Monday, January 13, 2020

January Meeting: The Final Problem

2020 kicked off with an all-time high attendance for a regular meeting!  (Good thing we switched to our new venue at the St. Louis Ethical Society, otherwise it would have been standing room only at our old location...)  Fifteen members, old and new, were on hand to discuss "The Final Problem."  One was there for his first meeting, another this was his second, and three folks returned to a meeting for their first time in years.  Adding them to our ongoing list of regulars was a real blessing!

Before we get to the meeting recap, don't forget that you can keep up with the Parallel Case of St. Louis and lots of Sherlockian news on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Since this was our first meeting of the year, we made sure to list off the rest of the 2020 schedule so everyone could plan accordingly:
March 14 - The Hound of the Baskervilles
May 9 - The Empty House
July 11 - The Norwood Builder
September 12 - The Dancing Men
November 14 - The Solitary Cyclist

Holmes in the Heartland is THIS YEAR!  People are registering for our conference, held on July 24-26, and if you haven't yet, why not?  This year's theme is "Arch Enemies" at the Westport Sheraton.  Friday afternoon and evening will be an architectural tour of St. Louis Public Library followed by an open viewing of the St. Louis Sherlock Holmes Research Collection.  We will then have a casual dinner and have left the rest of the evening empty for socializing. 

Saturday will kick off with a dealer’s room, and when the panel kicks off, you are in for a treat!  Talking about "Arch Enemies" will be Curtis Armstrong as our keynote speaker, and he will be joined by a great panel of featured presenters that includes Ray Betzner, Steve Doyle, Beth Gallego, Elinor Gray, Dr. Minsoo Kang, Kristen Mertz, and the St. Louis Costumer's Guild.  That night, we're hosting a dinner at the hotel that will be followed by a one of a kind trivia game hosted by Brad Keefauver.

But a trip to St. Louis for a weekend with the theme "Arch Enemies" wouldn't be complete without a trip to the historic St. Louis Arch.  So, Sunday will find us touring the newly renovated Arch grounds, history museum, and a trip to the top of this landmark before one last meal together before everyone is on their way.

And speaking of weekends, this weekend is the annual Baker Street Irregulars birthday weekend.  Rob and Jen will be in New York for the festivities.  Rob and Joe talked about some of the upcoming books being released by Wessex Press and BSI Press.  2020 is going to be a good year to add some books to your collections!

The Harpooners of the Sea Unicorn have their next meeting on January 17 at Pio’s in St. Charles.  Their story this month will be "The Adventure of the Three Gables."

One of our newer members works for the St. Louis Public Library, and an exciting activity was proposed and met with lots of enthusiasm by everyone in the room.  More news on that to come....

Joe and Elaine gave a report on the new Sherlock Holmes statue in Chester, IL.  It was decided that we would make a group outing down to visit the statue, some other Sherlockian sites, and the Chester Baskerville Society this spring.  A date will be decided on at our March meeting.

Two more people bought their Parallel Case lapel pins.  Have you gotten yours yet?

The Dayton symposium, Holmes, Doyle and Friends, will take place on March 27-29 this year.  A handful of us have been and really recommend the trip.  A good number of Parallel Case members seemed interested in attending.

In adaptation news, Robert Downey, Jr.'s Sherlock Holmes 3 is scheduled to be released on December 22, 2021.  It will feature the return of Sebastian Moran reprised by Paul Anderson from Peaky Blinders.  According to, he will have a minor role in the upcoming film, being out for revenge for the death of Professor Moriarity.  The main villain will be US Senator Cornelius Gusest who is planning to steal a stash of American gold.  The female lead will be a character named Sidney Bloom, a US Marshall going undercover as a San Francisco journalist.  Rumors have said that this film will find Holmes and Watson in the American west, and these plot pieces seem to support that theory.

Netflix has a Sherlockian show coming, called "The Irregulars."  Baker Street Wiki describes it this way: The Irregulars is an upcoming television series currently in production for Netflix. It will focus on the Baker Street Irregulars, a gang of street children who in canon helped Sherlock Holmes gather evidence for his cases. However, it will turn this traditional relationship upside-down, portraying the Irregulars as a "gang of troubled delinquent teens who are manipulated into solving crimes for the sinister Doctor Watson and his mysterious business partner", while Holmes takes credit for their success. The series will also feature supernatural elements, as the Irregulars realize they are up against a dark forces that threatens not only London but "potentially the entire world."[1]
The series will be written by Oscar-nominated writer Tom Bidwell, who wrote the script for Netflix/BBC One's adaptation of Watership Down. In an interview with the BBC Writer's Room, Bidwell described the series as his "dream project", and said he had been pitching it for ten years.

The Beacon Society is a Sherlockian organization dedicated to helping young people learn about Sherlock Holmes.  If you know any educators, librarians, museum employees, theater companies, etc. that would like to help spread the word about the Great Detective, grants are available to help them with their endeavors.

Tom shared some recent Sherlockian purchases, "The Devil's Due" and "The Case of the Peculiar Protocols."  And Heather told us about an upcoming entry in the Demonicon series that will feature Colonel Moran, "Dead Ringers."

After the usual giveaways, it was time for our discussion on "The Final Problem."

Rob said that the opening for this story was probably the most shocking in the Canon to the first-time reader.  Imagine being a reader in 1893 when this story came out and in the first paragraph you're told that this is the last Sherlock Holmes story! 

Even later on, this story still packed a punch to new readers.  Bill told of when he was teaching at risk high schoolers and used the Canon as his reading material.  The kids were all heartbroken at the end of this story.  But Bill said if they worked really hard on their state testing he would see if it would be possible to resurrect Holmes.

Tom talked about when he was younger and was suffering from pneumonia.  He had a copy of "The Adventures" and "The Memoirs" in his sick room and met Sherlock Holmes for the first time then.  Only after Tom recovered, did he finally find out what happened post-Reichenbach.

Heather had only recently read the entire Canon, and did so with Stephen Fry's audiobook version.  She said she was taken aback at the stark difference in this opening versus every other story before it.  The rest of the stories were Holmes and Watson sitting at Baker Street and a client comes to visit.  This one was a real shock to her as she had become used to the formulaic openings.

