The View Halloa – The Retired Colourman

I remember well the first time I read this story. I was in that first wave of Sherlockian enthusiasm: the one that impels the incipient Sherlockian to run out and buy the Doubleday complete and read it from cover to cover. As I turned my eyes to page 1113, I remember thinking with sadness that this was the last of the first readings. Never again would I be able to read a new Sherlock Holmes story for the first time! In spite of its limitations, I treasured it then, and I treasure it now. It may be mediocre compared to some of the other Holmes tales, and yet it’s not “devoid of interest and even of instruction.” In a moment, I’ll stop daydreaming about Watson’s “natural advantages” and send out the Comments and Questions to introduce this week’s story of “The Retired Colourman.”
Chess curious: Who won most of the chess games between Amberley and Ernest? If Amberley was used to being the chess master and young Doctor Ernest took him to school, might that be enough to send the old crank over the murderous edge? Would it at least have been enough to start Amberley wondering if Ernest wasn’t also winning a few matches with his wife?

Was Mrs. Amberley actually fooling around? Is it possible that she really did have a headache that night she didn’t go to the theatre? Did Amberley give her something at dinner to ensure that she would not feel well enough to go? Did he deliberately buy tickets to a play that he knew she would not want to attend?

Holmes’s “pathetic and futile” speech is rather moving, and when we get to know Josiah Amberley better, he seems far too despicable a toad to inspire such empathy or compassion. What might have been the reason that Amberley’s case elicited such an unusual expression of feeling from Holmes?

Did Amberley come to Holmes because he wanted to get caught? Or did Amberley go to Holmes mainly because he found out that Dr. Ernest’s family had gone to Barker, and Amberley actually thought that Holmes would help him disprove anything Barker uncovered?

The limb of the law: Watson says that the case became “the eager debate of all England.” A double murder is certainly sensational, but what was there to debate about?

Why did Holmes go to such great lengths to mention all the ladies that Watson could have charmed for information, only to tell him that the information had already been gathered by telephone? Was Holmes ever quite satisfied with the way Watson handled things when he sent him out alone? The one exception I can think of was The Hound of the Baskervilles, but was Holmes really satisfied in that case, or did Watson just put him on the defensive with his “You use me and do not trust me!” tirade?

Were there ever any “Coptic Patriarchs,” or did Holmes just invent them because he didn’t feel like getting involved in Amberley’s dreary case? If so, what changed his mind?

Holmes called Inspector McKinnon “a good fellow.” Was this a compliment to his personality or to his talents as a detective? If the latter, was Scotland Yard getting smarter or was Holmes mellowing? Did Holmes know that McKinnon had his own suspicions about Amberley?

Was Amberley’s conviction a certainty?

The View Halloa – Shoscombe Old Place

This week’s story had two other possible titles: “The Adventure of Shoscombe Abbey” and “The Adventure of the Black Spaniel.” The former suggests the many religious references and symbols (including Holmes’s facetious reference to the “sacred domain” of Sir Robert’s home) and the latter gives star billing to the spaniel in the works who proved Holmes’s theory that “Lady Beatrice” was an imposter. But whatever we call the story, it’s classic Casebook, where the atmosphere is dark and the clues are sensational. I trust that all good Hounds will cease their howling outside the old well-house and join us in the creepy crypt at “Shoscombe Old Place.” In a moment, the Comments and Questions to put us on the path to the Shoscombe park gates.
Horses and dogs: Watson said that the story ended on a happy note, because Shoscombe Prince won the Derby and the creditors waited until after the race to descend on Sir Robert. But why did the creditors wait? Did Sir Robert go groveling to the Falder in-laws who inherited his sister’s estate? If they were sympathetic towards him, why didn’t he turn to them in the first place when his sister died?

Watson seemed to have a lot of information about Shoscombe Old Place, which came from his formerly having “summer quarters” nearby, presumably in his army days. However, that would have been more than twenty years prior to the events of this story. Was Holmes content with such aged information? Or was Watson using the military term of “summer quarters” in a humorous way, meaning (as Holmes would have known if it were so) that he had spent time there more recently? But if Watson had been in the area recently, didn’t he run the risk of being recognized by some of the locals?

