Sunday, November 12, 2017

Spending Some Time With Hercule Poirot

With the release of the fifth – and latest – filmed version of Murder on the Orient Express, interest has increased even more from an always high level in the world-famous Belgian sleuth, Hercule Poirot. With that in mind, I was prompted to weigh in with some of my own rambling thoughts and observations.

Discovering Hercule Poirot

I first became aware of M. Poirot in the fall of 1978, when the film Death on the Nile was released. I was thirteen, and had been a developing mystery fan for about five years, although my exposure to the genre was still quite limited. I had discovered mysteries by way of the excellent series The Three Investigators – nominally for children, but still amazingly readable as an adult. From that, I pivoted to The Hardy Boys – there were a lot more of those to enjoy and collect, but sadly, the plotting and writing just don’t hold up nearly as well from a grown-up perspective. At the age of eight, I had discovered just a tiny bit about Solar Pons, the Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street, and then at ten, in 1975, I found Mr. Sherlock Holmes himself, and never looked back.

From then to now, Sherlock Holmes has been my greatest hero – but certainly not the only one. In the years immediately following my initiation into the Holmesian World, I began to encounter a few of the other greats. First was Ellery Queen, another sleuth that I avidly admire and advocate to the present day. The next was Hercule Poirot.

In 1978, someone in my hometown had remodeled and reopened a tiny theater on our main street that had been there since the 1930’s. (Or perhaps even earlier. It’s still there, and in the intervening years it’s closed and reopened again any number of times. One of my lottery daydreams is to buy it – it’s for sale again right now – and make the upstairs into a writing office and show the movies that I like on the ground floor.) Back on that autumn 1978 evening, I had seen in the newspaper that Death on the Nile was playing, and I convinced my dad to take me.

Mysteries weren’t exactly his thing – he loved history and John Wayne-type movies and Big Band music – but he and my mom were incredibly encouraging regarding all of my interests, and they especially supported my love of reading and then collecting books. So he and I went to the movie, and found ourselves alone in the small narrow theater. It’s one of my favorite memories, the two of us there, carried away to another world. And through that singular experience, my enjoyment of mysteries was elevated to a new level.

This film was epic in scope, filmed on location in Egypt, and with a cast of major stars. At that time, I hadn’t ever read a Hercule Poirot story, and I can’t recall if I even knew anything about him at all before seeing Peter Ustinov’s portrayal. I was to learn later just how incorrect Ustinov was in the part – he was a big sloppy-looking man without Poirot’s more diminutive neatness. (There is an anecdote that Agatha Christie’s daughter, Rosalind Hicks, saw Ustinov and observed that Poirot looked nothing like him. “He does now!” snapped Ustinov.)

What blew me away most with Death on the Nile was the story-telling technique that I hadn’t yet encountered – the famed gathering of the suspects at the end, with a neat recounting, person by person, by the all-knowing detective of how the events of the crime occurred, illustrated by accompanying flashbacks that actually showed what had happened and how all the crazed pieces of the puzzle fit together.

I was stunned by the complexity of the plot, and also by that type of denouement. There was certainly nothing like that in the typical Holmes Canon – although in the years since, I’ve encountered any number of newer Holmes stories that do use that technique – and The Three Investigators and The Hardy Boys never unmasked the culprit in quite that way. I walked out of the theater that night with a whole new elevated hunger for mystery stories, and I credit watching that particular film for making me that much more receptive to Nero Wolfe and his similar unmasking of the criminals when I first encountered him a few years later, in early 1981.

For more about Nero Wolfe and Ellery Queen, see my related blogs:

“Re-reading the Nero Wolfe Adventures - A Visit to the Brownstone of Sherlock Holmes's Son”

and “Rereading The Ellery Queen Canon”

A few days after seeing the film, I located a used copy of the novel of Death on the Nile, and began the next step of my long foray into The World of Poirot. Now, thirty-nine years later, my admiration for the man and his “little grey cells” has only increased.

In the fall of 1982, when I was starting my senior year in high school, I became aware of Ustinov’s second portrayal of Poirot in Evil Under the Sun. Somehow I’d missed this in the theater, but it was being shown on HBO. Cable television had only recently come to my hometown, and I recall getting up early on a Saturday morning to watch it. I hadn’t read the book yet, so it was all a surprise to me. (As a side note related to this film: I’ve never ever seen an episode of The Avengers, and it was years before I saw the film version of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – I’m also a huge James Bond fanatic, but I luckily read the books and learned to appreciate the true James Bond before seeing all the ultimately not-quite-right films. Thus, my initial exposure to Diana Rigg wasn’t for her more famous roles, but rather in Evil Under the Sun and her portrayal of Arlena Stuart Marshall. This has completely colored my perception of her in other roles to this day, including that of Olenna Tyrell in Game of Thrones. But – as usual – I digress.)

I continued to read Poirot in a rather hit-or-miss fashion, and was happy to find that a couple of my friends in high school were also reading them. It was fun having the random discussion about what was possibly Poirot’s finest hour, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926), or the surprise ending of Curtain (1975) – which I read out of order and long before many of the other Poirot titles.

As time passed, and I went to college, married, and found jobs, I paid attention when Ustinov’s four other Poirot outings were released, Thirteen at Dinner (1985), Dead Man's Folly (1986), Murder in Three Acts (1986) and Appointment with Death (1988). And as with all the other “Book Friends” (as my son later called them when he was small), I continued to collect and read material about Hercule Poirot. Luckily, the main books were easy to find, and one of the great treasures during that period was the massive hardcover release of the complete Poirot short stories in one giant volume, a Christmas gift one year from my dad.

Only later, when I was a more sophisticated collector, did I realize that the whole Poirot collection that I’d accumulated wasn’t quite complete, as there had been alternate versions of some Poirot stories released at different times in the past. A few of these were initially narrated by Poirot’s friend, Captain Arthur Hastings, only to be rewritten by Christie and republished at a later date in an updated setting, and with Hastings removed. Other Poirot stories were also later rewritten or expanded, with one eliminating Poirot entirely and changing the story to feature another Christie character. I’ve had a great deal of fun seeking out these original alternate or unknown “lost” Poirot stories.

Some of these altered stories include:

• “The Submarine Plans”, originally narrated by Hastings, and then republished without him as “The Incredible Theft”;
• “Christmas Adventure”, later revised as “The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding”;
• “The Mystery of the Baghdad Chest”, later revised as “The Mystery of the Spanish Chest”;
• “The Second Gong”, also originally with Hastings, and later revised as “Dead Man's Mirror”;
• “Poirot and the Regatta Mystery”, which became the Parker Pyne story, "The Regatta Mystery";
• “The Capture of Cerberus”, a completely alternate version of the same story published in The Labours of Hercules, (published posthumously);
• “The Incident of the Dog’s Ball” (published posthumously,) the original version of Dumb Witness (1956); and
Hercule Poirot and the Greenshore Folly (published posthumously,) the original version of Dead Man’s Folly (1937);

Although I haven’t read any of Christie’s stand-alone novels, such as And Then There Were None (1939), or the Tommy and Tuppence Beresford mysteries, or even anything (yet) about Miss Marple – although I do have all of that famous lady’s adventures and hope to read them someday – I do own and have read all of the books and stories featuring the friends and associates of Poirot, where they have appeared elsewhere without him. These include the non-Poirot titles (books and short stories) featuring Ariadne Oliver, Superintendent Battle, Colonel Johnny Race, and Miss Lemon.

Additionally, there have been a couple of volumes of “lost” Christies, edited by John Curran, that have been invaluable. Julian Symons included a wonderful chapter on Poirot in his amazing book Great Detectives (1981), and most recently, Sophy Hannah has Literary Agent-ed two previously unknown Poirot adventures, The Monogram Murders (2014) and Closed Casket (2016), and at least two more have been announced to follow in 2018 and 2020. Keep them coming!

Finally, I have high hopes for the re-release someday of the adventures of Jules Poiret and Captain Haven. Written in the early 1900’s by Frank Howell Evans, these stories, freely admitted by Christie to have been a strong influence on her Literary Agent-ing, have such Poirot similarities that they might almost be Poirot mysteries themselves under another name. Poiret and Haven reside in London, where Poiret functions as a consulting detective. For a while, the stories were for sale individually on Amazon, and to my everlasting regret, I waited too long before buying them, only to find that all of them that had been available, at one time over thirty, had been removed. Subsequent in-depth internet searches have failed to turn up any reprints in any other format, ever. One can only hope these Poiret adventures will once again be available at some point, and if anyone reading this has any way to bring the stories back to print, I urge you to do so.

Poirot on Film

In my thirties, I went back to school to obtain a second degree in Civil Engineering. It was a long slog, and when I was finished, my collective family gave me a graduation present of cash money. I turned around and spent it on every Poirot DVD then in existence, a very satisfying stack of box sets, most of which starred David Suchet as the little Belgian detective.

In 1989, the Poirot mantle was assumed by David Suchet, who had almost forgettably played Inspector Japp in Ustinov’s Thirteen at Dinner (1985). (In Suchet’s excellent Poirot-related biographical memoir, Poirot and Me [2014], published the year after he played the role for the last time, he relates that when playing Japp, he had no clue regarding what to do, and in the end, he resorted to simply having Japp eating something in every scene.)

As each series of Poirot was broadcast, I was an avid follower. Suchet, in my opinion, is the closest that any actor will ever get to being Hercule Poirot.

He has the look, the walk, the accent, the intelligence, and the attitude – although he is missing Poirot’s notable green eyes, and one can’t blame him too much for that. Hugh Fraser is the perfect Arthur Hastings. Philip Jackson is perfect as Inspector Japp, and Pauline Moran is perfect as Miss Lemon. The filmed exteriors of Florin Court in Charterhouse Square, London, as Poirot’s later lodgings, Whitehaven Mansions, are perfect as well – although the real-life location of this building, far from the specified Mayfair location, is nowhere that Poirot would choose to live. (More about that in a moment.)

Of course, the television show made some changes. Many of the earlier original short stories have Poirot and Hastings sharing lodgings at the modest 14 Farraway Street, in a flat that, as described, is very similar in tone to Sherlock Holmes’s 221b Baker Street, and with a Mrs. Hudson-like landlady, Mrs. Murchison. In the Suchet television show, all of these early Farraway Street stories have been reworked to include Hastings and Miss Lemon – whether they were originally in them or not – and with Poirot already living in Whitehaven Mansions, a location where he would not move until after Hastings had married and moved to Argentina following the mid-1922 events of The Murder on the Links (1923). After that event, Hastings would only be irregularly involved in Poirot’s investigations during his visits back to England.

Another change to Poirot television series was the regular inclusion of Inspector Japp, who didn’t appear nearly as frequently in the books. A more unusual alteration is the implication in the television films that Hastings is, like Miss Lemon, Poirot’s employee, when in truth he was employed as the secretary of a Member of Parliament before his emigration from England. There were other times that the Suchet episodes veered considerably from the original stories, most noticeably on those occasions when the scripts that they used were completely new pastiches with only the same title in common with the original publication. (This, for instance, was quite evident in 1993’s “The Case of the Missing Will”.) Doing this was sometimes understandable, as some of those original stories were only a few pages long, making it necessary to flesh them out in order to have enough material to fill an entire episode.

