Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

All reviews copyright 1984-2012 Evelyn C. Leeper.

THE EXPLOITS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES by Adrian Conan Doyle and John Dickson Carr:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 12/27/2002]

In regard to my comments about MORE HOLMES FOR THE HOLIDAYS, long-time reader Ian Gahan writes: "Did you ever read the book THE EXPLOITS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES written by Adrian Conan Doyle and John Dickson Carr? ... It consists of 12 tales that are based on the unsolved cases that Dr Watson refers to in the original tales. Adrian was the son of Arthur. To a non-Sherlock expert they seem to be well up to the standard of the originals. Some of the titles are 'The Highgate Miracle', 'The Abbas Ruby' and 'The Deptford Horror'."

Yes, indeed, I have read that. In fact, when I started reading Sherlock Holmes stories, those were the only non-Canonical stories available. Now I have an entire bookshelf of pastiches, and I by no means have all of them. THE EXPLOITS are still among the best, however. Among the newer ones, I find the novels add a lot of extra baggage to Holmes (romantic entanglements, political axe-grinding, etc.) while the short stories are often too light-weight and insubstantial.

To order The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes from amazon.com, click here.


THE ADVENTURES OF BRIGADIER GERARD by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 12/26/2003]

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's THE ADVENTURES OF BRIGADIER GERARD is a humorous picaresque novel of a French soldier of the Napoleonic Wars, who is a first-person narrator who doesn't realize he's a rascal and a bit inept, but manages to let us know. Doyle is, of course, better known for creating Sherlock Holmes. Though he said he expected to be remembered for his historical novels, I'm not sure this was one of the ones he was thinking of.

To order The Exploits and Adventures of Brigadier Gerard from amazon.com, click here.


THE ANNOTATED LOST WORLD by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, with annotations by Roy Pilot and Alvin Rodin:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 04/07/2006]

THE ANNOTATED LOST WORLD by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, with annotations by Roy Pilot and Alvin Rodin (ISBN 0-938-50123-2) is notable as much for its illustrations as for its annotations. Frequently one page will have the illustration from the Strand publication, and the next will have an illustration from a scientific journal which clearly served as the model for it. Reading it while reading Theodore Roosevelt's THROUGH THE BRAZILIAN WILDERNESS does point out that Doyle did a very good job of writing the journal of an expedition to the South American wilderness.

To order The Annotated Lost World from amazon.com, click here.


"The Greek Interpreter" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 02/12/2016]

Not all of these are original, although I have tried to add enough that I am not just repeating other people's previous observations. There are also comparisons with the Granada version of the story (with Jeremy Brett as Holmes).

[Spoilers ahead.]

1) The fact that Mycroft is as skilled in deduction as Sherlock does not prove that it is hereditary. The training or environment may have started when they were children with the same tutor (or whatever).

2) It has been noted by many that Mycroft and his "reasoning from an armchair" is clearly the inspiration for Nero Wolfe. The description of Mycroft as "absolutely corpulent" is the clincher. (That "Nero Wolfe" has almost all its letters in common with "Sherlock Holmes" is probably no accident either.)

3) Sherlock and Mycroft must have astonishingly good eyesight to be able--from a second-story window across the street--to see chalk marks on a jacket, to determine the type of footwear, to tell that the skin is lighter on one side of the forehead than the other, and to determine that he is carrying a rattle and a picture book (rather than some other book or magazine).

4) The reference to "wealthy Orientals" does not imply that Melas spoke any east Asian languages. In Doyle's time, "Oriental" referred to any place from the eastern Mediterranean to Pacific Ocean, Greece being on the western edge of that vast area. Greece's designation as "Oriental" is no doubt due to its previous condition as part of the Ottoman Empire, even though it had won its independence in 1830.

5) Even the fact that Melas says, "I interpret all languages--or nearly all..." does not indicate proficiency in what we would now consider "Oriental" languages. If he were proficient in (say) Japanese, he would be in demand for that as much as for Greek, if not more, due to the dearth of Japanese interpreters. In fact, it would be even more so, since ancient Greek was taught in the more highly regarded schools, and while ancient and modern Greek differ, they differ less than Old and Modern English (for example).