Is it believable that Sir Robert Norberton could have finished second in the Grand National? A steeplechase is a slightly different sort of horse race from the Derby, but would it be possible for a man “huge in stature,” as Watson describes Sir Robert, to have done so well in an event where the other riders were almost certain to be small and wiry men? This is not to say that a larger man cannot hold his own in equestrian events, but second place in the Grand National? Did he cheat?

Speaking of believable events, is it truly possible that Sir Robert reformed to an “honoured old age?”

Did Watson go to dog shows? Did he follow their results closely in the papers? Maybe he was looking for news of his bull pup’s descendents? Were dog shows more popular in those days, so that it was common for even those who did not own dogs to follow the results of the shows?

Mason and Stephens did not recognize Norlett. Apparently they had never seen him before, which was peculiar enough, but is it possible that they did not even know that Carrie Evans was married? Did Norlett live anywhere near his wife? Sir Robert said, “It came into our heads – it came into my head – that he could for that short period personate my sister.” This sentence intrigues me. Does his quickly corrected statement indicate that the scheme was Carrie’s as much as his own – or perhaps more so? Did Sir Robert know that Carrie’s husband was an actor, prior to her volunteering Mr. Norlett for the role of Lady Beatrice? Did Sir Robert even know that Carrie was married, before she produced her rat-faced, thespian spouse?

Holmes took an hour in the crypt to find Lady Beatrice in a “leaden coffin standing on end before the entrance to the vault.” Why did it take so long to locate the right coffin? Were there a lot of coffins standing on end? Wouldn’t the dust of the ages have been a bit disturbed around the coffin which had so recently changed tenants? When Watson says “before the entrance to the vault,” did he mean the crypt itself, or another chamber within the crypt? Is this further evidence of Holmes’s failing eyesight?

The View Halloa – The Veiled Lodger

Those dangerous Canonical animals are on the loose again! It’s only a flashback, but where was Leon Sterndale or even Sebastian Moran when somebody really needed their services? No, I don’t mean that they should have shot Sahara King, who really can’t be blamed for the attack on Mrs. Ronder. I was thinking that it might have been satisfying to turn the big guns onto the porcine beast Ronder and the sneaking weasel Leonardo (who deserted Eugenia Ronder after she was nearly desserted by Sahara King.) Ah well, I suppose the big game hunters were simply “un-a-veil-able” at the time. In a moment, I’ll post the comments and questions to kick off this week’s story of “The Veiled Lodger.”
“Poor girl”: Deformed, mutilated or frightening faces occur fairly frequently in the Canon. I can think of “The Man with the Twisted Lip,” “The Crooked Man,” “The Hound of the Baskervilles (I mean Seldon; as far as I know the Hound was positively radiant), “The Illustrious Client,” “The Blanched Soldier,” and also “Wisteria Lodge,” if you can judge by the constable’s reaction to the that face in the window. “The Yellow Face” turned out to be a mask, but it looked scary enough before its secret was revealed. Can the Hounds think of any other frightening faces in the stories? Are there any common threads to the stories where disfigurement rears its ugly head? Was this “Phantom of the Opera” sort of thing popular in those days? (I mean writing about mutilated faces, not having them.)

Was little Jimmy Griggs in love with Mrs. Ronder?

Is a North African lion different from other types of African lions?

Mrs. Ronder was obviously very troubled in mind, but was she actually “wasting away,” or was this merely an exaggeration on the part of the kindly and full-figured landlady?

I find Holmes’s sympathy towards Mrs. Ronder to be quite touching, and all the more so because it is so unexpected from Holmes. I have always imagined that Holmes originally came to see the lady merely because he wanted his curiosity satisfied, and that he himself was surprised at the effect her story had upon his emotions. The question is: Why? By 1896, Holmes must have seen and heard of dozens or perhaps hundreds of tragedies and injustices. Why did Mrs. Ronder’s case inspire such an unusually heartfelt response from the usually cold reasoning machine?

Notes of his doings: Watson mentioned that “The Veiled Lodger” was one of those “terrible human tragedies,” rather than a detective story, but what really inspired the good doctor to include this case among his published chronicles? And while we’re speaking of detection: Holmes didn’t do any of it in this case. Do you think he took any money?

