Ralph Edwards - Fri, 7 Oct 1994
Is there any more corny incident
in the Canon than the scene in which Holmes proclaims, "The culprit is
--" and a hotel waiter announces the name of a visitor? Is its use in this
case sufficiently effective to be justified?
In this week's story, The Boscombe Valley Mystery, Australia is the
location of the first crime. The wild, remote reaches of the empire help
contribute to the mood of this story.
If the location is a variable, how would the story change? Would it still work? Could we still arrive at the same outcome if the original crime took place in another part of the empire? India? Ireland? South Africa? Hong Kong? Even Central London?!
I'd like to get this week's discussion going by changing the background
variable of BOSC to my own favorite corner of the empire, Scotland. The
story would appear to hold up pretty weel, er, well, with that change of
location. Scotland was a "verra" wild place, a suitably inspiring origin
for McCarthy's later years of blackmail and Turner's slow burn. No gold
convoys there to stick up, but Turner's robbery could have involved payroll
or a cash shipment from one of the big three local industries -- the woolen
trade, fishing, or distilling. Charles MacCarthy (making him a Mac instead
of a Mc) could not have called "cooee," but would need to use a call that
identified the Scots background. Lots of colorful words and phrases to
choose from! The plaid dropped by Turner is consistent with having once
lived in Scotland; a plaid is a length of tartan usually belted and drawn
across the shoulder. By Victorian times the plaid and other items of Scots
attire enjoyed a certain vogue in Britian, anyway. Many tartans
incorporate predominately gray hues like James saw. The rest of the story
could unfold pretty much as Watson laid out, with the same conclusion.
Scotland was just rugged enough and remote enough to lend a solid
background to the later events in BOSC.
A whole other area of discussion is how would James McCarthy and/or Turner fare had Boscome Valley been located in Scotland itself. Scotland's criminal laws were somewhat different from British criminal laws, and either man might well have gotten off Scot free!
A young man stands in the
dock before a coroner's jury, accused of patricide. He claims he's innocent,
but circumstantial evidence and his own words when he was arrested are
damning evidence against him. This is complicated by his stubborn refusal
to reveal what he and his father were arguing about just before the murder
occurred. But there are two rays of hope: Inspector Lestrade, who has been
hired by a young lady friend of the accused, states confidently that the
young fellow is guilty beyond a doubt; and Sherlock Holmes has entered
the case on behalf of the lad.
In a few minutes the Comments and Questions on BOSC will be posted, raising concerns which can only be resolved by the Hounds of the Internet. Stay tuned.
The Boscombe Valley Mystery
contains a classic demonstration of Holmes' axiom that circumstantial evidence
cuts two ways, in that it can be seen as an alibi as well as proof of guilt.
Brad Keefauver - Thu, 12 Oct 2000
John Turner said that he had "led the life of a martyr" to atone for his misdeeds in Victoria Province, Australia. I see this as a blatant claim for the sympathies of Holmes and Watson, without any justification therefor. Turner killed, or participated in the killing of, six men from ambush, took his share of the ill-gotten gains back to the Old Country, and bought parcels of valuable land and made other investments which put him on Easy Street for the r est of his life. Was the alleged blackmailing by Charles McCarthy sufficient to justify his claim to "martyrdom?"
Holmes, with incorrect attribution, paraphrases a saying as "There, but for the grace of God, goes Sherlock Holmes." The words were spoken originally by a cleric who was in fear of his own life (due to heresy) every time he saw a criminal pass by in chains. Did Holmes himself have some guilty secret which caused him to fear retribution from the law?
Was James McCarthy the fine young man he is made out to be by Watson? Was he really that head-over-heels in love with Alice Turner when he went to Bristol and married a barmaid? One for the barristers: was either young McCarthy or the barmaid, or both, at risk of prosecution for an illegal marriage? And why would the barmaid marry McCarthy? There is at least one explanation for why he married her -- youthful er...ardor -- but what benefit did she expect to derive from the illicit and illegal union?
In young McCarthy's testimony before the coroner's jury, he stated that he heard a "horrible outcry" which took him running back to the spot where he had argued with his father. Evidence showed that the elder McCarthy had suffered crushed parietal and occipital bones from a sneak attack by John Turner. By the nature of the injuries, would a person so struck be capable of making a "horrible outcry," or would he have been rendered unconscious before he cou ld make much noise?
Some odds and ends: Was it customary for barometers to be available in the private sitting-rooms of hotels in those days? Could a shotgun butt, which is flat rather than concave like a rifle's, make the type of injuries described in the newspaper account? Was young McCarthy also left-handed and, if not, could not the discrepancy between the location of the fatal wound and his right-handedness be one of the objections drawn up by Holmes? What other object ions might Holmes have concocted?
And what were the chances that James McCarthy and Alice Turner would eventually marry, even if they never saw Watson's account of the solution to the mystery?
Rosemary Michaud - Thu, 12 Aug 1999
Return to Introducing the 60 Stories
Brad Keefauver - Thu, 12 Oct 2000