6) I'm not sure I would call an hour and forty minutes "almost two hours."

7) The combination of a slate and a pencil seems odd--the Granada version has chalk.

8) There is a question of whether in the following exchange it would be clear to someone unfamiliar with the language that the second part had been added. It is clear that Melas would have to speak his part as a single sentence, with no pause between what he was told to say and what he added. Kratides merely needs to leave out the punctuation. Also, Greek does not require separate words for subject pronouns, nor does it use the word "do" or other "helping verbs". If one examines the exchange it is clear that the additions are only one or two words. Whether Melas could think fast enough to pull off the "sentence combinations" is the real question.

  Q: You can do no good by this obstinacy. Who are you?
  A: I care not. I am a stranger in London.
  Q: Your fate will be on your own head. How long have you been 
     here?
  A: Let it be so. Three weeks.
  Q: The property can never be yours. What ails you?
  A: It shall not go to villains. They are starving me.
  Q: You shall go free if you sign. What house is this?
  A: I will never sign. I do not know.
  Q: You are not doing her any service. What is your name?
  A: Let me hear her say so. Kratides.
  Q: You shall see her if you sign. Where are you from?
  A: Then I shall never see her. Athens.

9) When Melas says, "My very next question might have cleared the matter up," one wonders what it could have been that would have cleared it up, especially given the constraints in length for questions and answers.

10) Mycroft places an ad in the newspapers, the sole effect of which is to alert the villains. They do get a positive response, which they then decide not to follow up on because "the brother's life is more valuable than the sister's story."

11) In this early Holmes story, Doyle is careful to have Holmes follow all legal procedures, e.g. obtain a warrant. In later stories, Holmes has no qualms about breaking into houses when he deems it necessary, nor does Watson do more than mildly remonstrate him. Even in this, and with a warrant, Holmes "bends" the law by forcing a window to gain entry.

12) How does Holmes know that the carriage left within the last hour?

13) The story has a charcoal lamp generating the poisonous fumes, but what are these fumes? Carbon monoxide is odorless. The Garanda version has it as sulfur fumes.

14) If one cannot strike a match in the atmosphere, then why would a candle remain burning? The implication is a lack of oxygen, rather than added poisonous fumes.

15) "Blue-lipped and insensible, with swollen, congested faces and protruding eyes" implies carbon monoxide poisoning.

16) In the story the delay in obtaining the warrant is what kills Kratides, who dies just after they arrive. In the Granada version, Watson says that Kratides has been dead at least four hours-- letting the police off the hook.

17) Brandy is frequently used as a restorative in Holmes stories, but in fact it is almost always a bad idea in such cases.

18) In the story Kratides never signs the papers. In the Granada version, he signs when the villains say that if he does not sign Sophy is of no use to them and they will kill her. 19) Why don't the villains kill Melas and Kratides outright instead of just leaving him in a room with a charcoal lamp? (In the Granada version, they may actually have killed Melas.)

20) The story ends with a report of the death of two men traveling with a woman, but it is several months later. Why would Sophy have waited so long? In the Granada version, Sophy has been told that Kratides will be joining them, but also seems to be under the spell of Latimer to the extent that she does not seek revenge when she learns Kratides is dead. (However, Latimer gets his punishment much sooner, and without anyone having to directly kill him.)

To order "The Greek Interpreter" in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes from amazon.com, click here.


THE POISON BELT by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 10/19/2007]

THE POISON BELT by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (ISBN-13 978-0-8032-6634-6, ISBN-10 0-8032-6634-0) is the second of the "Professor Challenger" stories (the first being THE LOST WORLD). On the whole, it is not very good as a story, with quite a few errors in science and a "happy" ending that is only happy in the same sense that the ending of H. G. Wells's THE WAR OF THE WORLDS is a happy ending. The premise--that Earth passes through a belt of poisonous aether--seems unlikely now that aether has been discredited, but it may have inspired Poul Anderson's BRAIN WAVE.

