic hunt, finally being the only rider left as he enters spooky woods to find himself confronted by a monster giant fox, the king of foxes, killing the hounds. He flees home and never touches a drop again.
  • The Story of The Lost Special (August 1898) ‘It is one of the elementary principles of practical reasoning, that when the impossible has been eliminated the residuum, however improbable, must contain the truth.’ A foreigner hires a special train from Liverpool to Manchester. it never arrives but vanishes into thin air. As in The Man with the Watches the story takes the form of an official report, collating the puzzling crime and then revealing the unriddling solution.
  • The Story of the Sealed Room (September 1898) ‘It was in the course of one of these aimless rambles that I first met Felix Stanniford, and so led up to what has been the most extraordinary adventure of my lifetime.’ Lawyer sees a young man nearly run over by a cab and helps him into his decayed big house. Discovers his father was the banker who ruined lots of people and disappeared. There is one room sealed shut which the absconded father wrote the son not to open till he was 21. A few months later the young man arrives at that age and the lawyer is present at the unsealing of the door where they find the father’s body, dead these seven years. He committed suicide in shame but didn’t want his poorly wife to know.
  • The Story of the Black Doctor (October 1898) Another very detailed and forensic crime mystery which the narrator examines in detail, weighing all the evidence in the mysterious murder of the dark-skinned doctor of Bishop’s Crossing near Liverpool. A Holmes story without Holmes.
  • The Story of The Club-Footed Grocer (November 1898) ‘With every fresh incident I felt that I was moving in an atmosphere of mystery and peril…’ Stephen is invited by letter to visit his disreputable uncle who used to be a ship’s chandler in Stepney but was attacked and beaten and, when the attacker was gaoled, moved to a remote cottage in the Lake District. Thence Stephen goes to discover the pirate has been released form gaol, gathered his crew and is besieging the uncle. There’s a showdown in which the uncle leaps to his death and the stolen diamonds are – cunningly – discovered to be hidden in his club foot boot heel.
  • The Brazilian Cat (December 1898) the protagonist visits his cousin, Everard King, at his country pile where he has housed his large collection of Brazilian flora and fauna, especially the prize exhibit, a huge black puma. Despite warnings from the collector’s wife, the protagonist allows himself to be locked in to the animal’s cage. He manages to survive and when evil Everard returns in the morning it is he and not the protagonist who is killed. And as a result, the protagonist inherits the land, house and title.
"It drew its claws along the wire meshes beneath me." by Sidney Paget

“It drew its claws along the wire meshes beneath me.” by Sidney Paget

  • The Retirement of Signor Lambert (December 1898) A grim and sadistic story in which, like The Case of Lady Sannox, a jealous husband arranges the disfigurement of a lover; in this case the strong-minded self-made man Sir William Sparter discovers a letter from his wife to a celebrated tenor, Signor Lambert. He teaches himself about neck anatomy, goes to the tenor’s house, chloroforms him and permanently damages his vocal cords.
  • A Shadow Before (December 1898) means before the Franco-Prussian War.  We are in Ireland, 1870, and City financier (ie gambler) John Worlington Doddshorse, ordered by his doctor to treat the stress of incipient bankruptcy, stumbles across the biggest horse fair in the land. He sees two different men in the hotel opening lengthy telegrams which appear to be in code. Then witnesses them paying way over the odds for the horses brought to sale. He telegrams his colleague in the City – sells all French and German stocks – there’s going to be a war.
  • The Story of The Japanned Box (January 1899) The old crumbling Thorpe Place in the Malverns in the heart of England, where the narrator goes as tutor to the children of old weathered Sir John Bollamore. He was a hellraiser in his youth but reformed by his sweet wife who died. But the narrator hears a woman’s voice coming form his rooms, and so do the servants. He thinks Sir John a reprobate and hypocrite until he falls asleep in an alcove of the room (ah, that old ruse, like the narrator of The Ring of Thoth) and accidentally sees Sir John open and play a phonograph of his dying wife’s voice.
  • The Story of The Jew’s Breastplate (February 1899) Preposterous chauvinist tosh in which a young curator is given responsibility for a museum of antiquities only to receive an anonymous letter warning that it might be burgled. Which it duly is the the urim and thurim breastplate of the ancient Hebrews tampered with. The narrator lies in wait with the young curator and they are astonished to discover it is the eminent archaeologist and former curator, Professor Andreas, who is damaging the breastplate. Why? Because his daughter is in love with a cad who had already stolen the jewels and the former curator is hamfistedly tying to replace them in order to prevent a ‘scandal’, shame and disgrace.
  • The Story of B.24 (March 1899) Cast entirely as a written submission to a court of appeal, it is from a burglar who is tempted to burgle the grand house of Lord Mannering but discovers Lady Mannering waiting to aid and abet him so furious is her hatred of her husband and she then proceeds to stab him to death and blame the burglar.
  • A True Story of the Tragedy of Flowery Land (March 1899) Grim unrelenting account of the mutiny of rebellious Malays aboard  a British barque, they murder the captain and captain’s brother and first mate and Chinaman, pilot the ship to South America, scuttle it and go ashore. Nonetheless they are betrayed and end up standing in a London court and are hanged.
  • The Story of the Latin Tutor aka The Usher of Lea House School (April 1899) The narrator gets a job at a dodgy sounding school in Hampstead and is astonished at the rudeness with which the only other master treats the Head. Things come to a head when he hears them fighting and intrudes, only to discover the repellent master is the Head’s son!
  • The Story of The Brown Hand (May 1899) After a successful career in India a surgeon retires to England where he is haunted by the ghost of an Indian whose hand he promised to keep safe after having to amputate it. the hand was lost in a fire. the ghostly Indian searches for it every night. The protagonist goes to a surgeon in the east End and obtains a hand recently amputated from an Indian sailor and returns with it to the country house where the ghostly Indian finds it, politely bows to the surgeon, and departs for ever. Which is why the protagonist is made the surgeon’s heir.
The Story of the Brown Hand

The Story of the Brown Hand

  • The Croxley Master (October-December 1899) A long and very persuasive account of a poor but educated doctor’s assistant, starved of funds, who is persuaded to take part in a boxing match against the local champion. If the plot is contrived the writing conveys real atmosphere. Depiction of the mining community reminds me of DH Lawrence whose first novel, The White Peacock, was published only 12 years later.

‘Work was struck at one o’clock at the coal-pits and the iron-works, and the fight was arranged for three. From the Croxley Furnaces, from Wilson’s Coal- pits, from the Heartsease Mine, from the Dodd Mills, from the Leverworth Smelters the workmen came trooping, each with his fox-terrier or his lurcher at his heels. Warped with labour and twisted by toil, bent double by week-long work in the cramped coal galleries or half-blinded with years spent in front of white-hot fluid metal, these men still gilded their harsh and hopeless lives by their devotion to sport. It was their one relief, the only thing which could distract their minds from sordid surroundings, and give them an interest beyond the blackened circle which enclosed them. Literature, art, science, all these things were beyond their horizon; but the race, the football match, the cricket, the fight, these were things which they could understand, which they could speculate upon in advance and comment upon afterwards. Sometimes brutal, sometimes grotesque, the love of sport is still one of the great agencies which make for the happiness of our people. It lies very deeply in the springs of our nature, and when it has been educated out, a higher, more refined nature may be left, but it will not be of that robust British type which has left its mark so deeply on the world. Every one of these raddled workers, slouching with his dog at his heels to see something of the fight, was a true unit of his race.’

The 1900s

  • The Debut of Bimbashi Joyce (January 1900) Sent out to command one of the front line garrisons in south Egypt against incursions by the Mahdists, young Joyce is taken in by a wandering Arab who they nearly torture to get him to speak and turns out to be the senior head of intelligence in disguise. They all joke about it over a fine meal then cigars. No irony when Doyle writes that, in riposte to the successes of fanatical Islam, ‘ten years of silent work in Cairo, and then all was ready, and it was time for civilisation to take a trip south once more, travelling as her wont is in an armoured train.’
  • Playing with Fire (March 1900) Account of a séance including an artist who had been painting a unicorn. At the height of the séance the ectoplasm forms a unicorn which goes rampaging through the house!
  • An Impression of the Regency (August 1900) A brief powerful vignette of the Prince Regent and his gross companions larking about when the mad George III bursts in, lowing like an animal, to appal them all.
  • The Leather Funnel (1902) the narrator visits a friend in Paris who suggests objects which have witnessed powerful scenes affect our dreams. As an experiment the narrator sleeps with a battered leather funnel by his bed and has a nightmare of a woman being tried and then beginning a course of water torture. Screaming himself awake, his friend shows the historical documents proving he has witnessed the torture of Marquise de Brinvilliers, a real historical woman, a poisoner and murder!

There’s a hiatus in my list of Conan Doyle’s short stories between 1902 and 1908, as this is a period when he wrote and published six Brigadier Gerard stories as well as 13 Holmes stories (which I’ve reviewed elsewhere) and two novels, Waterloo and Sir Nigel.

  • The Pot of Caviare (1908) Set during the Boxer Rebellion (overlapped with the Boer War 1899-1901) in the absurd little legation of Ichau where a handful of white men and woman hold out against the encroaching fanatics. The American professor tells the German colonel about the last time he survived a siege because he was a doctor but he was forced to witness rape and torture. Never again. They both realise the relief column is delayed three days. Almost certainly they will be overrun. The colonel bids the professor put arsenic in the prized caviar. The others think it is a celebration dinner. They all eat it and die but, in is dying moments the professor hears the shots of the relief column which does arrive to  save them!
  • The Silver Mirror (August 1908) Classic diary format. A boring accountant is set a demanding task of combing 20 big ledgers to find evidence against a forger but, as the work intensifies he begins to feel he is going mad because he starts to see visions in the big old mirror he keeps on his side table. Each night the same scene emerges from a mist, assuming steadily clearer shape and showing some atrocity from remote history…
  • The Home-Coming (December 1909) The first of the historical stories. 528 AD in Constantinople. 10 year old Leon is the daughter of the Empress Theodora, her love child who she abandoned at a monastery before rising to become consort to the great Emperor Justinian. When the old Abbot brings Leon to Constantinople the wicked eunuch sees his chance to control the Empress, and she must make a cruel choice…
  • The Lord of Falconbridge (August 1909) 1818. Tom Cribb has retired from prize fighting to become a publican but his son is in the fancy. A strange woman enters and offers the son £50 to train for a fight. Despite misgivings Tom Spring trains, then is instructed by the woman to catch a stagecoach to Tonbridge where he is taken to a remote country house. Here walks the brutish husband of the mystery woman and it is he she wishes Tom to fight, and so they fight, Tom eventually overcoming the brute. He is abandoned by the fair lady but rescued by the landlord of the pub he change coaches in, a devoted fan of the fancy.
Illustration to The Lord of Falconbridge by Arthur Twidle

Illustration to The Lord of Falconbridge by Arthur Twidle

The 1910s

  • The Terror of Blue John Gap (August 1910) Dr John Hardcastle is on a rest cure in Derbyshire, and finds out the hard way that local lore about a monster inhabiting a deep ancient cavern is in fact true.

