Thursday, April 27, 2023

A Question of Timing by Adam Presswood

I guess no Sherlock Holmes fan is ever too old to learn something new. In advance of the May 2023 meeting of The Parallel Case of St. Louis, I have just finished reading “The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone” for probably only the second or third time in my life. For whatever reason, this particular story has never really been on my Sherlockian radar. So as not to usurp the lively discussion that I hope will occur at our meeting, I will refrain from any restatement of the plot. Instead, I will mention the two looming factors that I am sure all of you are already more than familiar with. The first is that the story is one of only two Holmes adventures written in third person, the second being “His Last Bow.” The other factor is that the entire story takes place in one small corner of Holmes’s rooms at 221B Baker Street.

I found myself curious as to why, and this is when I realized that I have not amassed nearly as much Sherlockian trivia as I sometimes like to think. As it turns out, “The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone” was adapted from a stage play, hence the one-room setting. The play, titled The Crown Diamond, was first performed in May of 1921, and "The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone" was published in October of that same year. There is general agreement that both the play and the short story are set in the summer of 1903. That, however, is where most of the agreement stops, as opinions differ wildly as to whether the play was written just a few months before the story was published, or whether there was instead a gap of many years between the two works. This argument is further complicated by the fact that, in the play, the villain is Colonel Sebastian Moran, the deadly big game hunter who falls into Holmes’s trap in “The Adventure of the Empty House," rather than Count Negretto Sylvius, Sherlock’s adversary in “The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone.”

For me, the temptation to dive into the timeline here was simply irresistible. “The Adventure of the Empty House" is one of 13 stories in The Return of Sherlock Holmes. The story was published in both England and America in 1903, but the adventure detailed therein is set nine years earlier, in 1894. As every Sherlockian knows, Moran is bested by Holmes in that story, unwittingly playing the part of the tiger lured to his doom, rather than the role of hunter that he thinks he is playing. He is then led off by Lestrade and his men and his fate is in the hands of the court. Holmes seems relatively confident that the second most dangerous man in London will trouble the world no more. Whatever the court may have decided in terms of Moran’s sentence, he was not put to death, as Holmes refers to him as still among the living in “The Adventure of the Illustrious Client." That means Moran was still above ground in September of 1902, even though he was probably not a free man. While pondering his enemy list at the end of his career, Holmes once again refers to Moran in “His Last Bow," and once again Moran is still alive, at least according to Holmes. That places Moran on our side of the grass as late as 1914 or so, even though “His Last Bow” was not published until three years later.

If we take the long view, we can assume that Doyle was telling his readers that Moran remained alive until at least 1917, just four short years before The Crown Diamond was first performed in 1921. That year would have marked the 27th anniversary of Moran’s arrest in “The Adventure of the Empty House." If we accept the rather lengthy biography that Doyle provides for Moran, he was born in 1840. That means he was already 54 years old when he attempted to murder Holmes, and he would have been 81 when the play was released in 1921. In fairness, he would only have been 63 in 1903, the year in which both the play and the short story are set. Still, two factors must be considered here. The first is that our villain wasn’t getting any younger. That second is that, even if we arrest the aging process for the infamous Moran, his scant mention in the years since 1894 would have made him an unlikely choice for the antagonist in a play written as late as 1921.

All of this is, of course, only my perspective. However, I feel that the timeline works very strongly against the notion of the play and the short story being written within months of one another, given that Moran was the villain in the stage version. I think it far more likely that the play was written shortly after “The Adventure of the Empty House," when Moran’s character would have been far fresher in the minds of Doyle’s readers. There are still a few hiccups in my theory, the primary one being that the play is still set nine years after Moran’s arrest in the empty house across from 221B Baker Street. But after all, it is the stage we are talking about here, so we must allow for some poetic license where the canonical timeline is concerned. So I leave it to all of you. Are we dealing with a renamed, 63-year-old Moran in “The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone," or are the two works thought to be mere months apart simply because of the proximity in their respective release dates? You have until May 13th to make up your minds😊 

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

TV detectives still learning from Sherlock Holmes by Wayne Flynn

Recently a friend of mine insisted that he learned everything he needed to know about Sherlock Holmes through television, specifically the series Elementary. I was introduced to Sherlock Holmes, the world’s greatest consulting detective, and Dr. Watson, his friend and protector, through television.  I would watch enthralled as Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce portrayed our heroes hunting down spies and tracking vicious dogs.  And while my friend may have learned everything he needed to know, I think a few details are missing.

