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Friday, June 5, 2015

Book "The Adventure of the Lion's Mane" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

About the Book: "The Adventure of the Lion's Mane" (1926), one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of 12 stories in the cycle collected as The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes. It is notable for being narrated by Holmes himself, instead of by Dr. Watson (who does not appear in the story).

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novels, The Mystery of Cloomber, not published until 1888, and the unfinished Narrative of John Smith, which would go unpublished until 2011.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, Sherlock Holmes is enjoying his retirement in Sussex when one day at the beach, he meets his friend Harold Stackhurst, the headmaster of a nearby preparatory school called The Gables. No sooner have they met than Stackhurst's science master, Fitzroy McPherson, staggers up to them, obviously in agony and wearing only an overcoat and trousers. He collapses, manages to say something about a "lion's mane", and then dies. He is observed to have red welts all over his back, administered by a flexible weapon of some kind, for the marks curve over his shoulder and round his ribs.
Moments later, Ian Murdoch, a mathematics teacher, comes up behind them. He has not seen the attack, and has only just arrived at the beach from the school. Holmes sees a couple of people far up the beach, but thinks they are much too far away to have had anything to do with McPherson's death. Likewise, the few fishing boats off the beach are too far out.
It emerges that Murdoch and McPherson were friends, but had not always been. Murdoch is an enigmatic fellow with an occasional bad temper. He once threw McPherson's dog through a plate-glass window, for instance. Despite this, Stackhurst is sure that they were friends.
McPherson also had a lover, and on further investigation, it turns out that Maud Bellamy was McPherson's fiancée. A note confirming a meeting with her was found on McPherson, but it gave no clear details.
Holmes goes to look at the lagoon formed by a recent storm that local men have been using as a bathing pond. He sees McPherson's towel lying there dry and concludes that he never went into the water. Holmes arranges to have the caves and other nooks at the foot of the cliffs searched, expecting that nothing and no-one will turn up. He is right.
Stackhurst and Holmes decide to go and see Miss Bellamy to see whether she can shed any light on this perplexing mystery. Just as they are approaching The Haven, the Bellamys' house, they see Ian Murdoch emerge. Stackhurst demands to know what he was doing there, and an angry exchange ensues with Murdoch declaring in effect that it was none of Stackhurst's business. Stackhurst loses his temper and sacks Murdoch on the spot. He storms off to get ready to move out.
They visit the Bellamys and find an amazingly beautiful woman in Maud Bellamy, but two most unpleasant men in her father and muscular brother. It seems that they did not approve of the liaison between Maud and McPherson. They do not even find out about the engagement until this meeting, such has been the secrecy of their affair. Maud says that she will help however she can, but it does not seem likely that she can do anything. It emerges, however, that Ian Murdoch was once a potential suitor to Miss Bellamy. Holmes begins to suspect that Murdoch may be responsible for McPherson's death, out of jealousy.
A further mystifying clue presents itself when McPherson's dog is found dead at the very pool where McPherson met his end. It obviously died in agony, much as its master did. At this point, Holmes begins to suspect something else. The dead man's dying words, "lion's mane," have triggered a memory, but he cannot quite call it back to mind.
Inspector Bardle of the Sussex Constabulary visits Holmes to ask if there is enough evidence to arrest Ian Murdoch. Holmes is sure that there is not. The case is most incomplete, especially as Murdoch has an alibi. He also could not have singlehandedly overcome McPherson, who was quite strong, despite having heart trouble. The two men also consider McPherson's wounds. The weals actually looked as though they may have been administered by a hot wire mesh, or perhaps a cat o' nine tails. Holmes has formed a theory which might explain McPherson's death and is about to go back to the bathing pond to test it.
As he is about to leave, Murdoch arrives, helped in by Stackhurst, who is afraid that Murdoch might be dying; he fainted twice in pain. He has the same wounds on him that McPherson had. In great agony, he calls for brandy, passes out, but finally recovers.
At the bathing pond, Holmes spots the murderer: it is a Lion's Mane Jellyfish (Cyanea capillata), a deadly creature about which Holmes has read. Holmes takes a rock and kills it. He shares the story by John George Wood of an encounter with just such a jellyfish with the other men. Murdoch is exonerated, of course. It turns out that he was acting as a go-between for McPherson and Maud, and did not wish to discuss it with anyone. The story ends on an upbeat note as Stackhurst forgives Murdoch and gives him his job back.
Another very entertaining Sherlock Holmes short story! I recommend this book to all readers that appreciate a well written mystery book.

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