In 1911 Conan Doyle published a collection bringing together a number of historical tales, The Last Galley: Impressions & Tales. His interest in history s is stimulating, even if he used the different settings for more or less the same tales of derring-do and romance. In the preface he wrote:

‘It has seemed to me that there is a region between actual story and actual history which has never been adequately exploited. I could imagine, for example, a work dealing with some great historical epoch, and finding its interest not in the happenings to particular individuals, their adventures and their loves, but in the fascination of the actual facts of history themselves. These facts might be coloured with the glamour which the writer of fiction can give, and fictitious characters and conversations might illustrate them; but none the less the actual drama of history and not the drama of invention should claim the attention of the reader. I have been tempted sometimes to try the effect upon a larger scale; but meanwhile these short sketches, portraying various crises in the story of the human race, are to be judged as experiments in that direction.’

Fine words, but what they mean in practice is Doyle selects tableaux from the past which form an improving picture, in which noble sentiments may be vapoured forth. His ‘history’ stories are the equivalent of the luxuriously smug, hyper-realistic paintings of the late Victorian Olympians such as Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Sir Frederick Leighton and Albert Moore. They are pre-Modern in that there is no threat to the narrator’s psyche, to his sturdy Edwardian values. No matter how gruesome or bloody the events described, they are profoundly unthreatening. This is their main selling point and appeal, as it is of the Holmes stories.

The link with contemporary art is also pointed by the way the stories are, mostly, illustrated by fine late-Victorian and Edwardian illustrators who depict a world of tall, manly men and lovely chaste Victorian women, threatened by stunted foreign or working class villains.

  • The Last Galley (November 1910) 146 BC. Boy scout tableau of the final Phoenician galley returning to Carthage after the fleet has been destroyed by Rome. Watched by Carthaginians from their terrace, one of them has met a strange prophetess in the Land of Tin (Cornwall) who predicted that the Romans would succeed Carthage as Queen of the Sea but that people form her own island would, in time, become rulers of a great empire. It ends with the Romans destroying and sowing salt into the ruins of Carthage, and with the same message as Kipling’s Islanders:

‘And they understood too late that it is the law of heaven that the world is given to the hardy and to the self- denying, whilst he who would escape the duties of manhood will soon be stripped of the pride, the wealth, and the power, which are the prizes which manhood brings.’

  • Through the Mists I: The Coming of the Huns (November 1910) Unusually detailed impression of the Christian heresies of the mid-fourth century, the Donatists, Arians and Trinitarians, is the backdrop to a Greek leaving his city to go be a hermit in the mountains beyond the river Dniester where, one day, he witnesses the arrival of the Huns. He kills a Hun who enters  his cave then rides in a frenzy to the nearest Roman outpost to warn them.
The Coming of The Huns

The Coming of The Huns

  • Through the Mists II: The First Cargo (1910) A Roman who’s remained behind in Britain writes to one who’s returned to Italy to describe his first meeting with the Saxons king Vortigern has invited to come and defend them. There is strong racial stereotyping as the narrator contrasts the strong, practical, democratic Saxons with the weak-minded, impetous, unwarlike Britons (who will go on to become the Welsh and Cornish).
  • The Last of the Legions (December 1910) The last Roman governor receives the order to leave (410) and then, ironically receives a deputation of Britons calling for independence. When they learn that they suddenly are going to become independent the beg the Romans to stay but it is too late. A parable on the various movements demanding independence from the British empire eg Ireland, India.
  • Through the Mists III: The Red Star (January 1911) 630 in Constantinople, three successful merchants reminisce, and one remembers being on a long caravan trail through Arabia when they meet the caravan of Mohammed and his followers and how he stays up all night listening to the charismatic leader. Interesting insight into how 1911 saw the Prophet.
  • The Contest (March 1911) A comic story of Nero who set sail to Greece with an army of supporters to compete in singing competitions and is bested by a peasant goatherd who, however, is hustled off by his friends. A canny courtier tells Nero it was none other than the great god Pan in disguise which pleases the megalomaniac.
  • An Iconoclast (March 1911) The year 92 in the reign of the Emperor Domitian in Rome. Senator Emilius Flaccus returns from boozing with the emperor to find his priceless statue has been damaged by a fanatical Christian. When the emperor arrives Flaccus decides to show him mercy and release Datus from his chains if he will only pray to the statue. But once again he attacks it, to the emperor’s amusement.
  • The Blighting of Sharkey (April 1911) 1720. Return to the antihero wicked pirate Jack Sharkey from the three Tales of the High Seas from 1897. The crew are mutinying when a rich merchantman is seen and boarded. They kill all the passengers except a fine Spanish maiden but back  in Sharkey’s cabin she strokes them all with her leprous hand. This clinches the crew’s decision to mutiny and they set Sharkey and the girl adrift in an open boat.
Captain Sharkey

Captain Sharkey

  • Through the Veil (April 1911) A decent married Scottish man and wife are shown round he recent excavations of a Roman fort and later that night they both dream powerfully that they are participants in the storming of the fort by Picts some 1800 years previously.
  • Giant Maximin (July 1911) 210 AD. The fate of the eight-foot giant Theckla told in three scenes: who sees the Roman Army marching by and runs down to join it, becoming the bodyguard of the Emperor; 25 years later who is there when the Army mutinies against the emperor Alexander and is unexpectedly proclaimed emperor himself; who fails to cultivate Rome and the politicians and loses the love of the army as it starves, and so is killed by the very legionaries who raised him to the purple.
  • One Crowded Hour (A Pirate Of The Land) (August 1911) A light dash of social history – on the Eastbourne-Tunbridge road one Sunday night a masked man holds up three cars, taking the slim pickings of a don’t-you-know posh young chap, of two screechy actresses, and then he assaults a rich man in a big Daimler beating him insensible before stealing everything of value. Next morning the dashed young chap walks into the morning room of Sir Henry Hailworthy, of Walcot Old Place, Deputy-Lieutenant of the county and accuses him of being the highway robber. He admits it. The first two robberies were to disguise the third one, of a loathsome City spiv who diddled him out of his savings. The dashed young chap shakes his hand and agrees to forget about it. The title refers to the poem and the usually staid, respectable Deputy Lord Lieutenant and JP quotes it to express his excitement at pretending to be a highway robber.

Most of 1912 was taken up with the serialisation in the Strand of the great adventure novel, The Lost World.

  • The Fall of Lord Barrymore (December 1912) Very entertaining story about London man about town Sir Charles Tregellis during the Regency. His sophisticated nephew appears and promises to do down his rival about town, the thuggish Lord Barrymore. And proceeds to do it. Told with great wit and gusto!

The spring of 1913 was taken up with the serialisation of the novella The Poison Belt.

  • How It Happened (September 1913) Haunting short account of a man who is in an early car crash, recalling the lead-up to it and then, in the final sentences, realising he is dead!
  • Borrowed Scenes (September 1913) A peculiar squib which seems to be satirising the style and the character of the contemporary author George Borrow.
  • The Horror of the Heights (November 1913) Brilliantly gripping account of Captain Joyce-Armstrong, an airman who flies higher than any man before him and discovers the upper atmosphere is inhabited by vast jellyfish-like monsters.
The Horror of The Heights

The Horror of The Heights

  • Danger! being the Log of Captain Sirius (July 1914) A strange and disturbing story. The Captain Sirius works for a ‘small country’ which offends Britain which issues an ultimatum. He persuades his king to let him take his eight submarines and destroy British merchant navy, thus starving her. Predicts German tactics in both World Wars – but why was it published within days of the Great War breaking out?

As the Great War began, for September 1914 to May 1915, Conan Doyle was serialising the last of the four Sherlock Holmes novellas, the Valley of Fear.

  • The Prisoner’s Defence (January 1916) An intense melodrama set in the present day, during the War. An officer is charged with murdering a beautiful woman but refuses to defend himself. Only a month later does he read out a prepared statement. He was in love with tall French blonde. On leave she pushed him so hard, he was indiscreet and mentioned an Allied offensive. Later he discovers she has written it all up and is posting it to her control: she is a German spy! They lock her in a room and he goes to alert the cops but on his return she tears past him on her motorbike (!). He shoots his revolver and kills her. The prisoner’s defence rests.

In 1917 he published only one story, the Holmes spy tale His Last Bow.

  • Three of Them (April 1918) After 3 and a half years of war, Conan Doyle could only bring himself to write five ‘stories’ which are really just chats between a kindly middle aged dad and his three adorable middle class children, Laddie, Dimples and Baby. If you were i a cynical mood the tweeness of these little sketches might make you puke. They certainly capture a fantasy of professional upper middle class living. The titles sum  them up. I. A Chat About Children, Snakes and Zebus (April). II. About cricket (April)  III. Speculations [about God and the Devil] (July). IV. The Leatherskin Tribe (August). V. About Naughtiness and Frogs and Historical Pictures (December).

‘Oh, Daddy, come and talk about cricket!’ Daddy was pulled on the side of the bed, and the white figure dived between the sheets. ‘Yes; tell us about cwicket!’ came a cooing voice from the corner. Dimples was sitting up in his cot.