Is Watson’s opening paragraph related in any way to the remainder of the story, or was it simply a handy place to insert some unfinished business? Aside from that warning about the politician, etc., what else might Holmes and Watson have done to protect their case files?

This is a question that comes up every time “The Veiled Lodger” is discussed, but that’s because it’s simply unavoidable. The internal evidence makes it clear that Watson and Holmes were not sharing rooms at the time of the story, but Watson was obviously quite nearby, because that note from Holmes brought him over in time to Mrs. Merrilow. What explanation might there be for Watson’s absence? As another line of thought, might it be possible to argue that it was Watson who was living in Baker Street and Holmes who was staying elsewhere?

Was Holmes trying to quite smoking? Was that the reason he teased Watson about “your filthy habit?” Had Watson and Holmes taken up separate residences while Holmes was going through withdrawal?

The View Halloa – The Lion’s Mane

“Everyone delights to spend a summer holiday,
Down beside the side of the silvery sea.
I’m no exception to the rule, in fact if I’d my way,
I’d reside by the side of the silvery sea.”

So sang Basil Rathbone in his disguise as a music hall performer during “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.” And the real Sherlock Holmes obviously endorsed the sentiment, since he retired to the seaside. But when one of his neighbors fell dead at his feet, Holmes leaped into action (to the extent that his rheumatism would allow) and not only solved the case, but wrote it up himself for our enjoyment and edification. In a moment, the comments and questions to get us in the swim with “The Lion’s Mane.”
“My own chronicler:” Holmes speaks of “that soothing life of Nature for which I had so often yearned during the long years spent amid the gloom of London.” And yet Watson’s writings had led us to believe that Holmes preferred the excitement of the city. Was Watson wrong, or did Holmes simply change his opinion at some point?

Why did Holmes choose to write up this story? Does Holmes’s writing style suggest that he was trying to imitate Watson? For a good portion of the story, Holmes seemed to forget all about the clue of the dying man’s words, “the lion’s mane.” Do you think that Holmes genuinely forgot this clue, or was this merely his authorial attempt to misdirect the readers in order to present the real solution as a more impressive surprise? If it was a mere trick upon the readers, was this fair play? When you first read the story, were you disappointed that the “murderer” was only a coelenterate?

If Watson had been there to write the story instead, how might he have changed it to make it more interesting to the reader?

Holmes was obviously much attracted to Maud Bellamy. Do you think he ever followed up on his feelings, or did he leave the field clear for Ian Murdoch?

A Shore Thing: Leaving aside Holmes’s merits as a writer, what do you think of his detective skills in this story? Was he too quick to suspect Murdoch?

When Fitzroy McPherson was stung by the jellyfish, he did not stop to dry himself with his towel, but instead just pulled on a few articles of clothing and staggered up from the beach. Why didn’t Holmes and Stackhurst notice that McPherson had been swimming? Shouldn’t his trousers or his shoes, or at least his hair, have shown signs of dampness? How did Holmes miss this vital clue?

How did Holmes get those photographs of McPherson’s injuries?

The probable answer to the mystery occurred to Holmes in a flash of inspiration. He only needed to consult his library to verify his theory. This is perfectly understandable, but why did he not arrange for someone to keep guard at the beach to prevent keep anyone else from swimming in the pool? And why did he allow the visit from Inspector Bardle to keep him from going straight down to the beach in the morning? Why did he choose to withhold his suspicions from the Inspector?

Is it strange that a man who once boasted of his ignorance of the solar system should have read about and remembered an obscure species of jellyfish? Where do you think Holmes drew the line between useless information and practical information?

The View Halloa – The Creeping Man

While claiming to observe “a certain reticence and discretion” in his writing, Doctor Watson also told us that he published this story “to dispel once for all the ugly rumors” about Professor Presbury’s case. We can never know what Watson’s reticence concealed and what rumors his story dispelled, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t speculate on these and other issues concerning this week’s story. (I wonder if one of the Professor’s symptoms was a craving for “Rhesus Pieces!”) In a moment, the comments and questions for “The Creeping Man.”
Rising above Nature: Could this be a true story? Could some drug – cocaine, for instance – have been the true active ingredient in the youth-serum, inducing a sense of vigor and power in Professor Presbury which took the form of ape-antics purely by the power of suggestion?

