The Norwood Builder – Hounds Summary

Ralph Edwards – Fri, 10 Mar 1995

  • What advantages, other than Moriarty, did London offer?
  • What were Holmes’ financial resources after three years away with no earnings?
  • How far out of London did Moriarty operate?
  • Did non-capitals have Moriarty equivalents?
  • Why capitals of Europe instead of the world?
  • Did Watson, like Barnicot, have two practices?
  • What income did Watson now receive?
  • Why would the housekeeper know McFarlane’s full name?
  • Why did Holmes offer an asthmatic man a cigarette?
  • Was removal of the prohibition for financial reasons’?
  • What did warm weather have to do with the situation?
  • Why an overcoat?
  • Does untidy attire identify bachelors living with parents?
  • What accounted for McFarlane’s untidiness of attire – the fact that he was a bachelor or the fact that he spent the night in a hotel?
  • Did Watson really mean clean shaven?
  • What pinpointed a solicitor rather than other professions’?
  • Why the central page?
  • How would McFarlane have been identified at the station?
  • How would eccentric habits have been learned at that hour?
  • Is a secretive and retiring man well known?
  • Could a modern newspaper report so soon so completely?
  • Does getting a warrant issued before suburban edition press time suggest police efficiency?
  • Were papers in packets or scattered around the room?
  • Wouldn’t papers be collected and closed in safe to hide crime?
  • Who would have known if tramp had taken valuable papers?
  • Why did Holmes keep Watson away from Blackheath?
  • Is turning down a suitor likely to be dangerous?
  • Was keeping the will a normal procedure for solicitors or heirs?
  • Was “points” intended as a pun?
  • Did the partnership agreement call for Watson to be paid for on a time basis?
  • Why was the photograph preserved?
  • How did the police avoid leaving footprints on the carpet?
  • Why, with cigarette ends, fire and water, was Holmes careless about carpet damage?
  • How did others enter the room and not mark the carpet?
  • Is it difficult to make a wax impression from a wax impression?
  • Why did Mrs. Lexington let herself get involved?
  • Did Holmes expect to claim fees from creditors?
  • Are rabbit and human remains similar after burning?
  • Why did Oldacre defer departure?

Chris Redmond – Sat, 1 Jun 1996

The action in this tale moves from sophisticated central London to the new, tawdry, distant suburbs — and to Arthur Conan Doyle’s own neighborhood, for he lived in Norwood from 1891 to 1897. Does Sherlock Holmes lose some of his glitter and appeal when he must move in these glamorless regions?

Sonia Fetherston – Thu, 21 Aug 1997

A mysterious bequest. A secret room. A creepy housekeeper. NORW is very nearly gothic, isn’t it? Or is it? As we enter Oldacre’s grudge-y world this weekend, here are my questions and comments to get the discussion going:

  • The correct title of this week’s story is The Adventure of the Norwood Builder, which would seem to suggest that Oldacre, not McFarlane, was the one around whom the action swirls. What exactly was the builder’s adventure? Was it more of an adventure than the unhappy McFarlane experienced?
  • Lestrade asks Holmes for alternate theories to fit the facts of the case. Holmes obliges with one, though he says he can think of five more. What might some of these other theories be?
  • I admit to enjoying Holmes’ little dig at Lestrade, calling him “Mr.” rather than “Inspector.” He did the same thing to “Mr.” Moriarty in FINA. The slights surely were noticed, but neither of the men rose to the bait. Why does Holmes do this to people? Why didn’t these men rise to the bait?
  • Lestrade congratulates Holmes with the following words: “This is the brightest thing that you have done yet.” In Lestrade’s experience of Holmes, is that really true?
  • One of the things I like best about NORW is the colorful names and place names. From Old English: Norwood (“northern woods”), Deep Dene (“deep narrow valley”), Blackheath (“dark heathland’) and Torrington (“turbulent river”); while Mrs. Lexington’s name translates as “town where the leeches are.” “Cornelius,” is Latin, but the root “corn” happens to be found in Old English as well, where it means “crane” or “heron” — those stealthy, wading birds with beady eyes. From the Greek, “Hector” was the son of Priam; he was the bravest of Trojans in the Iliad. “Hector” means “holding fast,” but in English to “hector” someone means to bully them. In dramatizations, McFarlane is sometimes portrayed with a Scottish accent. The real “MacFarlanes” have an interesting history, mostly in the military arena. Back in the 1400s, they had a strong, valid claim to the earldom of Lennox, but it was whisked away from them and given instead to John Stewart, Lord Darnley. (“Lennox” comes from the Celtic “levanach,” which means a smooth-flowing stream. Contrast that with Torrington!) Thereafter, Clan MacFarlane began a slow decline, and the direct line of male chiefs finally died out in 1886. Perhaps he was a distant clansman of the unhappy John Hector whom we meet in this weekend’s reading?