Rob acknowledged that FINA isn't a strong story on it's own.  There's plenty of good lines, but no mystery to it.  And after years as a Sherlockian, this story gets buried under all of the mythology, scholarship, conspiracy theories, etc. that surround this tale and Professor Moriarty.  But when he took every word on the page at face value, he saw this as a sad tale where Dr. Watson tells his readers how his best friend died.

Mary disagreed strongly with that opinion.  She said that Holmes was an egotist and he planned out everything in this story to get himself remembered by the public.  She claimed that Moriarty was a complete fabrication by Holmes and Watson bought it,  Heather and Kevin argued with that, but Mary stuck to her guns, saying this was all and elaborate scheme.  She said that if Holmes was such a threat to Moriarty, the professor would have just killed him right there during their meeting at Baker Street.  Tom offered that Moriarty worked like the mafia, he would try and talk you down face-to-face, and if you weren't scared of him, then he would hit you when you weren't expecting it.

When talking about Holmes's visit to Watson at the beginning of this story, Adam pointed out how strange Holmes acted.  He wondered why Holmes would wait to close the blinds if he were so afraid of air guns.  Adam thought that would have been the first thing someone in fear for their life would do.

We talked about the famous "Napoleon of crime" passage and the mythology that has sprung up around Professor Moriarty.  Many non-Sherlockians could tell you that Moriarty was was the nemesis of Sherlock Holmes without ever have reading the stories.  Holmes's description of the man here had a lot to do with the public perception.  Heather said that Moriarty has been built up so much in culture that when she first read this story, she found the original Moriarty to be a disappointment.

In talking about the meeting at Baker Street between Holmes and Moriarty, Joe noted how good the dialogue between these two men is.  It's clear that these two men respect one another's capabilities.  Rob said that he has always found movie and TV adaptations of Moriarty to be disappointing because they don't portray him as he is in the text.  A skinny, little, reptilian old man would be much more menacing if he had a certain air about him.

Tom reiterated his opinion that Moriarty operated like the mafia or drug lords.  He came to Baker Street to be macho and back his opponent down.  Chris thought that the face off between Holmes and Moriarty was very reminiscent of Beckett in "Henry II."

Rob pointed out that all of the dates that Holmes "incommoded" and "hampered" Moriarty fell during the time span when Watson said Holmes was in France.  Did all of these interactions happen there?

Andrew wondered if Moriarty wasn't the highest ranking member in his organization.  What if the professor was actually working for someone else this whole time?

We discussed Ronald Knox's idea that Mycroft was a double agent, working in part for Moriarty.  Srini thought this theory was very far-fetched.

The next day, Watson is supposed to meet Holmes in a train carriage as they escape England for a few days.  Watson only has an Italian priest in the car with him though.  But it turns out to be Sherlock Holmes!  Bill said that if Holmes would have been a woman, Watson would have paid much more attention and never would have been fooled by these disguises.  Rob offered that neither Watson or Moriarty were Catholic, as they would've noticed that Holmes's priest disguise didn't include the rosary he should have had.

Holmes reports to Watson that Moriarty's men had set fire to their Baker Street rooms the night before.  We discussed what the purpose of that would have been.  Tom said it was a show of force, while Adam thought it would have been to destroy Holmes's evidence against Moriarty's organization.

Once they've escaped England, Holmes and Watson spend two days in Brussels and a third in Strasbourg.  The third day was when Moriarty and his entire organization should have been captured by the police.  To Holmes's surprise, he receives a report telling him that Moriarty has escaped.  Of course he has, he's chasing Sherlock Holmes throughout Europe right now!  Mary said that this supported her theory that this was all made up.  Kristen wondered if Holmes actually lured Moriarty out of London on purpose because he didn't have faith in Scotland Yard to apprehend such a cunning devil as Moriarty.  Kevin agreed with this, saying Holmes probably planned on facing Moriarty one-on-one all along.

At this point, Holmes acknowledges that Moriarty is an even more serious threat now than before and tries to convince Watson to escape.  Of course Watson refuses.  Heather noted that Watson may not be too bright in this story, but he is always trustworthy.  Ed cited the many times that Holmes needed someone he could trust and called on Watson.  This may have been the case with bringing him along in the first place.  Rob wondered if after ten days of running around Europe if he ever let his wife know what was going on.

During this time, while going through the Gemmi Pass in the Alps, a large rock came tumbling down towards Holmes and Watson.  Heather noted that this seemed very familiar to that lone brick that fell off a roof close to Holmes's head back in London.  Rob pointed out that this won't be the only time that Holmes has to deal with falling rocks while in Switzerland. 

During their week-long trek through the mountains, Holmes is very happy, saying that the air in London is sweeter because of his presence.  Mary used this as an example of Holmes's egomania.  Kristen said that it was just him showing how much he loved a challenge and could come out on top.  Kevin said that Holmes was just being factual, even if it sounded arrogant.  In "The Greek Interpreter" Holmes even says that modesty is not a virtue.  Rob shared a theory posed years ago by Gordon Speck that Holmes planned an overland escape route in advance after he would meet with Moriarty and used this week in the mountains to acclimate his lungs and muscles for what was to come. 

On May fourth, Holmes and Watson go to visit Reichenbach Falls.  The description of this site truly shows off the author's writing ability.  You can feel the spray of the falls and know how close the trail is when you read this passage.

While on the path, a Swiss lad comes running up with a summons for Watson.  Rob pointed out that Watson seems overly oblivious to the danger that his friend is in throughout this story.  He thinks Moriarty could just be picked up by the police, he doubts that the professor can catch up with them once they're on the train, he leaves Holmes alone on the mountain path.  So many instances where he doesn't grasp what's going on here.  Doug said that maybe these instances are being pointed out as Watson writes his story as an apology letter for the many times that he didn't do something to help his friend when he was in danger.

Watson finds out that the note was a ruse.  It took him one hour to get to the hotel where he was summoned and two hours to get back to the falls.  Tom shared that Baedeker's travel guide said this should have only taken one hour round trip.  Bill thought Watson got lost a lot but didn't put that part in his story.