Sometimes, however, these changes were done to my great disappointment. For instance, in 2013, toward the very end of Suchet’s run as Poirot, the stated goal was to film every Poirot story – although in fact a number weren’t actually filmed. (See below.) One set of tales that was saved for last was the excellent collection of twelve related stories, The Labors of Hercules (1947). This was condensed into one film, with only a few stories actually used and only mere nods as passing references to a number of others from the book. I realize that by then, the money was running out, and that a significant effort was likely required to convince The Powers That Be to financially fund making the final films, but this book should have been produced as its own twelve-episode series.

And then there is the matter of The Big Four (1927), which originally appeared as four related but separately written and published stories that were later refashioned by Christie into an epic novel – and one that is quite a bit different from the usual Poirot, being much more similar to a Sax Rohmer "Denis Nayland Smith" adventure than any previous (or since) Poirot books. The television version was scripted for a 2013 broadcast by Mark Gatiss, the man half-responsible for that most terrible and damaging of shows, the BBC Sherlock (running from 2010 to 2017, hopefully dead and never to return.)

The Big Four is one of my favorite Poirot books, with its unusual plot, and the inclusion of Poirot’s nearly otherwise unmentioned brother, Achille. Typically, Gatiss butchered it, cutting out some of the best parts. He had incorrectly stated that the book was “an almost unadaptable mess” (as per his Twitter pronouncement.) Well, he un-adapted it, all right, totally ruining it in the process. It isn’t the fault of Suchet or the other actors – they worked with the slop that had been given to them by Gatiss. And the anticipation that I felt for years while waiting to see this particular book filmed was so spoiled when I finally viewed the finished product that I’m still angry to this day. I hope that in the future, Mark Gatiss will be involved in ruining things related to other people’s heroes and will leave those that I admire and care about alone. (I know, I know – I shouldn’t be so wishy-washy, and I should say what I really think about Mark Gatiss instead of sugar-coating it. But this, after all, is a family blog.)

The Matter of Poirot’s Age

Suchet fittingly ended his run as Poirot with Curtain, correctly set (as shown in the episode) in 1949. Poirot’s age has long been debated, but I’m of the school of thought that Poirot lived to a normal old age before dying normally – and not exceeding a normal life-span to some magical sesquicentennial. (There are some who disagree - the same ones that also believe that Sherlock Holmes is still alive, out there somewhere, and that Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin never age. This is wrong.)

The confusion about Poirot’s age comes from the fact that he was described as retired and elderly in the first book, The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920). Therefore, people picture him already quite old by then, and then it's assumed that the stories must be occurring in real time – with Poirot getting even older along the way. Thus, when Curtain was published fifty-five years after the first book, in 1975, Poirot must have been quite old indeed. However, certain facts have to be considered when considering Poirot’s true age.

First, while Poirot was retired in 1916, when we first meet him in Essex as a wounded refugee living with a number of other Belgians in the same situation, there is nothing to absolutely imply that his retirement was due to age. Rather, it was more likely due to the fact that he had been forced from his country by the Germans, causing him to lose his profession. (It’s also likely that he had already stopped being a policeman in order to fight the Germans after their invasion two years before.) Additionally, it’s possible that he “retired” due to the injury that he had in that early book, and many afterwards, which gave him a limp and required him to use a cane.

Next, one must remember that to Hastings, always someone oblivious at best, anyone older than him might seem elderly. Therefore, he might dismiss Poirot, certainly only his mid-forties during the War, at times because of his age. That would be due to Hastings’ perception and attitudes about persons older than himself, and not necessarily because Poirot was, in fact, old.

One might recall that at times others also implied that Poirot was elderly. But might this not have been one of the affectations that he used so skillfully in order to keep people from taking him too seriously, while he recorded every fact that he observed for further use? On several occasions, Poirot privately admitted that his too-strong accent, his mannerisms, and even some of his comical behaviors, were carefully contrived so that he might be ignored while he observed and built his cases. No doubt this was also quite effective when he was a Belgian policeman. (I believe that the American detective, Columbo – whose adventures I have never read or watched – used much the same method.) And maybe, just maybe, some of these factors were also exaggerated by Agatha Christie, the Literary Agent who presented so many – but not all! – of Poirot’s adventures to the world, for her own purposes. After all, it’s said that she didn’t like Poirot very much, so maybe she found ways to subtly diminish him.

It’s been related that Christie recorded the events of Poirot’s last case, Curtain, in the middle of World War II, when she, living in London, feared that she would be killed by German bombs. That book, along with the final Miss Marple book, Sleeping Murder, (published in 1976), was stored in a bomb-proof safe. Only at the end of her life, in the 1970’s, did Christie allow these books to be revealed.

If Curtain was in fact recorded in the early wartime 1940’s, then Poirot would have already been dead by then. But since he lived for a bit longer, I suspect that whatever book Christie, as Literary Agent, actually stored in that safe was some other Poirot case – possibly something so shocking that the world was not yet prepared for it – and that the book was not Curtain.

Some would insist that since ten Poirot adventures were published from the 1950’s through the 1970’s, this is an indication that he was still alive and functioning during that entire time. After all, these books contain elements related specifically to those decades which must certainly tie the story to the years in which they were published. I maintain that these cases, all published after Poirot’s death in 1949, were updated by Christie by inclusion of various sentences or references here-and-there in order to make them seem as if they were occurring contemporary to their publication. Actually, these ten tales all took place during the short period between the end of World War II in 1945, and Poirot’s death four years later.

(Many also take the position that Nero Wolfe magically did not age throughout the decades when his adventures were being published. Coincidentally, the final Wolfe book presented by Literary Agent Rex Stout, A Family Affair, was published in May 1975, within months of the September 1975 appearance of Curtain. Similar to Poirot’s situation, wherein later adventures were updated to appear contemporary with publication, I believe that the final two Wolfe books, 1973’s Please Pass the Guilt and A Family Affair, were altered to seem as if they were occurring in the 1970’s, when they actually took place in the late 1960’s, and that Wolfe died in 1971 at the ripe old age of 79 – quite an accomplishment for someone who had such an adventurous and dangerous youth, and who maintained such a sedentary and well-fed middle-age onward.)

Based on the idea of cases updated to seem up-to-the-minute, the following Poirot adventures actually occurred in the late 1940’s, rather than near the time of their publication dates . . . .

Mrs McGinty's Dead (a.k.a. Blood Will Tell) (Published in 1952)
After the Funeral (a.k.a. Funerals are Fatal) (1953)
Hickory Dickory Dock (a.k.a. Hickory Dickory Death) (1955)
Dead Man's Folly (1956)
Cat Among the Pigeons (1959)
The Clocks (1963)
Third Girl (1966)
Hallowe'en Party (1969)
• Elephants Can Remember (1972)
Curtain (1975)

. . . and therefore it’s quite foolish to think that Poirot was well over one-hundred years old at his death.

From the facts in the books, I postulate that Poirot was born in 1870. This is supported by the story “The Penultimate Problem”, as related by someone with the unique sobriquet, “SolarPenguin”. Dated April 27th, 1891, it’s a short narrative from the diaries of Dr. John H. Watson, recounting a conversation that he and Sherlock Holmes were having in Belgium while both were unknowingly headed toward a rendezvous with Professor Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls on May 4th. They are interrupted by “a young Belgian, a small man with a large moustache” who tells them that:

“I have recently joined the Belgian police force because I hope to become a detective. What interests me about such work is not your dull, scientific tasks of analysing shirt-cuffs or tobacco ash. Mais non, c'est la psychologie. Using the little grey cells of my mind to enter the mind of someone else – the criminal.”

This little adventure can be found at:

Interlude: Poirot and Sherlock Holmes

This story, "The Penultimate Problem", is important, because it helps to link Poirot to that greater world of Master Sleuths, of whom the most prominent citizen is my greatest hero, Sherlock Holmes. (Some people are fanatics for sports teams. Not me. I’m a Missionary for The Church of Sherlock Holmes.) Holmes also encounters Poirot in Julian Symons’ tale, “Did Sherlock Holmes Meet Hercule - ?” But I believe that they had other contacts as well.

Since discovering Sherlock Holmes in 1975, I’ve played The Game with deadly seriousness. This mean that Holmes and Watson are considered to be have been real historical figures, and not characters in stories. Related to this, I do the same with other individuals, such as Nero Wolfe, Ellery Queen, Solar Pons, and Hercule Poirot. Since the mid-1990’s, I’ve maintained an overall Chronology of the lives of Holmes and Watson, as based upon the stories in the original Holmes Canon, as well as all of those other thousands of traditional narratives that I’ve collected in the form of novels and short stories, radio and television episodes, scripts and movies, fan fictions and unpublished manuscripts. And along the way, I also keep chronologies for Wolfe, Queen, Pons, and Poirot too.

I believe that when Poirot came to England as a refugee in 1916, it was with Holmes’s advice and blessing that he chose to stay and set himself up as a consulting detective at 14 Farraway Street, sharing rooms with Hastings. Additionally, Poirot worked upon occasion with Solar Pons, who had a family relationship with Holmes, and who maintained his own consulting practice at 7B Praed Street, near Paddington Station. In fact, Poirot, thinly disguised as “M. Hercule Poiret” of the French Sûreté, is of assistance in the summer of 1938 in the Pons narrative “The Adventure of the Orient Express”.

In the fall of 2013, I made the first (of three so far) Holmes Pilgrimages to England. I’ve worn a deerstalker as my only hat from the age of nineteen in 1984 to the present, and it was certainly with me on each of those trips as I visited countless Holmes-related sites. I had planned that first trip for literally decades, using more than two-dozen Holmes travel books in my collection, and if a site wasn’t related to Holmes, I pretty much ignored it. (As I’ve related elsewhere, I didn’t go on the London Eye, because it has nothing to do with Holmes, but I did visit The Tower of London – not for its historic or tourist aspects, but because it has figured so importantly in numerous Holmes pastiches.)

I did allow a few non-Holmes sites to creep in. I repeatedly visited the site of Pons’s home at 7B Praed Street, and I even made a pass by No. 30 Wellington Square, James Bond’s flat in Chelsea. And I tried to find Poirot’s lodgings as well.

Before I left on that first trip, I did some Poirot research, and conferred with a number of Poirot experts, with mixed success. One only has to check the maps, then and now, to see that there is no Farraway Street, where Poirot and Hastings lived after the War and into the early 1920’s, and there is no Whitehaven Mansion in Mayfair. Through my own research, I decided that this is the actual No. 14 Farraway Street, about halfway between 7B Praed Street and 221 Baker Street:

And this is the likely location of Whitehaven Mansions in Mayfair:

Of course, while I was there, I couldn’t miss visiting the art deco masterpiece that was used as the exterior for Poirot’s upscale residence, Florin Court in Charterhouse Square, a part of London quite removed from Mayfair, and very unlikely indeed to have a building that would attract Poirot’s specific tastes:

Here is me and my deerstalker at what is recognized by millions as Poirot's residence:

And now, some more About Poirot in the Media

As mentioned, Suchet filmed a majority of the Poirot stories – but not all of them. For instance, Poirot was in a 1930 play, Black Coffee, which was novelized in 1998 by Charles Osborne, but never filmed by Suchet. Other stories, some mentioned previously, that were not adapted for one reason or another include:

• “The Lemesurier Inheritance” from The Labours of Hercules. The television episode only mentioned the name “Lemesurier” in passing;
• “The Market Basing Mystery”, later adapted to become “Murder in the Mews”.
• “The Submarine Plans”, which became “The Incredible Theft”;
• “Christmas Adventure”, later revised as “The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding”;
• “The Mystery of the Baghdad Chest”, later revised as “The Mystery of the Spanish Chest”;
• “The Second Gong”, which became “Dead Man's Mirror”;
• “The Capture of Cerberus”, a completely alternate version of the same story.

