About the Book: "The Adventure of the Dying Detective", in some editions simply titled "The Dying Detective", is one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Together with seven other stories, it is collected as His Last Bow.
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novels, The Mystery of Cloomber, not published until 1888, and the unfinished Narrative of John Smith, which would go unpublished until 2011.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, Dr. Watson is called to 221B Baker Street to tend Holmes, who is apparently dying of a rare Asian disease contracted while he was on a case at Rotherhithe. Watson is shocked, having heard nothing about his friend’s illness. Mrs. Hudson says that he has neither eaten nor drunk anything in three days.
Upon arriving, Watson finds Holmes in his bed looking very ill and gaunt indeed, and Holmes proceeds to make several odd demands of Watson. He is not to come near Holmes, for the illness is highly contagious. He will seek no help save from the man whom Holmes names. He will wait until six o’clock before Holmes names him. When Watson objects and tries to leave for help, Holmes musters enough strength to leap out of bed, and lock the door, taking the key. So, Watson is forced to wait. Holmes seems delirious at times.
Watson examines several objects in Holmes’s room while he waits. Holmes has a fit when Watson touches one item, a little black and white ivory box with a sliding lid. Holmes orders him to put it down, explaining that he does not like his things touched.
At six o’clock, Holmes tells Watson to turn the gaslight on, but only half-full. He then tells him to fetch Mr. Culverton Smith of 13 Lower Burke Street. Oddly, he also tells Watson to be sure that he and Smith return to Baker Street separately. Smith is not a doctor, but is supposedly an expert on the illness that ails Holmes. Also, Holmes explains that Smith does not particularly like him, for Holmes once cast the suspicion for Smith's nephew’s murder on him.
Outside Holmes’s door, Watson meets Inspector Morton. Upon hearing of Holmes’s illness, the inspector’s expression somewhat suggests exultation to Watson.
Watson goes to the address, and at first Smith refuses to see him. Watson forces his way in and once he makes it clear to an angry Culverton Smith that Sherlock Holmes is dying and wants to see him, his attitude changes drastically. He seems quite concerned, although for a moment, it seems to Watson that he is pleased. Smith agrees to come, and so Watson excuses himself by saying that he has another appointment. He arrives back at Baker Street before Smith gets there.
Holmes is pleased to hear that Smith is coming, and orders Watson to hide behind a decorative screen next to the bed. He does so, and presently, Culverton Smith arrives. His bedside manner seems more taunting than soothing.
Believing that they are alone, Smith is quite frank, and it soon emerges, to the hiding Watson’s horror, that Holmes has been sickened by the same illness that killed Smith’s nephew Victor. Believing that Holmes is at death’s door and will never get to repeat what he hears, Smith is also frank enough to admit that he murdered his nephew with this disease, which he had been studying. He sees the little ivory box, which Smith sent by post, and which contains a sharp spring infected with the illness. He pockets it, removing the evidence of his crime. He then resolves to stay there and watch Holmes die.
Holmes asks him to turn the gas up full, which he does. He also asks for a match and a cigarette. No sooner have these requests been fulfilled than Inspector Morton comes in — the gaslight was the signal to move in, it turns out. Holmes tells him to arrest Culverton Smith for his nephew’s murder. Smith, still as arrogant as ever, points out that his word is as good as Holmes’s in court, but then, of course, Watson emerges from behind the screen to present himself as a witness to the conversation.
Holmes is not really dying, of course. This has all been a ruse to get Culverton Smith to confess to his nephew’s murder. Holmes was not infected by the little box; he has enough enemies to know that he must always examine his mail carefully before he opens it. Starving himself for three days, and a little Vaseline, belladonna, rouge, and beeswax made him a convincing malingerer and the claim of the "disease's" infectious nature was to keep Watson from examining him and discovering the ruse.
Another excellent plot, I recommend this book to the permanent library of any reader that appreciates a well written mystery story, mainly featuring Mr. Sherlock Holmes.
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