  • A Point of View (December 1918) An odd short squib wherein an American journalist, staying at an English country house, writes a piece wondering why any self-respecting man would be a servant. At a later stay the valet this was based on takes exception and makes it very plain that servants have self-respect and deserve respect: ‘I wish you would make them understand that an English servant can give good and proper service and yet that he’s a human bein’ after all.’

The 1920s

  • The Bully of Brocas Court (November 1921) 1878. Bareknuckle fighting has been outlawed but special rings and gloves not come in. Sir Fred Milburn is despatched to London to find someone who can stand up to Farrier-Sergeant Burton. He chooses the London fighter Alf Stevens. They are returning to Luton when their coach is stopped by an oddly-dressed pair of men in a dark dell who challenge them to a fight. So they fight and it’s honours even when they hear a howling from the woods and clear off. Later, at an inn, the landlord says they were fighting the ghosts of Tom Hickman and Joe Rowe, both killed in a carriage accident in the 1820s.
  • The Nightmare Room (December 1921) A room is all Victorian sumptuous rugs and curtains at one end, completely bare at the other, with a divan upon which a beautiful but immoral woman is lounging. In bursts her husband declaring he knows about her affair with young Douglas; she must choose one of them. In bursts Douglas and the husband produces poison: Let’s play cards for her, old man. All written in the highest pitch of melodrama with everyone gasping or turning white. In the final line the director steps forward and shouts, Cut! It was all a scene from a movie 🙂
  • The Lift (June 1922) Flight-Commander Stangate with his sweetheart has a premonition of evil. They ascend the big funfair lift with a motley crew of civilians. It jams 500 feet up. The wild-eyed bearded engineer reveals, from the girders, that he has arranged for it to plummet to their deaths as a sign to this wicked generation. At the last minute Stangate kicks down the wooden walls of the lift and helps the passengers onto the girders just as the madmen jumps into it and the cable snaps!
Illustration to The Lift (1922) by E.Verpilleux

Illustration to The Lift (1922) by E.Verpilleux

  • The Centurion (October 1922) [Being the fragment of a letter from Sulpicius Balbus, Legate of the Tenth Legion, to his uncle, Lucius Piso, in his villa near Baiæ, dated The Kalends of the month of Augustus in the year 824 of Rome.] wherein he witnesses the siege and fall of Jerusalem, 70AD, and then talks to a centurion who was there when Jesus was crucified.
  • A Point of Contact (October 1922) Tyre. 1100BC. In the noble stereotypes to which we are accustomed, Doyle paints a tableau, the moment when King David of the Israelites, come to buy building material for Jerusalem, meets Odysseus, refitting his ship before sailing on to Troy.

‘One of these men was clearly by his face and demeanour a great chieftain. His strongly-marked features were those of a man who had led an adventurous life, and were suggestive of every virile quality from brave resolve to desperate execution. His broad, high brow and contemplative eyes showed that he was a man of wisdom as well as of valour.’

  • Billy Bones (December 1922) One more in the twee three of Them series about Daddy and his three adorable children, Laddie, Dimples and Baby. Written as practical advice to daddies about how to create a Treasure Hunt.

The years 1923-28 were taken up with a reduced turnover of 11 Sherlock Holmes stories and a couple of Professor Challenger novellas.

  • Spedegue’s Dropper (October 1928)
  • The Death Voyage (September 1929) A long and detailed counterfactual in which Doyle envisions the Kaiser not abdicating but travelling to Kiel to inspire his Navy to set out for a final epic battle against the joint British and American fleets. What a strange story. And, like so many Great War fictions, it had to wait 11 years to be born.
  • The Last Resource (August 1930) Kid Wilson is an American gangster in hiding in Soho. Late on night he tells his English crook hosts about an American town whose citizens form a committee, tell the chief of police to go away for a few days, round up all the crooks in town and machine gun them to death in a dance hall. It was only a dream 🙂 Interesting though, that that’s the kind of solution which people invoked to the out-of-control gangster violence of the Prohibition era.
  • The End of Devil Hawker (August 1930) Back to the Regency period and another boxing story.

‘It was in these very rooms of Cribb that this little sketch of those days opens, where, as on a marionette stage, I would try to show you what manner of place it was and what manner of people walked London in those full-blooded, brutal and virile old days.’

  • The Parish Magazine (1930) Very funny light-hearted story set in the present day of a printer who is persuaded to publish an addendum to the parish magazine. Only when he receives letters from outraged local worthies and their lawyers does he actually read it and realise it is full of scandalous allegations and innuendoes about half the parish. After a sleepless night he is called to a mysterious meeting which turns out to be of the ‘Rotherheath Society of Bright Young People’ who have, in fact, not sent it out, fabricated the outraged letters to him, and did it all as a practical joke.

It is very that his last published story should be one which continues to show the jovial good-humour which makes Conan Doyle such a good companion.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Brigadier Gerard by Arthur Conan Doyle

Killing Holmes

Tired of making up clever puzzles for Sherlock Holmes to disentangle, at the end of the second dozen stories for the Strand magazine Conan Doyle introduced the completely new character of Professor  Moriarty. Hitherto unmentioned anywhere in the oeuvre, Moriarty was conjured out of thin air to provide Holmes with a worthy nemesis, with a fitting opponent who would drag him to his death over the Reichenbach Falls (in the The Adventure of the Final Problem, published December 1893). Moriarty is a pretext, a fictional function of fatigue.

Killing Holmes freed Conan Doyle to continue writing the wide range of other fiction he wanted to pursue, lots of other macabre, humorous, exotic short stories as well as a stream of short novels. For example, a lot of 1894 was taken up writing the stories of medical life which were collected in Round the Red Lamp (October 1894).

Enter the Brigadier

But one of Conan Doyle’s most enduring interests was history. He had already written novels set during the Monmouth rebellion of 1685 and the Hundred Years War. Now he set about fulfilling an ambition to write about the French Army during the time of Napoleon and the result was a series of stories about a completely different character from the supersober, hyper-rational Holmes – a bombastic old French soldier, a veteran of Napoleon’s Grande Armée, who we meet boozing in a Parisian café and who proceeds to tell a stream of farfetched yarns in which he is always the dashing hero.

Altogether Gerard appears in 17 short stories and one novel (Uncle Bernac).

The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard (1896)

The stories appeared monthly from December 1894 in Conan Doyle’s favourite and most profitable outlet, the Strand magazine, continuing throughout 1895 and were collected in The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard in 1896.

  • How Brigadier Gerard Won his Medal (December 1894) Napoleon gives BG and a fellow officer a letter and instructions to ride through enemy lines. BG is too stupid to realise the intention is that they get captured and give the false info to the enemy. Instead he fights his way through with a series of hair-raising adventures. ‘You will see,’ said he, turning to the Duke of Tarentum, ‘that Brigadier Gerard has the special medal of honour, for I believe that if he has the thickest head he has also the stoutest heart in my army.’
  • How the Brigadier Held the King (April 1895) Gerard is wounded and recovers in a little Spanish village. He tries to rejoin his troop but his companion in a carriage turns out to be a Spanish brigand who betrays him to bandits. Their leader composes poetry between torturing prisoners – genuinely gruesome tortures worthy of Goya’s Disasters of War. He’s about to be split in two when some English troopers ride up and rescue him, after a brief fight. Later, one on one with the the English captain, Gerard suggests they play cards for his freedom, and they’re in mid-game when the Duke of Wellington comes upon them and reprimands the English officer.
  • How the King Held the Brigadier (May 1895) Gerard escapes from Dartmoor prison but not before knocking out one of his comrades who was peaching on him. Steals a cloak from a delayed coach, to the disgust of the lady in it. Blunders about the moor ending up where he began. Is run into by a boxer in training who promptly knocks him out. Overhears the boxer and trainer’s conversation before bursting out of the cottage only to run straight into the governor and soldiers. And, to cap it all, discovers he has had in the pocket of the stolen cloak all along a letter authorising his release!
  • How the Brigadier Slew the Brothers of Ajaccio (June 1895) Napoleon himself requests a meeting and asks the Brigadier to accompany him the following night to a tree stump in the woods, but on no account speak to him or say anything. Gerard does as he’s told, rendezvous with the Emperor, and when they approach the stump is confronted with two evil-looking men. Quickly one makes a lunge and stabs the emperor before Gerard can strike him down; he chases the other and kills him, too. Returning to the Emperor, distraught, he finds the real Emperor! A servant impersonated him to meet two members of an old Corsican secret society to whom he owed allegiance. Ie the same ‘secret society tracks down former member’ which CD used liberally in his Holmes stories.
  • How the Brigadier Came to the Castle of Gloom (July 1895) At an inn in Poland Gerard meets dashing young Sub-Lieutenant Duroc who asks him to accompany him to the Castle of Gloom, home of Baron Straubenthal who was a revolutionary sansculotte responsible for the murder of Duroc’s father. As the revolution collapsed Straubenthal ravished a noblewoman and offered her her life if she agreed to marry him and give him her name. So here he is hidden in darkest Poland. Duroc and Gerard break into the castle where they are trapped into a locked room, but find a way out into the powder chamber where they set off a small explosion, win free and engage in a fierce sword fight with Straubenthal, before rescuing his pretty stepdaughter and fleeing the castle just as it blows up!
  • How the Brigadier Took the Field Against the Marshal Millefleurs (August 1895) Spain. Gerard is selected to lead half a cavalry squadron (50 men) against a freelance (English) brigand who has taken over a nearby Abbey. En route he falls in with a squadron of English hussars who have been tasked with the same mission and almost come to blows until he realises it is the same English captain who saved him from torture by bandits in How the Brigadier held the King. They agree the English squadron will pretend to be deserters, enter the castle, then open to doors to the French. Gerard catches some sleep at the inn but wakens to find the Abbot and innkeeper who told him all this are no other than the leader of the bandits, and have tied him up. One of his men, entering, frees him and they just about secure the fierce English bandit before taking him before the castle and threatening to hang him. The bandits release the English troops but refuse to surrender the Abbey and Gerard leaves, a failure.
  • How the Brigadier was Tempted by the Devil (September 1895) Near the end of Napoleon’s reign, in 1814, Gerard is called along with two other notables and tested by being asked to help turn the Emperor over to his enemies. He is indignant and so passes. Napoleon appears from behind curtains and wants the three of them to rendezvous with a lady in a carriage who is carrying the legal documents proving the right of his son, the King of Rome, to inherit. The three set off for the rendezvous but are appalled when the lady reveals she has already given them to three earlier soldiers! A cunning plan! They ride off in pursuit, the two others are killed by the two other soldiers, Gerard kills his man and recovers the letters, before the Emperor trots up and they bury the documents in a dovehouse in the forest and there they remain to this day!
  • How the Brigadier Played for a Kingdom (December 1895) Another ‘secret society’ story! After the retreat from Moscow Gerard is given some leave and trots through the Polish/German forest, wondering why the letter T is carved into so many trees, until startled by a dying French soldier who confides him a letter given by the Emperor to be delivered to the Prince of Saxe-Felstein, at his Castle of Hof. En route Gerard stops at an inn where a pretty girl kisses him and steals the letter! He rides on to the castle where he discovers a) the pretty girl is none other than the Princess of Saxe-Felstein b) she is leader of the Tugendbund, a secret society pledged to overthrow the French! Gerard pleads  his cause but fails to persuade the Prince to support Napoleon. Gerard had said Napoleon was like a star which they could all see through the window. But as he rides away disconsolate, he reflects on the waning of France’s power and the rise of Germany’s.

