About the Book: "The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez", one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of 13 stories in the cycle collected as The Return 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novels, The Mystery of Cloomber, not published until 1888, and the unfinished Narrative of John Smith, which would go unpublished until 2011.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, we are in one wretched November night, and Inspector Stanley Hopkins comes to see Holmes at 221B Baker Street to tell him of a murder that defies solution. The dead man is Willoughby Smith, secretary to Professor Coram, an old invalid. The murder happened at Yoxley Old Place near Chatham, Kent. The most perplexing thing about the case to Hopkins is that it is apparently motiveless. Willoughby Smith seems to have nothing untoward in his background, and not an enemy in the world. He was the third secretary to the professor, the former ones not having worked out. The murder weapon was a sealing-wax knife belonging to the professor.
The maid found Smith, and the last words that he uttered as he lay dying were “The professor; it was she.” The professor, however, is a man.
This same maid told Hopkins while he was at Yoxley that she had heard Smith leave his room and walk down to the study. She had been hanging curtains and did not actually see him, only recognizing his brisk step. The professor was in bed at the time. A minute later, there was a hoarse scream from the study, and the maid, after hesitating for a moment, went there to find a murder scene. She later tells Holmes that Smith went out for a walk not long before the murder.
The murderer’s only likely means of entry was through the back door after walking along the path from the road, and Hopkins found some indistinct footmarks running beside the path, the murderer obviously having tried to avoid leaving a trail. Hopkins could not tell whether the track was coming or going, made by big or small feet. The road was a hopeless quagmire and nothing could be discerned there.
The professor’s study contained a bureau; nothing seemed to have been stolen. Its drawers were left open, as always, and the cupboard in the middle was locked. The professor kept the key.
One important piece of evidence was found in Willoughby Smith’s hand: a pair of golden pince-nez glasses. Holmes examines these and from them alone deduces several things about the murderer:
It is a woman;
She is of some good breeding;
She dresses like a lady;
She has a thick nose;
Her eyes are close together;
She has a puckered forehead, a peering look, and likely rounded shoulders;
She has been to an optician at least twice over the last few months.
She is a person of refinement, and is well dressed.
Holmes, Dr. Watson, and Hopkins all go to Yoxley the next day, and Holmes makes a careful examination of everything. In the study, he notices a recent scratch on the bureau, and reasons that the murderer’s purpose was actually to fetch something from in there. Smith was killed merely because he had interfered with a burglary. No-one saw the murderer leave, nor did anyone hear a door opening.
Holmes notes with some interest that both the corridors, the one leading from the back door and the one leading to the professor’s bedroom, are about the same length, and lined with coconut matting.
Holmes interviews the professor in his bedroom, smoking many Egyptian cigarettes while there, dropping the ashes everywhere. The professor claims utter ignorance as to what has happened in his house, and ventures the hypothesis that Smith’s death might have been suicide. Holmes asks about the locked cupboard in the bureau. The professor hands over the key. Holmes looks at it and then hands it back, not bothering to look in the bureau.
Shortly afterwards, Watson asks Holmes if he has a clue, and Holmes enigmatically replies that the cigarettes might show him.
Holmes meets the housekeeper in the garden and has a seemingly unimportant chat with her about the professor’s eating habits. Apparently he has been eating quite a lot today.
Early in the afternoon, the three men go back to see the professor in his room, and Holmes deliberately knocks the cigarettes over to provide an excuse for getting down on all fours on the floor. At this point, he solves the mystery, and the murderer, who looks exactly as Holmes deduced, emerges from a hiding place in a bookcase. Holmes has seen her tracks in the cigarette ashes.
The business unfolded thus: The woman came to the professor’s house to get hold of some documents, having obtained a duplicate key from one of the former secretaries. She came without the professor’s knowledge. She was surprised by Smith, whom she killed without meaning to, grabbing the nearest thing to defend herself — the sealing-wax knife. She lost her glasses in the scramble to escape, and was unable to see clearly. She turned along the wrong corridor and wound up in the professor’s room. Although surprised, he hid her. It turns out that she is the professor’s estranged wife, Anna, and they are both Russian. The documents in question would exonerate her friend in a Siberian prison. She and this friend had both been betrayed by the professor for gain, and she had also been sent to Siberia for a time.
Anna had met Smith while he was taking his walk, explaining Smith’s last words. The professor’s increased appetite is of course explained by his having to feed a second, hidden person.
At the end, Anna dies from poison she took before leaving her hiding place. As she dies, she asks Holmes to deliver the documents to the Russian Embassy, which he duly does.
I recommend this book to any reader that appreciates a well written mystery story.