Ralph Edwards - Fri, 21 Apr 1995
The title of this tale is somehow reminiscent of The Three Christs
of Ypsilanti, with the implication that multiple madnesses are at work.
Indeed, for much of the tale the authorities believe that the destruction
of the busts is the work of a madman, and only Holmes sees the quite rational
pattern. But why Napoleon?
Our next story, The Adventure of the Six Napoleons, is one of the most international in the canon, being a smorgasbord of Brits, Italians, Germans, French emperors and French specialists, and even a Dutch-sounding company. Into this far-flung cast of characters strides Sherlock Holmes, himself a swirl of French and British blood. The international Hounds of the Internet could have a lot to say about this story! My questions to get us going:
It appeared to be a commonplace
instance of petty vandalism. Someone had come into Morse Hudson's shop
and smashed a plaster bust of Napoleon Bonaparte right where it stood on
the countertop. Nothing else was damaged or stolen. A police report was
filed, of course, but hooliganism wasn't a high priority on Scotland Yard's
list of things to investigate.
Then the police were notified by Dr. Barnicot that his clinic had been burgled and a plaster bust of Napoleon Bonaparte had been smashed. When the good doctor returned home, he found that his house had been entered and an identical bust had also been smashed. In both cases, nothing else was damaged or stolen. The case was handed to Inspector Lestrade, who thought it to be the work of a lunatic with an obsessive hatred of the great Emperor Napoleon...but he thought he'd consult Sherlock Holmes about it anyhow.
It wasn't long before the madman struck again, at the home of a syndicated journalist named Horace Harker. But this time the crime had turned deadly. The body of an unidentified man was found on Harker's doorstep. The victim's throat had been slashed. A plaster bust of Napoleon was missing from Harker's house, and was found a couple of blocks away, shattered to pieces in the yard of an unoccupied house.
In a few minutes the Mâitre de Chasse will sound his hunting-horn to summon the Hounds to the pursuit of a shadowy figure who seems bent on destroying busts of Napoleon, and who will let nothing, not even murder, stop him in his quest for more statuary.
It's apparent that Beppo
was a luckless soul. He had five chances in six of finding the purloined
pearl, and drew a blank on every one. But I've wondered why he smashed
the first bust right on the corner of my... er, Morse Hudson's shop, instead
of shoplifting it and taking it somewhere more private to break it open?
Brad Keefauver - Thu, 19 Apr 2001
Was it customary in those times for retail shopkeepers to retain a record of the names and addresses of their customers, even for small purchases like a twelve-shilling plaster bust? What use would they have made of such information?
Horace Harker says that anyone could reach his front step from the window where entry was made "in a long stride." I'm trying to picture Beppo stepping from the window to the top step while carrying the bust in one hand and using the other hand to hold a knife, all the while successfully defending himself against the hostile advances of Pietro Venucci. He may have been unlucky, but he surely was well-coordinated. What I can't figure out is how, with the place "swimming in blood," it happened that Venucci's blood spilled only onto the top step? Not only had the next step not been swilled down, it was dry, which means that neither blood nor water had gotten on it. Am I alone in thinking that this is unlikely?
Watson tells us that "Holmes spent the evening in rummaging among the files of the old daily papers with which one of our lumber-rooms was packed." How many lumber-rooms conveyed with the rental of one flat? And how would Holmes have filed the newspapers? By date? By subject matter? Would he have retained only those which contained items of possible future interest?
For our gem experts: would plaster adhere to the surface of a pearl once it had dried thoroughly? Would it have had any chemical effect on the surface of the pearl? And is there really such a thing as a natural black pearl? How rare is a black pearl, and how does it come to be black?
At the end of this Adventure, Holmes tells Watson to put the pearl in the safe. Was Holmes entitled to retain possession of stolen property? If not, why did Lestrade allow him to do so?
Rosemary Michaud - Thu, 24 Feb 2000
Return to Introducing the 60 Stories
Brad Keefauver - Thu, 19 Apr 2001