Then the discussion took an entertaining turn.  We discussed how often we find a “tribute” to Holmes in television shows. You have to know where to look, and more importantly you need knowledge of the canon to recognize the clues.  

One of my favorite television series is Justified. The basic concept is a modern-day gun-slinging Deputy U.S. Marshall by the name of Raylan Givens who finds his way into more precariou

s situations than most U.S. Marshalls.  On an episode entitled “Foot Chase”, (S4:E6) our hero, U.S. Deputy Marshall Raylan Givens is searching for a fugitive.  He approaches the home of an informant under house arrest wearing an ankle-monitoring bracelet.  Although Givens does not find the informant, he does find the informant’s foot, cut off with the monitoring device still attached.  Givens’ boss, Chief Marshall Art Mullen, calls him to inquire about the investigation.  When he hears the news, the Chief Marshall states, “So as I understand it, ‘the game is afoot’”.  Here we learn that Chief Marshall Mullen is a student of Holmes. Chief Marshall Mullen clearly embraces the methods and spirit of the world’s greatest consulting detective. 

If you are familiar with
Longmire, you know that Sheriff Longmire is a well-read individual.  In the pilot episode, Sheriff Longmire is challenged by a deputy as to the solution of a crime.  Sheriff Longmire replies, “If you’re going to be a sheriff you need to start brushing up on your detective work son.” (S1:E1) Longmire hands his deputy a copy of The Hound of the Baskervilles.  The deputy certainly took the advice to heart as he didn’t return the book until Season 2 Episode 2.  Proving the lessons of Sherlock Holmes live on. 

These are just a few examples of Sherlockian tributes.  I’m sure Sherlockians have been spotting these references in television and books for years.  I invite you to add your own examples in the comments.  

Monday, February 20, 2023

Mrs. Holmes: Not Winning Mother of the Year Anytime Soon by Kevin Letts

The second Enola Holmes movie has come out and it has been warmly received much like the first one. On Rotten Tomatoes, both movies have been rated “fresh” with ratings in the 90s percentile and I won’t be surprised if they make Enola Holmes 3.

The movie stars Millie Bobby Brown as Enola Holmes, the younger sister to Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes. Sherlock Holmes is played by Henry Cavill and we also have Helena Bonham Carter playing Eudoria Holmes who is the mother of the Holmes siblings. All performances are fantastic and these are movies worth watching even if they deviate from the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle canon stories.

My focus is on Eudoria Holmes. She raises Enola by herself and teaches her many things from reading, mathematics, the sciences, and even archery. Eudoria is obviously a very intelligent woman and it rubs off on her daughter. Also, we see Mrs. Holmes not conforming to the norm that is common with Victorian women at the time. Being in the 21st century, we don’t see that as all that bad. Even though it was probably scandalous at the time. With that said, however, I don’t see Eudoria winning “Mother of the Year” any time soon. Why? First of all, as we see in the first movie, one morning Enola wakes up like any other day to find her mother not in the house. She wonders where she is and then realizes after a time, her mother has disappeared and is not coming back. Enola’s brothers, Sherlock and Mycroft do not really help matters much. 

After a short time in finishing school, which does not fit Enola’s independent personality, Enola escapes and goes to London to try to find her mother. During this time, we find the second reason I don’t see Eudoria as a good mother. During her search, Enola finds out her mother is a part of a more radical suffragette organization that owns a storeroom full of explosives and a map with political location marked. Not only does Eudoria abandon her daughter, but we also find she is, essentially, a terrorist. 

Before you scoff and think I am off my rocker, which some did when I first said this during a Parallel Case meeting, look at the definition and think about what a room full of explosives owned by a radical organization with a map of political location marked means. According to, the FBI defines domestic terrorism as, “Violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups to further ideological goals stemming from domestic influences, such as those of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature.” Think about this as well, let’s say you found a storeroom of explosives owned by an anti-abortion organization with various Planned Parenthood locations marked on a map in that storeroom. You would probably think terrorist, wouldn’t you? I know I would. Women's suffrage was a worthy cause, but resorting to terrorist acts is still terrorism.

At the end of the first movie, Eudoria visits Enola and reveals she is wanted by British law. She said she didn’t expect Enola to find her and left because she wanted to protect Enola and change the world. 