Once Watson returns what has happened in his absence is clear to see.  Two sets of footprints are seen going towards the cliff, but none come back.  Rob thought that experiencing this realization through Watson's eyes on the page is more powerful than any adaptation he's seen.

Holmes left a note for Watson explaining how things happened.  This note led to quite a debate in our group.  Ed thought that Holmes wrote the note out in advance knowing how things would go, some took the story at face value, and Tom, Kristen and Heather debated how long it would have taken Holmes to write this letter and if Moriarty really would have allowed him to do so.

Once the story ended, we talked about the different theories that have been proposed about FINA.  Mary agreed with the theory that Moriarty was fake.  She argued that Holmes took Watson along as a witness and reporter to spread his story.  Doug pointed out that this story only came to light because of Colonel Moriarty's letters, so Holmes's plan didn't work out so well.  We talked about the idea that Holmes may have killed Moriarty in Baker Street and the whole trip through Europe was a cover up or that maybe Moriarty survived his fall since a body was never found. 

This eventually led to the cultural impact of the death of Sherlock Holmes.  Bill said it would have been a pretty nasty Christmas present for those 1893 readers.  Rob asked if anyone could think of a modern day equivalent of this bombshell story.  Heather offered "The Empire Strikes Back."  Kristen thought maybe "Game of Thrones."  And Adam offered Colonel Blake on "MASH" or Bobby in the shower at the end of that famous episode of "Dallas."  Ed said that something of this magnitude would be impossible to do today due to internet leaks and the fact that most intellectual properties are owned by companies that can replace writers who don't want to continue working on lucrative series.

As usual, it was quite a lively discussion!  And you can plan on another such one at our next meeting on March 14, for the most famous Sherlock Holmes story, "The Hound of the Baskervilles."  Come at once if convenient!

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Why I Like Watson, or Helping Others Achieve Their Potential by Nellie Brown

I am a Sherlockian who really likes the character of Dr. Watson.  Conan Doyle’s representation of him, yes, but also those portrayals of Watson in film, television, and other media.  How well the character of Watson is represented is the metric whereby I evaluate a Sherlockian film or television presentation.

Why do I use Watson as a metric instead of Holmes? For starters, from my perspective there isn’t a great deal of variation in how Sherlock Holmes is portrayed.  Doyle wrote Holmes with a great deal of clarity, and actors do not have a great deal of flexibility in their representation of him.  When they deviate too far from what is popularly known from the Canon, they probably aren’t going to get a good review. Hence so many actors who take on the job of Holmes end up feeling the role is like a straitjacket, limited in emotional scope and then they are subsequently typecast into the “thinking machine” types of roles.

Watson, though, is a rough sketch compared to the partner whom he describes. Doctor, Afghan war veteran, wounded in the shoulder (or leg?), appreciative of the fairer sex, clearly brave, and willing to help out his fellow man.  So we have a broad idea of who the man is, and as the stories progress we learn about his character from his deeds and how he interacts with his roommate and friend. There is more room for an actor to stretch.

Clearly from Doyle’s stories, Sherlock Holmes would be a frustrating roommate and friend.  In nearly every adventure there is an example of Holmes’ neglect, rudeness or sometimes outright disrespect towards his friend.  Of course, in the tales this pales in comparison to Holmes’s deductive genius and nerve shown in solving the conundrum. Yet Watson perseveres, sticking by his friend when many would be long gone, tolerating the chemical fumes, drug abuse, and violin playing into the wee hours of the night.

So it isn’t just the variation in artistic representation about Watson that I enjoy.  Before it was recognized in the world and military at large after WW2, Watson understood the military “buddy” concept, and applied it to his relationship with his friend and roommate.  He was there for Holmes through thick and thin, his mere presence offering up the support that enables your buddy to accomplish feats far greater than either of you could accomplish on your own. If it was a shoulder shake before the crack of dawn with a mutter of “the game’s afoot”, or a telegram message “come at once”, Watson could be counted on to show up on time, ready for action, with a sidearm, ammo, and a toothbrush.

Watson enabled those around him to achieve their potential, and he did so with a steadfast reliability and resolve. I want to be that kind of person, the Watson to those around me.

In 2001 I visited the Ethical Society of St. Louis.  I was immediately struck by their unofficial motto: “Deed before creed”, followed by “act so as to bring out the best in others, thereby bringing out the best in yourself”.  I stayed. I had found my philosophical home. I took the motto to heart, and after 9/11, I realized that my unique education in entomology (including training on those insect vectors of disease which kill so many soldiers) could help save many lives in the US Army.  If I didn’t at least try to apply for an officer’s commission, I would feel very guilty and selfish. 

So I pushed forward with the deed, in spite of considerable fear of deploying and a personal creed that found engaging in war often questionably successful, either militarily or ethically. Saving lives, both American and Afghan, was more important than politics.  Insect vectors and the diseases they spread have no respect for political boundaries, religions or ethnicities. Joining the military didn’t mean that I was losing my right to vote or my right to disagree with the political decision to go to war. As for my cowardice, well, I just needed to suck it up.  I had learned to do many things that were scary, and I was still around.

In my current position in the Army Reserves, I am the Division Entomologist for the largest Reserve Medical Command, as well as the lead preventive medicine officer.  I am constantly pushing myself, providing the kind of mentoring to junior entomologists I never received, writing policy that should have been written twenty years ago, and organizing valuable training opportunities for units that have been neglected.

In many ways, I try to make the world a better place.  I don’t always succeed, but I try.  I do my best to bring out the best in other people, and by doing so, try to bring out the best in myself.  There are many times when I fail.  I often need to retreat from the world, regroup, and then launch again.  I often (always?) lack the genius of Sherlock Holmes, but I can make a very good shot at being a steadfast supporter to those I know and the world around me. 

I remember when I was flying in a Blackhawk helicopter over Maiwand in 2005, recognizing how desolate it was: blistering hot and covered in poppies past their bloom.  Watson, a British Army medical officer, survived Afghanistan and achieved greatness beyond.  My own deployment, while not as nearly as horrific as Watson’s, was severely trying. An American Army medical officer specializing in entomology (such as myself) could also survive Afghanistan, and come out the other end able to help others achieve their potential, just as Watson did. 