However, even without these stories being filmed, and with some of the others being changed significantly, Suchet’s achievement is unmatched, and he will go down in history as the defining portrayal of Hercule Poirot.

There have been many others who have played the part of Poirot. On radio, he premiered on February 22nd, 1945 on the U.S.’s Mutual Network in “The Careless Victim” with these words:

“Agatha Christie’s Poirot! From the thrill-packed pages of Agatha Christie’s unforgettable stories of corpses, clues, and crime, Mutual now brings you, complete with bowler hat and brave mustache, your favorite detective . . . Hercule Poirot!

The episode, which can be heard here . . .

. . . then opened with a statement from Agatha Christie herself. It was originally planned to have her, in England, join the beginning of the live American broadcast, but due to transmission problems – “atmospheric conditions” – a pre-recorded version (wisely obtained earlier in the day just in case) was used, allowing the Literary Agent to speak. It’s a treat to hear her state that:

“I feel that this is an occasion that would have appealed to Hercule Poirot. He would have done justice to the inauguration of this radio program, and he might even have made it feel something of an international event. However, since he is heavily engaged on an investigation, about which you will hear in due course, I must, as one of his oldest friends, deputize for him. The great man has his little foibles, but really I have the greatest affection for him, and it is a source of continuing satisfaction to me that there has been such a generous response to his appearance on my books, and I hope that his new career on the radio will make many new friends for him among a wider public.”

One has to wonder what Christie really thought, as these broadcasts were billed as Poirot’s adventures in America, with the Belgian now living in New York! (In spite of that unusual feature, they hold up well, and add to the overall Poirot Tapestry.)

For the BBC, John Moffatt played Poirot extremely well in at least twenty-five adaptations, and for many fans, he became the voice of Poirot.

On stage and in film, Poirot has been played by several actors. There was the famed Charles Laughton in 1928’s play Alibi, based upon The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

This was later filmed in 1931, with Austin Trevor becoming the first screen Poirot – although without a mustache!

(Trevor followed up with a film of Black Coffee in 1931.)

There would be a long gap before Poirot would next be seen on screen, in 1966’s The Alphabet Murders, based upon the book The ABC Murders (1936). Interestingly, this film also had Austin Trevor, but now playing a character named Judson. Presented as a comedy and painful to watch, it starred Tony Randall with a bald head and mustache as Poirot, playing him as an exaggerated buffoon:

It also featured an amazingly poorly cast Robert Morley, (who had played Mycroft Holmes much more effectively the year before in A Study in Terror) as Hastings. One should watch this film for completeness . . . and then walk away.

The Poirot World was rocked with amazement and pleasure in 1974’s incredible Murder on the Orient Express, the first of many times that this book has been filmed. Albert Finney literally became Poirot, and to many this was both the best portrayal and best adaptation.

Sadly, it appeared several years before I discovered Poirot in 1978, so I came to it late, after Poirot was already firmly set in my mind in a non-Finney way. While I still greatly admire the film, I found Finney to be difficult to understand at times, and when I later saw David Suchet’s 2010 version of Murder on the Orient Express, I was satisfied that his was the definitive portrayal.

Some find Suchet’s version too dark, but I felt that it’s his best turn as Poirot. The 1974 film – and even the book somewhat – don’t go far enough in portraying the discomfort of being on a train that is trapped in a snowy wasteland while a murder has been committed. And Suchet makes Poirot’s outrage at the terrible sin and violation and disorder of murder – and also the danger in which he found himself after revealing the solution – crystal clear. When Poirot makes his decision at the end of the story, his pain is palpable. (Compare this to the end of the 1974 version, which is almost festive – a twinkle of the eye from Poirot as he presents his alternative solutions, and then announces that the murder will go unpunished. Cue the relieved smiles and hugs and celebratory music.)

As mentioned, there have been five film adaptations of Murder on the Orient Express. One really can’t ignore the unspeakable modern-day made-for-television version from 2001 starring Alfred Molina.

The original story is buried in there somewhere, but the filmmakers have done the same abominable thing that happened with the BBC Sherlock, modernizing what should not be modernized. At least Molina’s Poirot isn't a murderous sociopathic creep. Watch it if you can:

There was also a Japanese version of Murder on the Orient Express from 2015, with the events of the mystery moved to 1926 Japan.

I haven’t seen it, and can’t understand it, but here’s the trailer. It’s . . . curious:

And then there was the video game version from 2006, with Poirot voiced by David Suchet himself – interestingly, before he was in the film 2010 version:

Finally, there is the most recent 2017 version, which prompted me to write this essay, starring Sir Kenneth Branagh as Poirot.

Months before the November 2017 release, photos were released of the various cast members, and the Poirot World was set aflame with photos of Branagh’s version of Poirot’s mustache.

Some called it a “hemp gag”, while others – well, me for sure anyway, and probably others too – described it as “road kill”. I was pretty vocal in my concern about it, and I was taken to task by several for not giving the film a chance.

One of my great pet peeves, right up there with line-cutters and One-Percenters, is when a screen adapter takes a classic work – especially one of my own favorites – something that has only grown in popularity for generations, and that is popular for so long for a reason, and is actually worthy of being filmed, and then rewrites it because he/she believes that his own vision is actually better than that of the original work. It’s supremely arrogant, and in the case of this film, and particularly the use of that Monster Mustache, I was convinced that the film makers were disrespecting Poirot to serve their own misguided visions.

I was wrong. So very wrong. I’m happy to admit it. There’s no denying that the mustache is initially and distractingly huge. And odd. And it's played by an actor named Felix Silla. But the distraction quickly goes away. The story itself has a few changes and additions, but they don’t veer too far from the basic narrative – they are all something that could have happened in the book, but just didn’t quite get recorded. The vistas in the opening of the film – even if they are computer generated and proof that if anything can now be imagined, it can be shown on film – are not to be missed. I felt like I was in Istanbul, boarding The Orient Express for that fateful journey, and then a part of the action as it made it's way to that inevitable spot where justice would be enacted.

Both Branagh’s directing and portrayal of Poirot are exceptional. I expect that he is far too busy and has too many other projects and interests to play Poirot again . . . but I hope that he does. David Suchet will always be the best Poirot to me, and he filmed almost every one of the original stories, but I would be more than happy to see Branagh also take on as many of Poirot’s cases as he can.

What's next?

The future of Poirot seems secure. Interest in the amazing Belgian detective and his “little grey cells” only increases with each passing year, and with the promise of new stories in the works, additional aspects of Poirot’s life will certainly be revealed.

Additionally, the end of the 2017 version Murder on the Orient Express features Poirot being called back to Egypt, with news of a murder “right on the bloody Nile.”

A reference to Death on the Nile? Perhaps. And if they do film that one, my deerstalker and I will be there to watch it, just like we were on November 11th, 2017 to see Murder on the Orient Express. And just like that thirteen-year-old boy in 1978 that was me who first met Hercule Poirot when there was a Death on the Nile, this fifty-something-year-old man will be tagging along on the Karnak as it sets sail through 1930’s Egypt. It might initially seem like a peaceful trip, but as anyone should know, if Hercule Poirot is around, there’s going to be a murder.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Solar Pons - The Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street

The Papers of Solar Pons - New Adventures of the Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street by David Marcum

Solar Pons – If you’ve already met him, then you know that he’s the next best thing to Sherlock Holmes. And if you don’t yet know him, what are you waiting for?

Sherlock Holmes is one of the most recognized figures in the world. Just his profile, or the items associated with him – the deerstalker, the magnifying glass, and the pipe – are enough to suggest “detective” to people from all around the globe. They may have never read a Holmes book or seen a film or television show about one of his adventures, or encountered him in any way, but they still know Holmes and what he stands for.

And for those in the know, both general mystery fans and dyed-in-the-wool Sherlockians, an acquaintance with Solar Pons provides the same kind of enjoyment. A visit to Pons's residence in 7B Praed Street is nearly as wonderful as climbing those seventeen steps to 221b Baker Street.

But who is Solar Pons, you might be asking . . . .

“Solar Pons came into being out of Sherlock Holmes . . . .” – August Derleth

In 1928, nineteen-year-old college student August Derleth (1909-1971) wrote to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, asking if any more Sherlock Holmes adventures were going to be published. (Conan Doyle, Dr. Watson's Literary Agent, had been involved the previous year when the last Holmes story on his watch, "Shoscombe Old Place", was published.) Sir Arthur replied to young Derleth that No, there won't be any more Holmes stories. (Could anyone have ever been more wrong?) Upon receiving this negative response, Derleth then decided to provide some of his own.

However, rather than relating more tales of Holmes and Dr. Watson, he ended up introducing the world to Solar Pons and Dr. Lyndon Parker, both living and working in London during the 1920’s and 1930’s. Pons solved crimes using deduction and ratiocination, often referring to Holmes as “The Master” or “My illustrious predecessor”. Pons quickly became an established master detective in his own right, and since his first appearance, he has been a particular favorite with Sherlockians.

When Derleth decided to create his own detective stories, he flipped ahead on his calendar and picked a date upon which to write his tale. “In Re: Sherlock Holmes” was how he noted the day, and when that day arrived, he sat down and began to write. Years later, when his first collection of twelve Pons stories was published, he called the book In Re: Sherlock Holmes in honor of that event. But on that day in the late 1920’s, when Derleth had set himself the task of creating a new Holmes-like character, he was starting from scratch.

“[Solar Pons is] a clever impersonator, with a twinkle in his eye, which tells us that he knows that he is not Sherlock Holmes, and knows that we know it, but he hopes we will like him anyway for what he symbolizes . . . The best substitute for Sherlock Holmes known.” – Vincent Starrett

Of course, it isn’t entirely accurate that Derleth was starting without any plan and creating things from nothing. The Holmes and Watson model that is so apparent in the Pons stories was already in place. Pons is very much like Holmes in both appearance and behavior – he smokes a pipe, plays the violin, wears the dressing gowns, does chemical experiments in his sitting room, and most importantly - he solves crimes by the old-fashioned (by then) methods of ratiocination and deduction. Additionally, Derleth mimicked the presence of Dr. Watson with Dr. Parker, who narrated Pons’s adventures. Then there's his brother Bancroft Pons (who sometimes is the British Government), Inspector Jamison of Scotland Yard, and Pons and Parker's landlady, Mrs. Johnson. Pons and Parker live at 7B Praed Street, near Paddington Station - not the same Marylebone neighborhood where 221b Baker Street is located, but not a very far walk either.

On each of my three extensive Holmes Pilgrimages (so far) to London and other spots around the Holmesland, I've arrived in London through Paddington Station. A walk down Praed Street takes me right past 7B - which is clearly not the same building that was there in the 1920's and 1930's when Pons and Parker were in residence. From there, after paying my respects to the sacred Ponsian site, I make my way on over to Baker Street, my favorite spot in the world.