Now is it obvious Enola’s mother loves her? Of course. She wants to protect Enola. However, I believe Eudoria Holmes abandoning her daughter and being part of a group that was about to resort to terrorist tactics are some pretty bad choices as a mother and I would not see her as “Mother of the Year” any time soon.

With all this said, are these fun movies? Yes. I enjoyed them very much and I look forward to a third installment should one come out.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Spies Among Us by Heather Hinson

Ideas and theories come out of seemingly nowhere, especially when you’re in a group of people. Ideas that start as rational debates can suddenly make that hard left into either wild imaginations or “Things that make you go Hmmm”. Nowhere else is this perfectly represented than when you have a group of Sherlockians gathered together discussing one of the stories. 

Picture this, it’s the first meeting of 2023, a group of Sherlockians are gathered discussing if the acts leading up to World War I were coincidence or a conspiracy to keep the people who could’ve stopped the war away from actually voting. 

Actually, we were discussing "His Last Bow."

The story is a simple one, possibly one of the shortest as well as everything seems to happen in rather quick succession. The story opens with Van Bork speaking to Baron Von Herling about getting important information about the British military and government secrets.  Both men are about to leave back to Germany the next day as soon as Von Bork receives the final information regarding Naval signals from his informant, Altamont. The story ends with the mission blowing up in Von Bork’s face as Altamont is revealed to be Sherlock Holmes and he and Dr. Watson return the German spy to Scotland Yard and circumvent what could have been a potentially disastrous blow to England at the beginning of World War 1.  

But Altamont, or rather Sherlock Holmes, was running all over the country gathering potentially false data for Von Bork, so how did he know everything that was happening in that small cottage? He couldn’t have been there for the necessary spying on the German. Instead he left that in the very capable hands of Von Bork’s housekeeper, Martha.   

This is where the fun begins.  One theory is that Martha is, in fact Mrs. Hudson, Holmes’ housekeeper.  We have the BBC and CBS/Paramount to thank for this. Because of these shows, Martha is the commonly assumed to be Mrs. Husdon’s Christian name. Also, we see housekeeper and Holmes together and just assume that Martha is the same person. 

While Mrs. Hudson’s name could be Martha, I would agree that the Martha who was working for Von Bork and Mrs. Hudson are not the same women. The argument for this is simple: Martha is actually a spy for the Home Office sent by Mycroft Holmes.  

There’s an entirely different argument that can be made regarding the eldest Holmes brother and even if he was part of the Home Office during the start of WW1 that I won’t get into now.  The assumption is that yes, Holmes is there and yes, has planned for this event as Sherlock Holmes casually states in a throwaway line to Watson, “Strong pressure was brought upon me to look into the matter” (LAST).  While this could be talking about the British Premier or the Prime Minister as Holmes mentions, there is an argument to be made that Mycroft himself tasked Sherlock with this mission, to spend two years creating an alias and working to stop the Germans from obtaining British secrets.  

Back to Martha. She’s described as a “dear old ruddy-faced woman” and “the personification of Britannia”.  Yet this dear old woman was instrumental in keeping Holmes up to date with the happenings of Von Bork, signaling when he was alone, getting names and addresses of Von Bork’s correspondences, and generally spying on the man all while keeping his house.  We know that Martha was a part of his household earlier, helping when his wife and children were also in residence. She remained after everyone else but Von Bork had left, the only housekeeper in his residence. 

Why a spy and not someone Holmes’ just paid off, much like his Irregulars?  Holmes answers this himself. “You can report to me tomorrow in London, Martha, at Claridge’s Hotel.” Martha is to make a full report to Holmes the next day, in London.  While Holmes’ Irregulars are usually mentioned to be kids or young teens, Martha is older. Which means she’s on a payroll somewhere and if Sherlock is working for His Majesty then it stands to reason Martha is as well. Given Sherlock’s love of disguises and the fact that he spent two years traveling from America to England, butchering the King’s English, and cementing his role as an American Irishman who had no love for England, it stands to reason that Martha was not the ruddy-faced old woman she portrays to Von Bork. Instead, she’s part of a spy network.  Holmes even mentions to Watson that “I got her the situation here when I first took the matter up” (LAST) meaning she probably came down with him on orders to act as a spy for the last two years.  While Holmes was traveling around England and America, Martha was working as a housekeeper, ingratiating herself with the family and becoming indispensable. All according to plan. And as Holmes is a master at the art of disguises, it stands to reason that Martha is as well.  