Yes, I admire Sherlock Holmes, the genius crime solver.  However, I will never achieve the type of brilliance he shows.  Dr. Watson, though, is a person whom I can emulate and look to as a role model. That is what I look for in Sherlockian media, the genuine humanist hero of Dr Watson whom I can look to as an example for how to bring out the best in people around me.

I can endure through horribly challenging circumstances, and when I come out the other side, I can do my best to help those around me achieve the very best of themselves. And that is how I will achieve my own best brilliance.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

November Meeting: The Naval Treaty

Last weekend found The Parallel Case of St. Louis once again at capacity for our meeting room as we rounded out 2019 with a lively discussion on this month's adventure.  Two new members, Kevin and Ota, joined us for their first meetings, and it's always a pleasure to have new folks with us!

There was a lot of news to discuss, but the biggest is that we are moving locations for 2020!  Because attendance has grown so much, we barely fit in the meeting room at the Schafly Library anymore, so we will hold all of our meetings next year at The Ethical Society of St. Louis, 9001 Clayton Rd, close to the Galleria Mall.  We will meet in the same room that we've hosted our last two movie nights in, so make sure to join us in January at our new home!

And speaking of 2020, here is the schedule of our meetings for next year:
January 11 - The Final Problem
March 14 - The Hound of the Baskervilles
May 9 - The Empty House
July 11 - The Norwood Builder
September 12 - The Dancing Men
November 14 - The Solitary Cyclist

A few members picked up their new Parallel Case membership pin.  If you haven't gotten yours yet, plan on bringing $10 to the next meeting and we will be happy to supply you with one!

Other big news involved a new Sherlock Holmes statue just down the road from us in Chester, Illinois.  The first permanent granite statue of Sherlock Holmes will be unveiled on Saturday, December 7, just a little over an hour from St. Louis and everyone is invited to join the Chester Baskerville Society in their ceremony!  The Parallel Case of St. Louis is sponsoring the paver for  The Sign of Four, the storm from which our scion's name came.  We have raised half of the $150 sponsorship so far, and we are asking for anyone interested in supporting this exciting offer to make a donation to the Parallel Case's Paypal account at   If you would prefer to donate by check, please email Rob and he will send you a mailing address.  Once we've completed our $150 pledge, it would be great to schedule a group outing to see the statue!  Please consider making any donation you can.  Thanks!

Those of us that attended the Kirkwood Theatre Guild's performance of "The Game's Afoot" recapped the evening for everyone that couldn't make it out the previous weekend.  We all agreed that dinner and a play was a nice social outing and everyone seemed to have a great time.

Mary Schroeder is hosting her annual holiday open house on December 8 from 1-5 at her house in The Hill neighborhood of St. Louis.  Mary promises to have her famous Sherlockian Christmas cards on display and you know you'll find some fine folks to spend the afternoon with at her house!  If you didn't receive the email announcement with Mary's address, please let us know and we will be happy to send it to you.  Hope you can join us!

And speaking of Mary, she had some great thoughts on this month's story, so we posted them as a separate blog.   You can check out Mary's strong opinion on The Naval Treaty here

The Harpooners of the Sea Unicorn had their monthly meeting last night in St. Charles to discuss The Mazarin Stone.  You can watch the Facebook Live video of their meeting here.

Nellie reminded everyone that Webster University was screening Sherlock Jr. starring Buster Keaton and accompanied by live music on Friday night. 

Rob and Heather had some books and other items of interest for show and tell.  Rob shared Watson Does Not Lie by Paul Thomas MillerBeing Sherlock: A Sherlockian's Stroll Through the Best Sherlock Holmes Stories by Ashley Polasek, and Sherlock Holmes is Everywhere edited by David Marcum.  Heather had The Annotated Speckled Band and Sherlock Holmes and the Cryptic Clues both by Michael McClure, and The Sherlock Holmes Challenge Trilogy Box

And last, but definitely not lease, registration for Holmes in the Heartland is now open!  You can register for just Friday and Saturday's events, or all three days at the Holmes in the Heartland page.  We are already getting registrations in, so sign up now!

"The Naval Treaty" starts off with Watson receiving a letter from an old schoolmate, Percy Phelps, asking for help.  Phelps was in charge of copying a secret treaty between England and Italy and the treaty has been stolen.  This gave Phelps brain fever, and he has only just recovered from the 9 week illness.  Watson brings this case to Baker Street, where he finds Holmes in the middle of a chemical experiment which will "mean a man his life."

Rob wondered why Holmes took up the case so quickly, having known so little about it.  We've seen him dismiss other cases with much more information in other stories.  Nellie offered that it could have been early in his career and he was happy for the work.  Heather thought it was because Watson had brought the problem to him, and he was happy to help his friend.  Adam said that Holmes had just finished up whatever case he was working on with the chemical experiment and wanted something to do immediately before he got bored again.  And Michael thought it was because Mycroft had already told Holmes about the missing treaty, so he would have had the facts already.

Holmes and Watson are off to Woking to visit Percy Phelps in his sick room.  There they are greeted by Phelps's fiancee's brother, whom Holmes immediately sizes up.  He responds with "For a moment I thought you had dome something clever," and dismisses Holmes's deductions.  Kevin pointed out that Jabez Wilson said the same thing in REDH, and Rob thought that Holmes should have admired the man because he says so often that his abilities are something that anyone could acquire if they tried.

When they are ushered into the room, Phelps exclaims to Watson, "I should never have known you under that mustache."  This is the first of only three mentions of Watson's facial hair in the entire Canon.  Michael said that the mustache is probably so iconic for the good doctor because of Paget's illustrations, and Srini pointed out that facial hair was very common among the British military.

Phelps tells Holmes and Watson that his uncle was the Foreign Minister and got Phelps his job at the Foreign Office.  Phelps was to copy this secret treaty between Italy and England.  Right after this, Phelps's fiancee, Annie Harrison, is described as having an "olive complexion" and "Italian eyes."  Rob wondered if this was laid out to be a red herring in the story, but Stacey pointed out that the treaty was to Italy's benefit.  Elaine took issue with Watson's description of Miss Harrison as being short and thick

If the treaty was between England and Italy, why was it written and copied in French?  Rob, Kevin, Chris, and Stacy had quite a bit of discussion about this, but no one really came up with an argument that pleased everyone. 