Here I am, along with my ever-present deerstalker, on one of my passes through Praed Street, in front of where 7B was located:

As mentioned, the Pons stories were set in London, as had been the Holmes adventures before them, but Derleth's efforts were shifted up to the 1920’s and 1930’s. The Pontine Canon, as it’s called, runs from mid-1919, when Pons and Parker first meet and agree to share rooms in post-World War I London, through the summer of 1939, not long before England is plunged into World War II. And what about after 1939? I'm convinced that some of the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films that are absolutely set in World War II are actually Pons adventures, with his name changed to Holmes to avoid confusion - Check out the blog post exlaining this at "Basil Rathbone's Solar Pons Films" at

Between the 1920’s and the early 1970’s, Derleth produced over seventy Pons short stories and novels. The first of these were published in pre-Depression magazines, but with the financial failure over the next few years of so many of the journals that had been buying the Pons adventures, Derleth chose to turn his attention elsewhere, focusing on his widely respected historical novels. However, in 1944, Ellery Queen was putting together a landmark volume, The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes. He asked Derleth to contribute one of the old Pons tales, and this brought about new interest in the man who was known as "The Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street". Subsequently, Ellery Queen and Vincent Starrett, upon learning that there were other Pons stories from several years before, urged Derleth to collect them into a single volume. Thus, the aforementioned In Re: Sherlock Holmes was published in 1945, and afterwards, a number of other stories were written and subsequently collected. These are:

In Re: Sherlock Holmes (1945 – Also known as The Adventures of Solar Pons)

The Memoirs of Solar Pons (1951)

The Return of Solar Pons (1958)

The Reminiscences of Solar Pons (1961)

The Casebook of Solar Pons (1965)

Mr. Fairlie’s Final Journey (1968)

The Chronicles of Solar Pons (1973 – Published posthumously)

Interestingly, the first five Pons volumes follow the naming conventions of the Holmesian Canon, The Adventures, The Memoirs, The Return, The Reminiscences (which is the subtitle to His Last Bow), and The Casebook. Before he was finished, Derleth had written over seventy Pons adventures, more than the pitifully few sixty included in the original Holmes Canon.

“Now, meet Solar Pons, the Pride of Praed Street . . . The Master is not too visible – that is, to the naked eye. But you will feel his dynamic presence once again . . . Yes, dear reader, but turn a page, and again – the game is afoot!” – Ellery Queen

In addition to these collections, other Pons tales were released in different editions. In the mid-1970’s, following August Derleth's death, the Derleth Estate authorized a number of new Pons narratives to be prepared for publication by British horror author Basil Copper. He continued to release his own new Pons stories into the 1990’s, as well as offering various revised editions of his works. Additionally, a number of lost Pons stories from within Derleth’s files were found as the years passed, including another Pons novel, Terror Over London. But there have been no new Pons stories for a number of years . . . until now.

In 2014, Pons expert Bob Byrne, who maintains a significant Pons website at . . .

. . . mentioned to me in one of our frequent emails that he was thinking about having an issue of his online Solar Pons Gazette that would be completely devoted to new Pons stories, as written by fans. I was thrilled, and sat down and wrote one. Then I quickly wrote two more. I began to pester Bob off-and-on over the intervening years about making the idea into a real book instead.

At some point, I decided to pursue the idea with the August Derleth Estate. I wrote to them, introducing myself and explaining my passion for Pons, which I’d had since a young age. To my great good fortune, a contract was signed and I was designated to contribute new stories to the Great Pons Saga.

“Sherlock Holmes’s decision to live alone in the bee-loud glade left an abhorrent vacuum in the life of London . . . and how admirably Solar Pons fills it!” – Anthony Boucher

I’d first read a Pons story, “The Adventure of the Grice-Paterson Curse”, when I was eight years old, in 1973, two years before I encountered Sherlock Holmes for the first time. I credit the enjoyment of that first Pons story for putting my brain in the right place to appreciate Holmes and Watson when I encountered them a couple of years later. Later, in my teens, I found my first set of Pons books - which my wonderful parents bought for me! These were paperback reprints from Pinnacle showing Pons and Parker on the covers in habiliments very similar to that of Holmes and Watson.

Although there is some debate as to whether Holmes actually wore a deerstalker – and I firmly, devoutly, and obnoxiously believe that he did, even when he was in town! – Pons always wears one. He is very deliberate in his attempts to honor Sherlock Holmes, and for that I honor Solar Pons.

I’m very proud to be able to add to the Solar Pons legend with The Papers of Solar Pons, an authorized collection of twelve new Pons adventures:

• The Adventure of the Doctor’s Box
• The Park Lane Solution
• The Poe Problem
• The Singular Affair of the Blue Girl
• The Plight of the American Driver
• The Adventure of the Blood Doctor
• The Additional Heirs
• The Horror of St. Anne’s Row
• The Adventure of the Failed Fellowship
• The Adventure of the Obrisset Snuffbox
• The Folio Matter
• The Affair of the Distasteful Society

Additionally, this volume has a bonus Sherlock Holmes adventure, my Solar Pons origin story, “The Adventure of the Other Brother”. There are also forewords from Roger Johnson, Peter Blau, Bob Byrne, Tracy Adam Heron, and Derrick Belanger, as well as several Appendices.

I hope that you’ll join Pons and Parker as they once again venture forth into the mysterious London fogs during that murky period between the two World Wars. Along the way, meet some old friends, and discover why Pons truly is “The Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street”.

“Ah, how I envy the new reader who has yet to meet Solar Pons of Praed Street.” – Luther Norris

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Sherlock Holmes: Before Baker Street

On January 1st, 1881, Dr. John H. Watson, a recently returned wounded veteran from Afghanistan, happened to mention to an old acquaintance that he was in need of new lodgings, having recently realized that he could no long afford to keep living in a hotel in the Strand on his wound pension of eleven shillings and sixpence per day. His acquaintance, Stamford, mentioned that he’d heard someone else mention upon that very day a desire for comfortable rooms at a reasonable price. Intrigued, Watson agreed to accompany Stamford to the lab at Barts hospital to meet this person. Of course, it turned out to be Sherlock Holmes, and the rest is history.

Thus begins one of the most famous friendships ever. When one considers Holmes, so many things spring to mind – the deerstalker, (now a solid part of the tradition, even if finding it mentioned in the original narratives is a stretch,), the pipe, the deductions, the famous profile, and that phrase, “Elementary, my dear Watson!” – again, not found in the original stories, but unforgettably suggestive, nonetheless.

And one of those things most associated with Holmes and Watson is that famous address, 221b Baker Street. It was there that Holmes and Watson agreed to share rooms in early 1881 – initially something of a convenience, as Holmes undoubtedly believed that he had no need for assistance in his work, and Watson was simply hoping for someplace quiet and affordable to recover his shattered health.

But before too many months had passed, Watson became curious about his fellow lodger, and Holmes chose to reveal that he was, in fact, a Consulting Detective. On that same morning, he invited Watson to accompany him upon a murder investigation, and their destiny was fixed into place.

Since then, the Baker Street rooms have been as much a part of the Holmes legend as the deerstalker or the pipe. But what many casual fans forget is that Holmes was living somewhere else before he was introduced to Watson, and before he was able to share the expenses of moving to those comfortable rooms at a reasonable price. Holmes himself gives us just a glimpse of those earlier digs, in Montague Street, “just round the corner from the British Museum”. It was here, he tells us in “The Musgrave Ritual”, that he first lived when he came up to London to set about learning what he would need to know to be the world’s first Consulting Detective, “filling in [his] too abundant leisure time by studying all those branches of science that might make [him] more efficient

Many people, thinking that Holmes and Watson are simple characters in stories, forget that they both had childhoods and old age. Before Holmes became the legendary person that is now known the world over, he spent an apprenticeship of his own devising, learning of crimes and methods of detection to solve them. He labored to perfect those skills that he would need to accomplish his goals – specialized knowledge of the sciences, such as chemistry; the art of disguise, by way of a period in the world of acting; and refinement of his deductive skills, allowing him to see the vast majority of the facts at a glance in a way that was beyond most men. Later, he would be respected the world over, and greatly influence the methods of Scotland Yard and other police forces around the globe – but there first had to be a period when he earned their trust, and learned for himself which ways would and would not work.

Those days Before Baker Street helped make the hero that is so widely admired today. And while there have been other tales that have explored this portion of Holmes’s life, there can certainly never be enough. Thankfully, a new set of adventures specifically examining Holmes’s life Before Baker Street is now available.

Sherlock Holmes: Before Baker Street contains eleven new Holmes stories, ranging from 1862, when Holmes is eight years old, to just hours before his January 1881 meeting with Dr. Watson in the laboratory at Barts. These pre-Baker Street stories aren’t about some completely different Holmes – readers won’t find out that he’s actually a wizard, or a Vulcan accidentally stranded on Earth in the past, or some sort of bitter and secret offspring of Professor Moriarty. This is the Holmes that is our hero - just younger.

Some of today’s best Sherlockian authors have gathered together to bring greater insight into this important part of Holmes’s life, when he was still quite unknown and somewhat inexperienced, and not yet the knowledgeable and world-famous Holmes that would later state, “There is a strong family resemblance about misdeeds, and if you have all the details of a thousand at your finger ends, it is odd if you can’t unravel the thousand-and-first.” This was the period of time when Holmes was accumulating those thousand details at his finger ends.

The book contains the following newly discovered tales:

The Adventure of the Bloody Roses by Jayantika Ganguly

The Vingt-un Confession by Derrick Belanger

The Affair of the Aluminium Crutch by S. Subramanian

The Adventure of the Dead Ringer by Robert Perret

The Painting in the Parlour by David Marcum

The Incident of the Absent Thieves by Arthur Hall

The Devil of the Deverills by S.F. Bennett

Mr. Chen’s Lesson, or A Man of Honor by Derrick Belanger

The Adventure of the Amateur Emigrant by Daniel D. Victor

A Day at the Races by Mark Mower

The Strange Case of the Necropolis Railway by Geri Schear

Additionally, there is a foreword by noted Sherlockian Steven Rothman, BSI, editor of The Baker Street Journal, and also two additional stories from Watson’s original literary agent, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of the Gloria Scott” and “The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual”, the only writings in the original Canon that give details about Holmes’s life Before Baker Street.

The book, from Belanger Books, is currently available on Kickstarter, and information can be found at:

I’m very proud to have been involved with this volume, both as the editor and as a contributor, and I highly recommend it to friends of Sherlock Holmes, either on a deep or casual level. There can never be enough stories about the TRUE Sherlock Holmes, and these will happily help to support that requirement. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Actually, That Wasn’t Watson: Some Notes Eventually Circling In Upon the Major Obfuscation in "Young Sherlock Holmes"

(The following essay originally appeared in a slightly different form in The Watsonian, Fall 2016, Vol.4, No.II)

I play The Game with deadly seriousness. It started early. I first discovered Sherlock Holmes when I was ten, in the mid-1970’s, and not long after, I received a copy of Baring-Gould’s Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street. I began to learn of The Game, the belief that Holmes and Dr. Watson were living historical characters, and not simply fictional creations. It’s been a great way to enjoy spending time reading about Our Heroes ever since.

Over the next forty-plus years, as I’ve mentioned in a few – well a lot of, really – other places, I’ve read and collected literally thousands of pastiches in the form of novels, short stories, radio and television episodes, movies and scripts, fan-fiction, comics, and unpublished manuscripts. Since the mid-1990’s, I’ve been organizing and assembling a Chronology of the lives of Holmes and Watson, an ever-changing “whole art of detection” that is now well over 600 pages, breaking down each Canonical story and pastiche by year and by day and by hour, systematizing them by book, chapter, page, and sometimes even paragraph. It’s amazing to see the whole gestalt of how The Great Holmes Tapestry all fits together, and how people from all over the world have added threads that reveal ever more about the big picture.

