Ralph Edwards - Fri, 27 May 1994
Earlier in Holmes's career he faced his
Final Problem. The Second Stain indicates that a previous
story was supposed to be the last memoir of Sherlock Holmes. Later
The Lion's Mane seems a sort of epilogue; Shoscombe Old Place
was in fact the last published, but it was replaced by The Retired Colourman
in book editions. Are these successive curtain calls for Sherlock Holmes
merely artifacts of the serial way in which the stories were originally
published, or do they have an effect on today's reader also?
Furies, Fenians, Fords and foreigners? There's an east wind coming, no doubt about it, and on its leading edge is our next canonical tale, His Last Bow. My questions and comments this weekend:
It is the last minute before the dawning
of World War I. Germany has been building its army, navy, and yes, its
air force in preparation for invading France and Belgium. A hidden side
of the German preparations is the infiltration of spies into England. For
some time the British had known that something was wrong; that there was
a well-hidden and active spy ring at work. Yet try as they might, they
were unable to uncover the ringleader. Naturally enough, the nation's leaders
turned to Sherlock Holmes, now retired and keeping bees on the Sussex Downs.
In a few minutes, the Mâitre de Chasse will sound his hunting horn to begin the Hounds' investigation of counter-espionage techniques used by Holmes. It is not a long trail they will follow, but it is a complex one, left by a master spy whose camouflage and elusiveness has baffled lesser packs.
If anyone ever doubted Doyle's ability to
set the stage, this story is one of the finest proofs that he was a master
at doing just that. The story has a brooding theme, the theme of a world
on the brink of the most destructive war it had yet seen. A sense of foreboding
is created by small lights in the dark: the cigar-ends compared to the
eyes of a malignant fiend; the headlights of the little Ford driven by
Watson. The single room occupied by Martha, "the personification of Britannia,"
is the only remaining light in Von Bork's darkened house and becomes a
symbol of Great Britain as the world's last ray of hope against the German
war machine. The entire adventure takes place in the dark of night, relieved
only by the lights of towns and ships. There is a feeling that at any moment
even those tiny lights will be snuffed out, and the stygian darkness will
Brad Keefauver - Thu, 2 Aug 2001
I have often wondered how secure a prisoner would be with a strap around his upper arms? And assuming that Von Bork's upper arms were firmly bound to his sides, how was he able to clutch at his own throat on hearing Holmes's revelations? And with his legs strapped together, how was it possible to "walk" Von Bork to Holmes's and Watsons' car? "Hopped" might be a better term. Oh, and one for Ford enthusiasts: Would it be safe to assume that the "spare seat" into which Von Bork was wedged was what came to be known as the "rumble seat?"
Why was Von Bork not arrested for espionage? Surely, he was not named as an official member of the German legation, else his motives for being in England for four years would have come under active suspicion. So why was he allowed to return to Germany? Above all, why was he released when it was obvious that he would alert his superiors that the information he had garnered was worthless?
How would a paymaster have access to secret documents, and why would he put his initials on a tracing? Why didn't Von Bork send his dossiers to Germany as they were completed, instead of keeping them in his safe?
Holmes says, "As to you, Watson, you are joining us with your old service, as I understand...." Wasn't Watson, at about sixty years of age, a bit old to resume active military service? And what did Holmes mean by "joining us?"
How was Von Bork able to infiltrate the wine cellars of the Schoenbrunn Palace and abscond with bottles of Franz Josef's Imperial Tokay?
Rosemary Michaud - Thu, 8 Jun 2000
Return to Introducing the 60 Stories
Brad Keefauver - Thu, 2 Aug 2001