Phelps has been at work for a while on the treaty and rang the commissionaire.  The man's wife came up and took his order for coffee.  After a while, Phelps goes to check on the coffee and finds the commissionaire asleep and his wife gone.  The bell from Phelps's room rings, and Phelps and the commissionaire run back to the room, but the treaty is gone. 

Chris wondered how convenient it was that the thief was so fluent in French that they would be able to identify the important document on site.  Ota asked how this theft could have been pulled off so quickly.

Phelps and the commissionaire run outside and find a police officer to report the theft.  He says he saw the wife walk by a few minutes ago, but the commissionaire tries to get Phelps to look elsewhere.  The wife was arrested, but no papers were found on her.  After all of this, Phelps has a breakdown.  One of his neighbors and a police officer help him make it home on the train that night.  We wondered what happened with the copy of the treaty at this point.  Had that been stolen too or was it just left our for everyone to see?

Phelps leaving the treaty unguarded and his handling of the theft led to a big discussion on his character.  Chris wondered if he was someone who could handle such a job in the first place.  Nellie believed that he had been promoted beyond his ability due to his uncle was.  Michael agreed that the system of nobility awarded heredity over merit in such jobs.  Our group in general did not feel like Percy Phelps was someone we would trust with a secret.

When Phelps returned home, his brother-in-law Joseph was kicked out of his room to make a sick-room for Phelps.  Rob thought that odd that this house wouldn't have another room for Phelps to use to recover in.

After hearing this story, Holmes wanders over to a window, picks up a rose and states, "What a lovely thing a rose is!"  Surprising everyone in the room with the non-sequitur, Holmes continues.  "There is nothing in which deduction is so necessary as in religion,” said he, leaning with his back against the shutters. “It can be built up as an exact science by the reasoner. Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its color are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.”

The floodgates really opened up at this point!  Chris took Holmes to task for saying that the rose is extra, and not knowing the purpose of its specific parts.  Adam said that Holmes was also the man who didn't understand the solar system, and Elaine agreed that he specifically compartmentalized things in his mind.

But the larger question was, what on earth was he doing when he started that soliloquy?  Heather thought that Phelps was coming close to disclosing information that Holmes didn't want shared, so he used this as a distraction.  Michael said he could have been doing this to get everyone in their room to drop their guard and possibly let something slip.  Stacey said perhaps Holmes was thinking out loud; Holmes viewed Phelps and Miss Harrison represent 'goodness' while Joseph did not and Holmes let his mind wander. 

Holmes is quiet on the train ride home until they pass the board schools, where he proclaims them to be, "Light-houses my boy!  Beacons of the future!  Capsules with hundreds of bright little seeds in each one, out of which will spring the wiser, better England of the future."  Stacey viewed this as Holmes waxing philosophically.

But then Holmes took a hard left turn and said, "I suppose that man Phelps does not drink?"  Rob argued that Holmes's behavior throughout all of this story, jumping at a case he knows little about, deducing Joseph at first sight and not getting miffed by his rebuttal, the talk about the rose, jumping from education to alcoholism, and get getting testy with Watson proved that Holmes was on cocaine during this case.  His mind was racing from thought to thought and they all seemed to be spilling out of him at once.

Also on the train ride back, Holmes says that he knew about the fiancee and her brother.  "I've been making a few independent inquiries you see."  Rob wanted to know when he could have done this.  Watson brought him the problem, they left from Baker Street to the train, arrived at Woking and met with Phelps, and were then on the train home at this point.  There was no downtime in the narrative for Holmes to make these inquiries.  Chris said that this proved that Holmes already knew about the missing treaty and had made these inquiries before Watson had shown up with Phelps's letter.

Holmes and Watson head to Scotland Yard and are met by an Inspector Forbes who expects Holmes to "use all the information that the police can lay at your disposal, and then you try to finish the case yourself and bring discredit on them."  Even though Holmes set the man straight, we could only wonder just how many other Yarders had this opinion of Sherlock Holmes.

Forbes can only say that the commissionaire's wife and another man working in Phelps's office have been investigated, but nothing has shown up.  So Holmes and Watson interview the Foreign Minister, and Phelps's uncle, Lord Holdhurst.  He feels that the treaty hasn't been sold, possibly because the thief has been suffering from brain fever.

Nellie posited that if Phelps were going to sell the treaty, why not just make an extra copy of it instead of stealing it?  The fact that Holdhurst doesn't give his nephew enough credit to think of this proves that Phelps was unqualified for his position in the Foreign Office.  Kevin offered that the ringing bell proves the Phelps wasn't in the room when the treaty was stolen and the minister was ignoring that fact.

The next day, Holmes and Watson return to Woking with no news but find that someone tried to break into Phelps's room the previous night.  Making sure Miss Harrison does not leave the sick room, Holmes, Watson, and Joseph search the grounds.  After that, Holmes declares that Phelps should return to London with he and Watson.

But at the station, Holmes reveals that he will be staying behind, leaving Watson in charge of Phelps.  "Watson, when you reach London, you would oblige me by driving at once to Baker Street without friend here, and remain with him until I see you again."  Rob pointed out that Holmes may have well added "And never mind about your wife" to the end of that statement.

The next morning, Holmes arrives back at Baker Street with a bandaged hand.  Watson and Phelps want to hear his news, but Holmes refuses to talk about it until after breakfast.  Three covered dishes are brought in, but Phelps doesn't take the cover off of his.  After some prodding, he finally does and screams.  The treaty is on his plate!  Phelps gets so excited that he dances around and almost passes out.  Good thing Watson has brandy on hand!  Nellie pointed out that this is more evidence that Phelps was too excitable for this job.

"It was too bad to spring it on you like this," Holmes admits, "but Watson here will tell you that I never can resist a touch of the dramatic."  After finishing breakfast and coffee, Holmes says that he caught Joseph breaking into Phelps's old sick-room to retrieve the treaty.  Holmes fought the man to get the treaty but Joseph escaped. 

Throughout the whole discussion, the most used word to describe Joseph by everyone in the room was "slimy."  He warranted revulsion from every single one of us.

Ota wondered if any of us would have been smart enough to stake out the house that night.  Most of us said no.