There is one quote that fits in very well with Mark's comments on the scale of the universe in the 08/31/07 issue of the MT VOID. Doyle compares our solar system to a bunch of connected corks floating on the Atlantic, and then says, "A third-rate sun, with its ragtag and bobtail of insignificant satellites, we float under the same daily conditions towards some unknown end, some squalid catastrophe which will overwhelm us at the ultimate confines of space, where we are swept over an etheric Niagara, or dashed upon some unthinkable Labrador."

To order The Poison Belt from amazon.com, click here.


"The Red-Headed League" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 08/03/2012]

Not all of these are original, although I have tried to add enough that I am not just repeating other people's previous observations.

[Spoilers ahead.]

1) Watson writes, "I had called upon my friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, one day in the autumn of last year ..." Later he says of Jabez Wilson's newspaper, "It is The Morning Chronicle of April 27, 1890. Just two months ago," and Wilson himself says, "Spaulding ... came down into the office just this day eight weeks, with this very paper in his hand." This is impossible, for two reasons. First, April 27 was a Sunday and papers were not published on Sundays in London in 1890. But also, two months from April is not autumn. The sign Wilson found before coming to Holmes said, "THE RED-HEADED LEAGUE IS DISSOLVED. October 9, 1890." (A Thursday, by the way.) This definitely places the story in autumn, but eight weeks earlier would be August 14. Yes, both April and August start with "A", but the numeric dates are completely different.

Since Holmes says, "To-day is Saturday," it must be October 11, 1890, and based on what Wilson says, the advertisement would have appeared on August 16. The problem with this is two-fold. First, though Wilson says Spaulding came to him on a Saturday, the ad said to apply on Monday, yet they "put up the shutters for the day" and headed for Pope's Court. Second, it must have been nine weeks between the two dates; see below.

2) Wilson is paid four pounds a week, and paid once a week ("on Saturday the manager came in and planked down four golden sovereigns for my week's work. It was the same next week, and the same the week after."). Wilson also later says, "... it cost them two and thirty pounds." Yet Holmes says, "[You] are, as I understand, richer by some 30 pounds." (It could be argued that Holmes was rounding off the number, but that would be unlike him. It could also be, I suppose, that he is deducting the cost of the materials Wilson had to provide.)

But a bigger problem is that if the advertisement appeared eight weeks earlier, and the League was dissolved on Thursday, then Wilson got paid for only seven weeks of work, or twenty-eight pounds. Surely Wilson would not make such a mistake.

3) Wilson brings seven sheets of paper with him for the first day ("I bought a penny bottle of ink, and with a quill-pen, and seven sheets of foolscap paper"). Even given the slowness of writing with a dip pen, wouldn't he run out of paper before his four hours were up? Maybe not, because foolscap paper is about twice the size of our current standard paper size, or of the A4 size in Britain.

4) Is it really likely that the conspirators would dissolve the League too days before the robbery? Nothing was scheduled to happen until late Saturday, so it was not as though they would be busy. As Holmes said, "The 4 pounds a week was a lure which must draw him, and what was it to them, who were playing for thousands?" Given the result was the total collapse of their plans, would saving four pounds really have seemed worth it?

For that matter, isn't making Wilson bring his own paper, pens, and ink a bit stingy?

5) After eight weeks (48 days, since apparently Saturday counted as a work day as well, or 192 hours), is it likely Wilson would be at the end of the A's (which included "Abbots and Archery and Armour and Architecture and Attica")? Even if he is working from the first edition, he has 511 pages to copy for the As--and by the way, it has no entries for Archery or Attica, and only five lines for Armour. (The 511 pages each have about nine words per column-line, sixty lines per column, and two columns per page, or roughly a thousand words per page. 511,000 words in 192 hours is 2662 words per hour, or 44 words per minute. This assumes no pauses, and doing this with a dip pen is pretty unlikely.) All later editions would be longer.