Holmes recommends that we “always look at the hands first,” and perhaps this was still an informative exercise in 1903, when this story took place. But is it possible nowadays to learn very much from the observation of people’s hands? Have any Hounds tried this?

What do you think of Holmes’s philosophy at the end of this story: “Consider, Watson, that the material, the sensual, the worldly would all prolong their worthless lives. The spiritual would not avoid the call to something higher.” And yet, Professor Presbury was not trying to avoid death, but rather to regain the powers of his youth. Wouldn’t we have more sympathy for the Professor had he been battling for his life against a fatal disease? Wouldn’t most of us prefer to put off “the call to something higher” for as long as possible?

We don’t get all the details of Presbury’s engagement to Alice Morphy, but we are left with the impression that although she liked the Professor somewhat, she had other younger suitors she liked better, and she accepted the Professor largely to please her father. In the England of 1903, how difficult was it for a young lady of good family to break off an engagement that her father preferred?

When animals attack: Animals in the Canon are a dangerous commodity. From the crocodile that made Jonathan Small-er to the renowned Hound of the Baskervilles, the Canonical world is bristling with the jaws that bite, the claws that catch. Were matters so perilous between the human and the animal kingdoms in Holmes’s day, or did he just see more of this sort of thing because of the line of work he was in? But does a detective’s work necessarily bring him into contact with more vicious animals than the average person would encounter? Why ARE there so many animal attacks in the Canon?

Is Holmes correct in saying that “a dog reflects the family life?” Is Watson too quick to dismiss the idea as “far-fetched,” or was the pun on “fetch” another example of the good doctor’s pawky humor?

I’ve always been suspicious of Watson’s information that Roy’s collar had been “made for a thick-necked Newfoundland.” I can see how Watson could have observed that the collar was intended for a dog with a bigger neck than Roy, but where was this Newfoundland, and why was Roy wearing his collar? Were dog collars not massed produced in various sizes in 1903, so that there would have been a long delay in getting a collar that would fit Roy better?

I always find it odd that a professor and a scientist was willing to take the monkey serum without testing it first. Did the professor try the injections out on Roy before taking them himself?

Was Lowenstein prosecuted for gland larceny?

The View Halloa – Thor Bridge

The action takes place on a large country estate inhabited by a cruel tyrant from another country. An English governess has charge of the children, there is a secretary named Ferguson, and the household has a connection to Latin America. Could it be “Wisteria Lodge”? Yes it could be, but it’s not. This week’s story is “The Problem of Thor Bridge,” and though it seems to me that Holmes was never in better form, the Master himself was not entirely satisfied with his handling of the case. Whether you agree or disagree, I hope you’ll meet us at the bridge that spans the reed-girt sheet of water for that mixture of imagination and reality which is the basis of our discussions. In a moment, I’ll chip in with a mere couple of comments and questions to start things off.
As good as gold? Was Grace Dunbar as good a person as Neil Gibson described her? Holmes didn’t take the Gold King’s word for it, but once he met her, he seemed to accept Miss Dunbar’s innocence completely. Was she that good, or simply that charming? Do her own words suggest a particularly fine human being, or does she seem a bit overwhelmed by it all?

Why didn’t Gibson divorce his wife?

At the conclusion of the story, Holmes said, “…the financial world may find that Mr. Neil Gibson has learned something in that schoolroom of sorrow where our earthly lessons are taught.” But did Gibson suffer any particular sorrow, once he was able to stop worrying that Miss Dunbar might be hanged? Did he learn anything? Was it likely that Grace Dunbar’s supposedly good influence was a lasting one?

Holmes said, “I do not think in our adventures we have ever come across a stranger example of what perverted love can bring about.” Whose love was perverted? Mrs. Gibson’s for her husband or her husband’s for Grace Dunbar?

Sluggish in mind: Why was Holmes disappointed with his detective skills in this story? His statement seems overly self-critical: “I fear, Watson, that you will not improve any reputation which I may have acquired by adding the case of the Thor Bridge mystery to your annals…. I confess that the chip in the stonework was a sufficient clue to suggest the true solution, and that I blame myself for not having attained it sooner.” Was this the true reason for his dissatisfaction, or did he have other reasons to be unhappy with himself at the conclusion of this case?