Mary and Chris both thought that Miss Harrison was much stronger than Phelps and Heather felt bad for the life that the lady had ahead of her with such a weak-willed man.  Stacey wondered if Miss Harrison wanted to be in government herself, but couldn't because of her gender.  She found someone she could manipulate in Phelps and had a way to have a hand in the government.

As you can see, there were lots of thoughts about this story, and there are sure to be plenty when we meet again in January for The Final Problem.  Remember, we will be meeting at the Ethical Society next year, so come at once if convenient!

Sunday, November 10, 2019

At Sea with the Naval Treaty by Mary Schroeder

This canonical offering combines Holmes’ penchant for train travel and a display by a self-indulgent civil servant with Chinese-fire-drill choreography to relate a mystery that is over before it ends. (Or does it end before it’s over?)

It could adapt favorably to the silver screen. There’s the early departure from Waterloo Station (cue the swirling yellow fog); folks dashing through the Foreign Office corridors; bells sounding unaccountably; a fruitless race “down to the end of the street”; the chase after the commissionaire’s wife – all good action stuff. Of course it looses a lot of excitement in the telling but how much vigor can a putz in the throes of brain fever (aka melt-down) muster? And it is all for naught.

The ding dong should have heeded the bell. It tolled for him. The commissionaire posed the key question, “Who rang the bell?” igniting the mystery. And Percy could have answered it. In fact he was the one person who could have answered it, not that he didn’t try. He taxed his wits with the puzzle, “Why should any criminal want to ring the bell?” Feeble, certainly, considering how much time he’d had to think about it. But instead of following up with the obvious answer and its logical development, he lapsed into a pathetic woe-is-me dead-end doldrum.

Had he been a more stalwart sort he’d have stayed the course, considered the rational reply, that no one with malicious intent would announce their presence and stumble into the obvious conclusion that the ringer was looking for someone in that drab little cell (aka office – more on that later). Someone like Percy Phelps for example. Who else would be there? It was after hours. The other clerks had long gone, enjoyed their pint and made it home by the fire. At that cognitive stage even
the unremarkable Percy should think of his prospective brother-in-law. The guy he expected to meet that night to catch the eleven o’clock train. The End.

Easy peezy. No mystery, no story, no excuse for Sherlock Holmes to take that particular jaunt and visit that particular old country house. He could save the exercise of devising trickery involving perps and premises and hidden “agendas” for another adventure or two.

Questions for Insomniacs: A Consideration of the Awful Office Premises

1.Why wasn’t the street door at the side entrance locked?
2.Why were two stairways required to access one office?
3.Did Percy really have to exit the building to consult his uncle?
4.Does this represent the official protocol for handling secret documents?
5. Has Percy reached the ceiling in his career or has the ceiling reached him?
6.Was the office specially designed to isolate incompetent clerks?

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Diogenes and Silence by Michael Waxenberg

In The Greek Interpreter, we first learn of Mycroft Holmes’ membership in the Diogenes Club. This unique club requires silence.  Sherlock Holmes says to Watson:
"There are many men in London, you know, who, some from shyness, some from misanthropy, have no wish for the company of their fellows. Yet they are not averse to comfortable chairs and the latest periodicals. It is for the convenience of these that the Diogenes Club was started, and it now contains the most unsociable and unclubable men in town. No member is permitted to take the least notice of any other one. Save in the Stranger’s Room, no talking is, under any circumstances, allowed, and three offences, if brought to the notice of the committee, render the talker liable to expulsion. My 
brother was one of the founders, and I have myself found it a very soothing atmosphere." 

Sherlock Holmes himself is fond of comfortable chairs and the latest periodicals. He also stands accused of misanthropy. No wonder that he finds the atmosphere of the Diogenes Club very
soothing. Why is this club for theunclubbable named after Diogenes? Diogenes was a Cynic philosopher from Sinope, in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) I who lived in Athens and Corinth in the 4th century B.C.E.

He distinguished himself by living in abstinence, even living in the streets or in a "pithos" or bath tub. He rejected riches and honors I and sought virtue. Diogenes is the man made famous for searching through the streets of Athens with a lantern, looking for an honest man.

Diogenes lived about the same time as Aristotle. I am no student of philosophy, but the contrasts are obvious. While Diogenes the Cynic looked for individual virtue, Aristotle sought civic virtue, and action toward the betterment of the state and the civilization.

According to Plutarch, Diogenes once met Alexander the Great, when Diogenes was about 70 years of age, and Alexander was at the start of his conquests, at about age 20. Diogenes was lying in his tub, sunning himself. Alexander and his officers sought him out, and Alexander presented himself to the famous philosopher, saying "I am Alexander the Great." "And I am Diogenes the Cynic," replied
the philosopher. Alexander then asked what service he could do for the philosopher. "Move out of my sunlight," said Diogenes. Alexander's officers would likely have wanted to execute Diogenes on the spot, but Alexander was struck by the man, and said, "If I were not Alexander, I should wish to be Diogenes."

Sherlock Holmes met many famous and important persons of his day, and gave them much the same type of sarcastic treatment. In The Second Stain, a former Prime Minister of Great Britain attempts to give Holmes a commission for a task without disclosure of all relevant information, under the excuse of "State secrecy." Holmes then says he is too busy to handle the matter, causing the Premier to erupt in anger, initially. Holmes engages in a terrible breach of etiquette. But, was it merely a tactic to cause the Premier to open up and reveal all necessary data, or was it also an expression of a more deeply rooted cynicism toward those in power in society?

Holmes engages in sarcasm with members of the noble classes in The Priory School, A Scandal in Bohemia, The Noble Bachelor, and many other adventures. Much has been written about Holmes'
democratic, or anti-nobility politics, but I suggest that his attitude is better described as Cynicism, in the formal sense. This hypothesis is borne out by Holmes' treatment of the formal law enforcement authorities, from whom he does not try to conceal his sarcasm. Those individuals are generally not from the upper classes. But they represent part of the formal structure of society, and Holmes is in the society, but not of it.

