The Six Napoleons – Hounds Summary

Ralph Edwards – Fri, 21 Apr 1995

  • Why speak of newspapers instead of news?
  • Did Lestrade respect Watson’s medical talents?
  • What madness would not be queer?
  • Is ‘time of day’ a precursor to ‘point in time’?
  • Were there busts of other Napoleons?
  • Is it burglary to enter and destroy?
  • Why was an instant long enough for Beppo’s search?
  • Why smash and run for the first bust?
  • Why four days between Hudson and Barnicot busts?
  • Is “coffee on the table” significant?
  • Is coupling “flat chested” and “unromantic” significant? (NOTE – Watson’s “flat chested” description was wrong since #131 did have a bust)
  • Were message-boys boys? In uniform?
  • What did “footsteps enough” mean?
  • Where was the police whistle stowed?
  • Where was the bust during the manslaughter?
  • Did a “snap-shot” date the adventure?
  • Were vacant houses abundant?
  • Was Harding Brothers a large concern?
  • What Londons were not passed through?
  • Why were there detailed records on small purchases?
  • Were the busts hollow?
  • Who did Beppo stab previously?
  • Did Lestrade establish proof of Beppos’ guilt?
  • What did the two-to-one in betting mean?
  • Why so late as 11 p.m.?
  • Why was a hunting crop preferred?
  • Why keep the cab waiting?
  • Weren’t the windows locked?
  • Did the cousin know Beppo’s full name?
  • Was the legal paper valid?

Chris Redmond – Thu, 11 Jul 1996

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 believed that the destruction of the busts was the work of a madman, and only Holmes saw the quite rational pattern. But why Napoleon?

Sonia Fetherston – Fri, 3 Oct 1997

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:

  • Critics sometimes complain that SIXN is nothing more than a retelling of BLUE. But we have it from Holmes himself that SIXN “…presents some features which make it absolutely original in the history of crime.” What are those features that distinguish SIXN not only from BLUE but from other crimes as well?
  • Beppo served one year in jail after being found guilty either of attempted murder or assault with a deadly weapon — the specific charges were unclear. The sentence for petty larceny quoted by Lestrade was six months at most. The petty larceny penalty seems fair, but shouldn’t more serious charges merit a more serious sentence than one year behind bars?
  • In this story we see that the institution of the Press was valued by, and useful to, Holmes. How might Holmes feel about the modern media, that institution so very fashionable to criticize?
  • The pearl isn’t the only jewelry in SIXN. There was also a “Catholic emblem” found on Venucci’s body. This is generally thought to be a saint’s medallion, and the Oxford goes so far as to suggest it could be that of St. Peter, for whom Pietro Venucci may be named. Ah, but there are lots of saints named Peter! Most of them were honorable men who ably served the church. One who didn’t serve ably was St. Peter of Morrone (1214-96), a hermit the church kindly called “simple,” but who probably was mentally retarded. This Peter was suddenly vaulted into the Vatican and installed as Pope Celestine V, a puppet-pope whose strings were pulled by a cadre of Neapolitan princes and cardinals. Peter proved himself so incapable that the boys from Naples were forced to get rid of him after a few months, compelling him to abdicate. He died in their captivity shortly afterward and was canonized out of pity 20 years later. One church commentator called Peter of Morrone devout, but a “most pathetic figure.”

Steve Clarkson – Fri, 18 Dec 1998

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?

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 the 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, 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 told 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?

Discover more about The Six Napoleons and read the canon.