 But amid all the thoughts there came back to me always the proud, beautiful face of the German woman, and the voice of the soldier-poet as he sang from the chair. And I understood then that there was something terrible in this strong, patient Germany—this mother root of nations— and I saw that such a land, so old and so beloved, never could be conquered. And as I rode I saw that the dawn was breaking, and that the great star at which I had pointed through the palace window was dim and pale in the western sky.

Brigadier Gerard and his English rescuer discovered playing cards by the Duke of Wellington, by William B. Wollen

Brigadier Gerard and his English rescuer discovered playing cards by the Duke of Wellington, by William B. Wollen

The Adventure of Gerard (1903)

There was a hiatus (as with Holmes) while Conan Doyle pursued other fictions (and went to the Boer War), and then a further suite of stories in 1902-3 which were collected in The Adventures of Gerard.

  • The Crime of the Brigadier (January 1900) [aka titled How the Brigadier Slew the Fox] Commissioned to go study the layout of Wellington’s defences, BG’s horse is wounded and died, and he hides in a hayloft. Turns out to be the headquarters of a general, and he sneaks down and steals the best horse, only to discover there is an imported fox hunt starting. His horse is wild to get involved so her dies to the front of the chase and then horrifies the English by chopping the fox in half with his sword, before riding back the French lines chased by outraged Englishmen the whole way.
  • How Brigadier Gerard Lost his Ear (August 1902) Doyle gives a persuasive account of how hated the French were in Venice, particularly after they stole the four horse statues above St Mark’s. A secret tribunal of Venetians kidnaps, tries and executes French soldiers, among them Gerard. He is charged with loving a local noblewoman who is herself sentenced to have half her ear removed for fraternising. In the dark of the cell BG wraps in her cloak and the ruffians cut off the top of his ear. Moments later the French soldiers burst in, arresting the tribunal.
  • How the Brigadier saved the Army (November 1902) BG is the third officer chosen to ride through country infested with Portuguese guerrillas to light a beacon atop a mountain which will alert the other French army in the region to retreat alongside them. BG is captured by the bandits but, luckily on of them is disaffected and helps replace BG’s body with one of the other murdered French officers atop the pyre, while he and a handful of bandits escape the murderous ‘Smiler’.
  • How the Brigadier Rode to Minsk (December 1902) On the retreat from Moscow Marshal Ney orders BG to take a squadron to seize corn at Minsk. He stops at a village, captures a Russian officer, is taken in by a scrawny priest and pretty daughter who translates the officer’s meesage as Minks is undefended. On his men and BG ride only to be ambushed and slaughtered in Minsk. Because he was kind to the Russ officer, the pretty girl helps BG escape.
  • Brigadier Gerard at Waterloo: The Adventure of the Forest Inn (January 1903) On he fateful day of Waterloo Gerard is ordered to ride across the battlefield to the army of Grouchy which is seen coming over a distant hill. He is almost passing an inn, when the keeper grabs him and tells him it’s not French reinforcements, it’s the Prussians. BG hides in the hayloft and overhears the Prussian General telling a squadron of the fastest cavalrymen to ignore the battle and capture the fleeing Napoleon. Now he must warn the Emperor!
  • Brigadier Gerard at Waterloo: The Adventure of the Nine Prussian Horseman (February 1903) Gerard rides like the wind to find the Emperor, guarded by a handful of valets and servants just as the Prussian squadron arrive and, on impulse, grabs Napoleon’s hat and coat and makes off on Violette, hunched down like the squat Bonaparte. The nine chase him. It is a genuinely thrilling ride across country, across a river, through a maze of farm buildings and finally, as is horse is dropping from exhaustion, into the village square where his very own regiment is recuperating and, so, to safety!
  • The Brigadier in England (March 1903) [aka How the Brigadier Triumphed in England] During his enforced stay in England BG is the guest of a noble family and a) is ludicrously bad at all sports, thinking cricket is about throwing the ball at the batsman, that boxing includes kicking and biting b) gets caught up because of his ludicrous French gallantry in a dispute between his host’s and his brother-in-law who has behaved like a cad to his sister, and is involved in an impromptu duel.
  • How the Brigadier Joined the Hussars of Conflans (April 1903) He is transferred from Berlin where the war has stopped to Spain where it is still hot, specifically to the siege of Saragossa. At the first officers’ mess he is led on to tell vainglorious stories about himself until they ridicule him and his anger BG insists on a duel. At which point the colonel enters and asks a volunteer for a dangerous mission: it is to smuggle into Saragossa, rendezvous with a spy who should have blown up the defences. BG disguises himself as a monk, volunteers, climbs up over the wall, discovers the spy has been exposed and nailed to the wall (!) but inveigles himself into the convent/city wall where he blows up the gunpowder so distracting the guard that the French win the siege. Congratulated by the general he insists on absenting himself from the victory breakfast to keep his appointment for the duel where – all the Hussars of Conflans salute him. He has been accepted.
  • How Etienne Gerard Said Good-Bye to his Master (May 1903) A very satisfying conclusion to the series which has hopped about in time and space but concludes with Gerard joining a ship of French old-timers which abandons its voyage to Africa, and heads to St Helena to rescue Napoleon. Gerard is smuggled ashore in a rowing boat and creeps up to the window of the little house only to see – Napoleon dead and laid out on his bed. He salutes and returns to the rowing boat but it has been wrecked in a storm, indeed the ship he came in never reappears, and he surrenders himself to the British who (of course) treat him with every courtesy.
Illustration from the Crime of the Brigadier by Sidney Paget

Illustration from the Crime of the Brigadier by Sidney Paget

  • The Marriage of the Brigadier (September 1910) [Uncollected story] BG is a star-struck 20 year old garrisoned in sleepy Normandy where he falls in love with the local beauty Marie, but her parents are keen for him to clarify the situation. One night he takes a short cut across the field to Marie’s house where the English bull is. It looks at him moodily from a distance but doesn’t approach. At Marie’s house her father despatches her to her room and insists that on his next visit Gerard must either propose or end the relationship. Pondering this Gerard sets off across the field back to town – and comes face to face with the bull! Slowly he turns and tiptoes away but the bull charges so Gerard runs full tilt back to the house and just as he reaches it the bull tosses him clean through the upstairs window into Marie’s bedroom. There is only one thing a gentleman can do and so Gerard proposes and Marie tearfully accepts, admiring the way he is panting with passion and only true love could have made him make such a leap!

And the point is….

Funny The Gerard stories are genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. It is not literature but it’s a good read, every story has at least one genuinely funny moment. But they also include the kind of macabre and grim scenes which we’re familiar with from the Holmes stories – especially in Spain where the Spanish guerillas’ torture and the crucifixion of the French spy are gruesome. And there are some vivid descriptions of times and places like the snows of Russia or the watery canals of Venice. And there are no end of thrilling chases, whether the comic chase after the fox or the genuinely thrilling escape from the nine Prussian hussars.

Boo to France But a core function of the stories is to satirise the bombast and braggadochio of the French; time after time ‘gallant’ and ‘debonair’ are cover words for chatting up every woman in sight, for a waggishly amoral playing with ladies’ affections which wouldn’t be permissible in a British hero. Another central plank of the satire is Gerard’s repeated failure to understand games or sport – in his English sojourn he gets cricket, fox hunting, shooting and boxing all completely wrong.

Hooray for Britain and, time and again, Doyle puts into Gerard’s  mouth grudging compliments about the British. Gerard is made to credit the British with all the right virtues. A the climax at Waterloo, the French may have the gallantry, the spirit and the romance – but the British are as solid as old beef!

‘So high was the spirit of France at that time that every other spirit would have quailed before it; but these people, these English, had neither spirit nor soul, but only solid, immovable beef, against which we broke ourselves in vain. That was it, my friends! On the one side, poetry, gallantry, self-sacrifice—all that is beautiful and heroic. On the other side, beef. Our hopes, our ideals, our dreams— all were shattered on that terrible beef of Old England.’

The success of the stories, in fact their sheer existence, demonstrate just how much barefaced flattery an English reader in the 1890s could take – and then happily have a few trowels more thrown on top!

Brigadier Gerard on film

To my surprise there are some dramatisations of Gerard.

1. A black and white TV version, as stagey and cheesy as the original story.

2. A 1970 colour movie starring Peter McEnery and Claudia Cardinale (!)

Round the Red Lamp by Arthur Conan Doyle (1894)

Conan Doyle killed off Sherlock Holmes in The Adventure of the Final Problem (December 1893). He continued knocking out short stories at a rate of about one a month until he had enough to collect in Round the Red Lamp, Being Facts and Fancies of Medical Life. The idea of writing a set of stories based on his medical training and experiences as a doctor had been suggested by Jerome K. Jerome two years earlier when he was editor of The Idler but in fact the volume rather confusingly pads out the medical stories with a few fantasy yarns, namely the original Egyptian-mummy-comes-to-life story, Lot No.249.