Sherlock Holmes is described as a "cynic" by Watson. In the opening paragraph of The Adventure of the Devil's Foot, Holmes is described as having a "sombre and cynical spirit," for whom

all popular applause was always abhorrent, and nothing amused him more at the end of a successful case than to hand over the actual exposure to some orthodox official, and to listen with a mocking smile to the general chorus of misplaced congratulation. 

Later, in that same adventure, after Holmes almost kills Watson and himself by inhaling the fumes of the burning poison, Watson describes the situation:

He relapsed at once into the half-humorous, half-cynical vein which was his habitual attitude to those about him. "It would be superfluous to drive us mad, my dear Watson," said he. "A candid observer would certainly declare that we were so already before we embarked upon so wild an experiment. 

Holmes follows the ethics of a cynic by relishing silence. Numberless times, Watson describes Holmes sitting in silence, smoking in silence, thinking in silence, doing chemical experiments in silence, or waiting and watching for some unwitting culprit in silence. Silence fits Sherlock Holmes like his dressing gown, and is part of his personality.

Holmes follows the code of a cynic by denouncing public recognition of his achievements, by living simply with self-control and a rigid abstinence, and by a rejection of materialism, class structure, formal laws, and by living with an independence of spirit seldom found in any human. If it could be said that Aristotle begat, in the philosophical sense, Alexander the Great, Napoleon, and Gladstone, then Diogenes begat Disraeli, Sherlock Holmes, Philip Marlow, and Sam Spade.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

September Meeting: The Greek Interpreter

This month's meeting covered a lot of ground!  In fact, we went 30 minutes over our allotted time because we had so much to talk about, so let's get to it!

Of course, the big news is Holmes in the Heartland.  Our speakers and events had everyone excited for next summer.  Mark your calendars and plan to join us in St. Louis July 24-26 for libraries, vendors, Sherlockian speakers, buffets, the Arch, and the historic riverfront!  Oh, and did I mention our speakers?

Curtis Armstrong
Ray Betzner
Steve Doyle
Beth Gallego
Elinor Gray
Dr. Minsoo Kang
Kristen Mertz
The St. Louis Costumers' Guild

The Kirkwood Theater Guild is performing "The Game's Afoot" this November, and we decided to have a group outing to the show on November 3.  The play is at 2:00, so join us if you are able!

And it was time to do some problem solving for the group.  But a good type of problem.  We have outgrown our meeting room at the Schafly branch of the St. Louis Public Library.  So, we spent quite some time discussing where we should move to.  No decisions were made today, but plan on our meetings to be at a new location starting in January of 2020!

Rob talked about two upcoming Sherlockian books, "Mycroft and Sherlock: The Empty Birdcage" by Kareem Abdul Jabbar and "Being Sherlock: A Sherlockian's Stroll Through the Best Sherlock Holmes Stories" by Ashley Polasek.  Both are due out this month and look to be great additions to our bookshelves.

Elementary wrapped up since our last meeting.  We spent a few minutes talking about the show, Jonny Lee Miller's portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, and Adam's blog post from last month sharing his view of the long-running adaptation.

The Baker Street Irregulars event, "Building an Archive," will be in Bloomington, Indiana November 8-10.  At least three Parallel Case members are planning on heading east for the weekend.  

And speaking of Parallel Case members traveling for events, Ed will be attending the Left Coast Sherlockian Symposium next month.  We were all very jealous of him when he shared that news!

Ed, Elaine, and Rob shared a recap of last month's University of Minnesota Sherlockian conference, "Dark Places, Wicked Companions, and Strange Experiences."  

The Left Bank Books Bookfest will be next weekend in the Central West End.

The Jewish Book Festival will take place again in November.  And Margalit Fox, author of "Conan Doyle for the Defense" will be in town to talk about her book that many members enjoyed.

UCLA has launched a project titled "Searching for Sherlock," where they are trying to locate missing Sherlock Holmes films from the silent era.  This is in partnership with the Baker Street Irregulars and has Robert Downey Jr. as an honorary chair.


And then it was time to discuss "The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter."

Watson tells us "I had never heard (Holmes) refer to his relations, and hardly ever to his own early life."  We spent some time tossing around theories as to why Holmes was like this.  Rick thought that this was just his personality.  He was private and reclusive.  Holmes always steers the conversation to get information from others; he was not the type to offer information about himself.  Adam suggested that this story allowed Holmes to open up to Watson later about the Gloria Scott and Musgrave Ritual cases.

Rob pointed out that this first paragraph gives a very cold and unsociable picture of Holmes, one that has been picked up quite often in adaptations.  Adam said that even Robert Downey Jr.'s version of Holmes was very outgoing, but even his Watson still refers to him as "Shelly No-Mates."  We talked about the many instances throughout the stories where Holmes is the complete opposite of this description and agreed that Watson contradicts himself quite a bit.

Watson would often think of Holmes as "an orphan with no relative living."  Rob said he also described his future wife, Mary Morstan, as an orphan, but she later went off to visit her mother.

Holmes and Watson are sitting around Baker Street over tea at the beginning of the story.  Stacey know a lot about her teas and talked about which type of tea this would have been, high vs. afternoon, and that it most likely would have been a tea from India, as most of London's teas came from there at this point.  Ed cited a book he had recently read giving Holmes and Watson's preferences of teas based on evidence from the stories.

Their talk over tea started off with "changes in the obliquity of the ecliptic" (hardly the same Holmes from STUD who didn't care if the Earth went around the sun or vice versa) to atavism (a particularly fraught topic that led to genetic predestination for those with "low morals")

We spent quite some time wondering why this was the first time Watson has ever heard that Holmes has a brother, or any family for that matter.  According to most chronologies, Holmes and Watson have lived together for ten years at this point.  Watson has heard secrets from royalty and been by Holmes's side for some great adventures, yet Holmes hasn't told him he has a brother living just blocks away? 

Adam offered that Holmes never brought up Mycroft because he was jealous of his older brother.  Ed cited Bill Mason's essay in "About Sixty" on this story and said if not for GREE, there would have been a lot less speculation about Holmes's family tree.