Watson’s introductory paragraph is full of the kind of extra information that Sherlockians hunger for. Of particular interest are the untold cases of James Phillimore, the cutter Alicia, and Isadora Persona and his matchless worm. Is there any significance in the fact that Watson’s list includes unfinished and unsuccessful cases?

How big is a tin dispatch box? Is it bigger than a breadbox? My impression has always been that it was slightly smaller than the average breadbox, and therefore not something that would take up a lot of space if someone wanted to keep it around the flat. That being so, why did Watson store his box in the vaults of Cox & Co.?

Until Holmes performed his own experiment with Watson’s revolver, there was only one chip on the stone parapet of Thor Bridge. This suggests that Mrs. Gibson never practiced her maneuver with the string and the stone, but trusted everything to work perfectly the first time. Does it make sense that anyone clever enough to think of the arrangement in the first place should have left its actual practice untried?

The View Halloa – The Three Garridebs

If there is such a thing as a guilty pleasure in the Canon, this story is mine. I know it isn’t in the top tier of Watson’s accounts for overall quality, but it’s a favorite with me, and I can still remember where I was when I read its climactic scene for the first time: out on North Main Street, waiting for the Ashmont bus. But let me take one step back from that occasion. I was in my mid-thirties when I first began to read the Sherlock Holmes adventures, and one of the things that struck me was how exciting they were despite the relative rarity of violent action (we see its results, but not usually its occurrence) and the almost complete absence of love scenes. And then the sudden thunderbolt, when Killer Evans’s revolver rang out, and Holmes revealed “the depth of love and loyalty which lay behind that cold mask.” Wonderful! Next up, a few comments and questions that I hope will set the Hounds on the trail of still more moments of revelation in this week’s story, “The Three Garridebs.”
Killer Evans: Early in the story, when he was posing as John Garrideb, Killer Evans said, “I’ve read of your tricks, Mr. Holmes…” By this time in the Master’s career, had lots of criminal made themselves familiar with Holmes’s methods? Did Killer Evans get his Garrideb idea from reading either “The Red-Headed League” or “The Stock-Broker’s Clerk?” And if so, what ever made him think he could fool Holmes with his scheme?

Is there a Moorville, Kansas? I couldn’t find the town on any of the maps that I own. If Moorville didn’t exist, why did Evans put a fake town on his card? This criminal does seem to have had his limitations as a schemer, so why didn’t he simply kill Garrideb? Was he truly a “soft-hearted guy,” or was there a practical reason for using deception instead of violence? And why did Evans wait such a relatively long time between getting out of prison and approaching Nathan Garrideb?

Had Evans been a partner in Prescott’s counterfeiting operation? Why? They didn’t seem to be friends, and counterfeiting doesn’t require a violent partner. If they weren’t business associates or friends, then how did Evans learn the location of Prescott’s counterfeiting equipment?

Holmes and Watson: Watson appears to be living at Baker Street during this adventure. But why did Holmes open a drawer and hand a revolver to Watson instead of telling Watson to bring his own gun? And did anyone remember to load the guns? Does that explain why neither Holmes nor Watson fired a shot in response to Killer Evans’s attack? What made the “crash” when Holmes struck Evans with his gun? Do you think that Holmes would really have killed Evans if Evans had killed Watson?

As I read the shooting scene, Evans stuck his head out of the trap door, saw Holmes and Watson, diverted them with a little chit-chat, and then pulled out his gun and fired while he was still largely in the hole. This would at least explain how Holmes and Watson didn’t see him go for his gun. But how did Evans then sprawl on the floor when Holmes hit him? Did he first leap up and then sprawl? Have any athletic Sherlockians ever attempted to recreate this scene?

Why didn’t Holmes bring the police with him as he did in “The Red-Headed League?”

Did his injury have anything to do with Watson’s decision to move out? (See “The Illustrious Client,” which took place a few months after “The Three Garridebs.”) Did Watson’s injury have anything to do with Holmes’s decision to retire? Watson says this story may have been a comedy. I don’t see the comedy. Can anyone else find it?