Reading all of these thousands of pastiches and fitting them into the Chronology as I’ve done occasionally requires some serious and clever rationalizing. Obviously, there are contradictions in the various stories, and some things that are flat-out incorrect, such as when an “editor” of Watson’s notes places the Doctor in Kensington during a time when he should be living in Paddington, or if there is a statement that Watson is publishing a story in The Strand in the 1880’s, when in truth that magazine didn’t actually go into business until early 1891.

I always list those inconsistencies when reading a story and Chronologicizing it. Sometimes a part of a story will be so at odds with established Canon that it seems that it cannot be included at all – but I make it work if I can. For instance, the first two chapters of Michael Dibdin’s extremely controversial novel The Last Sherlock Holmes Story are perfectly fine, and are a part of Holmes’s massive battle against The Ripper. But the rest of the book is a scurrilous slander against Holmes, obviously so maliciously fictional that it must have been written at some later date, probably by a Moriarty, and awkwardly grafted onto Watson’s original notes in order to irretrievably damage Holmes’s reputation. I include the first two chapters of that book in The Chronology, but recommend that it be read no further.

Another famous tale that provides both the same problem and the same solution is Nicholas Meyer’s The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, in which the beginning and end of the book are quite opposed to established Canonical Fact. For The Chronology, I leave out Chapters 1 and 2, as well as parts of Chapters 4 and 17, so that the correct meat of the case, Holmes and Watson’s trip to Vienna and their meeting with Sigmund Freud, is represented, but those parts exonerating Professor Moriarty as a harmless and persecuted old man, as well as the segments incorrectly giving Holmes a damaged history to explain this persecution, are rightly ignored. (No doubt, these portions were also written and appended onto the manuscript by someone trying to rescue the evil Professor’s reputation.)

As one can see, certain cherry-picking must take place occasionally to include an adventure in The Chronology. For if I didn’t do this, then it would be a case of accepting these few incorrect parts as complete fact and therefore skewing all the other narratives that had stayed within the accepted lines. In these instances, I keep the correct parts of the story instead of throwing out the whole baby with the bathwater. And – we’re finally here at the reason for this essay – one of the big examples of making a rationalization of this type so that an adventure will be acceptable is the film Young Sherlock Holmes.

In 1985, when this film came out, I was twenty years old. I’d been wearing a deerstalker as my only hat for about a year – something that I’ve done to the present day, although I’m now on my fourth full-time deerstalker, having worn out the other three – and my hat and I settled into my seat for a matinee showing on opening day. I enjoyed the film very much, and I also learned a valuable lesson – don’t leave before the final credits are over. (I missed an interesting little epilogue at the end.)

I won’t go into how the movie was perceived at the time – possibly too influenced by producer Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones involvement, etc. My big problem with the story was that this purported to be the very first meeting between Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, negating the truth that we already knew. If this was their first encounter, then the events related in the opening chapter of A Study in Scarlet were incorrect at best, with fudged facts, or it was an actual lie. If one believes that Watson initially met Holmes when both of them were attending a London school in the early 1870’s, as shown in Young Sherlock Holmes, then the events in that laboratory at Barts on January 1st, 1881 are terribly misrepresented. Holmes didn’t make any brilliant deductions about a total stranger – Stamford was introducing him to someone whom he’d already met, albeit a decade earlier.

Instead of classifying the whole film (and the accompanying novel by Alan Arnold) as fiction and never watching (or reading) them again, I gave the matter some thought. There were a few minor objections that could be explained away, but the biggest problem was that the young man with glasses identified as Watson could not be Watson. Who, then, could he be?

The answer jumped out at me. Who is another person that grew up to be a doctor that Holmes might have encountered at that younger age, a meeting that did not contradict with his meeting Watson in early 1881? The answer was obvious: It was Holmes’s cousin, Dr. Verner.

The only mention in the Canon of this cousin is in “The Norwood Builder”, a post-Hiatus adventure wherein Watson states that he was able to move back to 221 Baker Street upon selling his practice to this Dr. Verner, whom he later learned to be Holmes’s relative:

A young doctor, named Verner, had purchased my small Kensington practice, and given with astonishingly little demur the highest price that I ventured to ask – an incident which only explained itself some years later, when I found that Verner was a distant relation of Holmes, and that it was my friend who had really found the money.

If one accepts that the young fellow with glasses in the film is Verner and not Watson, the difficulties go away.

This renaming of a character for a Holmes film is not a new idea. In my essay “Basil Rathbone’s Solar Pons Films” (The Baker Street Journal, Vol. 63, No. 4, Winter 2013 and also in this blog - see November 29th, 2016,) I explain how screenwriters in the early days of World War II, anxious to show some films of Holmes fighting Nazis, were dismayed in their ignorance to learn that Holmes was in his nineties at that point, and that Watson had already died. Therefore, they reached out to Holmes’s active successor, Solar Pons, then in his early sixties, and transformed three of his wartime cases into the first three Holmes films produced by Universal Studios – Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942), Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1943), and Sherlock Holmes in Washington (1943).

In order to avoid confusion for modern audiences, who had likely never heard of Solar Pons – and who wouldn’t go see Solar Pons and the Voice of Terror – the name was changed from Pons to Holmes, and Pons’s friend and chronicler, Dr. Lyndon Parker, was re-identified as Dr. Watson. (Unfortunately, Nigel Bruce didn’t portray Dr. Parker any better than he did Dr. Watson.) Thus, the first three Universal films, unmistakably set in World War II, and featuring bombers and bomb sites and other modern technology, were really Pons adventures. (The rest of the Universal films, however, were actually adapted from Watson’s notes, relating his and Holmes’s investigations in World War I or shortly thereafter, with only minor updates added to give the impression that they, too, were occurring in the 1940’s.)

And the same thing was done by screenwriters when preparing Young Sherlock Holmes from whatever notes from which they were working – in this case those of Holmes’s relative instead of Dr. Watson’s. If one doesn’t take as absolute gospel what is presented on the screen, but rather realizes that it has been adapted, mashed, simplified, altered, and rewritten from the true facts, with names changed to make for easier familiarity to a modern audience, then it all makes sense. Watson in this film is really Verner, because general audiences would have no idea who Verner was.

Previous objections go away. Holmes had traveled a great deal as a child, as documented by Baring-Gould. It would not be unusual for him to meet this relative, a cousin in all likelihood, for the first time when they both ended up at the same school – just as it would not be unusual for Verner’s parents to send him to a school where they knew that his slightly older cousin was already attending. (And this helps to explain why the boy in the film is so much smaller than Holmes, when Watson was actually a year-and-a-half older than Holmes. Although one can’t make assumptions based on the appearance of actors chosen to play the part, the idea that cousin Verner was younger would help to explain this.)

If one has traveled this far through this rationalization, then the next question to ask is: Was the boy’s name really Verner? In spite of Watson’s spelling it that way in NORW, I believe that it’s really spelled Vernier, exactly the same as the man who narrates the Holmes adventures “edited” by Sam Siciliano. These narratives, The Angel of the Opera, The Grimwell Curse, The Web Weaver, The White Worm, and The Moonstone’s Curse, are all related by Holmes’s cousin, Dr. Henry Vernier.

I have no doubts that this is the same fellow that we see in Young Sherlock Holmes, hallucinating in a cemetery while being attacked by pastries. Dr. Vernier doesn’t realize it as he relates his own adventures with his cousin Holmes, but he’s actually a rather unlikable character. He’s whiny and terribly emasculated. He sometimes gets his facts and dates wrong, and he tells outright fibs. And he’s extremely jealous of Watson, frequently and egregiously trying to give the impression that he, Vernier, is Holmes’s best friend. In The White Worm, Vernier even erroneously quotes Holmes as saying, “Dr. Watson and I are not quite so close as he has portrayed. In fact, Henry is my preferred companion.” Vernier deludedly believes this fact. It colors his perception so that he is convinced that he is the most involved and important figure in Holmes’s investigations, while Watson is a peripheral figure that Holmes doesn’t really like, in spite of the thousands of cases with Watson – and not Vernier – that prove otherwise.

It’s likely that Watson was aware of Vernier’s jealousy, but I don’t believe that Watson himself would be so deliberately petty as to misspell Vernier’s name in “The Norwood Builder”. Rather, I lay that error on a printer’s mistake at The Strand, or perhaps it was Doyle, the Literary Agent, who mis-copied from Watson’s notes – something which had happened before. However, this slight against him no doubt simply added to the fire of Vernier’s pique.

Verner – or Vernier – has appeared in a few other places, most notably some really excellent adventures originally published as Young Sherlock Holmes-related fan-fiction. Of course, these “editors” took their cue from the film, since they didn’t know any better, and assumed that the tales were being narrated by Watson, when it was actually Vernier. However, it was clear to me when adding these stories to The Chronology that Vernier was the true narrator, and it is now so noted.

It was announced a few years ago – in true Hollywood fashion – that a remake of Young Sherlock Holmes was in the works. I’m very curious to see what form that it might take. In the nearly thirty-two years since the original appeared, there has been quite a bit more revealed about Holmes’s life in the form of massive amounts – but never too much! – of additional stories. Andrew Lane has chronicled a number of excellent adventures in his Young Sherlock Holmes series, which has nothing whatsoever to do with the events of the film. Other “editors” of long-lost notes have also filled in many gaps. Will the new version, should it ever be made, honor the original, or go in a completely different direction?

The 1985 film has gained a certain amount of respect over the intervening years. In 2015, the actor who played young Sherlock Holmes, Nicholas Rowe, played him again, this time in a Holmes film-within-a-film being watched by the elderly sleuth, (played by Ian McKellan,) in Mr. Holmes. For those in the know, this was a neat tip-of-the-hat to honor the long thread that connects all Holmes films, stretching back for over a hundred years.

Another question I have about the possible remake is how, after all this time, they’ll be able to avoid the deep Harry Potter connections found in Young Sherlock Holmes. I’m not the first one to notice that this film, written by Chris Columbus, features two boys and a girl as the main protagonists, with Watson/Vernier looking exactly like a young Harry Potter. There is a Malfoy-like villain, a Hogwarts-like setting, and a mystery that might involve magic. Who can say if Jo Rowling was influenced by this film when she was writing the first Harry Potter book? But it’s no coincidence that the man picked to produce the first three Potter films (and direct the first two,) giving them much of their style and visual appearance, was this same Chris Columbus, making them look and feel so much like his earlier Holmes effort.

If a new version of Young Sherlock Holmes is made, my deerstalker and I will be there on opening day, just like we were back in December 1985. But however they choose to do it this time, I’m certain that the screenwriters will still be incorrectly calling Henry Vernier by the name “John H. Watson”.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Sherlock Holmes versus Jack the Ripper

I’ve been collecting Sherlock Holmes stories, both Canon and Pastiche, since 1975. One of the busiest and most important periods in Holmes's life was in the fall of 1888, during The Autumn of Terror. There have been dozens narratives about this subject over the years, each offering different and sometimes conflicting versions of the battle with Jack the Ripper. What follows is an explanation of how none of these accounts actually contradict each other, with only one version being “true”, thereby making all the others false.

