Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Book "The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

About the Book: "The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge" is one of the fifty-six Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Arthur Conan Doyle. One of eight stories in the cycle collected as His Last Bow, it is a lengthy, two-part story consisting of "The Singular Experience of Mr. John Scott Eccles" and "The Tiger of San Pedro", which on original publication in The Strand bore the collective title of "A Reminiscence of Mr. 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novels, The Mystery of Cloomber, not published until 1888, and the unfinished Narrative of John Smith, which would go unpublished until 2011.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 short story, Holmes is visited by a perturbed proper English gentleman, John Scott Eccles, who wishes to discuss something “grotesque”. No sooner has he arrived at 221B Baker Street than Inspector Gregson also shows up, along with Inspector Baynes of the Surrey Constabulary. They wish a statement from Eccles about the murder near Esher last night. A note in the dead man’s pocket indicates that Eccles said that he would be at the victim’s house that night.
Eccles is shocked to hear of Aloysius Garcia’s beating death. Yes, he spent the night at Wisteria Lodge, Garcia’s rented house, but when he woke up in the morning, he found that Garcia and his servants had all disappeared. He was alone in an empty house. He last remembers seeing Garcia at about one o’clock in the morning when he came to Eccles’s room to ask if he had rung.
Eccles met Garcia, a Spaniard, through an acquaintance, and seemed to form an unlikely friendship right away. Garcia invited Eccles to stay at his house for a few days, but when Eccles got there, he could tell that something was amiss. Garcia seemed distracted by something, and the whole mood of the visit seemed quite sombre. Indeed, Garcia’s mood became even darker once his servant handed him a note that evening.
Eccles left Wisteria Lodge and inquired about the place at the estate agent’s, and was surprised to find that the rent on the house had been paid in full. Odder still, no-one at the Spanish Embassy in London had heard of Garcia.
Inspector Baynes produces the note that Eccles saw Garcia receive. It reads “Our own colours, green and white. Green open, white shut. Main stair, first corridor, seventh right, green baize. Godspeed. D.”, in a woman’s handwriting. Could it have been a tryst? Could a jealous husband be behind Garcia’s death?
It emerges that Baynes has deduced that Garcia’s body had been lying out in the open since one o’clock, but Eccles says that this is impossible, as Garcia came to his room about then. Holmes theorizes that Garcia may have tampered with the clocks to get Eccles to bed earlier than he thought it was, and that the whole business of coming to his room and making a point of mentioning that it was one o’clock — when it was probably much earlier — was likely aimed at setting up an alibi, but for what?
All that Holmes can deduce is that the murderer lives near Wisteria Lodge, and in a big house.
Holmes and Dr. Watson go to Esher to see Wisteria Lodge with Inspector Baynes. The constable guarding the house reports a hair-raising experience. A brutish-looking man — the devil himself, thought the constable — looked in the window. The constable gave chase, but the intruder got away. Holmes establishes by the footmarks that the constable did not imagine this.
Inside the house, a number of odd items are to be seen. Something resembling a mummified baby, a bird torn to pieces, a pail of blood, and a platter full of charred bones. Holmes later links these to voodoo, providing an important clue.
Suddenly, however, five days after the murder, Holmes is astonished to read in the newspaper that Baynes has arrested someone, Garcia’s cook, the brutish fellow who had given the constable such a start. He provides little information, though — only grunts. Holmes is sure that the cook is not the murderer, and warns Baynes. Baynes, however, declines Holmes's assistance and advice.
Holmes spends the next day reconnoitering the local country houses, and finds one of interest, the Henderson household, whose master has obviously spent time in the tropics, and whose servant is a dark-skinned foreigner. Henderson’s two girls have an English governess named Burnet. Holmes also learns from a sacked gardener that Henderson is rich, and scared of something, although no-one can say what. Nor can anyone say where he came from. Henderson is also violent.
Holmes believes that the cryptic note came from this household, High Gable, and the writer could only be Miss Burnet, who has not been seen since the night of the murder. Holmes decides to go to High Gable, at night, to see whether he can “strike at the very heart of the mystery”. He does not get the chance.
Warner, the sacked gardener, comes in and announces that the Hendersons have fled by train, and tried to take Miss Burnet with them. He, however, wrestled her into a cab and brought her to the inn where Holmes and Watson are staying. She was obviously unwilling to go with Henderson for she had been drugged with opium.
“Henderson” has also been identified, by Inspector Baynes. He is Don Juan Murillo, the Tiger of San Pedro, a hated and feared overthrown dictator from Central America. Garcia, who was from San Pedro, not Spain, got himself killed in a revenge plot, it turns out. Miss Burnet was also part of the plot. Yes, she wrote the note, but Murillo’s secretary caught her doing it, Murillo confined her, and then awaited Garcia’s move, killing him. Miss Burnet’s real name is Mrs. Victor Durando. Her late husband was from San Pedro, its ambassador to Britain and a potential political rival to Murillo. Murillo had him recalled and shot so that he could not pose a threat to Murillo's position.
Out of the entire collection of Holmes stories by Doyle, this is the only story in which a police inspector (specifically, Inspector Baynes) is as competent as Holmes. Holmes has nothing but praise for Inspector Baynes, believing that he will rise high in his profession, for he has instinct and intuition. Inspector Lestrade rarely received this kind of appreciation from Holmes.
San Pedro is a fictitious country; its colors are green and white, explaining one part of the cryptic note.
Murillo and his companions give the police the slip in London, and resurface in Madrid under new aliases. However, they are both murdered, apparently by Nihilists and their killers are never caught.
Excellent plot, I recommend this book to any reader that appreciates a well written mystery short story. It will keep them entertained for a couple of hours.

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