So, Holmes takes Watson round to meet brother Mycroft at his club, the Diogenes.  Here, we are treated to one of the most descriptive paragraphs in the story:

Mycroft Holmes was a much larger and stouter man than Sherlock. His body was absolutely corpulent, but his face, though massive, had preserved something of the sharpness of expression which was so remarkable in that of his brother. His eyes, which were of a peculiarly light, watery gray, seemed to always retain that far-away, introspective look which I had only observed in Sherlock's when he was exerting his full powers.

While it is quite descriptive, Stacey pointed out that it is blatant fat-shaming.  And Watson wasn't done making sure everyone knew just how fat Mycroft Holmes is.  He later reminded us when Mycroft couldn't keep up with them on the stairs due to his "great bulk."

Michael thought that Mycroft was dead by the time that this story was published, otherwise how could Watson have gotten away with writing such a description?  Rob pointed out that Mycroft was nowhere in relation to "His Last Bow" where we see Holmes spying for the British government, and could be because he was dead by this point, and agreed with Michael's hypothesis.

Although the Canon is not known for it's continuity, Rob pointed out that Mycroft's red handkerchief in this story makes another appearance in "The Final Problem" as part of his cab driver's disguise.

Mycroft's snuff box also got some attention.  Adam and Michael talked about the popularity of snuff boxes at the time, notably at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair.  Apparently, people's body odor was so bad at the fair that snuff boxes were sold in huge amounts so that people could take a sniff of snuff and not have to smell their other fairgoers.

We get to see such a great one upmanship between the two brothers at the Diogenes Club.  Although there is no animosity in this story, it's probably the starting point for many other adaptations' view that the Holmes boys had a sibling rivalry.

And poor Watson.  Instead of being impressed by the intellect of the two Holmes brothers, he tries to say that there is no way they could know what they've just deduced.  Let's appreciate this for a moment.  Even when he tries to call out ONE Holmes, he's rebuffed.  What chance did he have against both of them?

We discussed a theory that Sherlock already knew about the Melas case from Gregson earlier that day.  Holmes used that as an excuse to introduce his friend to his roommate.  If we take the case at face value, we are to expect that crime follows Holmes around.  We see cases find him in 3STU, DEVI, LION and REGI.  Sherlock Holmes is the Jessica Fletcher of Victorian London!

Melas tells Watson and the two Holmeses his story.  He was hired by Harold Latimer, only to be kidnapped and threatened.  He arrived at a mysterious house after a long carriage ride.  Wilson Kemp, a small, nervous man met him then.  He told Melas that he is to translate for a Greek man in the house.  Latimer brought in an emaciated man whose face was criss-crossed with sticking plaster. 

Stacey pointed out that this was a horrible disguise.  If Kemp and Latimer were trying to keep this man disguised from his sister, what kind of disguise was sticking plaster?

Melas was ordered to ask the man to sign a paper and he started adding other questions to the interview once he realized that the captors couldn't tell what they were saying.  We had some debate over how the interview went.  Who was speaking, who was writing, and how the extra questions and answers were delivered.

But suddenly, a woman came into the room and recognized her brother, Paul.  (Turns out that sticking plaster wasn't such a great disguise)  Paul yells for Sophy, but they are both pulled out of the room.  Kemp gave Melas 5 gold sovereigns and threatened him again not to talk.  Rob did the math and said that payment translated to $763.80 in today's American money.  None of us thought that would be enough to buy silence.

After all of this, Mycroft placed ads in every paper asking for information on Sophy or Paul Kratides.  None of us could come up with a good reason for him to do this.  It would clearly get back to Kemp and Latimer that he spilled the beans.  A few ideas were kicked around, including Ronald Knox's theory that Mycroft was a double agent for Moriarty, working with Kemp and Latimer.

After hearing all of this, Holmes and Watson head back to Baker Street.  On the way, Holmes asks Watson his opinion on the matter which is mostly correct.  Our group talked about all of the times that Watson tries to see through a problem only to be off track.  This was probably the time that he was in his best form.

By the time they get back to Baker Street, Mycroft is there waiting for them.  Even though Mycroft only appears in three stories, we see him at Baker Street for two of them, and driving a cab in the third.  Rob pointed out that Mycroft hardly "has his rails and he runs on them."

Mycroft has heard back from Sophy's landlord and he wants to go see this man.  Holmes says that they should pick up Gregson and retrieve Sophy instead.  Watson points out that they should take Melas with them to translate.  But when they arrive at Melas's apartment, he has been taken again by Kemp.

This led to so much debate about why they stopped to get a warrant.  In so many cases, Sherlock Holmes does not wait for the law to take its course.  Kristin pointed out that this delay most likely cost Harold Latimer his life.

Mycroft, Sherlock, Watson, and Gregson finally make it to the mysterious house, only to find it locked.  But Holmes is quick to jimmy a window open, prompting Gregson to say "It is a mercy that you are on the side of the force, and not against it, Mr. Holmes."  Rob especially loves this line, because it was the phrase that got him thinking what if Sherlock Holmes had been a criminal?

Melas and Paul Kratides have been left in a room to die of charcoal poisoning.  This might be the most inane way to kill someone used in the entire Canon.  Instead of killing the two witnesses, Kemp and Latimer leave them in a room that will slowly poison them, giving ample time for escape or rescue.

And Melas is rescued with a little help from Watson's good old reliable brandy.

And that's the end of the story, basically.  The bad guys got away with a kidnapped woman, an innocent man died, and Sherlock Holmes had no more interest in this case.

Stacey talked about the level of xenophobia in England at the time towards Greeks.  That could have played a large part in why no one, police and Strand readers included, seemed to care too much about a murdered man and his kidnapped sister.

There is a small coda to this story.  Some time later, newspaper clippings were sent to Holmes hinting that Sophy Kratides killed Kemp and Latimer and escaped.  If this were true, who sent the newspaper clipping?  One of Mycroft's agents?  The interpreter that Melas was hired to replace?  Moriarty?  No one had a good answer for this. 

But Rob argued that this last part was a fabrication on Watson's part.  He wanted to write the story of how he met Mycroft Holmes, but Sherlock didn't do too much to right any wrongs.  So he added this little tidbit to make it look like everything worked out in the end and it was all resolved.

Whether you believe Watson or not, make sure to join us for our next meeting on Saturday, November 9 when we meet to discuss "The Adventure of the Naval Treaty."  Come at once if convenient!