Early on in my collecting and reading, it became apparent that Holmes’s investigation of The Ripper was one of the most complicated of his career. By reading all of the various accounts of Our Hero’s labors, I was forced to learn great deal about The Ripper’s crimes, almost by necessity. I’ve been able to make three extensive Holmes Pilgrimages to London and England in 2013, 2015, and 2016. During those trips, my ever-present deerstalker and I have spent quite a bit of time in Whitechapel, visiting the locations of the different murders, as well as associated buildings, such as the Ten Bells Pub. I’ve explored those streets a total of six times, two times per trip. I’ve been there three different times in daylight, and three different times at night. Two of the three nighttime explorations began with the tours conducted by Donald Rumbelow, the former City of London police officer who is the acknowledged worldwide expert on The Ripper. He and I had several discussions about Holmes’s involvement in the case, and – pointing out my deerstalker to the crowd – Mr. Rumbelow added extra Holmesian content to the tours on those nights.

I discovered the following tale during my first Holmes Pilgrimage to London in September 2013. This narrative, along with a number of other Watsonian manuscripts, were unearthed during a fortuitous encounter in St. Martin’s Street, near the Westminster Reference Library, and more documents will be released in the future, in addition to those already published. "November, 1888" was originally in The Watsonian (Fall 2015, Volume 3, Number 2), and will be included in some future volume of Watson’s works, as edited by me. I decided to put this document onto my blog for a couple of reasons: First, because since it was initially revealed, there have been a few more Holmes-versus-The Ripper narratives published, showing that the entire story has yet to be completely told; and also because I’m often writing to this-or-that person about Holmes’s involvement in the Ripper investigation, and now I can simply send them a link, instead of reinventing the wheel every time to explain just what Holmes did in those terrible days of late 1888.

November, 1888
Edited by David Marcum

From the Journals of Mycroft Holmes
26 November, 1888

I was just pouring the brandy when my brother was shown into the Stranger’s Room. It was only a few days since I had last seen him, and he looked more careworn today than he had before, in spite of the fact that the events of the last few months seem to finally be passing.

Without making it an offer that he might refuse, I filled a second glass with a healthy portion. I did not know if he had eaten this morning, although I doubted it, but I was sure that he would be sensible enough to imbibe slowly and moderately, avoiding any light-headedness. There was no room in today’s discussion for that.

I saw him glance toward the window, looking out onto Pall Mall. A smile flickered across his worn and thin face as he correctly perceived that I had spent the last quarter-of-an-hour there, looking out on the constant parade of mankind moving back and forth between St. James and Waterloo Place. How lucky they are, those passing pedestrians, whatever their fortunes or misfortunes, to be able to go about their lives in blissful ignorance.

Sherlock accepted the brandy with a silent nod and sank into the red leather chair. I settled in my usual spot across from him. He took a sip and closed his eyes. I could not recall when I had seen him appear to be so weary and downtrodden. And yet, his indefatigable spark was still there.

“How is Watson?” I asked.

He did not open his eyes. “Recovering,” he replied quietly. (A)

I was already aware of the nature and extent of Watson’s injuries, as well as of his current condition, but it seemed like a good place to begin. Sherlock, of course, realized that I knew as well, but he allowed me the courtesy of letting the conversational gambit pass unremarked.

“Does he know the truth, then?” I asked. This was something that I did not know. “About his brother’s involvement in the matter?” (B)

“No, and he shall not, if I have anything to say about it,” Sherlock remarked. He opened his eyes then. “It is bad enough that he was wounded more than once during the last few weeks. The fact that his own brother was connected with this vast conspiracy that is now known to the masses as ‘Jack the Ripper’ is a burden that he should not have to bear. He had already believed his brother to be dead. No need to learn that the man had returned to London, only to involve himself with the vile cabal that has run amuck for this entire autumn.”

My brother’s voice had risen as he spoke. It was not shrill – I had never heard my brother sound that way, although Watson had related to me recently how Sherlock had shrieked and cried out just one year ago, when he was feigning near-death from a tropical disease, as part of a trap to force an admission of guilt from one Culverton Smith. (C) I had only met Dr. John Watson a couple of months before today, during the events related to my neighbor Mr. Melas, (D) and I already knew that he was a man who did not exaggerate. At some point since our first meeting, Watson had told me some of the facts related to my brother’s earlier feigned illness. Sherlock was always willing to go to any lengths to catch a criminal, even to the point of deceiving his greatest friend in order to devise a stratagem. But I was aware that he had never had to go so far as he had the past few months, while trying to destroy that great conspiracy that had been mistakenly credited to one shadowy man, known to the press and public alike as “Jack.”

I let the silence stand for a long moment, before asking, “Do you think, then, that it is finished?”

I knew the same facts that Sherlock did, but I valued his opinion nonetheless. I have always been able to assimilate the widest variety of data and reach a true and verifiable conclusion, but I did not have his personal acquaintance with crime, and of those who think criminal thoughts. Clearly, his experience far surpassed mine. I was sure, however, that in spite of all the years of educating himself in the ways of the underworld, nothing could have prepared my brother for what he had faced since the murder of Martha Tabram on 7 August had set these events in motion. Or rather, diverted events already in motion into a completely new and bloody course.

“If the Prime Minister will let it finish,” said Sherlock.

“He gave you his word – ” I began, before Sherlock interrupted.

“His word is a sliding and slimy thing, as you well know, based on what he perceives to be important and expedient at the moment. When he learned of Prince Eddy’s Catholic marriage, and the resulting child, there were any number of actions that he might have taken. Instead, he chose the Becket solution: ‘Will no one rid me of this turbulent marriage? This turbulent wife and child?’”

“He did not commit the murders,” I reminded him. “He did not sanction them.”

“He suspected,” said Sherlock. “How could he not? As events began to unfold, could he not help but remember that he had mentioned to some of his cronies that the Crown might be in danger, thus letting nature take its course?

“You know this as well as I, Mycroft,” he continued. “The men who learned the secret from the lips of Salisbury felt as if they were charged with completing a task. They, however, did not know how to do so. They imbued the proceedings with great ceremony and importance, thinking they were saving the kingdom from the spark that could cause a socialist revolution. In order to give themselves some feeling of legitimacy, they attached to their plan a number of the Masonic rituals that they shared with one another. By the time the plot had progressed to actually contracting a killer to do their dirty work, the thing had almost become something of a Holy Quest!” (E)

He took a breath and shook his head. Before he could continue, I said, “None of this is disputable. The men that started the hunt to locate the women who knew the secret, and eliminate them – ”

“Not just the women who knew the secret,” he interrupted. “They were after the child and the mother as well. And need I remind you that the Prime Minister told me that Annie Crook has died, when I’ve already proved to my own satisfaction that she did not? A demonstrable lie!”

I nodded. “You are correct. The plans were set in motion by the Prime Minister’s fears. But he cannot be blamed for the way that the others became involved as things progressed. He did not know of the other killers who were drawn in, like ships with mad captains sailing intentionally into the whirlpool of supposedly officially-sanctioned murder.”

“Cut the poetry, brother,” said Sherlock. “That sounds suspiciously like something that was written in that effort published by Watson last Christmas.” (F)

A Study in Scarlet, indeed,” I said. “The Ripper murders make the matter of Jefferson Hope’s revenge killings seem like a nursery rhyme.”

“You know as well as I the deadly truths that were involved in the history of most of those children’s songs.” He closed his eyes again and slumped back into the red leather. “I wonder if someday they will sing songs about Jack.”

I took a moment to stand and recharge our brandy glasses. This time, I added a bit of water to them both. We needed to remain clear-headed while we decided how best to go about saving the realm.

Finally, I said, “I believe the way to proceed is to first make sure that we know who the various ‘Rippers’ were.”

Sherlock sat up. “Agreed. Do we need something with which to write?”

I smiled at his pawky humor, surely a sign that he would recover from his experiences of the last few months. He knew that I never forgot a thing. And neither did he.

“First,” he said, “we must list Sir William Gull, and coachman John Netley, and the men who aided them.” (A) (E)

“Sir William was the man who took the Prime Minister’s implied wishes and made them real,” I agreed. “Netley and the others only too willing to aid him. And then?”

“You ask ‘and then,’ as if there was someone else who took the second place ribbon for butchery. They were all complicit, and equally guilty in the eyes of God and man. For instance there was the Duke of Shires. (G) And then there was the emasculated European nobleman, whose name we may never know. (H) Next, Henry Watson, the supposedly deceased brother of our friend, the good doctor, who overheard something of the plot and wrote himself into the story.” (B)

He had been ticking off names with his fingers. “Lord Daintry was involved as well, but to what extent? (I) Certainly as much as those Finnish butchers who happened to be in London and helped to fuel the ferocity of the murders. (J) Possibly they participated simply as a lark. And then there was the young Russian priest.” (K)

“What about Druitt, the attorney?” I asked. “Surely his guilt is less than the others. His growing madness was used to manipulate him.” (L)

“He was certainly involved, though to what degree may always be uncertain. Professor Moriarty certainly believes him to be the killer. The man clearly appears to be headed toward suicide. His actions are certainly indicative of . . . something. I am still watching him.”

“If actions are indicative, then Inspector Athelney Jones’s attempt to take the blame for the crimes must be examined. Are you certain that he is innocent?” (M)

“Jones is an idiot, but with good intentions, even if misguided,” replied Sherlock. “Somehow, reaching far above his usual limited abilities, he intuited the government’s connection with the plot, dimly grasped what discovery could do to the Crown, and took it upon himself to lure me onto a false trail, trying to seem as if he were, in fact, The Ripper. His ridiculous plan, thinking that he was protecting Prince Eddy himself, was undone in a few hours.”

“Still, the fact that this ‘idiot,’ as you call him, was apparently able to perceive what was going on – ”

“The man is innocent. He has already been called before his superiors, informed that he is a fool, and returned to his duties. The fact that he was willing to tarnish Scotland Yard with the stigma of harboring a murderous inspector, especially a murderer of the Ripper’s reputation and intensity, only shows how far he was willing to go to try to save the Crown. The fool’s self-sacrifice, in some ways, is actually admirable.”

“As was Lord Carfax’s noble attempt to do the same thing,” I added. “Attempting to divert attention away from his father’s involvement, even at the cost of losing his own life, and staining the future life of his own daughter.” (G)

“Indeed,” agreed Sherlock quietly, crossing his legs.

“And speaking of tarnishing Scotland Yard,” I added, “what about Inspector Foxborough, and all of his socialist plotting? (N) He knew the truth, or at least a great deal of it, and was willing to let the killings continue to bring about the downfall of the government.”

“That situation has taken care of itself,” said Sherlock. “As you know, Foxborough was killed. Before Sir Charles Warren’s resignation took effect, he made sure that Foxborough, as well as all indications of his crimes, were stricken from the official records.”

“Surely the Force knows what went on. There will be talk.”

“Lestrade knows the whole story. I owed him that much. A few of the other senior men know as well. Gregson, Bradstreet, Abberline. They may be unimaginative, but they can understand well enough what would happen if the truth, as they know it, were to be made public. They will quash things on their side.”

“Nevertheless . . . .” I said.

“You have doubts, brother, that the truth can be contained?”

“I do,” I said. “What are we to do, then? The conspiracy was too vast, too well known.”

“Denial,” said Sherlock emphatically. “Bald-faced denial.”

I shook my head. “I repeat, it is too well known. The policemen who assisted you know bits and pieces of the truth. They will talk, no matter what their superiors suggest to them. Others will speculate as well. They all know about different pieces of the overall puzzle. There is no way to believably present the idea that a single unknown madman was responsible, even to save the government.”

“Different pieces of the puzzle . . . .” Sherlock said quietly to himself. Then he was quiet for a moment, staring at the last of his brandy as he swirled it round and round. The morning light from the window overlooking Pall Mall caught it and made it glow.

