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Friday, September 12, 2014

Book "The Reigate Puzzle" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

About the Book: "The Adventure of the Reigate Puzzle", also known as "The Adventure of the Reigate Squires", was one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The Adventure of the Reigate Puzzle was first published in 1893. It is one of 12 stories in the cycle collected as The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. Doyle ranked "The Adventure of the Reigate Puzzle" twelfth in his list of his twelve favorite 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novels, The Mystery of Cloomber, not published until 1888, and the unfinished Narrative of John Smith, which would go unpublished until 2011.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: This short story is simply brilliant! Watson takes Holmes to a friend's estate near Reigate in Surrey to rest after a rather strenuous case in France. Holmes finds that his services are needed here, but he also finds that his recent illness serves him well. His host is Colonel Hayter.
There has recently been a burglary at the nearby Acton estate in which the thieves stole a motley assortment of things, even a ball of twine, but nothing terribly valuable. Then one morning, the Colonel's butler tells news of a murder at another nearby estate, the Cunninghams'. The victim is William Kirwan, the coachman. Inspector Forrester has taken charge of the investigation, and there is one physical clue: a torn piece of paper found in William's hand with a few words written on it. Holmes takes an instant interest in this, seeing something that Forrester has missed: it is quite clear to Holmes that the fragment of a note was written by two men, each writing alternate words. One man is young, and the other rather older. Moreover, they are related. Holmes, an expert at studying handwriting, does not voice this or any other observation or conclusion until the end of the story. He also observes that one line says "quarter to twelve", coincidentally the time of William's murder.
One of the first facts to emerge is that there is a longstanding legal dispute between the Actons and the Cunninghams involving ownership of about half of the estate currently in the Cunninghams' hands.
Holmes spends quite a bit of time investigating and interviewing the two Cunningham men, young Alec and his ageing father. Alec tells Holmes that he saw the burglar struggling with William when a shot went off and William fell dead. The burglar ran off through a hedge to the road. The elder Cunningham claims that he was in his room smoking at the time, and Alec says that he had also still been up. Holmes knows that they are lying. No burglar with any sense would break into a house when he could see by the lit lamps that someone was still afoot. Also, William's body has no powder burns on it; so he was not shot at point-blank range as the Cunninghams claim. The escape route also does not bear their story out: there is a boggy ditch next to the road that the fleeing murderer would have had to cross, yet there are no signs of any footprints in it.
Holmes knows that it would be useful to get hold of the rest of that note found in William's hand. He believes that the murderer snatched it away from William and thrust it into his pocket, never realizing that a scrap of it was still in the murdered coachman's hand. Unfortunately, neither the police nor Holmes can get any information from William's mother, for she is quite old, deaf, and somewhat simple-minded.
Holmes puts his recent illness to use and fakes a fit just as Forrester is about to mention the one clue to the Cunninghams. He suspects that the Cunninghams know where the rest of the note is, and does not wish them to destroy it. Holmes also cunningly gets the elder Cunningham to write the word "twelve", which appears on the scrap of paper recovered from the murder scene, by deliberately making a mistake in an advertisement that Holmes tells Cunningham to publish, and asking him to correct it.
Holmes then insists on searching the Cunninghams' rooms despite their protests that the burglar, whom Holmes has by now dismissed as a fabrication, could not have gone there. He sees Alec's room and then his father's, where he deliberately knocks a small table over, sending some oranges and a water carafe to the floor. The others have not been looking his way at the time, and Holmes implies that the cause is Watson's clumsiness. Watson plays along and starts grovelling about to gather up scattered oranges.
Everyone then notices that Holmes has left the room. Moments later, there are cries of "murder" and "help". Watson recognizes his friend's voice. He and Forrester rush to Alec's room where they find Alec trying to throttle Holmes and his father apparently twisting Holmes's wrist. The Cunninghams are quickly restrained, and Holmes tells Forrester to arrest the two for murdering William Kirwan. At first, Forrester thinks Holmes must be mad, but Holmes draws his attention to the looks on their faces – very guilty. After a revolver is knocked out of Alec's hand, the two are arrested. The gun, of course, is the one used to murder William, and it is seized.
Holmes has found the rest of the note, still in Alec's dressing gown pocket. It runs thus:

"If you will only come round at quarter to twelve
to the east gate you will learn what
will very much surprise you and maybe [sic]
be of the greatest service to you and also
to Annie Morrison. But say nothing to anyone
upon the matter."

The elder Cunningham's confidence is broken after his arrest and he tells all. It seems that William followed his two employers the night they broke into the Acton estate (Holmes has already deduced that it was they, in pursuit of documents supporting Mr. Acton's legal claim, which they did not find). William then proceeded to blackmail his employers – not realizing that it was dangerous to do such a thing to Alec – and they thought to use the recent burglary scare as a plausible way of getting rid of him. With a bit more attention paid to detail, they might very well have evaded all suspicion.

This is one of the rare stories that show a glimpse of Watson's dedication and his life before he met Holmes, as well as Holmes' trust in Watson. Colonel Hayter is a former patient Watson treated in Afghanistan and has offered his house to Watson and Holmes. Watson admits in convincing Holmes, "A little diplomacy was needed," for Holmes resists anything that sounds like coddling or sentimentalism. Watson also glosses over the facts of Holmes' illness from overwork, implying redundancy for all of Europe was "ringing with his name."
Holmes' health has collapsed after straining himself to the limit, and his success in the case means nothing to him in the face of his depression. With his superhuman physical and mental achievement, he has a correspondingly drastic fit of nervous prostration and needs Watson's assistance. Holmes clearly has no problem with asking Watson for help when he needs it, for he sends a wire and Watson is at his side twenty-four hours later. At the onset of the mystery, Watson warns Holmes to rest, not to get started on a new problem. However, Watson knows and has revealed in other writings that inactivity is anathema to Holmes, and his caution comes off as weak. Holmes takes it all with humor, but the reader does not doubt his mind is eagerly upon the trail of the crime. At the conclusion, he tells Watson: "I think our quiet rest in the country has been a distinct success, and I shall certainly return much invigorated, to Baker Street to-morrow."

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