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?