The stories are anything but art. They are short and entertaining in themselves but also shed fascinating light on the mindset of the late Victorian era: on patriotism, marriage, the Woman Question – as well as on their ostensible subject, the life and practice of a late Victorian doctor.

(The title derives from the red lamp which was the usual sign of the general practitioner in England at the time.)

  • Behind the Times (October 1894) Comic, warm-hearted memoir of an old-fashioned doctor way behind modern scientific times, but with a magical healing touch and bedside manner.
  • His First Operation (October 1894) Comic, warm-hearted memoir of a young student attending his first operation and fainting.
  • A Straggler of ’15 (March 1891) A patriotic portrait of Corporal Gregory Brewster, last survivor of the battle of Waterloo.
  • The Third Generation (1894) Seasoned Dr Horace Selby is visited by Sir Francis Norton who, it quickly tanspires, is infected with syphilis. He explains the taint comes from his hard-living Regency grandfather. He is due to marry the following week. The doctor suggests creating a sudden reason to go abroad and cancel the nuptials. But next morning Dr Selby reads that the noble aristocrat has thrown himself under the wheels of a heavy dray and died, in order to spare the damsel and kill the hereditary taint. True Brit.
  • A False Start (December 1891) 3rd person. Comedy about young Dr Horace Wilkinson who has several false starts of first patients including the gas man and an impoverished gypsy before he called quite by mistake to the house of the local millionaire. Turns out to be a comedy case of mistaken identity in which Wilkinson shines nobly.
  • The Curse of Eve (October 1894) The nondescript life of Robert Johnson, gentleman’s outfitter, is turned upside down when his wife begins her labour. He chase all over town for one doctor, and then again for a second opinion. After an all-night vigil, his son is delivered. ‘Lives had come and lives had gone, but the great machine was still working out its dim and tragic destiny.’
  • Sweethearts (October 1894) The doctor in a seaside town meets an old man on a bench who wastes and declines over three consecutive days. Finally he reveals it is because he is waiting for his wife, his childhood sweetheart, to return. I wonder whether Conan Doyle’s readers found this sickly sweet, or lapped it up.
  • A Physiologist’s Wife (September 1890) 3rd person. Social comedy/satire in which cold-hearted rationalist and scientist Professor Ainslie Grey marries one Mrs. O’James. A younger colleague is due to marry his daughter, until he meets the new Mrs Grey and is stunned to realise she is his first wife from Australia who ran off and left him and was drowned in a shipwreck. In fact she didn’t take the boat but came to England to start a new life. Cold rationalist Professor tells them to go be happy and reunited. He dies of a broken heart.
  • The Case of Lady Sannox (November 1893) A dashing surgeon is having an affair with a high society lady, is called late at night to operate on the wife of a Turkish merchant; he horribly disfigures the woman, then it is revealed it is his high-born lover and the merchant her husband who has taken a horrific revenge.
  • A Question of Diplomacy (summer 1892) Comedy. The Foreign Secretary, laid up with gout, is outwitted by his wife who arranges for his daughter’s fiance to get a position in Tangiers and for the daughter to accompany him and for them to get married asap, all against the FS’s wishes.
  • A Medical Document (October 1894) Three old doctors – a GP, a surgeon and an alienist – sit around discussing eerie cases. There’s passing reference to the way popular fiction uses very rare or vague conditions (‘brain fever’) but rarely actually common diseases (typhoid). And how fiction rarely uses those outbreaks of vice which are so common. I think he’s talking about sex.
  • Lot No.249 (September 1892) Horror. At an old Oxford college a fat evil undergraduate has been conducting experiments, bringing a 4,000 year old mummy back to life, and increasingly using it to terrorise his enemies – before a steady young sporting chap steps in and stops it.
  • The Los Amigos Fiasco (December 1892) A short light-hearted comic-horror piece about a town which tries to execute a man with electricity by increasing the voltage, but only succeed in giving him superhuman life.
  • The Doctors of Hoyland (1894) Dr James Ripley of Hoyland in Hampshire is astonished when a lady doctor moves to the town. Quickly she establishes herself a practice and ends up treating Ripley himself after he fractures his leg falling from a carriage. His initial sexist resistance to a female doctor is completely overcome by close experience of her ability and he inevitably falls in love with her. Thankfully, Conan Doyle foresees the utter hopelessness of such a resolution and has her remaining devoted to Science, departing for further education in Paris, leaving the country doctor sadder and wiser.
  • The Surgeon Talks (October 1894) Like A Medical Document this consists of paragraph-long anecdotes: how they removed the ear from the wrong patient; how most people receive the diagnosis of impending death nobly etc. The woman who hides her cancer form her husband. ‘…Besides, [a doctor] is forced to be a good man. It is impossible for him to be anything else. How can a man spend his whole life in seeing suffering bravely borne and yet remain a hard or a vicious man? It is a noble, generous, kindly profession, and you youngsters have got to see that it remains so.”‘
The Doctor by Luke Fildes (1891)

The Doctor by Luke Fildes (1891)

Tales of Unease by Arthur Conan Doyle

Variety

Conan Doyle packed an amazing variety of activities into one life (1859-1930): doctor, author, sea voyager, played cricket for the MCC, enlisted age 40 to serve in the Boer War, public campaigner against miscarriages of justice, bombarded the Ministry of Defence with technical and strategic innovations during the Boer War and Great War, and devoted his later years and sizable fortune to promoting Spiritualism.

His writing output was similarly prodigious and varied: novels, short stories, articles, essays, reviews, poetry, plays, and in genres like history, detective, horror, melodrama, science fiction. What unites them all is the easy confidence of his style.

I prefer these stories of fantasy and the bizarre to the Holmes ones, because Conan Doyle is less trapped by the iron format of ‘puzzle  – investigation – explanation’ which constricts the detective stories. Doyle’s imagination is set free to roam widely.

The result is short tales of horror, fantasy, of the macabre, alive with vivid descriptions – melodramatic moments – nightmare scenes of the bizarre or grotesque – each one a little twilight zone.

Qualities

They move at great speed. Mises-en-scenes are quickly set up with comprehensive descriptions of places and peoples, and then plunging into the action.

They are very vivid because a) the tales themselves are melodramatic ie designed to purvey extreme moments b) Conan Doyle has a great gift for the telling image. The detail of the undergraduate’s room lined with Egyptological specimens. The colour of the setting sun on the great Northern ice packs. The flicker of the candlelight in the Roman catacomb.

They are uncanny because they begin so solidly in the dull workaday before beginning to blur the boundaries. Because the characters of predominantly stuffy, bluff Edwardian types who would never be suspected of frivolity. What is so Conan Doyle about them is the comfiness of the original settings – the educated class, public school chaps, the world of Edwardian normality, pipe and clubs. So when the impossible occurs, we have already bought into the fictional world; their very bluffness lends credibility when the situation turns bizarre and extraordinary.

For example, the outlandish story of Sosra, the Egyptian who discovered the secret of immortality, is made credible (within the fiction) by the slow, detailed build-up of the character of Vansittart Smith, the mundane but steady Egyptologist, the typically bluff Victorian chap who narrates it. Because he is so reliable and believable, we suspend disbelief for the duration of the brief, fantastical story, which so clearly isn’t.

I’ve seen John Wyndham’s science fiction novels described as ‘cosy catastrophes’. Something similar with Conan Doyle whose prose never loses the calm confidence of a sturdy Victorian gentleman. Almost every story features cigars and a bottle of fine wine in front of a roaring fire: as readers we enjoy two levels of pleasure: the thrill of the often pretty hokey plot (although some of them do rise to a level of genuine hair-raising uncanniness) and the permanent bass note of the reassuring, unimaginative, pre-twentieth century worldview.

It was ten o’clock on a bright spring night, and Abercrombie Smith lay back in his arm-chair, his feet upon the fender, and his briar-root pipe between his lips. In a similar chair, and equally at his ease, there lounged on the other side of the fireplace his old school friend Jephro Hastie. Both men were in flannels, for they had spent their evening upon the river, but apart from their dress no one could look at their hard-cut, alert faces without seeing that they were open-air men – men whose minds and tastes turned naturally to all that was manly and robust.

No matter how grim the ostensible plots, all Conan Doyle’s oeuvre is fundamentally innocent, child-like, deeply comforting and reassuring.

Papers, fragments and accounts

The earliest novels (Defore, 1720s) used the forms of diaries, journals and, of course, letters, so there is nothing new in these short stories, 150 years later, using the same strategy – the tales frequently masquerade as journals, accounts, newspaper reports and so on. But there is something specific to horror stories of this period in using the fragment. Remember that the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886 ie one year before Holmes appears) climaxes with the letter from the doomed Jeckyll.

  • ‘The following account was found among the papers of Dr James Hardcastle.’
  • ‘The Horror of the Heights which includes the manuscript known as the Joyce-Armstrong Fragment’
  • And such is the narrative of Abercrombie Smith as to the singular events which occurred in Old College, Oxford, in the spring of ’84.

A story basing itself on one of these forms has multiple purposes:

  • It adds authority and credibility; it lends the lustre of another (albeit fictional) name to validate the narrative.
  • It allows the text to be short and pithy, as diaries, journals and letters generally are, and to focus only on key moments.
  • It gets right inside the mind of the protagonist without limiting the narrative to a first person account. In other words, it allows the author to combine first person and 3rd person points of view, often itself part of the drama, often revealing the true state of affairs which lies behind all the weird occurrences (as in Jeckyll).
  • Precisely by being fragments, they can often end melodramatically, as in the last entry in Joyce-Armstrong’s until-then sober and careful account, which are words of horror scribbled in pencil and splashed with blood!

The stories

Conan Doyle wrote some 120 short stories, as well as the 56 Holmes stories, and numerous novels, plays and pamphlets. This selection of 15 tales was made by David Stuart Davies, a specialist in this genre and this period, who has compiled a number of similar selections for the bargain Wordsworth imprint.