The View Halloa – The Sussex Vampire

Some readers may feel cheated that there is in fact no such thing as a Sussex Vampire, but I for one find this adventure to be quite satisfying. It’s wonderful to see how Sherlock Holmes was able to apply his superior logic and wisdom to a problem that was created by strong human emotions and confused by elemental human fears. Even Holmes’s sarcasm, which we have discussed at some length on the Hounds of late, seems gentler and more to the point. This is the Holmes that I admire! So put away that garlic wreath and come join the Hounds this week as we discuss how the cold light of reason turned “The Sussex Vampire” to dust and ashes.
Agencies: I think the Hounds discuss this one every year, but we have so many new barkers that I think it bears discussing one more time: Why did Holmes twice refer to “this agency” in reference to his own detective business. Had he gone into business with some other person or firm? Was he selling insurance on the side to bring in a few extra bucks?

Did Ferguson think that the firm of Morrison, Morrison and Dodd were attorneys? By their own description, they were assessors of machinery. But if so, how did they become involved with the Matilda Briggs and the giant rat of Sumatra? And for that matter, if Ferguson was a tea-broker, why was he involved with a Peruvian merchant in the importation of nitrates?

The Wife and Kiddies: Ferguson’s story of the so-called vampire attack on the baby includes this statement: “On one occasion about a month ago this child had been left by its nurse for a few minutes.” Does this sentence imply that even before the attacks, it was unusual for this baby to be left alone even for a brief time? Does anyone know if Victorian child-rearing included having someone stay with a baby nearly 24 hours a day, even when the child was nearly a year old?

Was Jacky’s infirmity truly caused by a childhood fall, do you think, or was his condition due to some embarrassing or shameful illness? Was this illness possibly something that had afflicted Big Bob Ferguson as well, causing the formerly “slab-sided” athlete’s frame to be “fallen in,” as Watson put it?

When visiting Mrs. Ferguson in her locked room, Watson made the comment, “It struck me as I looked at it that if Ferguson tried to force his way to his wife he would find it no easy matter.” I thought that she was simply being kept away from the baby. What might have made Watson think of it in quite that way? After identifying Jacky as the culprit, Holmes and Watson later left the Fergusons alone to discuss their problems. Was this wise, or was Mrs. Ferguson in some danger? Do you think the couple could forgive and forget their troubles?

I don’t have a copy of Grimm’s fairy tales with me at the moment, but I can’t remember any vampire stories in that particular collection of stories. What I can remember is countless stories of wicked siblings. Did Holmes’s mention of Grimm’s fairy tales suggest that he already suspected what was going on at Cheeseman’s?

At the end of the story, the reader is satisfied that Jacky is indeed the culprit, and even Bob Ferguson seems to accept this as the truth. But is it so certain that Jacky was the villain? Is there any real proof?

Holmes’s suggestion of a year at sea for Jacky seems too frivolous to take seriously. What do you suppose really happened to the unhappy boy?

The View Halloa – The Three Gables

Did you think that Sherlock Holmes was a bit rude and crude in last week’s story, “The Mazarin Stone?” Well, this week the Master picks up right where he left off, and the results are not pretty. Perhaps it would be easier to tolerate his puerile sarcasm towards Steve Dixie and Susan Stockdale if we could see that he was doing his best for his client, but the Sherlock Holmes of “The Three Gables” is as ineffective as he is annoying! Still, he’s Sherlock Holmes, and I hope we will find some good Hounds who will NOT run silent, and that we can all survive this “Harrow-ing” adventure without defiling our wells of speech and civility. In a moment, the week’s comments and questions on “The Three Gables.”
Guilt by association: I am a bit confused by the organization of the “Spencer John” gang. Steve Dixie reported to Barney Stockdale, and we assume that Barney reported to the head of the gang. However, Barney and his wife Susan also worked for Isadora Klein on what seems to have been a fairly regular basis. Is such criminal moonlighting a likely situation? Was “Spencer John” really Frau Klein’s nom de guerre? Was Isadora Klein behind the “killing of young Perkins outside the Holborn Bar?” Was Perkins a suitor who didn’t get the hint after his first beating?

The story doesn’t tell us how long Susan Stockdale had been posing as a maid at the Three Gables. But why didn’t Isadora Klein have her search for the manuscript instead of going through all that other trouble?

Holmes spoke glowingly of Douglas Maberley, but from what we know of him, was he really the kind of man Holmes would have admired?