(The first edition was in three volumes, stacked rather heavily towards the beginning of the alphabet. Volume I was "A-B", Volume II was "C-L", and Volume III was "M-Z".)

And does Wilson have to copy the illustrations as well?

Baring-Gould argues it was seven days a week, because Wilson says he went "every day," but I do not find this convincing, as I have seen many stores say they are open "every day" or "daily" 9 to 5, when it turns out they really mean "every day except Sunday" or even "every weekday." In Victorian London, it is most unlikely that Spaulding/Clay would expect Wilson to come on Sundays.

6) Holmes says, "For you, Mr. Merryweather, the stake will be some 30,000 pounds," but Merryweather says, "We ... borrowed for that purpose 30,000 napoleons from the Bank of France." A pound is 0.235420 troy ounces (7.322381g) of 100% gold; a napoleon is 0.1867 troy ounces (5.801g) of gold, but because the coin is only 90% gold, it weights 6.45g total.

So based on gold content, a napoleon is worth only about 0.80 pounds, or 16 shillings. (This is close to what I have found on at least one site as the official exchange rate.) 30,000 napoleons would be only 24,000 pounds; 30,000 pounds would be 37,500 napoleons. If they are in crates, and "each crate has 2,000 packed in lead foil," 30,000 is probably a more accurate number, and there are fifteen crates.

So each crate weighs 2000 * 6.45g, or roughly thirty pounds (not counting the lead foil, or the crate itself). Even adding those, the crates are definitely individually manageable, and there are only fifteen of them, with a total weight of only maybe 750 pounds.

This means that, unlike a lot of heist films, the amount of gold to be transported is an amount that could be transported.

Some commentators think this is more than they could transport, but a pulley system would let them haul each box up into Wilson's basement and the total weight is about that of four or five men. Surely there were wagons or other conveyances that could carry that weight.

A bigger problem is how they thought they would remove the boxes from Wilson's basement without being heard. Maybe there was a coal chute that they would use with a pulley-and-wheel system to haul them up to the street.

7) If Jones had an inspector and two officers waiting at the front door of Wilson's establishment, and there was no other retreat from the bank vault, how did Holmes expect Clay and his conspirator(s) to get in?

8) Holmes says, "I have been at some small expense over this matter, which I shall expect the bank to refund"--but what expenses could he have had?

9) Holmes says, "Then I made inquiries as to this mysterious assistant and found that I had to deal with one of the coolest and most daring criminals in London." Where was he making these inquiries, and on what basis--especially since he apparently knew at the very beginning who "Vincent Spaulding" was: after Wilson's description of him, Holmes replies, "I thought as much. Have you ever observed that his ears are pierced for earrings?" This can hardly be a random question.

10) Holmes says, "Saturday would suit them better than any other day, as it would give them two days for their escape." This, and other references firmly fixes the case as taking place on a Saturday. But if the conspirators wait until almost midnight to start, how does that give them two days (unless Monday is a bank holiday, of which there are none in the autumn)?

11) And as Baring-Gould and others ask, where did all the dirt from the tunnel go, and if Watson could smell the hot metal from the lamp, wouldn't Clay have been able to also?

12) Saxe-Coburg Square does not exist, nor does Pope's Court (neither number 7 nor number 4, both of which are given as the address of the Red-Headed League), but there is a 17 King Edward Street, near St. Paul's.

To order "The Red-Headed League" in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes from amazon.com, click here.


"A Scandal in Bohemia by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/05/2015]

Not all of these are original, although I have tried to add enough that I am not just repeating other people's previous observations.

[Spoilers ahead.]

1) No one really knows whether it is "I-ree-nee" or "I-reen" Adler, though the consensus seems to be "I-ree-nee". My own feeling is that when she was born in New Jersey, it was "I-reen" but when she became a European opera star, she changed the pronunciation to "I- ree-nee".

2) You can tell this is an early story, because Watson writes that Sherlock Holmes "was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen"--the "I take it" indicating either uncertainty, or some strange acknowledgement of a better authority than himself.