  • The Ring of Thoth (1890) An Egyptologist in the Louvre stumbles upon a 4,000 year old Egyptian who discovered the secret of eternal life and now is going to end his life in the arms of his mummified love.
  • The Lord of Château Noir (1894) During the Franco-Prussian War a French aristocrat terrorises a Prussian officer in vengeance for his dead son.
  • The New Catacomb (1898) Two archaeologists in Rome, one of them a dashing bounder just returned from a failed elopement with an English girl. His colleague takes him at night to a new catacomb then traps him there; for he had loved the girl he had ‘ruined’.
  • The Case of Lady Sannox (1893) A dashing surgeon is having an affair with a high society lady, is called late at night to operate on the wife of a Turkish merchant; he horribly disfigures the woman, then it is revealed it is his high-born lover and the merchant her husband who has taken a horrific revenge.
  • The Brazilian Cat (1898) the protagonist visits his cousin, Everard King, at his country pile where he has housed his large collection of Brazilian flora and fauna, especially the prize exhibit, a huge black puma. Despite warnings from the collector’s wife, the protagonist allows himself to be locked in to the animal’s cage. He manages to survive and when evil Everard returns in the morning it is he and not the protagonist who is killed. And as a result, the protagonist inherits the land, house and title.
  • The Brown Hand (1899) After a successful career in India a surgeon retires to England where he is haunted by the ghost of an Indian whose hand he promised to keep safe after having to amputate it. the hand was lost in a fire. the ghostly Indian searches for it every night. The protagonist goes to a surgeon in the east End and obtains a hand recently amputated from an Indian sailor and returns with it to the country house where the ghostly Indian finds it, politely bows to the surgeon, and departs for ever. Which is why the protagonist is made the surgeon’s heir.
  • The Horror of the Heights (1913) Brilliant account of Captain Joyce-Armstrong, an airman who flies higher than any man before him and discovers the upper atmosphere is inhabited by vast jellyfish-like monsters.
  • The Terror of Blue John Gap (1910) Dr John Hardcastle is on a rest cure in Derbyshire, and finds out the hard way that local lore about a monster inhabiting a deep ancient cavern is in fact true.
  • The Captain of the Polestar (1890) ‘Being an extract from the singular journal of John McAlister Ray, student of medicine’. Doctor on the Polestar which travels unwisely far into the northern, Arctic ice fields, supposedly in search of whales, but in fact driven by the haunted captain Nicholas Craigie who is pursuing the phantom of his murdered sweetheart which flees across the ice.
  • How It Happened (1913) Haunting short account of a man who is in an early car crash, recalling the lead-up to it and then, in the final sentences, realising he is dead!
  • Playing with Fire (1900) Account of a séance including an artist who had been painting a unicorn. At the height of the séance the ectoplasm forms a unicorn which goes rampaging through the house!
  • The Leather Funnel (1902) the narrator visits a friend in Paris who suggests objects which have witnessed powerful scenes affect our dreams. As an experiment the narrator sleeps with a battered leather funnel by his bed and has a nightmare of a woman being tried and then beginning a course of water torture. Screaming himself awake, his friend shows the historical documents proving he has witnessed the torture of Marquise de Brinvilliers, a real historical woman, a poisoner and murder!
  • Lot No.249 (1892) At an old Oxford college a fat evil undergraduate has been conducting experiments, bringing a 4,000 year old mummy back to life, and increasingly using it to terrorise his enemies – before a steady young sporting chap steps in and stops it.
  • The Los Amigos Fiasco (1892) A very short light-hearted comic-horror piece about a town which tries to execute a man with electricity by increasing the voltage, but only succeed in giving him superhuman life.
  • The Nightmare Room (1921) By far the most overwritten piece in which a room is all Victorian sumptuous rugs and curtains at one end, completely bare at the other, with a divan upon which  beautiful but immoral woman is lounging. In bursts her husband declaring he knows about her affair with young Douglas; she must choose one of them. In bursts Douglas and the husband produces poison: Let’s play cards for her, old man. All written in the highest pitch of melodrama with everyone gasping or turning white. In the final line the director steps forward and shouts, Cut! It was all a scene from a movie 🙂
Contemporary illustration for Lot No.249

Contemporary illustration for Lot No.249

The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle (1927)

This is the final set of twelve Sherlock Holmes short stories, published in the trusty Strand Magazine between October 1921 and April 1927. Incredible that the character associated with London pea-soupers, hansom cabs, gas lamps and Jack the Ripper, should live on into the Jazz Age and see the publication of Ulysses and The Great Gatsby, the Russian Civil War, the rise of Mussolini, the General Strike and talking movies. As Conan Doyle writes in the preface to this final collection:

He began his adventures in the very heart of the later Victorian era, carried it through the all-too-short reign of Edward, and has managed to hold his own little niche even in these feverish days. (Preface)

Cruelty and violence

But, possibly as a sign of the traumas the world had passed through viz the Great War, the collapse of Europe’s Empires, and the Bolshevik Revolution, the stories are notably crueller and harsher than previous ones.

  • A handsome man has acid thrown in his face.
  • A man finds himself among half-beasts and catches leprosy.
  • Holmes is severely beaten and repeatedly threatened.
  • When he seizes the diamond from Count Negretto Sylvius he holds a pistol to his head, more the act of a Philip Marlowe than the debonaire Holmes.
  • A boy infects his baby brother with incurable poison.
  • A woman shoots herself in the head.
  • A man takes medicine which turns him into a half ape.
  • A maniac traps his wife and lover in a gas chamber.
  • A deadly jellyfish kills its victims by flailing their backs to a bloody pulp.
  • A lion rips a beautiful woman’s face off.

Animal imagery

And the greater cruelty and violence of the stories is reflected in the much more frequent comparison of humans to animals:

  • ‘When one tries to rise above Nature one is liable to fall below it. The highest type of man may revert to the animal if he leaves the straight road of destiny.’
  • The Baron has little waxed tips of hair under his nose, like the short antennae of an insect.
  • How a beastman could have laid his vile paws upon such a being of the beyond I cannot imagine. You may have noticed how extremes call to each other, the spiritual to the animal, the cave-man to the angel. You never saw a worse case than this.
  • It seemed that none of them could speak English, but the situation wanted clearing up, for the creature with the big head was growing furiously angry, and, uttering wild-beast cries…
  • A sudden wild-beast light sprang up in the dark, menacing eyes of the master criminal.
  • ‘You cruel beast! You monster!’ she cried.
  • From keeping beasts in a cage, the woman seemed, by some retribution of fate, to have become herself a beast in a cage.
  • Ruffian, bully, beast – it was all written on that heavy-jowled face.
  • Holmes sprang at his throat like a tiger and twisted his face towards the ground.
  • I tell you, Mr. Holmes. this man collects women, and takes a pride in his collection. as some men collect moths or butterflies.
  • ‘And is this Count Sylvius one of your fish?’ ‘

    Yes, and he’s a shark. He bites. The other is Sam Merton the boxer. Not a bad fellow, Sam, but the Count has used him. Sam’s not a shark. He is a great big silly bull-headed gudgeon. But he is flopping about in my net all the same.’

  • If I had said that a mad bull had arrived it would give a clearer impression of what occurred. The door had flown open and a huge negro had burst into the room.
  • She entered with ungainly struggle like some huge awkward chicken, torn, squawking, out of its coop.
  • ‘I see. You’ve tested them before.’ ‘They are good hounds who run silent.’ ‘Such hounds have a way sooner or later of biting the hand that feeds them.’
  • There have been no advertisements in the agony columns. You know that I miss nothing there. They are my favourite covert for putting up a bird, and I would never have overlooked such a cock pheasant as that.’
  •  With his dressing-gown flapping on each side of him, he looked like some huge bat glued against the side of his own house, a great square dark patch upon the moonlit wall.
  • In all our adventures I do not know that I have ever seen a more strange sight than this impassive and still dignified figure crouching frog-like upon the ground and goading to a wilder exhibition of passion the maddened hound, which ramped and raged in front of him, by all manner of ingenious and calculated cruelty.
  • 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.
  • … the other, a small rat-faced man with a disagreeably furtive manner.
  • ‘For myself, I am deeply in the hands of the Jews. I have always known that if my sister were to die my creditors would be on to my estate like a flock of vultures.’
  • 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.

And the fact that one story is about a vampire and another about a scientist who turns himself into a ape-man clinches the sense of the abhuman, the human mutating into the Gothic creature or beast, which permeates the stories. Humans permanently poised on the edge of bestial violence.

The Strand Magazine, vol. 73, April 1927

The Strand Magazine, vol. 73, April 1927

Sex and seduction

There’s more sex, more overtly referred to: Baron Grüner is a smooth-talking seducer of women; the Illustrious Client hinges on Holmes purloining the Baron’s ‘Lust Diary’. Similarly, the gorgeous Isadora Klein has seduced numerous young men, used them and then discarded them, and the case hinges (once again) on a text which records her sexual escapades, this time a roman a clef written by her lover. Maria Gibson is jealous enough of her husband’s relationship with the maid to kill herself. Professor Presbury is besotted enough with a young woman he’s met to experiment with a dangerous youth serum. Leonardo the circus acrobat has ‘the self-satisfied smile of the man of many conquests’.

It is difficult to cast your mind back to the Victorian stories where the sex element is simply absent; where there is no reference to sex whatsoever, at any point; where men drop dead of heart attacks at the mere thought of their reputations being besmirched, where women are prepared to plunge their country into war rather than have their husband read an old billet-doux (The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plan).

This is maybe the most obvious way in which the post-War Holmes is operating in a new era with new conventions, despite the tales still being set in the late ’90s or early noughties.

Anglo good, foreign bad

Foreigners are generally bad, such as the smooth Baron Grüner:

  • The fellow is, as you may have heard, extraordinarily handsome, with a most fascinating manner. a gentle voice and that air of romance and mystery which means so much to a woman. He is said to have the whole sex at his mercy and to have made ample use of the fact… His European reputation for beauty was fully deserved. In figure he was not more than of middle size, but was built upon graceful and active lines. His face was swarthy, almost Oriental, with large, dark, languorous eyes which might easily hold an irresistible fascination for women. His hair and moustache were raven black, the latter short, pointed, and carefully waxed. His features were regular and pleasing, save only his straight, thin-lipped mouth. If ever I saw a murderer’s mouth it was there – a cruel, hard gash in the face, compressed, inexorable, and terrible.
  • Isadora Klein was, of course, the celebrated beauty. There was never a woman to touch her. She is pure Spanish, the real blood of the masterful Conquistadors… She rose from a settee as we entered: tall, queenly, a perfect figure, a lovely mask-like face, with two wonderful Spanish eyes which looked murder at us both.
  • It was as if the air of Italy had got into his blood and brought with it the old cruel Italian spirit.
  • This gentleman married some five years ago a Peruvian lady the daughter of a Peruvian merchant, whom he had met in 

    connection with the importation of nitrates. The lady was very beautiful, but the fact of her foreign birth and of her alien religion always caused 

    a separation of interests and of feelings between husband and wife.