Watson wrote that Holmes was in “a chatty mood” at the beginning of the case. Was he taking cocaine again? Was it the drug responsible for his ungentlemanly behavior?

The de-Klein and fall: The worst mistake Holmes made in this case was his failure to arrange for Mrs. Maberley’s protection. When he asked her if her lawyer was “a capable man,” the context was such that she undoubtedly assumed Holmes was referring to Sutro’s legal skills. As it happens, Sutro was somewhat elderly himself, and would not have been sufficient protection even if Mrs. Maberley had asked him to spend the night. Holmes later said he should have left Watson on guard, and that would have certainly been better – though perhaps not for Watson! Why didn’t Holmes arrange for a police presence, such as the trap he laid for Beppo in “The Six Napoleons?”

Why didn’t Holmes offer to go through Douglas Maberley’s luggage? Even though he may not have known exactly what he was looking for until after he spoke with Langdale Pike, the chances are that he might have guessed the importance of the manuscript if he had seen it. Why didn’t he at least take a look? Why leave Mrs. Maberley to do it herself, especially since she obviously had no idea what was going on?

Holmes resolved the case by extorting money from Isadora Klein. Was this the best he could do, or should he have tried to have her prosecuted for the crimes involved in the theft of the manuscript?

Holmes was an introspective and thoughtful man, and we must imagine that he later reflected on this case with chagrin. Do you think his sloppy handling of this one may have influenced his decision to retire? Or was he sloppy because he had already made up his mind to get out of the detective game?

The View Halloa – The Mazarin Stone

This week’s story is another of those Casebook wonders; we wonder who wrote it and why! So much of it seems to be a very bad pastiche: a mishmash of other stories and the standard Canonical window-dressing, such as the presence of a page named Billy, a wax dummy to draw the fire of the dreaded airguns, the coal scuttle, the gasogene and the violin. But all this atmosphere serves only to showcase the doubtful gramophone trick which is the center of the unsatisfying plot. And yet, the story is not without its good moments, and if nothing else, there are certainly a lot of questions to be asked. So let the gramophone play on, and come join the Hounds as we sniff out “The Mazarin Stone.”
Author! Author! Who dunnit? No, I don’t mean the theft of the yellow diamond. Who wrote this story? For an excellent summary of the question, I recommend the chapter titled “It Is Undoubtedly Queer” in Baring-Gould’s Annotated. Here are some of the theories discussed there and elsewhere:

What about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? He wrote a play called “The Crown Diamond,” the plot of which is very similar to that of “The Mazarin Stone.” And yet it is hard to imagine how such a skilled writer of short stories could have cranked out this substandard effort.

Was Watson the author, attempting a third person narrative because he had so little active involvement in the case? Can a mere change of viewpoint from first person to third turn a good writer into a poor one?

Did one of Watson’s wives (pick any one of them) decide to write up a tale?

Some of the dialog has the ring of adolescence to it. Was young Billy the author?

And how about Mrs. Hudson, who may have listened to the whole thing through the keyhole?

Or was it Count Sylvius, writing his memoirs from his prison cell? Who else but a villain would write a line like “Holmes seldom laughed,” when anyone who knew Holmes at all would have known that he frequently laughed and chuckled.

Lord Cantlemere: Nobody likes Lord Cantlemere very much. He is, as Billy so aptly put it, “a stiff ‘un.” But is that the worst of it? I invite the Hounds to read the final scene in “The Mazarin Stone,” with the idea that Lord Cantlemere, who wanted Holmes to fail, might have had something to do with the theft of the jewel. Assuming that Holmes knew of his involvement, is that the real reason for the childish sleight of hand at the conclusion of the story? Is that what Holmes meant when he said to Cantlemere, “The case is but half finished”?

And did you ever notice a certain similarity between Holmes’s dealings with Lord Cantlemere and Doctor Grimesby Roylott? “It is a little cold for the time of the year,” Holmes said to Roylott, while to Cantlemere, he opined, “It is chilly for the time of year, but rather warm indoors.” Holmes straightened out the poker that Roylott had bent, while saying of Lord Cantlemere, “Shall we make him unbend?” Did Holmes always think of cold weather and bent things when anyone gave him rannygazoo?