In World War II, women such as Virginia Hall and Noor Inayat Khan were being used as spies for the British Empire, it’s logical that Mycroft Holmes would begin using women as spies long before that. Who would suspect the housekeeper who is “Britannia personified” to be working as a spy for England? This mindset put Martha in the perfect place to serve her country.

Sunday, December 4, 2022

The Historical Context of "His Last Bow" by Adam Presswood

I recently purchased the Audible version of the Sherlock Holmes series in the hope that it would  make my 90-minute, one-way commute at least a little easier to bear. In the interest of killing the suspense early, it did no such thing. It also reinforced my love for the printed word above all other forms of storytelling. However, it did reintroduce me to "His Last Bow," the spy thriller (told in 3rd person) that  finds both Holmes and Watson in the twilight of their lives and their careers. Their sights are set not  on retirement, but rather on espionage, all to save England and the free world from the dreaded  Germans. 

The story is set on the precipice of a fictional global war, but it was published in The Strand Magazine in September of 1917, by which time Britain and her allies were hip-deep in World War I.  Following the conclusion of the Audible version of the story, the narrator, of course, launched into a discussion of the myriad parallels that exist between "His Last Bow" and the real geopolitical circumstances surrounding World War I. I was less convinced, so I looked a little deeper, just to make  sure the narrator had not taken too much poetic license. It turns out that most people who have written about the story consider it to be an instrument of propaganda intended to elevate British morale. 

As a historian, I had to ask myself why British morale would have needed a boost in 1917. If anything, the tide of the war in 1917 would have been enough on its own to boost morale. In January of  1917, the British intercepted the Zimmermann Telegram, an effort on the part of the Germans to entice  Mexico into the war in exchange for Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico – should Mexico’s entrance into  the war result in a victory for Germany and its allies. On February 3, 1917, America severed diplomatic  ties with Germany. On February 24
th, the British passed the Zimmermann Telegram to the United States, effectively reversing America’s isolationist attitude toward the war, and by March of 1917 the British  had captured Baghdad. In April of 1917, America officially entered the war, and Greece quickly followed  that example in June. 

As a historian, I have the benefit of hindsight. Thus, I know that this timeline of positive  circumstances would soon (relatively) culminate in the end of the war. While the British could not have known this, they would certainly have taken heart in having so much wind at their backs. In the interest of fairness, I should add that life for British civilians during World War I was brutal. Bombings, food rationing, labor strikes, conscription, inflation, and the inevitability of war weariness must all be  considered. After all, the Germans were not the only ones to have fallen for the promise that the war  would be over by Christmas of 1914. Still, there really is not anything about 1917 specifically that would  have necessitated the publishing of "His Last Bow" as a propaganda tool for boosting British morale. 

What is more likely is that Doyle was simply inspired by real-life events. The character Von Bork in "His Last Bow" seems remarkably haphazard and unsophisticated for a German spy, and the precautions that he fails to take are startling. In much the same way, Arthur Zimmermann, the German foreign secretary who sent the famous telegram that now bears his name, was careless in the precautions he failed to take. By 1917, Germany no longer had cables in the Atlantic, so Zimmermann had his message sent from Copenhagen to a relay station on the coast of England, making it an easy intercept for Room 40, the code-breaking arm of the British Admiralty. Zimmermann’s seeming indifference to the danger he was walking into (and his compatriots along with him) is just short of laughable, as is, at least in my opinion, the lackadaisical behavior of the fictional Von Bork. 

But in some ways, my suspicious mind goes further than this. The victory that Holmes achieves  in "His Last Bow" is too easy. Some have commented that writing about espionage just was not a strength for Doyle, hence the too-tidy solution. In much the same way, the interception of the Zimmermann Telegram seems to have been much too easy. Given the extremely serious-minded approach Germany took toward war, as well as the detail-oriented mindset they were famous for, even at the time, it seems  unbelievable that the Zimmermann Telegram would be offered up on such a perfect little platter. Might Doyle’s story have been a warning to the Allies to not let their guard down? Perhaps a tongue-in-cheek way of saying, “Do not get distracted. Nothing is this easy. Watch out for the other shoe to drop!”? I have  advanced similar thoughts regarding "The Bruce-Partington Plans," and of course there are no answers. It is, however, fun to think of Doyle as a much keener student of geopolitics (but perhaps not espionage) than he is given credit for. 