“Nature abhors a vacuum,” he finally muttered.

“As I’ve been saying,” I replied with a certain vexation creeping into my voice. “We cannot hope that the simple explanation of a lone killer will satisfy the need for answers.”

“Exactly,” said my brother, uncrossing his legs and sitting straighter. “We have all the facts, you and I, here at our fingertips. It is quite probable that we are the only two men who know all that happened. At least,” he said, overriding my objection, “enough of the facts to have an overall understanding of the conspiracy.

“If there is a vacuum waiting to be filled with tales of the Ripper,” he continued, “then let us decisively take charge of filling it. We can provide enough tales for the curious public to choke them.”

I looked at him, not quite in shock, but with something close to it. “Sherlock, what you’re saying is impossible. We simply cannot release the true story to the public. They will not ‘choke’ on it, as you predict. They will parse it out into digestible morsels like baby birds, and squawk for the next, and then the next after that. They will dissect the truth and add their own speculations and elaborations, becoming ever hungrier, until the social disaster that Salisbury feared will inevitably come true.”

“Not,” said Sherlock, “if we give them the truth in such a way so as to make it contradict itself.”

I was quiet for a moment, digesting his idea. He watched me with a smile for a moment, enjoying as I caught up with him.

“You really might have a talent for this sort of thing,” I said quietly. “You mean to give up the whole truth, but in pieces.”


“You propose to reveal the segment implicating Sir William Gull and Netley as if it is the sole true solution, and as if they were the only killers. But you also, for instance, mean to release an unimpeachable account of the matter proving that the Duke of Shires was the only possible killer – indeed, that he could be the only possible killer.”

My brother nodded. “There are other ways to finesse the matter, as well. For instance, one version that is leaked to the public might identify Sir William by name. Another might call him, oh, ‘Sir Thomas Spivey.’ The facts will be there in the second account that seem to actually point to Gull, now called Spivey, but those who enjoy pulling at the threads of this rotten tapestry of a conspiracy will find just as much to point toward someone else.

“Of course, there will always be those who will favor the idea of a single killer with mere madness as his motive, such as Druitt or Kosminski (O) or Ostrog, or even that painter, Sickert. As these theorists preach their views, it will simply muddy the waters, and in the end confusion will reign. No one will know for certain what the truth was regarding Salisbury’s original wishes, and the murderous actions of Gull and all the others, because there will be so much available information that the public is trying to swallow that they won’t be able to get any of it down.”

“It is . . . quite elegant, in its messiness,” I said. “But how will we present these different perspectives of the same structure to the masses?”

A pained look crossed my brother’s face. After a quiet reflection, he sighed and answered. “As you previously mentioned, Watson published a story last December. (F) He had threatened to do so for quite some time – almost, in fact, since the matter occurred in early ’81. He is an incurable journal-keeper, and makes copious records of our cases on a regular basis. I do fear that he intends to publish more of them in the future.

“Be that as it may, I know that he has maintained extensive journals throughout the Ripper investigation, perhaps in greater detail than ever before. Mixed in with them are the other cases that were investigated during this time, such as the matter of the Baskerville Hound in Dartmoor last month, (P) and before that, the search for the killers associated with the Agra treasure. (Q) It was during that affair, as you recall, that Watson met Miss Morstan, whom I expect will be playing a greater part in his life before long. When some of the Ripper conspirators threatened her life while she was secreted in the Tower for her protection, the good doctor’s feelings for the lady were resolutely set in stone.” (H)

“If I understand you,” I said, “you are suggesting that we ask Watson to edit his diaries and notes into several separate volumes, multiple volumes in fact, for each killer or set of killers, and the circumstances related to their own involvement in the conspiracy. Each will be a complete narrative in and of itself, and each will identify a different Ripper suspect as the one and true villain. When one says that Sir William Gull was the killer, and all the events connected to that particular unmasking lead inevitably to him, it will seem as completely true as a similar type of journal entry that reveals, with step-by-step precision, that another man – or group – is the Ripper. With both written so as to just identify one specified killer or group, with all of the truth included to provide complete veracity, they will serve to cancel each other out, and the world will never know what really happened.”

“That is how I see it,” said Sherlock. “We can further confuse matters by relating events from cases that occurred before the Ripper murders began, and having Watson write them in such a way as to make them appear as if they are also related to these crimes, when obviously they are not. (R) This will in turn serve to cast doubt on the true events that we are placing in plain sight.”

“Watson could even make references in other diary entries related to unrelated investigations that you had been involved with the efforts to stop the Ripper killings, but never found a solution,” I added. (S)

“Or he could state that I was never asked to participate at all. (T) Many individuals know that I was involved, so once again, an element of confusion would be added to the whole mixture.”

A sudden thought occurred to me. “Would Watson be willing to do this thing that you have conceived? He values his reputation as an honest man, and rightly so. We are asking him to lie.”

“Not lie,” said Sherlock. “At least, not every time. Once he understands the need for such a deception, for such a selective . . . division of the truth, I believe that he will willingly join us.”

“Surely, you don’t mean to tell him everything,” I said.

Sherlock nodded. “He can never know the truth about his brother. In truth, he was injured before the thread connecting his brother to the matter was cut. If that part is to be revealed, it must be at some later date.”

“You say, ‘if that part’ and ‘at some later date.’ I assume that you mean, then, that these assorted versions of the bigger truth will be doled out in small spoonfuls, instead of dumped on an unsuspecting public all at once.”

Sherlock nodded. “As I said, Watson is likely to publish again, now that he has been bitten by that bug. I do not believe that he was satisfied with the way his last effort was presented. His literary agent, who also wrote the middle part of the work concerning those old doings in America, only managed to place their effort in a cheap Christmas periodical. Watson hasn’t said anything out loud, but I believe that he fancies something more permanent for his future literary efforts. I myself would prefer a definitive scientific description of my cases, possibly printed in a scholarly journal.”

I smiled. “You’ll have to write those yourself, brother,” I said. “I read Watson’s book last year, and I do not believe that he will be changing his style, no matter how much you harangue him about it. And I agree with you – he will publish again. Now it seems that, according to your plan, we will eventually need to encourage him to do so.”

“I would be tempted to say that more of these dubious stories about me will only appear over my dead body,” said Sherlock, “but I do not want that to become a necessary event, especially as I am the one proposing that we use these very same stories to bring about our plan.”

“It is not simply Watson’s reputation that may be affected if we do this,” I said. “All of these contradictory versions, with some saying that you could not reach a solution at all, will reflect upon you in ways that we cannot yet imagine.”

“A very small price to pay, I assure you,” replied my brother. “It would be a shame to have carried our burden this far, and not complete the task.”

“Still, with all of these versions being set adrift upon the waters, something unforeseen may occur. For instance, your acquaintance, the Professor, may very well use something like this to his own ends, to damage the government, or even you personally.” (U)

My brother smiled. “Perhaps someone could write a tale where you are the Ripper, Mycroft!” (V)

I sniffed. “Intolerable. Better that neither of us is tarred with that brush.”

“It cannot be helped. If the Professor does seek to add his own ingredients to the stew, it can only help to further the confusion that we are trying to create.”

“This stew that we have seemingly agreed to create,” I said. “Just how many versions of this reality do you envision?”

“As many as there are individuals who were involved in the conspiracy,” replied my brother, settling back again into the red leather chair. (W)

“If Watson intends to continue writing as you say, it should be easy to ask him to slip in contradictory references to his other non-Ripper narratives. (X)

“Indeed. And possibly someone in your department could make themselves familiar with Watson’s style, and generate something completely fictional as well. Perhaps, for instance, having the Ripper turn out to be the villain in Stevenson’s book from a year or so ago, about Jekyll and Hyde.” (Y)

“I am not familiar with it,” I said.


We sat in silence for some minutes. The brandy was gone, and I was disinclined to seek more. Each of us, I think, were contemplating the terrible crimes of the past few months, and this mad and unexpected scheme that we had concocted to steer the great ship of state back into smooth waters.

“It will work,” said Sherlock finally. “It must.”

“I agree.”

“It will not simply involve Watson’s efforts,” he added. “We will need to ensure that Watson’s narratives are not only encouraged, but released in such a way, and at appropriate times, to offset damage as it may occur. Even into the next century or beyond, if necessary.”

“That can be done,” I said. “The resources available to me will make it so.”

My brother abruptly stood. “So be it, then.” As I also stood, but not nearly so abruptly, he continued. “The details can work themselves out soon enough. For now, I must be about other business.”

I nodded. I could only imagine what other business he could have. In spite of the many demands that the Ripper matter had made upon him, he had still managed to maintain his regular practice as well, investigating a number of unconnected cases during the previous months.

As I pictured him going about his work, an odd question popped into my head. “After Watson marries again, as we both suppose that he will, do you plan to continue residing in that shabby set of rooms in Baker Street? We owe you something. I can arrange for you to have a suite of the finest in whatever quarter that you wish.”

A flash appeared for an instant in his deep-set eyes. I was not sure if it were anger or amusement. Then, with a smile that seemed to take some of the care from his tired face, he said, “No thank you, brother. I believe that I have become quite accustomed to my situation, and more importantly, Mrs. Hudson has become accustomed to me. I am too old to be training someone else to my necessary ways.”

“Too old!” I scoffed. “You are but thirty-four!”

“And a weary thirty-four it is, indeed,” he replied. He moved a step toward the door, and then stopped. Pivoting on one foot, he turned toward me and stuck out his hand.

I could not remember how many years it had been since my brother and I had shared a handshake. But this was more than just a casual farewell. This was the sealing of a bargain. And this was also the acknowledgement that both of us, my brother more than me, and also our absent friend Watson, had come through the wars and had done a good job indeed.

I grasped my brother’s hand and we solemnly shook.

Then, with a nod, Sherlock turned and left the room.


During the course of their momentous conversation, in which they devised their audacious plan to save the Crown from the filth and the aftermath of the massive Ripper Conspiracy, Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes refer obliquely to a number of interrelated events that were later separated out into individually published and released strands of the investigation. For those who want to know more about the events to which they refer, a partial list is provided below, showing both titles and the individuals responsible for bringing Watson’s writings to the public.

A few of the listed notations listed below contain moderate spoilers, relating to whom the Ripper was identified to be in each particular telling.

You have been warned!

