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About the Book: "The Adventure of the Abbey Grange", 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novels, The Mystery of Cloomber, not published until 1888, and the unfinished Narrative of John Smith, which would go unpublished until 2011.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, Holmes wakes Doctor Watson up early one winter morning to rush to a murder scene at the Abbey Grange near Chislehurst. Sir Eustace Brackenstall has been killed, apparently by burglars. Inspector Stanley Hopkins believes that it was the infamous Randall gang, a father and two sons, who have committed several other burglaries in the neighborhood.
Holmes and Watson arrive at Abbey Grange, where Lady Brackenstall is resting with a purple swelling over one eye, the result of a blow during the previous night's incident. There are also two red spots on her arm. Her maid, Theresa Wright, who has been with her mistress since she was born, later tells Holmes that Sir Eustace stabbed her with a hatpin.
Lady Brackenstall tells Holmes that her marriage was not happy. Sir Eustace Brackenstall was a violent, abusive drunkard. Moreover, Lady Brackenstall found it hard to adjust to life in England after the freedom that she enjoyed in her native Australia, which she left 18 months before. She had been married for about a year.
She then tells what happened. She says that about 11 o'clock, she walked around the house to check it was secure before going to a bed. In the dining room, she encountered an elderly man coming in the French window, followed by two younger men. The older man struck her in the face, knocking her out. When she came to, she was tied to an oaken chair with the bellrope, which they had torn down, and gagged. Then Sir Eustace came into the room, and rushed at the intruders with a cudgel. One of them struck and killed him with a poker. Lady Brackenstall fainted again for a minute or two. She saw the intruders drinking wine from a bottle taken from the sideboard. Then they left, taking some silver plate.
Sir Eustace's body is still lying at the murder scene. The poker has been bent into a curve, suggesting a strong attacker. Hopkins tells Holmes some unsavory things about Sir Eustace: He poured petroleum over his wife's dog and set it alight, and once threw a decanter at Theresa. Theresa says Sir Eustace physically and verbally assaulted his wife, especially when he was drunk.
Holmes examines the knots in the bell-rope, and the frayed end. He notes that if the bell-rope was tugged hard enough to tear it down, the bell would have rung in the kitchen, and asks why nobody heard it. Hopkins answers that it was late, and the kitchen is at the back of the house, where none of the servants would have heard. This suggests that the burglars must have known this, indicating a link between them and one of the servants.
Oddly, the thieves did not take much, only a few items of silver plate from dining room.
The half-empty wine bottle and glasses interest Holmes. The cork had been drawn with the corkscrew of a "multiplex knife", not the long corkscrew in the drawer, and one of the glasses has beeswing dregs in it, but the others have none.
Holmes is already annoyed at being called to investigate a case that apparently has a ready-made solution, so he and Watson catch the train back to London. On the way, however, Holmes thinks better of his haste, and pulls Watson off the train at a suburban station, announcing that they are going back to the Abbey Grange. Having mulled things over while on the train, Holmes has reached the following conclusions:
The Randall gang was clearly described in the papers, and anyone making up a story about burglars breaking into the house could use the descriptions;
Burglars who have recently made off with a rich haul don't usually do another job so soon after;
It was an uncommonly early hour for burglars;
It is odd that they struck Lady Brackenstall to stop her screaming, as this would most likely start her screaming;
It is odd that they resorted to murder when the three of them could have overpowered Sir Eustace;
It is odd that they did not ransack the house;
It is odd that they didn't drink the entire bottle.
Holmes also draws Watson's attention to the wineglasses. The presence of beeswing in only one indicates that only two people used the glasses; they poured the dregs into the third to make it look as though there were three. Holmes deduces from this that Lady Brackenstall and her maid lied.
Upon returning to the Abbey Grange, Holmes climbs on the mantelpiece, examining the severed end of the bellrope, and a bracket upon which he must kneel to reach it. Holmes has now developed the killer's profile: 6 ft 3 in (191 cm) tall, active, dextrous, and quick-witted. He cut the bell-rope with a knife, and frayed the loose end to make it look broken. But he could not reach the end still hanging from the ceiling, which is cut clean. Sir Eustace's blood is on the seat of the oaken chair. How could a splatter have landed there if Lady Brackenstall was bound there before her husband's murder?
Holmes confronts Lady Brackenstall and Theresa. He tells them he knows they are lying and demands the truth. But Lady Brackenstall stands by her story.
On the way out, Holmes notices a hole in the ice on the pond, and writes a note for Hopkins.
Holmes searches for the killer: almost certainly a sailor (indicated by the knots and the active physique), who was previously acquainted with Lady Brackenstall, and whom she and Theresa would protect. Her only contact with sailors was on her voyage from Australia, and only with the officers of her ship (her social equals).
Lady Brackenstall traveled by the Rock of Gibraltar of the Adelaide-Southampton Line, which is now halfway to Australia. However, the ship's first officer, Jack Croker, has been promoted to captain. He has remained in England and in two days will take command of the company's new ship, Bass Rock. His employers describe him as a splendid fellow - hot-headed ashore, "but loyal, honest, and kindhearted."
Holmes takes a cab to Scotland Yard, but does not go in. He tells Watson he is reluctant to name the criminal to the police until he knows more.
That evening, Inspector Hopkins calls at 221B Baker Street, with two items of news. As suggested in Holmes' note, the stolen silver was found at the bottom of the pond. Why should the burglars have put it there? Holmes suggests that the theft was a blind - a deliberate false clue. But Hopkins rationalizes that the pond was chosen as a temporary hiding place.
The other news is even more problematic. The Randall gang was arrested in New York that morning, so they couldn't commit a murder in Kent the previous night. But there are other gangs of three burglars; Hopkins will look for them. He asks Holmes if he has any hints to offer. Holmes reminds him of his suggestion of a blind, but Hopkins pays no heed, and leaves.
Later that evening, Captain Croker comes to Baker Street, summoned by a telegram from Holmes. Holmes demands a full account of what happened at the Abbey Grange that night. He warns Croker that he has already deduced most of it: if Croker lies or conceals anything, he will summon the police.
Croker met Mary (Lady Brackenstall) on the voyage from Australia. He fell in love with her, but not she with him. He was even pleased to hear of her marriage to a wealthy gentleman. Then he happened to meet Theresa, who told him of Sir Eustace's abusive behavior. He met secretly with Mary at the house; the last time on the previous night.
They were in the dining room when Sir Eustace burst in, insulted Mary, and struck her with the cudgel. He then attacked Croker, who killed him with the poker, in self-defense. Croker adds that he has no regret whatever, for he would not leave Mary in "in the power of this madman".
To avoid the scandal that could ensue, Croker and Theresa concocted the cover story of burglars caught in the act. He cut down the bell-rope exactly as Holmes deduced; he opened the wine bottle with his pocket knife's corkscrew; he took some silver plate, and dropped it in the pond.
Holmes tells Crocker that the police don't yet know the truth, and that he will wait 24 hours before revealing it, allowing Croker to get away. Croker indignantly refuses the offer - he will not leave Mary to "face the music" as an accomplice. He offers to agree to any version of the case that will leave Mary out of it.
But Holmes was only testing him, and is impressed by his loyalty to Mary. He has given Hopkins "an excellent hint" and doesn't feel he must do more. He designates Watson as the "jury", and asks him to "render a verdict". Watson declares Croker "Not guilty."
Holmes tells Croker he will keep silent unless someone else is charged, and that he may come back to Mary in a year.
Excellent plot, I recommend this book to any reader who appreciates a well written mystery story.