Good-night Mister Sherlock Holmes

May 10, 2009

“You have doubtless heard of the Beryl Coronet?”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mark Loper @ 4:25 pm
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The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet is a clever little yarn and one of 12 included in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. It is not particularly good, or particularly bad, but it has a couple of errors that can only be laid at Doyle’s feet; Holmes had nothing to do with it.

Mr. Alexander Holder, one of the principles at Holder & Stevenson (the second largest private banking concern in the City of London), has agreed to accept the Beryl Coronet — which he describes as “one of the most precious public possessions of the empire” — as collateral on a four-day, ₤50,000 loan. Holder doesn’t feel comfortable leaving the coronet in the bank’s vault so he takes it home and locks it in a bureau in his dressing-room.

The owner/curator of the coronet (who is not identified) admonishes Holder:

“I rely upon you not only to be discreet and to refrain from all gossip upon the matter but, above all, to preserve this coronet with every possible precaution because I need not say that a great public scandal would be caused if any harm were to befall it. Any injury to it would be almost as serious as its complete loss… ” [emphasis added]

Through some family shenanigans, the coronet is stolen. During the theft, Holder’s son attempts to regain the coronet from the perpetrator.  A struggle ensues and unbeknownst to the son, a corner of the coronet, with three attached stones (beryls), is broken off and retained by the the the thief.

Holmes is called in, quickly sorts out the mystery, and eventually returns the broken piece to the senior Holder and exonerating the son.

Here are my concerns:

If any injury would be “almost as serious as its complete loss”, why, after Holmes recovers the broken corner (with the beryls attached), does Mr. Holder exclaim:

“You have it!” he gasped. I am saved! I am saved!”

Saved? The coronet is severely damaged and Holder was specifically cautioned that any injury was tantamount to a complete loss.

I also wonder that Mr. Holder, after having been admonished to “refrain from all gossip upon the matter” proceeded to tell his son (who had known gambling issues) and niece the whole story and exactly where he is going to secure the coronet?

And why does not the younger Holder realize the coronet was broken during the struggle with the thief?  Holmes noted a break would make a noise “like a pistol shot”.  Why did not the son hear it and realize the coronet had been damaged ?

Maybe these are small discrepancies and I suppose they could have happened but they pale in comparison with the biggest question: why did Holder take the coronet home in the first place rather than leave it in the vault of the “second largest private banking concern in the City of London”?

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March 16, 2009

“It is, of course, a trifle, but there is nothing so important as trifles.”

The Man with the Twisted Lip is a neat little Sherlock Holmes story with more than one twist. The opium-den introduction instantly captures the reader and promises a wild ride. It also gives Dr. Watson an another opportunity to pontificate on the negative effect of drug use as he did in the opening pages of The Sign of the Four when speaking to Holmes about his (Holmes) cocaine use.

The story is straightforward enough and Holmes solves it but not before some consternation only resolved by pulling an all-nighter  “… sitting upon five pillows and consuming an ounce of shag.”

And to his credit, he acknowledges his blunder:

“I think, Watson, that you are now standing in the presence of one of the most absolute fools in Europe. I deserve to be kicked from here to Charing Cross. But I think I have the key of the affair now.”

And later:

“I confess that I have been as blind as a mole, but it is better to learn wisdom late than never to learn it at all.”

Just one question?

When Holmes scrubbed the make-up off of Neville St. Clair’s face, we find a “… a pale, sad-faced, refined-looking man, black-haired and smooth-skinned”.

Smooth-skinned? Here is a man who hasn’t shaved in three days and Doyle describes him as smooth-skinned?  If we give Doyle the benefit of the doubt, maybe by smooth-skinned, he meant smooth as opposed to the rough-skin created by the make-up for the disguise.

It is, of course, a trifle, but there is nothing so important as trifles.

As an aside, I seriously considered trying this ploy when I was once at “low-water”. I wasn’t necessarily going to use make-up but I was going to wear dark-glasses and carry a cane for the visually-impaired. I went as far as to buy a cane (off of eBay) but never went through with it.

March 4, 2009

I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data.

The Adventure of the Copper Beaches is a run-of-the-mill Sherlock Holmes story.  That is not to say it is not a good story, it is, but it doesn’t stand out among Holmes’ exploits. There are, however, several distinctly Holmes traits that make the story worthy of note.

Specifically I refer to Holmes interview with Miss Violet Hunter. Hunter has just shown Holmes the letter from Mr. Rucastle where he offers her a job as governess.

“That is the letter which I have just received, Mr. Holmes, and my mind is made up that I will accept it. I thought, however, that before taking the final step I should like to submit the whole matter to your consideration.”

“Well, Miss Hunter, if your mind is made up, that settles the question,” said Holmes, smiling.

“But you would not advise me to refuse?”

“I confess that it is not the situation which I should like to see a sister of mine apply for.”

“What is the meaning of it all, Mr. Holmes?”

“Ah, I have no data. I cannot tell. Perhaps you have yourself formed some opinion?”

“Well, there seems to me to be only one possible solution. Mr. Rucastle seemed to be a very kind, good-natured man. Is it not possible that his wife is a lunatic, that he desires to keep the matter quiet for fear she should be taken to an asylum, and that he humours her fancies in every way in order to prevent an outbreak?”

“That is a possible solution—in fact, as matters stand, it is the most probable one. But in any case it does not seem to be a nice household for a young lady.”

“But the money, Mr. Holmes, the money!”

“Well, yes, of course the pay is good—too good. That is what makes me uneasy. Why should they give you £120 a year, when they could have their pick for £40? There must be some strong reason behind.”

“I thought that if I told you the circumstances you would understand afterwards if I wanted your help. I should feel so much stronger if I felt that you were at the back of me.”

“Oh, you may carry that feeling away with you. I assure you that your little problem promises to be the most interesting which has come my way for some months. There is something distinctly novel about some of the features. If you should find yourself in doubt or in danger—”

“Danger! What danger do you foresee?”

Holmes shook his head gravely. “It would cease to be a danger if we could define it,” said he. “But at any time, day or night, a telegram would bring me down to your help.”

Sherlock Holmes answers her questions precisely and succinctly avoiding any conjecture. He only answers the questions he is asked, not reading any more into the question than is there, which is a uncommon trait when talking with people.

When Miss Hunter asks, “What is the meaning of it all, Mr. Holmes?”, he answers, “Ah, I have no data. I cannot tell. Perhaps you have yourself formed some opinion?” In other words, he resists the temptation to be sucked into useless conversation, conversation not supported by data. He only answers the question as asked and only based on the data he actually had.

He then goes onto do something only the most confident professional is willing to do: he asks Miss Hunter her opinion. It is unlikely that she will suggest anything Holmes has not already considered but she might reveal some information that she has, for whatever reason, failed to disclose.

The mystery itself is quite transparent to Holmes once he has the facts and he demonstrates some acute psychological insight that is rare even today:

“The most serious point in the case is the disposition of the child.”

“What on earth has that to do with it?” I ejaculated.

“My dear Watson, you as a medical man are continually gaining light as to the tendencies of a child by the study of the parents. Don’t you see that the converse is equally valid. I have frequently gained my first real insight into the character of parents by studying their children. This child’s disposition is abnormally cruel, merely for cruelty’s sake, and whether he derives this from his smiling father, as I should suspect, or from his mother, it bodes evil for the poor girl who is in their power.”

By the way, you will notice that the motives of the father, Mr. Rucastle, is identical to the motives of Mr. Windibank in The Case of Identity.

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