A. Watson was injured on several occasions during the Ripper investigation, including Murder by Decree (Book by Robert Weverka, and Film, 1979); Sherlock Holmes and Saucy Jack (Script, 1979); The Reign of Terror (“Lord Blackhood der Kether”, 2001, Internet Publication); and The Mycroft Memoranda (Ray Walsh, 1984); among others;

B. The Mycroft Memoranda;

C. 19 November, 1887: “The Adventure of the Dying Detective” (Dr. John H. Watson, 1913, edited by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle);

D. 12 September, 1888: “The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter” (Dr. John H. Watson, 1893, edited by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle);

E. The Masonic Conspiracy to protect the crown was related in various formats, including: Murder by Decree; Sherlock Holmes and Saucy Jack; The Reign of Terror; Sherlock Holmes: The Whitechapel Horrors (Edward B. Hanna, 1992); Holmes and the Ripper (Brian Clemens, Play Script, 1988, and Audio Drama, Big Finish Productions, 2010); The World of Sherlock Holmes (Michael Harrison, 1973); I, Sherlock Holmes (Michael Harrison, 1977); Lestrade and the Ripper (M.J. Trow, 1988); and Jack the Ripper versus Sherlock Holmes (Phillip Duke, 2012, Kindle Edition);

F. A Study in Scarlet (Dr. John H. Watson, 1887, edited by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle);

G. A Study in Terror (Film, and Book by Ellery Queen, 1965). In the book version, Ellery Queen takes Holmes’s solution and perceives a second, hidden solution;

H. The Whitechapel Horrors (Paul Boler, 2000, Internet Publication);

I. The Adventure of the Apocalypse Murders (Barry Day, 2001);

J. “A Special Brand of Courage” The One True Detective (Ronald Carpenter, 2005, Internet Publication);

K. Chapel Noir (2001) and Castle Rouge (2002) (Carole Nelson Douglas). The young Russian priest is revealed as Rasputin, who is later shown to be Professor Moriarty’s son in Rasputin’s Revenge (John Lescroart, 1987);

L. The Return of Moriarty (John Gardner, 1974); and Murder in Whitechapel: The Adventure of the Post-Mortem Knife (D.A. Joy 2009, 2013);

M. “Jack the Harlot Killer” Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street (William S. Baring-Gould, 1962) and “Sherlock Holmes and the Whitechapel Murders” (Jeremy B. Holstein, 2014, Script Adaptation);

N. Murder by Decree (Book and film); and The Reign of Terror;

O. Fatal Enquiry (Will Thomas, 2015). This narrative reveals a parallel investigation by Cyrus Barker, Holmes’s hated rival upon the Surrey shore;

P. 25 September–20 October (various dates) and 27 November, 1888: The Hound of the Baskervilles (Dr. John H. Watson, 1902, edited by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle);

Q. 7-10 September, 1888: The Sign of the Four (Dr. John H. Watson, 1890, edited by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle);

R. This very thing was done in a curious story relating one of Holmes’s separate investigations, later reworked to include references to The Ripper. It was initially released, for whatever reason, in German, and later in Spanish and French, as Wie Jack, der Aufschlitzer Gefast Wurde (How Jack the Ripper Was Caught) (1907). It has since been newly translated several times, and released in the U.S. under different titles, including: “Jack the Ripper” (Translated by Eduardo Zinna, Ripperologist Magazine, Issues 83, 84, and 85, September, October, and November 2007, respectively); “The Secret Files of the King of Detectives: Jack the Ripper” Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper (Translated and adapted by Frank J. Morlock, 2011); and Sherlock Holmes Versus Jack the Ripper (Translated by Joseph Lovece, 2014);

S. Narratives implying that Holmes found no solution to the Ripper crimes include: “The Secret Adventure of the Whitechapel Murders” The Secret Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Paul E. Heusinger, 2006); and “Omen Nemo” The Papers in the Case (Douglas Moreton, 1997);

T. The following indicate that Holmes was not involved with the Ripper Investigation: Sherlock Holmes and the Fall River Tragedy (Owen Haskell, 1997); Sherlock Holmes and the Treasure Train (Frank Thomas, 1985); The Travels of Sherlock Holmes (John Hall, 1997); “The Adventure of the Other Man” Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective – Vol. 5 (Chuck Miller, 2013); “The Chesham Hall Mystery” More Sherlock Holmes Mysteries (“Anon.”, 2012, Kindle Edition); In The Footsteps of Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Buchanan Curse (Allen Sharp, 1993); Sherlock Holmes in New York: The Adventure of the New York Ripper (Philip J. Carraher, 2005); Murder on the Brighton Line (Mike Hogan, 2014, Kindle Edition); and Sherlock Holmes 1888: Autumn of Blood (Unpublished Manuscript);

U. This very thing happened in The Last Sherlock Holmes Story (Michael Dibdin, 1978). Only Chapters 1-2 reflect an accurate fragment of Holmes’s involvement in the Ripper Investigation. The remainder of the book is a spurious addition that has been grafted onto Watson’s original notes at some later date, probably after the turn of the century by Professor Moriarty’s brother, Colonel Moriarty, in an attempt to destroy Holmes’s reputation. True friends of Mr. Sherlock Holmes instantly recognized that these portions of the book were a libelous outrage, and not to be countenanced or taken seriously;

V. To see how this played out, examine The Last Confession of Sherlock Holmes (Kieran Lyne, 2014).

W. Other tales relating details of lesser-known individuals that were involved in the Ripper matter include: Dust and Shadow (Lyndsay Faye, 2009); Art in the Blood (Bonnie MacBird, 2015); Sherlock Holmes: The Plagues of London (Kelvin I. Jones, 2012, Kindle Edition); Sherlock Holmes and the Hunt for Jack the Ripper, (Gerard Kelly, 2014, Kindle Edition); Death by Gaslight (Michael Kurland, 1982); I Love My Work (Fred Walker, 1996, Script); “An Excerpt From ‘Sherlock Holmes & the Season of Terror’” (Bob Byrne, 2000, Internet Publication Fragment); “The Adventure of the Whitechapel Fiend” (James C. Bernthal, 2005, Internet Publication Fragment); "The Adventure of the Ripper's Scrawl" The Adventures of the Second Mrs Watson (Michael Mallory, 2009); “Fog” (“Baskerville Beauty,” 2006, Internet Fan Fiction); “The Singular Case of Jack the Ripper” (MyelleWhite, 2010, Internet Fan Fiction); “Viva Regina, Viva Britannia” (“You Float My Boat,” 2009, Internet Fan Fiction Fragment); “Within the Life of a Single Cigarette” (“OneDarkandStormyNight,” 2010, Internet Fan Fiction Fragment); Sherlock Holmes – The Way of All Flesh (Daniel Ward, 2004); Murder Most Foul (Gordon Punter, 2015); Ch 1-24 and 25 (pp. 211-212) Sherlock Holmes and the Two Professors (George Gardner, 2011. Chapters 25 [pp. 212-217], 26-28 and the “Postscript” are fictionalized); and “The Amorous Surgeon” Sherlock Holmes: The Missing Earl and Other New Adventures (N.M. Scott, 2012);

X. Holmes’s involvement in the Ripper investigations, as well as some telling details, are mentioned in passing in these investigations: “The Case of the Shot on the Stairs” (Bob Byrne, 2000, Internet Publication); “The Repulsive Affair of the Red Leech” Resurrected Holmes (Morgan Llywelyn, 1996); "The Adventure of the Hanging Tyrant" Curious Incidents 2 (M.J. Elliott, 2003); Sherlock Holmes and the Pandora Plague (Lee A. Matthias, 1981); “The Adventure of the Black Katana” Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective Vol. IV (Bradley H. Sinor, 2013); “The Kidnapper” (“Mysterylover17,” 2003, Internet Fan Fiction); and Sherlock Holmes and A Quantity of Debt (David Marcum, 2013), along with many others . . . ;

Y. A few of the completely fictional chronicles related to Holmes’s battle with the Ripper include: “Sherlock Holmes and the Autumn of Terror” (Callum J. Stewart, 2009 – Internet Fan Fiction incorporating Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde); Chapters 25 (pp. 212-217), 26-28 and “Postscript” of Sherlock Holmes and the Two Professors (George Gardner, 2011); Ripper: A Sherlock Holmes Novel (Philip Drew, 2013, Kindle edition, incorporating Jekyll and Hyde); Sherlock Holmes and the Whitechapel Vampire (Dean Turnbloom, 2012); and Whitechapel: The Final Stand of Sherlock Holmes (Bernard J. Schaffer, 2011). There are many more of this type than can be addressed here.

There are, of course, quite a few others along the same lines, some of which have yet to come to light. The plan of the Holmes brothers to release differing and contradictory accounts of the events concerning Holmes’s investigations in the terrible autumn of 1888 continues to be enacted to the present day and beyond, as different modern day editors are made privy to Watson’s notes and writings by the current keepers of Mycroft Holmes’s old department . . . .


I’ve been reading and collecting literally thousands of Sherlock Holmes stories since I was a boy in the mid-1970’s. In the mid-1990’s, I jumped in and re-read (or read for the first time) every Holmes story that I had up to that time. I assembled a small binder that I kept with me, containing a few maps and other handy reference items to add to my enjoyment. Early on, I started making notes about each story as I read it, including references to other cases, things that were incorrect within each story, and most importantly, the dates of the tales.

By the time I finished, I had a very rough handwritten chronology of both the Canon and all of these pastiches. While I had been making my first pass through every traditional Holmes adventure that I owned, I’d accumulated a lot more along the way. Since I was still in a Holmes mood – and I’m never really out of a Holmes mood, although I concurrently read lots of other things as well – I started reading through all of these Holmes stories again, this time more in a more chronological fashion, as based upon my notes. I refined what I had assembled before, and by the end I had a real honest-to-goodness Chronology of the lives of Our Heroes. Since then, I’ve still been in re-reading mode, adding in more and more new Holmes stories as they appear, now on an almost daily basis. The Chronology is a living document, now over sox-hundred pages long, breaking down adventures day-by-day, and sometimes hour-by-hour, by chapter, page, or even paragraph.

Often a story will just have a few paragraphs that occur on a certain day, and then nothing else takes place for the rest of the day. This is when a piece of another tale occurs. I discuss this to some degree in an essay in the Baker Street Journal (“In Praise of the Pastiche” Vol. 62, No. 3, Autumn 2012), and also in my book of Holmes stories, Sherlock Holmes – Tangled Skeins(MX Publishing, 2015), where I “edit” some of Watson’s narratives. Seeing the way these stories intertwine and overlap gives one a great appreciation for the overall tapestry of the lives of Holmes and Watson. And there is no greater or more complicated period than the Autumn of Terror, 1888.

The first encounter that I ever had with Holmes was discovering the Holmes-versus-The-Ripper film A Study in Terror (1965) on television when I was ten years old, in 1975. That prompted me to start reading an abridged copy of The Adventures that I had recently obtained. Soon after that, I encountered Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street by William S. Baring-Gould, with its own account of Holmes versus The Ripper. Which version to believe? It was the very first time that I would find alternate and conflicting accounts of Holmes’s cases presented in differing ways. But it laid the groundwork in my mind for understanding and weaving together later multiple tales of Holmes's investigations, such as those many tales about Giant Rats and Boulevard Assassins.

In 1979, I saw Murder by Decree in a theater with my dad, and I still believe it’s one of the finest Holmes movies ever, in spite of the fact that Watson, who is supposed to be thirty-six at time, is presented as a lumpy old duffer. Here, then, was yet another version of Holmes’s investigation into the Ripper Murders.

Over the years, many more versions of these Ripper cases have revealed themselves. As mentioned previously, in September 2013 I was able to spend several weeks in England during my first Holmes Pilgrimage, the trip of a lifetime. While there, I and my ever-present deerstalker made several explorations, both day and night, of Whitechapel, as so many Holmes/Ripper stories involve locations there. As I’ve explained in the introduction to Sherlock Holmes – Tangled Skeins, as well as other books, I was fortunate enough while in London to acquire some of Watson’s notes. Among them was the above set of papers, “November, 1888”. I don’t know how Watson came to have it, or why, since it is clear within Mycroft’s writings that the document discusses certain matters of which Watson was supposed to remain ignorant. However, other items that I received while in London make it clear that the papers that I obtained were all assembled in 1929, so it is likely that Watson had been told the truth by then.

In any case, I was happy to see this document amongst all the others, as it confirmed what I had believed all along: Holmes’s investigation of the Ripper Murders was truly his finest hour, and he never handled a more convoluted or complex matter during his long and honored career.

* * *

My deerstalker and I explore Whitechapel by day . . .

. . . and by night . . . .