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Monday, September 15, 2014

Book "The Crooked Man" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

About the Book: "The Adventure of the Crooked Man", 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 Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. Doyle ranked "The Adventure of the Crooked Man" fifteenth in a list of his nineteen favourite Sherlock Holmes stories.

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novels, The Mystery of Cloomber, not published until 1888, and the unfinished Narrative of John Smith, which would go unpublished until 2011.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 reinterred 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 honours 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: Another amazing plot and "elementary" deduction featuring Sherlock Holmes! Holmes calls on Watson late one evening to tell him about a case that he has been working on, and also to invite him to be a witness to the final stage of the investigation. Colonel James Barclay, of The Royal Mallows based at Aldershot Camp, is dead, apparently by violence, and his wife Nancy is the prime suspect.
The Colonel’s brother officers are quite perplexed at the Colonel’s fate. Most of them have always believed that he and Nancy were a happy couple. They have observed over the years, however, that the Colonel seemed rather more attached to his wife than she to him. It also hasn’t escaped their notice that the Colonel sometimes had bouts of deep depression and moodiness for no apparent reason.
As a married officer, the Colonel and his wife lived in a villa outside the camp at Aldershot, and one evening, Nancy went out in the evening with her next-door neighbour Miss Morrison on an errand connected with her church, coming back not long afterwards. She went into the seldom-used morning room and asked the maid to fetch her some tea, which was unusual for Nancy. Hearing that his wife had returned, the Colonel joined her in the morning room. The coachman saw him enter, and that was the last time that he was seen alive.
The morning room’s blinds were up, and the glass door leading out onto the lawn was open. When the maid brought the tea, she heard an argument in progress between Nancy and her husband. She heard Nancy say the name “David”. She fetched the other maid and the coachman who came and listened. Nancy was very angry and shouting about what a coward her husband was. His words were softer and less distinct. Suddenly, the Colonel cried out, there was a crash, and Nancy screamed.
Realizing that something awful had just happened, the coachman tried to force the locked door, but could not. He remembered the outside glass door, and went outside to get into the room through that. He found that Nancy had fainted, and the Colonel was lying dead in a pool of his own blood. The coachman summoned the police and medical help. He also found, to his surprise, that the key was not in the locked door on the inside, either. Later, a thorough search failed to turn it up.
A peculiar clublike weapon was also found in the morning room. Although the staff has seen the Colonel’s weapon collection, they do not recognize this weapon.
Holmes believes that the case is not what it at first appears to be. Although the staff are quite sure that they only heard the Colonel’s and his wife’s voices, Holmes is convinced that a third person came into the room at the time of the Colonel’s death, and rather oddly, made off with the key. This Holmes deduces from footmarks found in the road, on the lawn, and in the morning room. Odder still, the mystery man seems to have brought an animal with him. Judging from the footmarks, it is long like a weasel or a stoat, with short stumpy legs, but bigger than either of those animals. It left claw marks on the curtain, too, leading Holmes to deduce that it was a carnivore, for there was a bird cage near the curtain.
Holmes is sure that Miss Morrison holds the key to the mystery, and he is right. She claimed to know nothing of the reason for the argument between her neighbours, but once told by Holmes that Nancy could easily face a murder charge, she feels that she can betray her promise to her and tells all.
On their short outing, the two women met a bent, deformed old man carrying a wooden box. He looked up at Nancy and recognized her, and she him. They were acquaintances from about thirty years earlier. Nancy asked Miss Morrison to walk on ahead as there was apparently a private matter to discuss with this man. She came back very angry, and made her friend swear not to say anything about the incident.
This breaks the case wide open for Holmes. He knows that there cannot be many men of this description in the area. Holmes soon identifies him as Henry Wood, and goes with Watson to visit him the next day in his room in the very same street where the two women met him. Wood explains all. He had been a corporal in the same regiment as the Colonel, who was still a sergeant at that time, at the time of the Indian Mutiny. He and Barclay were both vying for Nancy’s hand. Henry was not deformed, and much better looking in those days. The regiment was confined to its cantonment by the turmoil in India, and water had run out, among other problems. A volunteer was asked for, to go out and summon help, and it was Henry. Sergeant James Barclay — later the Colonel — instructed Henry on the safest route. It took him straight into an ambush, and he gathered from what little he knew of the local language that Barclay had betrayed him to the enemy by planning the whole business, simply to remove him from contention for Nancy's affection. He was tortured repeatedly, which is how he became deformed, spent years as a slave, or wandering, learnt how to be a conjurer, and when he was getting old, he longed to come back to England. He sought out soldiers because he was familiar with the milieu; likewise Doyle's account hints that another reason that Wood came back is that he has not long to live: his yellow eyes hint at Jaundice or Hepatitis B virus and his need for a fire in the summertime also hint at malaria.
Then, quite by chance, he met Nancy that evening. Unknown to her, however, he followed her home and witnessed the argument, for the blinds were up and the glass door open. He climbed over the low wall and entered the room. An apoplectic fit caused by the sight of him killed the Colonel instantly, and Mrs. Barclay fainted. His guilty secret was at last laid bare. His first thought then was to open the inside door and summon help, and he took the key from the now-unconscious Mrs. Barclay to do so, but realizing that the situation looked very bad for him, he chose instead to flee, stopping long enough to retrieve his mongoose, used in his conjuring acts, which had escaped from the wooden box. However, he did drop his stick, the odd weapon that was later found, and he inadvertently carried off the key with him.
An inquest has already exonerated Nancy, having found the cause of the Colonel’s death — apoplexy (Wood claimed the Colonel was dead before he hit his head, and the professionals have apparently come to the same conclusion).
As for “David”, this was apparently a reproach in which Nancy likens her husband to the Biblical king, who has Bathsheba's husband Uriah transferred to a zone with heavy fighting so that he will be killed, leaving David free to marry Uriah's wife. The King was severely reprimanded for this sin by the prophet Nathan and suffered a Divine retribution, though unlike with the colonel it involved the death of David's baby son and not of himself.
I recommend this book to any reader who enjoys mystery, mainly those featuring Sherlock Holmes and his friend Dr. Watson.


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