Wednesday, April 13, 2022

A Study in The Adventure of the Six Napoleons from The Return of Sherlock Holmes

A Study in The Adventure of the Six Napoleons from The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

This tale was first published by Collier's (US), then by the Strand Magazine (UK), in 1904. Sure, why not: SPOILERS AHEAD. (According to the chronology of Baring-Gould, it takes place in the year 1900.) Also, while reading this article, please pronounce in your head "mafia" in the same manner as does Gordon Ramsay pronounce "pasta."

What we have here is an early Edwardian Era mafia story. But mainly what we have here is an insightful look into the now fully-evolved relationship between Holmes and Lestrade. We have moved on from the official police questioning Holmes' tactics, right into accepting them enough so as to let Holmes dictate a nabbing. And it's not just that relationship in which we see further development take place. Watson has progressed from reading the great detective's hands, all the way to and through his poker face, and into his true machinations. "I who knew him so well."

But I get ahead of myself. Let's find some semblance of order, shall we?

We'll begin where the game is truly afoot--with Holmes rousing Watson from bed and instructing him to get into their waiting cab. Oh, and there's coffee set out on the table. I wonder as to the logistics of this. Since they reached their destination in half an hour, it seems improbable that Watson sat there and drank his joe. So he must have taken said joe to go. Upon a Starbucks 'Tall' amount of research, I see that Sir James Dewar invented the vacuum flask in 1892. So, the tech was there to keep a cuppa warm. However, I like to imagine the good doctor's coffee sloshing dreadfully about from his lovely cup. Jangling against its saucer as they sped toward Pitt Street.

Now the murder. A dead man grotesquely killed and left in so grizzly a state as to emotionally scar. His throat has been gashed and his personal effects include "an apple, some string, a shilling map of London, and a photograph." In my headcanon, this string is a garrote-- a weapon well-known to the mafia. Just ask Luca Brasi, who sleeps with the fishes. In any event, the photo introduces us to Beppo. Beppo who is quite ugly and also quite unlucky beyond that. His face is of a "Simian" and his luck is staggeringly bad, if only he'd just busted any of the correct first four busts, we'd have no story here at all and he'd have the Black Pearl of Borgias. And Holmes would not have been able to put a former case which he could shine no light on, finally to bed.

Prior to that, the case had already hit a pivotal point and also offered a somewhat interesting sidebar, each when we meet one Dr. Barnicot, an "Enthusiastic admirer of Napoleon." From the mouth of Lestrade, "Doctor Barnicot's bust of Napoleon was broken not far from his red lamp." The red lamp, at those times, was associated with the presence of a physician. Interestingly enough, red lamps, or lights, as in a Red-light district were in use since at least 1882. Those districts consisted of their own red lamps and about every form of debauchery you could think of--famously prostitution. Sting even sang a song about it. I'd imagine this dual use of red lamps and lights made for some ::: very ::: funny stories of a Sitcom varietal.

Kramer shows up at a red lamp with a toothache and winds up in a long-term relationship with a woman of ill-repute. LOL

As we go on, two things seem quite different to me in this tale as opposed to many if not all others. First, we see a slew of parts of London in a whirlwind yet unfamiliarly-so glanced-over and detached way. "In rapid succession, we passed through the fringe of fashionable London, hotel London, theatrical London, literary London, commercial London, and, finally, maritime London." I'm aware they are speeding through but that coldness of description is elsewhere and when did Doyle ever need more than a couple/few syllables to add texture or depth?

The second out-of-step stride from the norm is found in the dialog. As holmes takes notes of his questioning, Watson relates the answers in a rambling fashion wherein the questions are alluded to and not heard/written as the other party is left alone on paper to ramble. I liked this one, though. It lent a Dragnet-ian 'Just the facts, ma'am" vibe. Why did Holmes take the case notes and not Watson? Because Holmes works cases, Watson works Holmes. I'm actually surprised this isn't shown more often, really. Here, Watson simply tries a different take. Perhaps he's trying to learn the trick more indirectly by watching the reactions of those who are less familiar to him than Holmes.

I've mentioned a bit ago, Holmes dictating the nabbing. Lestrade on the couch and at rest thereon put me in mind of a line from A Supermarket in California by Allen Ginsberg. To paraphrase, 'What thoughts I have of you tonight, John Openshaw.' For if only Holmes extended young Openshaw the sofa instead of sending him out into that dark and stormy night what with children crying and sobbing in chimneys and whatnot. Again, this goes to show the true friendship developed. Plus, the Five Orange Pips is (probably) all about the forces of nature bending the wills of man. Fate vs. free will and definitely for another time, all that.

Then, finally, the lovely sentiment of Lestrade's puts the finest of points on camaraderie. "We're not jealous of you at Scotland Yard. No, sir, we are very proud of you, and if you come down to-morrow there's not a man, from the oldest inspector to the youngest constable, who wouldn't be glad to shake you by the hand." This, even after typical Holmes voila and jazz hands unfurling of facts. These guys all really admire each-other. This is a love-fest. Nothing of which sums it up much better than, "Put the pearl in the safe Watson." Really. Holmes needs to eat too, I mean the official police probably can't claim rewards, anyway.

::: very :::

I'd like to take a moment to remind you kind Gentlepersons that I write these thoughts under the assumption of you having read these adventures. They are readily available everywhere, including for free at Project Gutenberg as well as Wikisource (at times), where you can listen to it read, as well.

Online resources for this article include: Lit2GO, Crestline (The History of Travel Mugs and Tumblers), Wikipedia (The Adventure of the Six Napoleons, Red-light district), The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia, Poetry Foundation. Special shout-outs to The Sound of the Baskervilles scion society of The Baker Street Irregulars, and Rich Kriscianus.