About the Book: "The Adventure of the Red Circle" is one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Arthur Conan Doyle. It is included in the anthology 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novels, The Mystery of Cloomber, not published until 1888, and the unfinished Narrative of John Smith, which would go unpublished until 2011.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, Mrs. Warren, a landlady, comes to 221B Baker Street with some questions about her lodger. A youngish, heavily bearded man, who spoke good but accented English came to her and offered double her usual rent on the condition that he get the room on his own terms. He went out the first night that he was there, and came back after midnight when the rest of the household had gone to bed. Since then, neither Mrs. Warren, her husband, nor their servant girl have seen him. The lodger insisted on having the Daily Gazette every morning, and sometimes requested other things. All requests were printed on a slip of paper left on a chair outside the room where meals were also left.
Mrs. Warren has brought some spent matches and a cigarette end from her lodger, hoping that Holmes can read something from them. It is clear that the cigarette has been smoked without a holder, which is quite unusual for a man with whiskers. He also eats very little, and never receives visitors or messages.
After the landlady leaves, Holmes remarks to Dr. Watson that it seems likely that the person in Mrs. Warren’s house is not the bearded man who made the arrangements. The evidence lies not only in the cigarette, but in the fact that the lodger’s knowledge of English is not as good as the bearded man’s (he wrote MATCH as one of his requests, for instance, not MATCHES). His “return” on the first night was very late so that no-one would see him and he has taken great pains to ensure no-one has seen him since.
Holmes suspects that messages are being sent to the lodger, perhaps in the Daily Gazette’s agony column. He finds them: “Will find some sure means of communication. Meanwhile, this column. G.” (posted only two days after the lodger’s arrival), “Am making successful arrangements. Patience and prudence. The clouds will pass. G.” (three days later), and “The path is clearing. If I find chance signal message remember code agreed–one A, two B, and so on. You will hear soon. G.” (yesterday). Holmes needs only wait one day for a very useful message: “High red house with white stone facings. Third floor. Second window left. After dusk. G.” Holmes decides that it is time to reconnoitre Mrs. Warren’s neighbourhood.
Just then, Mrs. Warren arrives complaining that her husband was kidnapped that morning and taken by cab to Hampstead Heath where he was unceremoniously cast onto the roadway. He never got a clear look at his kidnappers or their cab. Holmes realizes that the ruffians mistook Mr. Warren for the lodger, and dumped him after they realized their mistake.
Holmes and Watson go to Mrs. Warren’s house just before lunchtime, hoping to catch a glimpse of the lodger as he takes his lunch from the chair. Before going in, Holmes observes that the lodger’s window commands a good view down Howe Street, and at the other end is a house matching the one mentioned in the agony column.
In Mrs. Warren’s house, Holmes and Watson hide in a boxroom. By using a mirror they see the lodger retrieve the lunch tray from the hall, discovering that the lodger is a comely-featured young woman with a dark complexion. They realize that she has been carefully printing (rather than writing in common handwriting) her requests to hide her gender. It is equally clear that she and her bearded confederate, likely a lover or husband, are in some kind of danger and seeking refuge. From the lodger’s horror at suspecting a trick at lunchtime, and the exceptional precautions that have been taken to ensure secrecy, it must be a matter of life and death.
That evening, Holmes and Watson are on hand to see the lodger’s confederate’s lantern-signals, sent by a waving candle. The first message says “Attenta, attenta, attenta!” (Beware, beware, beware!). It becomes clear that they are Italian, and from the “-a” ending that the message is meant for a woman. The signaller then flashes “Pericolo” (“Danger”) and then “Peri-”.
Realizing that the signaller has been interrupted, Holmes and Watson rush to the house and are surprised to meet Inspector Gregson and a Pinkerton detective from the United States named Leverton (described by Holmes as "the hero of the Long Island cave mystery"). They are lying in wait for Giuseppe Gorgiano, a vicious killer of whose infamy Holmes is well aware. The house has only one door and they know that he is inside. Gregson and Leverton have been unaware of the signalled messages. Gregson says that three men have come out of the house, but none was Gorgiano, who is a giant. One, however, matched the description of the man who made the arrangements at Mrs. Warren’s.
Going into the house and to the room where the signalling came from, Holmes, Watson, Gregson, and Leverton discover a grisly scene. The giant Gorgiano has been killed, apparently in a fight. The bearded man is undoubtedly the killer. The lady's arriving at the door shortly afterward is a surprise to everyone but Holmes, who had impersonated the lady's confederate by re-lighting the same candle that her confederate had used, and signalling in Italian for her to come.
Her name is Emilia Lucca, and her confederate is Gennaro, her husband. The men are rather taken aback by her obvious joy at this ghastly sight. She confirms that the Luccas were seeking refuge from the dangerous Giuseppe Gorgiano, who was out to kill Gennaro for betraying the Red Circle, a secret criminal organization that he had got himself involved in as a younger man, when he'd been deeply embittered over worldly injustices. Gennaro had never actually participated in any of the society's crimes, however, and eventually decided to leave the organization in spite of the threatened consequences. He and his wife fled Italy and went to New York to escape the Red Circle, but Gorgiano, another member, discovered Gennaro there, and contrived to oblige him to murder a good friend, a man who had gotten Gennaro started in legitimate business in the USA.
Gennaro had no intention of doing such a thing, and even warned his friend of the Red Circle’s orders. The police were also informed. The Luccas then fled to England where Gorgiano tracked Gennaro down, intending to kill Gennaro and abduct the lovely Emilia, to whom he had developed a lustful attraction. Gorgiano died in the ensuing fight, however.
Gregson feels compelled to take Emilia down to the police station, and the same fate probably awaits Gennaro, but as it is obvious that their actions had been purely in self-defense, it seems likely that there will be no charges.
Excellent plot, I recommend this story to the permanent library of all readers that appreciate a well written mystery tale, mainly featuring Mr. Sherlock Holmes. They will not be disappointed.
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