About the Book: "The Adventure of the Retired Colourman" (1926), one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of 12 stories in the cycle collected as The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes.
About the Author: Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle was born on 22 May 1859 at 11 Picardy Place, Edinburgh, Scotland. From 1876 to 1881, he studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, including a period working in the town of Aston (now a district of Birmingham) and in Sheffield, as well as in Shropshire at Ruyton-XI-Towns. While studying, Doyle began writing short stories. His earliest extant fiction, "The Haunted Grange of Goresthorpe", was unsuccessfully submitted to Blackwood's Magazine. His first published piece "The Mystery of Sasassa Valley", a story set in South Africa, was printed in Chambers's Edinburgh Journal on 6 September 1879. On 20 September 1879, he published his first non-fiction article, "Gelsemium as a Poison" in the British Medical Journal. In 1882 he joined former classmate George Turnavine Budd as his partner at a medical practice in Plymouth, but their relationship proved difficult, and Doyle soon left to set up an independent practice. Arriving in Portsmouth in June of that year with less than £10 (£900 today) to his name, he set up a medical practice at 1 Bush Villas in Elm Grove, Southsea. The practice was initially not very successful. While waiting for patients, Doyle again began writing stories and composed his first novels, The Mystery of Cloomber, not published until 1888, and the unfinished Narrative of John Smith, which would go unpublished until 2011. He amassed a portfolio of short stories including "The Captain of the Pole-Star" and "J. Habakuk Jephson's Statement", both inspired by Doyle's time at sea, the latter of which popularized the mystery of the Mary Celeste and added fictional details such as the perfect condition of the ship (which had actually taken on water by the time it was discovered) and its boats remaining on board (the one boat was in fact missing) that have come to dominate popular accounts of the incident. Doyle struggled to find a publisher for his work. His first significant piece, A Study in Scarlet, was taken by Ward Lock Co. on 20 November 1886, giving Doyle £25 for all rights to the story. The piece appeared later that year in the Beeton's Christmas Annual and received good reviews in The Scotsman and the Glasgow Herald. The story featured the first appearance of Watson and Sherlock Holmes, partially modeled after his former university teacher Joseph Bell. Doyle wrote to him, "It is most certainly to you that I owe Sherlock Holmes ... Round the center of deduction and inference and observation which I have heard you inculcate I have tried to build up a man." Robert Louis Stevenson was able, even in faraway Samoa, to recognize the strong similarity between Joseph Bell and Sherlock Holmes: "My compliments on your very ingenious and very interesting adventures of Sherlock Holmes. ... Can this be my old friend Joe Bell?" Other authors sometimes suggest additional influences—for instance, the famous Edgar Allan Poe character C. Auguste Dupin. A sequel to A Study in Scarlet was commissioned and The Sign of the Four appeared in Lippincott's Magazine in February 1890, under agreement with the Ward Lock company. Doyle felt grievously exploited by Ward Lock as an author new to the publishing world and he left them. Short stories featuring Sherlock Holmes were published in the Strand Magazine. Doyle first began to write for the 'Strand' from his home at 2 Upper Wimpole Street, now marked by a memorial plaque. In this period, however, Holmes was not his sole subject and in 1893, he collaborated with J.M. Barrie on the libretto of Jane Annie. Doyle was found clutching his chest in the hall of Windlesham Manor, his house in Crowborough, East Sussex, on 7 July 1930. He died of a heart attack at the age of 71. His last words were directed toward his wife: "You are wonderful." At the time of his death, there was some controversy concerning his burial place, as he was avowedly not a Christian, considering himself a Spiritualist. He was first buried on 11 July 1930 in Windlesham rose garden. He was later re-interred together with his wife in Minstead churchyard in the New Forest, Hampshire. Carved wooden tablets to his memory and to the memory of his wife are held privately and are inaccessible to the public. That inscription reads, "Blade straight / Steel true / Arthur Conan Doyle / Born May 22nd 1859 / Passed On 7th July 1930." The epitaph on his gravestone in the churchyard reads, in part: "Steel true/Blade straight/Arthur Conan Doyle/Knight/Patriot, Physician, and man of letters". Undershaw, the home near Hindhead, Haslemere, south of London, that Doyle had built and lived in between October 1897 and September 1907, was a hotel and restaurant from 1924 until 2004. It was then bought by a developer and stood empty while conservationists and Doyle fans fought to preserve it. In 2012 the High Court ruled that the redevelopment permission be quashed because proper procedure had not been followed. A statue honors Doyle at Crowborough Cross in Crowborough, where he lived for 23 years. There is also a statue of Sherlock Holmes in Picardy Place, Edinburgh, close to the house where Doyle was born.
My Review: In this story, Sherlock Holmes is hired by a retired art supply dealer from Lewisham, Josiah Amberley, to look into his wife’s disappearance. She has left with a neighbour, Dr. Ray Ernest, taking a sizeable quantity of cash and securities. Amberley wants the two tracked down.
Holmes is too busy with another case at the moment; so he sends Dr. Watson to Lewisham to observe what he can, although Watson is keenly aware that this is more Holmes’s province. He does his best, observing that Amberley is busy painting his house, which seems a bit odd. He even sees Amberley’s wife’s unused theater ticket; she and her young man disappeared while Amberley went to the theater alone after his wife complained of a headache. Watson notes the seat number.
Watson also sees Amberley’s strongroom from which his wife had taken the valuables. She, apparently, had a key of her own. He meets a lounger with a rather military appearance in the street, and later observes him running to catch the train at Blackheath Station as he is returning to 221B Baker Street. Holmes recognizes the description; it is his rival in detection, Barker. It later turns out that Ray Ernest’s family has hired him to find the missing doctor.
A number of other things about Amberley are obvious. He is a miser, and as such is quite a jealous man. He is an avid chess player (indeed, so is Ernest, which is how they became acquainted), suggesting to Holmes that he also has a scheming mind.
Holmes suspects something, and so sends Watson and Amberley on a fool’s errand to the remote village of Little Purlington, near Frinton in Essex, just to keep Amberley out of the way while Holmes breaks into his house to investigate it. He is “caught” by Barker, but they decide to work together.
They reach a conclusion, and later Holmes confronts Amberley with the dramatic question “What did you do with the bodies?” Holmes manhandles Amberley just in time to stop him taking a poison pill. Amberley is obviously guilty.
Holmes explains how he reached his conclusion. Amberley’s alibi fell apart when Holmes discovered that his seat at the Haymarket Theater had not been occupied on the night in question, its number deduced from the ticket that Watson had seen. Also, the painting was a clue. Holmes realized that it was being done to mask a smell, and he soon discovered what that was: gas. He found a gas pipe leading into the strongroom with a tap outside. Amberley had lured his wife and her lover — for so he had believed Dr. Ernest to be — into the strongroom, locked them in, and turned the gas on, killing them out of jealousy. He had simply hidden the “stolen” valuables somewhere. In indelible pencil, one of the victims wrote “We we…”, perhaps meaning to write “We were murdered.”
The bodies are found in a disused well in the garden, hidden under a dog kennel, just where Holmes suggested that the police look.
Amberley apparently hired Holmes out of “pure swank”, believing that no-one would ever find him out.
Holmes believes that Amberley will likely end up at Broadmoor rather than on the scaffold, owing to his mental state.
Good plot, I recommend this book to all the readers who appreciate a well written mystery short story.