3) At times Holmes claimed he never took credit for his detection efforts, yet Watson reads about him in the newspapers in conjunction with three international cases. That he would actually have read anything about something the Holmes "accomplished so delicately" for the royal family of Holland seems doubly unlikely. (This is similar to the problem in "The Boscombe Valley Mystery"-- the mere fact of its publication would reveal all those details that Holmes wished to keep from the main participants in the case.)

4) The date, as is frequently the case, is disputed--it seems that Doyle was often sloppy with his dates. In this case, the starting date given (20 March 1888) is a Tuesday. But "we have three days left" until the next Monday makes this impossible, unless Holmes is excluding both Saturday and Sunday. There is no reason to exclude either in this situation, and in any case, Saturday was a working day (or half-day) for the majority of the population.

5) In this story, Holmes "threw across his case of cigars" and later "sent up a great blue triumphant cloud from his cigarette." In other stories, there are references to pipes, but so far as I recall Holmes did not go so far as to take snuff or chew tobacco.

6) Holmes makes all sorts of deductions based on the King of Bohemia's physiognomy that no longer have any credence--with no longer think that "a thick, hanging lip, and a long, straight chin" are " suggestive of resolution pushed to the length of obstinacy."

7) Why can the details be revealed after two years? True, the King would be married by then, but it seems very callous of him to say that just because Clothilde would be trapped, he would not mind embarrassing her with these revelations. Then again, he does seem a bit uncaring of other people's feelings.

8) There is also no explanation of why Irene Adler wants to ruin the King's marriage. One could presume the King might be reticent to say, but the explanation than "rather than I should marry another woman, there are no lengths to which she would not go" seems mere wishful thinking on the King's part. (In at least some of the dramatizations, there is reference to the fact that the King had promised to marry her, but that is not in the original text.)

9) Unlike in the movies, and indeed in later stories, here when Holmes appears at Baker Street in disguise as "a drunken-looking groom, ill-kempt and side-whiskered, with an inflamed face and disreputable clothes," Watson does not attempt to chase him out as an interloper, but merely notes he "had to look three times before [he] was certain it was indeed he," implying that he suspected that from the first and was merely verifying it.

10) Godfrey Norton seems singularly unprepared if, when time is apparently of the essence, he has to stop on the way to the church to buy the ring.

11) In several of the dramatizations, Holmes shows the cabman a handful of gold coins, which seems much more convincing than merely jumping in looking like a shabby drunk and calling out. "The Church of St. Monica, and half a sovereign if you reach it in twenty minutes."

12) The less said about the errors that Doyle in the marriage ceremony the better. One must ask, though, why after the ceremony the bride and groom go their separate ways. (This is reminiscent of Hatty Doran and Francis Hay Moulton's marriage in San Francisco in "The Noble Bachelor".)

13) Holmes asks Watson if he is willing to break the law or run a chance of arrest. Watson says, "Not in a good cause," and Holmes replies, "Oh, the cause is excellent." Really? I suppose that even though Doyle makes clear he thinks the King is arrogant, he believes protecting the King's reputation (and in the process deceiving Clothilde) is more important than Irene getting her revenge.

14) Holmes's character as a clergyman reminded me of Peter Cushing's portrayal of the clergyman in DOCTOR SYN.

15) If Irene's marriage "as averse to its being seen by Mr. Godfrey Norton, as our client is to its coming to the eyes of his princess," one has to ask why she would not have been this averse two weeks earlier, or indeed whenever she threatened the King. And for that matter, if she is "a well-known adventuress" (a euphemism of the time for a loose woman), why would Norton had been surprised or shocked by the photograph?

16) For all his intelligence, why it did not occur to Holmes that Irene might realize it was a trick and not stay around until he (or someone else) showed up to take the photograph?

17) And why does Irene think she needed to keep the photograph to safeguard herself from him? Why would he consider her a threat without the photograph? Especially if he says, "I know that her word is inviolate." And if he does decide she is a threat, what is to stop him from finding and seizing the photograph then?

To order "A Scandal in Bohemia" in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes from amazon.com, click here.


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