  • ‘She was a creature of the tropics, a Brazilian by birth, as no doubt you know.’ ‘No, it had escaped me.’ ‘Tropical by birth and tropical by nature. A child of the sun and of passion.’
  • He was looked upon as an oddity by the students, and would have been their butt, but there was some strange outlandish blood in the man, which showed itself not only in his coal-black eyes and swarthy face but also in occasional outbreaks of temper, which could only be described as ferocious.

But, thankfully, in contrast to the beast-people and dastardly foreigners, is the fine upstanding, Anglo-Saxon chap (and occasional chapess):

  • Mr. James M. Dodd, a big, fresh, sunburned, upstanding Briton.
  • ‘I have found out who our client is,’ I cried, bursting with my great news. ‘Why, Holmes, it is—‘ ‘It is a loyal friend and a chivalrous gentleman,’ said Holmes.
  • ‘He had the fighting blood in him, so it is no wonder he volunteered. There was not a finer lad in the regiment!’
  • “Of course I remembered him,” said I as I laid down the letter. “Big Bob Ferguson, the finest three-quarter Richmond ever had. He was always a good-natured chap.’
  • Our new visitor, a bright, handsome girl of a conventional English type, smiled back at Holmes as she seated herself beside Mr. Bennett.
  • Stackhurst himself was a well-known rowing Blue in his day, and an excellent all-round scholar.
  • Fitzroy McPherson was the science master, a fine upstanding young fellow…
  • ‘Forgive what is past, Murdoch. We shall understand each other better in the future.’ They passed out together with their arms linked in friendly fashion.
  • Who could have imagined that so rare a flower would grow from such a root and in such an atmosphere?.. I could not look upon her perfect clear-cut face, with all the soft freshness of the downlands in her delicate colouring, without realizing that no young man would cross her path unscathed.

High society and superlatives

Continues the trend of hobnobbing with the rich and famous – giving the reader a flattering Downton Abbeyesque feeling that they are rubbing shoulders with the glamorous, rich and aristocratic. If not actual aristocrats, the adversaries are generally men and women at the top of their field.

  • It is hinted that the illustrious client in the first story is the Prince of Wales.
  • All the doctors are the most eminent in their field – Sir Leslie Oakshott, the famous surgeon, Sir James Saunders the great dermatologist
  • The soldiers are all medal-winning heroes – Colonel Emsworth the Crimean V. C.
  • Ronder, of course, was a household word. He was the rival of Wombwell, and of Sanger, one of the greatest showmen of his day.
  • ‘There are the Shoscombe spaniels,’ said I. “You hear of them at every dog show. The most exclusive breed in England.’
  • ‘That is a colt you are running?’ ‘The best in England, Mr. Holmes.’
  • And the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary come calling in person about the Mazarin stone!

The stories

  • The Adventure of the Illustrious Client (1924) Set in 1902. The dapper Sir James Damery visits on behalf of an anonymous client who wishes to prevent sweet & gullible Miss Violet Merville from marrying the Austrian Baron Adelbert Gruner, not only a cad to women but probably a murderer. While Watson is distracting the Baron with the offer of a rare Chinese antiquity, Holmes sneaks in the back and purloins the notebook the Baron keeps of all his conquests. There is little or no deduction involved. What is involved is shocking violence as a) Holmes is badly beaten up by two of the Baron’s men b) the Baron has vitriol thrown in his face by an embittered lover, Kitty Winter. The Wikipedia entry on vitriol-throwing says the French press coined the word La Vitrioleuse after a wave of 16 vitriol attacks in 1879, all of them crimes of passion. In 1894 the French artist Eugene Grasset (1841-1917) created a haunting lithograph title La VitioleuseKingston.
La Vitrioleuse by Eugene Grasset, 1894 (Wikimedia Commons)

La Vitrioleuse by Eugene Grasset, 1894 (Wikimedia Commons)

  • The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier (1926) Set 1903. First story narrated by Holmes himself. Fine upstanding soldier James Dodd fought side by side with good man Godfrey Emsworth, son of the famous Crimean VC. Rumoured to be wounded but then disappeared and family are strangely cagey about him. Holmes goes to Tuxbury Old Park and quickly deduces that the missing soldier has in fact contracted leprosy in South Africa and is hiding from the world with his family’s help. Near Bedford.
  • The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone (1921) Set in 1903. First use of 3rd person narrator. Holmes has a mannekin of himself in the window to distract his watchers. By adroitly swapping places with it he persuades Count Negretto Sylvius to take out the stolen £100K jewel to show to his accomplice at which Holmes simply swipes it. Baker Street.
  • The Adventure of the Three Gables (1906) Set 1903. Steve Dixie, a black boxer bursts in to warn Holmes off Harrow Weald which is a coincidence because he’s just had a letter from Mary Maberley who lives there. Off we go to meet her and hear her story, that an agent suddenly offered her a fortune for her house and everything in it. Through various clues Holmes deduces the involvement of the imperious Spanish beauty Isadora Klein who has dallied with half the men in London, including Mary Maberley’s dead son. Turns out he wrote a novel dramatising Isadora’s wicked ways and she suspected it was in his luggage, hence the offer for the house and all its contentsHarrow Weald.
  • The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire (1924) Set in 1896. Good solid rugger player Bob Ferguson comes to Holmes stricken: after some suspicions he caught his wife at the throat of his little baby, and she turned with blood on her lips! then ran off weeping to her rooms and won’t emerge. On a visit to the rundown house Holmes quickly sees the lie of the land: the 15 year old son of the first wife is deadly jealous of the new baby by the second, Peruvian, wife and had nipped it with an south American arrow tipped with poison. The wife was gallantly sucking it out only to be completely misaccused. The prescription for 15 year old Jacky is a year at sea! Near Horsham.
  • The Adventure of the Three Garridebs (1924) Set 1902. An American named Garrideb reluctantly appears before Holmes after an English eccentric with a vast collection of bric-a-brac named Garridenb has messaged him. His irritation and worn English clothes belie his cock and bull story about a multi-millionaire American back in Kansas named Garrideb who bequeathed his millions to whoever could find three Garridebs in the world. He claims to have found the third one in Birmingham and packs the eccentric off to meet him but, of course, Holmes and Watson stake out the now empty house where they reveal the first Garrideb to be none other than ‘Killer’ Evans from Chicago, who’d killed a confederate in London and served five years fr it during which time the eccentric Garrideb moved into his flat, thus blocking access to the forger’s kit in the basement. Ryder Street, St James’s.
  • The Problem of Thor Bridge (1922) Set in 1900. Mr Neil Gibson, the Gold King, the richest gold magnate in the world, marries a Brazilian lady and settles in England but as her looks fade they argue a lot, and he becomes attached to his children’s maid, Miss Grace Dunbar. The wife Maria is found shot dead and the gun is found in Grace’s wardrobe. What could be simpler? Holmes deduces from the way the little bridge over the lake is chipped, that the wife planted a copy of the gun to implicate the maid, and then shot herself with a gun tied to a weighted string dangling into the lake! (The story is notable within the Sherlock Holmes canon for the initial reference to a tin dispatchbox, located within the vaults of the Cox and Co. Bank at Charing Cross in London, where Dr. Watson kept the papers concerning some of Holmes’ unsolved or unfinished cases.) Near Winchester, Hampshire.
  • The Adventure of the Creeping Man (1923) Set 1903. Mr. Trevor Bennett comes to Holmes with a problem. He is Professor Presbury’s personal secretary engaged to the professor’s only daughter, Edith. After a trip to Prague the professor has been behaving strangely, with a new vigour but also, on some nights, loping around the house and climbing the walls! Holmes shows he has been taking an experimental youth serum extracted from apes in Madagascar. Camford ie fictional version of Cambridge. 
  • The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane (1926) Set 1907. One of the last of Holmes’s adventures and the second one to be narrated by Holmes himself! In his retirement on the South Downs cases still follow him. One of the teachers at the nearby ? academy is found stumbling up the cliffs from an early morning swim on the beach, his back horribly flailed and bloody. There is an interlude while speculation about his murderer implicates his rival in love for a nearby maiden. Only for Holmes to suddenly remember the same marks are made by a rare tropical giant jellyfish, but not before the chief suspect is himself stung almost to death. Sussex coast.
  • The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger (1927) Set in 1896. The veiled lodger is the wife of the world famous circus owner ? He was a tyrant and sadist who whipped her. Her lover Leonardo the strong man cooked up a plan to stave the tyrant’s head in with a club with spikes in it to replicate a lion’s paw and release the lion they fed every day. The murder went ahead but, unfortunately the lion was maddened by the smell of blood and turned on Mrs, ripping her face off while the coward Leonardo ran off. She feels free to tell her story now she’s read that Leonardo is dead. And she has lived in retirement hiding behind a veil ever since. Holmes gallantly talks her out of committing suicide. South Brixton.
  • The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place (1927) Set in 1902. Head trainer John Mason from Shoscombe Old Place, a racing stable in Berkshire, comes to Holmes about his master, Sir Robert Norberton. Mason thinks he has gone mad. The stables are actually owned by Norberton’s sister, Lady Beatrice, and the old man has huge debts. He is staking everything on the next race featuring his colt. Meanwhile Mason lists various odd events which capture Holmes’s attention: Lady B has stopped greeting her favorite horse; Sr Robert has become increasingly angry and stressed; in a fit of anger he gave Lady B’s dog away to the local publican; he’s been seen going into the local church crypt at night to meet a stranger; and then burnt human bones are found in the furnace at Shoscombe! Holmes deduces that Lady B has actually died, but Sir Robert is maintaining the fiction that she’s alive to prevent his creditors seizing the estate before his horse can win the Derby. Which it does, and with his huge winnings he pays off his debts. Berkshire.
  • The Adventure of the Retired Colourman (1926) Set 1898. Holmes is hired by a retired supplier of artistic materials, Josiah Amberley, to look into his wife’s disappearance. She has left with a neighbour, Dr. Ray Ernest, taking a sizeable quantity of cash and securities. Amberley wants the two tracked down. Holmes deduces that Amberley himself did away with the couple, locking them in his strong room and gassing them and then throwing them down a disused well. Holmes prevents Amberley committing suicide, predicting he will end up in Broadmoor not swinging from a rope. Lewisham.

