Ralph Edwards - Fri, 22 Apr 1994
The impossibility of the cipher in this
story (because the Italian alphabet isn't exactly the same as the English
one) has drawn remark and speculation from Sherlockian scholars for decades.
Do such authorial blunders, of which there are examples in many other cases
as well, increase or decrease the reader's affection for the stories of
The Adventure of the Red Circle. Who better to clean up the splatters than Mr. Sherlock Holmes? That soap Emilia ordered could really come in handy. My questions and comments as you turn the pages:
a landlady, was worried by a new tenant who paid double rent so that he
could stay in his rooms without emerging, and who paced ceaselessly from
morning to night. She took her concerns to Sherlock Holmes, who said there
was nothing to it, that her fears were groundless. But Mrs. Warren insisted
there was something amiss, and Holmes agreed reluctantly to keep tabs on
The case of the recluse lodger took a dramatic turn when Mrs. Warren's husband was abducted by two or three unknown assailants, bundled into a cab, and then unceremoniously dumped on Hampstead Heath after two hours. Although there was nothing in all this to connect the incident to the mysterious boarder, Mrs. Warren was sure that he was at the root of it and told Holmes that she would evict the roomer before the day was out. Holmes convinced her to be a little more patient, and contrived a way in which he and Watson could get a look at the boarder.
What followed was a sequence of mysterious signals sent by the medium of passing a candle back and forth across a window of a tenement across the road from Mrs. Warren's house, bloody footprints on the floor of the rooms whence the signals had originated, and the discovery of an enormous man, stabbed in the throat and dead as a doornail, in an inner room. In a few minutes the Mâitre de Chasse will swing the Hounds to the line on the track of this tale of an Italian secret society, unholy "love," murderous plots, and vengeance.
a moment, if you will, on your own mental image of "Black Gorgiano." Got
a picture? A giant of a man, dark complexion, with a black beard and moustache
and a fierce and forbidding aspect about him, right? Well...not quite.
I feel a little disappointed every time I remind myself that Gorgiano was
clean-shaven, and that the "good guy," Emilio Lucca, was the one with a
dark beard and moustache. But then, who could magine that best of men,
Dr. John H. Watson, wearing a *white* hat? So much for stereotypes.
Brad Keefauver - Thu, 28 Jun 2001
Was Mrs. Warren justified in being perturbed when her lodger lived up to the terms of his rental agreement and didn't emerge for ten days? Was she hypertensive when it came to her lodger's pacing the floor from morning to late at night? Should a normal, prudent person be alarmed by such actions?
Why didn't Holmes try to locate the driver of the cab into which Mr. Warren was so rudely bundled? And how could Mr. Warren's assailants mistake him, an older man, for their quarry? How did they discover that they had the wrong person without removing the coat they had thrown over his head, and if they removed it, how did it happen that Mr. Warren didn't get a look at one or both of them? Further, how did the assailants know the address at which their quarry was supposedly staying, and if they did, why didn't they get inside on some pretext and abduct him rather than lurk outside, cab at the ready, waiting for him to emerge? And isn't it odd that for ten days nobody but the mysterious lodger noticed a couple of foreign-looking strangers lurking about with a cab at hand?
There has been much previous discussion of the fact that the Italian alphabet differs from the English version in that it contains fewer letters. Much has been made also about the length of time required to laboriously wave a candle back and forth in front of a window to form a word, repeat it twice, form another word, and repeat that once plus four letters. The signaler couldn't move the candle too rapidly, because the draft would cause it to go out. But I would ask why Gennaro Lucca, a native of Italy, would signal his wife Emilia, also a native Italian, in Italian but using the English alphabet, particularly at a time of great stress?
Some odds and ends: Why did Watson have to light Gregson's lantern? Why was Gorgiano carrying a black kid glove at a time when he might need both hands free? How did Holmes know that his signal to Emilia Lucca would be obeyed; that there was no prearranged password to show that the danger had passed? Why was it necessary for the four men to return to Emilia's room to hear her narrative, and why did it take them a half-hour to cross the street to do so?
Rosemary Michaud - Thu, 4 May 2000
Return to Introducing the 60 Stories
Brad Keefauver - Thu, 28 Jun 2001