Saturday, October 22, 2022

October News and Announcements

It was a triumphant return to Zoom this month for The Parallel Case of St. Louis!  Nobody was sick, we just missed our out-of-town friends.  And our friends came out to play!  Almost 50 folks attended the meeting last weekend and it was great to see everyone.  We are experimenting with an alternating schedule of Zoom and in-person meetings right now.  More details on this schedule below.

Holmes in the Heratland is getting closer and closer!  Many of our out-of-town friends got to see the new Holmes in the Heartland website for the first time last weekend and excitement is growing!  If you haven't reserved your spot for next July's conference here in St. Louis, you can do so on the website now.

A new book edited by Rob Nunn and Brad Keefauver, The Monstrum Opus of Sherlock Holmes, is now available.  This book is a new collection of 17 essays arguing that some of Holmes's most famous cases were actually cover ups for something much more monstrous.  Our own Heather Hinson appears in this collection as well, connecting the ancient lore behind Ghostbusters to a familiar family in the Canon...

Enola Holmes 2 will be released next month on Netflix and new trailers seem to be coming out every week.  This will be sure to get some folks talking about Holmes!

Our November meeting will be in-person to discuss "The Dying Detective" on November 12.  You can RSVP on the Facebook event page.

We will return to Zoom in December to talk about "The Devil's Foot."  Information for that Zoom meeting will come out in November.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Bruce-Partington Sub-Conscious Musings

Another offering in the alternative-reality game of "where did ACD get the idea to write that fictional story?" This entry in that game: Bruce-Partington Plans (BRUC). 

Set up the Game:

Where did ACD get the ideas for the plot of Bruce-Partington Plans?

BRUC was first published in 1908 in the Strand Magazine. Previously, The Adventure of the Naval Treaty had been published in October, 1893, which like BRUC, also involved espionage and theft of secret papers from the Royal Navy.

The Game proceeds:

Notably for purposes of this game, ACD had killed off Sherlock Holmes in The Final Problem published in December 1893. Holmes' death left the newly created fans of Holmes bereft, and also deprived the Strand of a popular selling point. Other authors at that time took the opportunity try to fill the gap by offering detective stories in the fashion of Sherlock Holmes. In 1894, Strand published a series of stories by Arthur Morrison about a private detective named Martin Hewitt. The August 1894 issue had the story "The Dixon Torpedo" about the theft of secret plans for a naval torpedo, an underwater naval weapon, from a locked room, and the consequent danger to the Royal Navy if those plans fell into the wrong hands. Morrison's story even includes a drawing of the rooms where the theft occurred, just as Naval Treaty had a drawing of the scene in that story.

After the Parallel Case meeting on Oct. 15, 2022, I obtained a copy of "The Dixon Torpedo" and read it. It is available for free at Project Gutenberg:

"Dixon Torpedo" is a short and fun story. But Morrison's story does not measure up to all the good qualities of ACD's writing, such as pacing, drama, colorful descriptions, and character study. But to be fair, it has a decent plot involving espionage, a locked room mystery, and a private detective who is willing to do a bit of burglary for a good cause. And it has missing secret naval plans, combining detective mystery with a spy thriller.

Thus, while Holmes was temporarily dead (in a literary sense), Morrison gave us private detective Martin Hewitt and a mystery plot that fired up feelings of British patriotism while filling the hole left by Holmes's absence for detective stories in the pages of Strand Magazine. Then, Holmes was raised from the dead in 1903, and BRUC followed in 1908.

To Conclude this Game:

ACD probably borrowed plot ideas from Arthur Morrison's story "The Dixon Torpedo" (1893) when he wrote BRUC (1908). The story about the theft of plans for an underwater submarine is too similar to theft of plans for an underwater torpedo to be mere coincidence.

Morrison certainly copied ACD's use of a clever private detective as the protagonist, and was likely influenced by Naval Treaty (1893) when he wrote "Dixon Torpedo" in 1894.

In short, first Morrison copied Doyle, and then Doyle copied Morrison, returning the compliment of copying another author's ideas. 

Game over.
Until the next installment. 

We now return to objective reality, where Holmes is real, and Martin Hewitt is merely a fictional character created by English author Arthur George Morrison (1863 to 1945). Holmes may have his literary knock-offs and rivals, but no real life rival since the demise of Prof. Moriarty.