Town versus country

Despite Holmes’s association with pea-soupers etc, only four of these 12 stories actually take place in London. All the rest are located in the countryside.

Read the Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes

Illustration for 'The Valley of Fear', 1914, Frank Wiley

Illustration for ‘The Valley of Fear’, 1914, Frank Wiley

Novel

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)

The Valley of Fear by Arthur Conan Doyle (1915)

The Valley of Fear was serialised in the Strand Magazine between September 1914 and May 1915. Like the first two Holmes novellas it is divided into two parts: the first half is a murder mystery set in a quiet English country house; part two provides the backstory to the murder, which began 15 years earlier in the grim, industrial coalmining districts of America. Note: America again.

The ‘now’ of the main story is the early days of Holmes’s career – ‘Those were the early days at the end of the ’80’s’. This allows the brief reintroduction of Professor Moriarty and lavish descriptions of him as the Napoleon of crime etc in the first and last chapters.

Moriarty

‘The greatest schemer of all time, the organizer of every deviltry, the controlling brain of the underworld, a brain which might have made or marred the destiny of nations—that’s the man!.. When you have one of the first brains of Europe up against you, and all the powers of darkness at his back, there are infinite possibilities…  (Part 1, chapter 1)

‘No, no, my good sir,’ said Holmes. ‘There is a master hand here. It is no case of sawed-off shotguns and clumsy six-shooters. You can tell an old master by the sweep of his brush. I can tell a Moriarty when I see one. This crime is from London, not from America.’ (Epilogue)

The superlative criminal against the superlative detective. Comic strip stuff, the godfather of a thousand pulp magazines and comics…

Part one: The Tragedy of Birlstone (the country house murder mystery)

Birlstone is a Jacobean country house with a moat and drawbridge on the northern border of Sussex. In chapter 1 Holmes receives a message in cipher warning that danger threatens its owner, but even as Holmes and Watson decipher the message they are overtaken by events for the police come to say the owner, John Douglas, has been murdered. Holmes and a London detective, MacDonald travel to the house, but are puzzled by discrepancies at the crime scene. Apparently, someone has broken in, blown Douglas’s head clean off with a double-barrelled shotgun, and escaped through the open window and across the moat.

The cast of characters is interviewed one by one: tall beautiful Mrs Douglas; the family friend Banks who may or may not have been having an affair with her, and thus have motive; Ames the quiet butler; the housekeeper et al. It is the cast from a country house murder mystery, each character with apparent motives and only the supersleuth can find the truth. The setting and plot made me think of Inspector Poirot and indeed, it was only a few years later, in 1920, that Agatha Christie introduced the Belgian detective, and the format crystalised into a long-running genre.

In part one the mystery at the house is fully solved to everyone’s satisfaction. But why was the murdered man pursued? That requires part two and the backstory in America. What makes these stories so nostalgic and comforting is the old fashioned narrative voice which is unafraid of buttonholing the reader and guiding us around the twists and turns of the text:

And now, my long-suffering readers, I will ask you to come away with me for a time, far from the Sussex Manor House of Birlstone, and far also from the year of grace in which we made our eventful journey which ended with the strange story of the man who had been known as John Douglas. I wish you to journey back some twenty years in time, and westward some thousands of miles in space, that I may lay before you a singular and terrible narrative—so singular and so terrible that you may find it hard to believe that even as I tell it, even so did it occur.

Do not think that I intrude one story before another is finished. As you read on you will find that this is not so. And when I have detailed those distant events and you have solved this mystery of the past, we shall meet once more in those rooms on Baker Street, where this, like so many other wonderful happenings, will find its end. (Part one, chapter 7)

The story may be grim and violent; but the telling and the teller, dear sweet Watson, are as honest and reassuring as possible.

Theorising

For whatever reason, the first part of this novella contains an unprecedented description of Holmes working through various theories and scenarios. Generally, in almost all the stories, his progress through and discarding of multiple theories is only hinted at – the texts tend to focus on the final dramatic revelation of the true events. Here, tens of pages are spent discussing with Watson the pros and cons of various scenarios which fit the observed facts, talking them through in detail and rethinking them as inconvenient facts block progress. I found this very enjoyable and for this reason I prefer it to the two earlier novellas.

Part two: The Scowrers (lawless America)

Like the two first novellas, The Valley of Fear has a backstory set in a distant land – for the second time the wild and lawless USA – which explains why the central character has been tracked across America and then to England by a vengeful secret society. In A Study in Scarlet it was the good guy chasing two wicked Mormons; here it is the good guy seeking sanctuary from the Society of Freemen, a countrywide association of working men pledged to self-defence which, in the sinister Vermissa Valley, has been perverted into a league of assassins and murderers and nicknamed ‘the Scowrers’.

Hard man McMurdo arrives in Vermissa Valley from Chicago where he was inducted into the freemen. He quickly ingratiates himself with the Bodymaster of the lodge, Boss McGinty, by talking brave, and taking part in various beatings and murders. Sentimentally, he falls in love with the tall blonde Swedish daughter of his landlord and worms his way deeper into the heart of the evil gang…

Animal imagery

There had always been animal imagery in the Holmes stories – ‘tiger’ is his favourite animal with which to compare criminals throughout the stories, appearing eight times in this text, 10 times in the Return stories – but there seemed to be more animal analogies in this book, maybe reflecting the harsher, crueller atmosphere of the story.

  • ‘Porlock is important, not for himself, but for the great man with whom he is in touch. Picture to yourself the pilot fish with the shark, the jackal with the lion—anything that is insignificant in companionship with what is formidable: not only formidable, Watson, but sinister—in the highest degree sinister… You have heard me speak of Professor Moriarty?’ (Part 1, Chapter 1)
  • Among the older men were many whose features showed the tigerish, lawless souls within.
  • Only once did McMurdo see him, a sly, little gray-haired rat of a man, with a slinking gait and a sidelong glance which was charged with malice. (2: 5)
  • McGinty had instruments enough already; but he recognized that this was a supremely able one. He felt like a man holding a fierce bloodhound in leash. There were curs to do the smaller work; but some day he would slip this creature upon its prey. (2:5)
  • The long room was crowded, and through the haze of tobacco smoke he saw the tangled black mane of the Bodymaster, the cruel, unfriendly features of Baldwin, the vulture face of Harraway, the secretary, and a dozen more who were among the leaders of the lodge. (2:6)
  •  There was not a man in the room whose hands had not been reddened a dozen times before. They were as hardened to human murder as a butcher to sheep. (2:7)
  • At the sight Boss McGinty gave the roar of a wounded bear and plunged for the half-opened door. (2:7)

Socialism and Fenianism

A lot could be written about the true history of the Molly Maguires and their role in American industrial relations ie were they mafia-style criminals or heroes of the working man? and similarly about the role of American emigrants in founding and funding Irish republicanism via secret societies like the Fenians in the later 1800s.

Presumably, like any conservative professional man of his day and age, Conan Doyle thought both were criminal operations. Probably, as an author of popular fiction he was only interested in them insofar as they provided plausible fodder for his ripping yarns. A hundred years later, their use in this story indicates the rifts and fractures of two rich, troubled societies.Crime novels by definition focus on criminal elements but, insofar as Conan Doyle chooses secret societies as the core of his two American novellas, he is highlighting not only the simple crimes he requires, but also the complex injustices which lie behind them.

Just as in the Hound, a central character voices the reader’s thoughts, that he is reading a pulp fiction and just as in the Hound voicing it, doesn’t dispel it:

‘When I reached this place I learned that I was wrong and that it wasn’t a dime novel after all.’ (2:7)

The finishing end

Oh it is, it is a dime novel – but a dime novel lifted out of its genre by the presence of Holmes. Also by the ending.An initial reading highlights the interesting parallel Conan Doyle makes between his ascetic, intellectual detective Holmes and the heroic, tough, courageous Pinkerton agent, Birdy Edwards. Just as the violence of the Scowrers is brought to an end by the devoted Pinkerton man, so the murder mystery is solved, as hundreds of other cases have been in the short stories, by the soothing presence of Holmes. Both heal clear the air, capture the criminals, cage the animals and make society safe again, as a doctor sets a broken bone and cures a disease.

Except they don’t. The hero doesn’t escape. Holmes doesn’t save his man. Moriarty cuts him down in his prime, thus leaving a bitter and ominous aftertaste to the book. It was serialised during the initial hysteria of the Great War. On the face of it, Conan Doyle used the novella to add more depth to the spooky figure of the Napoleon of crime, who only actually appears in one previous story, the Final Problem. And Sherlockains have not been slow to point out the contradiction between Dr Watson seeming familiar with Moriarty here in the late 1880s, and yet blissfully ignorant of him in the Final Problem, set later.

But we know Conan Doyle cared little about anomalies and contradictions, having Watson wounded in the shoulder int he first novel and the leg in the second etc. Seems to me he was happy to sacrifice that kind of pedantic consistency for the much greater dramatic affect the end of this book creates. On the face of it Holmes’s staring off into the distance artistically anticipates the final death struggle at the Reichenbach Falls; but given the times, this ending seems to me to echo the dark atmosphere of His Last Bow, giving this flimsy though pacey yarn a powerfully dark and ominous undertow.

We all sat in silence for some minutes while those fateful eyes still strained to pierce the veil. (Epilogue)

The Valley of Fear on Project Gutenberg

Holmes examining the cipher which opens The Valley of Fear, 1915

Holmes examining the cipher which opens The Valley of Fear, 1915

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)

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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