Steve Clarkson – Fri, 6 Nov 1998

John Hector McFarlane was an unhappy young man, indeed. He awoke one morning to find from the newspapers that he was a wanted man — wanted for the presumed murder of his benefactor, the man who had just made McFarlane the sole beneficiary of his will. The evidence against him was damning: his cane, with traces of blood on it, had been found at the scene of the crime. Documents in the murdered man’s room pointed to him as the killer. His presence at the scene was definitely established by the housekeeper who admitted him to Deep Dene House.

McFarlane was a frightened man, but he wasn’t stupid. He headed directly for 221B Baker Street and laid his plight at the feet of Sherlock Holmes, protesting his innocence. Inspector Lestrade arrested McFarlane in the rooms at 221B, and the accused man was led away with one last pleading glance at Holmes.

Although Holmes was convinced of McFarlane’s innocence, he could find nothing to countervail the evidence piled against him. Indeed, he could only find things that would strengthen Lestrade’s case. Finally, crowing with victory, Lestrade informed Holmes that the last and most compelling evidence of McFarlane’s guilt had been discovered: his thumbprint, in blood, left on the wall of Deep Dene House. But it was this “final straw” which enabled Holmes to clear his client and apprehend the real culprit.

In a few minutes, the Mâitre de Chasse will summon his faithful Pack in pursuit of a scent that leads to a hidden room and a thumbprint which magically appeared where none was before. The Hounds may be momentarily distracted by the smell of burning straw, but they will run a true course in the final analysis.

It is my considered opinion that Jonas Oldacre, the Norwood Builder, is underrated as a Canonical villain. His plan to wreak revenge upon his former “sweetheart” and escape his creditors in doing so is as byzantine a scheme as you will find in the Sacred Writings. And so, my fellow Hounds, I ask you: If Colonel Sebastian Moran was the second most dangerous man in London, John Clay the fourth smartest man in London (with a claim to be third for daring), Charles Augustus Milverton the worst man in London, what similar title would you bestow upon Jonas Oldacre?

Holmes refers to “‘the case of the papers of ex-President Murillo'” in an apparent reference to WIST, except that there were no papers involved in WIST. According to Canonical chronologists, WIST took place in 1890 and NORW in 1895. Why did Watson publish NORW in 1903 and wait until 1908 to bring forth WIST? Or is it possible that the reference to “ex-President Murillo” is not an allusion to WIST at all, but to some as yet unchronicled tale?

An examination of the grounds at Deep Dene House revealed that a “bulky object” had been dragged across the ground from the French windows, through an intervening privet hedge, to the wood-pile. Would even the combined strength of Mrs. Lexington and Oldacre suffice to drag a bulky object through a privet hedge? Would (or could) a cold-blooded murderer drag a body through a privet hedge, leaving telltale signs in the process? And what was the “bulky object” that Oldacre, possibly in tandem with Mrs. Lexington, dragged to the wood-pile?

Oldacre wasn’t telling, but Holmes speculated that a dead dog or rabbit had been burned in the wood-pile, along with a pair of Oldacre’s trousers. Witnesses at the scene of the fire smelled burning flesh, and “organic remains” were found among the ashes. Where would Oldacre get a dead dog or a rabbit for that matter? And since bones rarely burn completely (remember the upper condyle of a human femur in SHOS), wouldn’t the organic remains have revealed that they were not the residuum of a human body?

Holmes says, with respect to the means of replicating McFarlane’s thumbprint, “‘It was the simplest thing in the world for [Oldacre] to take a wax impression from the seal…'” Indeed? How easy was it? The seal is waxen; how does one go about taking an impression of it with warm wax without destroying the seal in the process?

Discover more about The Norwood Builder and read the canon.