My Words!

Too many dancing men and one too many stalkers.

S-BOMB warning. That’s SPOILER-ALERT, for those less crude than I.

One more down! Last night I read The Dancing Men, a Sherlock Holmes short story that I’ve seen depicted and read many times over the years. It’s a nice, twisted up little tale that involves cryptography (which I love). The dancing men, as they are called, are a written code, hidden behind what appears to be children’s scribbles. Holmes is keen to solve the mystery behind the riddle, but it takes time; he needs more samples of the curious messages. Mr. Hilton Cubitt asks that Holmes solve the mystery so that his mysterious wife can rest at ease. Ever since the messages began, she’s steadily declined in mental health and is just dying before his eyes and he can’t take it!

Sadly, the last message Holmes receives causes him to rush towards Mr. Cubitt’s home in a desire to prevent a tragedy, but when he reaches the station he finds he is too late. Murder has been done, supposedly the loving wife upon the trusting husband. No one is sure who shot first, only that they both suffered injury and he is dead. So, while the first half the of the story was about decoding the messages, the latter half is about solving a murder. The murder isn’t as straight-forwards as the local inspector feels, but he’s more than willing to follow in Holmes’ lead to see the great detective work. Almost immediately, Holmes discovers that there was a third shot, as well as a third person present during the crime. From there, he figures out where the third person has been staying and sends them a letter, written in the dancing men, supposedly from the injured woman’s hand. It is in this fashion that Holmes soon has his man. Once the particulars are ironed out so that the woman will not be shamed with possible guilt of murdering her husband, of which she is not guilty, Holmes quietly puts to rest the dancing men, which soon become immortalized as decor at 221B Baker Street.

It is an iconic piece of decor, really, and, outside of the bullet holes forming letters I can never quite recall, the dancing men are the first piece that always comes to mind for me. This is a brief review, but honestly, the majority of the story that interested me was Holmes’ explaining the finer points of cryptography, and there isn’t much to comment on in that regard! So cheers, I’m so close to done with this collection!

Interested in The Dancing Men? It can be purchased here.

~Lils

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A Welcome Return to Baker Street

S-BOMB warning. That’s SPOILER-ALERT, for those less crude than I.

In a curious turn of events, the short story following The Final Problem (last post’s review!) is yet another I never read. It is, however, not surprising that it is the story that should immediately follow the death of Mr. Sherlock Holmes: the triumphant return of said detective. And it is either a very enjoyable short story, or my holiday sickness fading away is causing me to rather enjoy myself. Either way, let us revisit this tale, eh?

It is titled The Empty House, and, most appropriately, half of it takes place in an empty house. It begins with Watson talking about how he remembers his friend, how he attempts to apply Holmes’ methods to cases that pop up now and again in the headlines with “indifferent” success. There is a current case that he wishes Holmes could help solve, as it is strange indeed. But as Holmes cannot do so, Watson satisfies these thoughts by visiting the home himself. While there, he bumps into a grumpy book collector who quickly leaves, but thinks nothing of it.

Naturally, Watson is visited by this man, as he’s come to apologize for his behavior, only, when Watson turns his back on him for a moment, he turns back around to come face to face with Sherlock Holmes. Normally not one to do such a thing, Watson faints at the shock. When he is revived, they discuss the events that truly unfolded at the Reichenbach falls, that Holmes realized what he could accomplish if the world thought him dead. Only Moriarty’s confederates knew otherwise, as one had witnessed Holmes’ escape. “The second-most dangerous man in London”, according to Holmes.

Well, Holmes invites Watson to help him once more, and they set out on the adventure of the empty house–and it really is an empty house. It’s across from Baker Street, where one can see the visage of a Holmes decoy set up. Holmes wishes to catch this dangerous man tonight. But the man is delayed, and Holmes gets restless, until at midnight, the man doesn’t appear on the street below–rather, he comes into the empty house himself, sets up his gun, and shoots! Holmes and Watson overtake him, call the police that were hidden on the street (we even get a nice moment with Inspector Lestrade), and all is well. Holmes explains to Lestrade that this man, Moran, was the guilty party in the curious case that had drawn Watson’s earlier attentions and to leave the attempt on Holmes’ life out of it, giving Lestrade all the credit to solving the other case. The men return to Baker Street to discuss the matter as usual, with Holmes only surprised that Moran had decided to set up his gun from the empty house instead of the street.

On that singular point, I admit to being confused. Guns naturally work better when you have a clear shot, and Moran would not have had a very good angle from the street up to the floor (am I mistaken in remembering it as the first floor (second to Americans)? Seems like The Baker Street building was only a ground floor and first floor, but I could very well be mistaken. Anyway, an unoccupied home right across the street with a level view of Holmes’ window would naturally be the ideal spot. Holmes went on at length about how skilled a hunter this man is, it seems to me that any impatience and desire to instantly kill Holmes would still have the man looking for a good angle. But that would just make for a boring story, I suppose, as the suspense of the wait for Moran as well as his entry into the empty house is a great part of the tale! Next is The Dancing Men, a tale I know well and enjoy a lot. Cheers~

Interested in The Empty House? It can be purchased here.

~Lils

 

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The Not-So-Final Problem

S-BOMB warning. That’s SPOILER-ALERT, for those less crude than I.

So, something I didn’t realize: while I’ve read and reread much of Sherlock Holmes, I’ve never actually sat down and read The Final Problem. For those of you who do not know, it is the “final” tale of Holmes’ exploits. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle killed off his popular character in this ultimate of face-offs with the dastardly Professor Moriarty.

That’s the thing, though. It’s a short story; after all these years of knowing the tale and having seen depictions of it, it’s sadly a bit of a letdown to read the real thing. It’s told from Watson’s perspective, as always, two years after the fact, in an effort to make sure Moriarty’s character is not redeemed after death.

It’s a brief story, about an excited Holmes, on the run with his dearest companion Watson, attempting to bide time until the arrest of Moriarty and his organization can be complete. Sadly, Moriarty escapes. Throughout the tale we are told about how conniving the man is, but he is a shadow. Ultimately we know little of the man other than he does not commit the crimes himself, but orchestrates them. What crimes? All manner of crimes. He is the criminal boogieman, basically. This is all well and good, and the story is not about a crime in itself, but it still feels a little sad not to have some sort of motivation to dislike the man.

Holmes is greatly impressed by the man’s intelligence, as we should be, because we know of Holmes’ own and they are able to match wits for months on end. In the end, though, this is not a story about Moriarty, but about Holmes’ fulfillment in his passions. Moriarty exists to make Holmes feel as though he’s served his ultimate purpose, and for a man so haunted by his own intelligence and skill, isn’t that what we should want?

The story is difficult for me, because it was so brief. It felt rushed, as though Doyle couldn’t wait for it to be over, and that saddens me. As a writer, I never want to reach a point where I have exhausted myself of it, but I also know I will never reach Doyle’s level… so in a way, I am relieved. I also know that he ended up picking up the pen again, so to speak, to continue on with Holmes, retrieving him from his fate at the Reichenbach Falls, so that is a relief of another kind!

Interested in The Final Problem? It can be purchased here.

~Lils

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