Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Book "The Greek Interpreter" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

About the Book: "The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter", 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 Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. The story was originally serialised in Strand Magazine in 1893. This story introduces Holmes's elder brother Mycroft. Doyle ranked "The Greek Interpreter" seventeenth in a list of his nineteen favourite Sherlock Holmes stories.

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novels, The Mystery of Cloomber, not published until 1888, and the unfinished Narrative of John Smith, which would go unpublished until 2011.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 reinterred 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 honours 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: This is another entertaining short story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, featuring Sherlock Holmes. Plot is very interesting: on a summer evening, while engaged in an aimless conversation that has come round to the topic of hereditary attributes, Doctor Watson learns that Sherlock Holmes, far from being a one-off in terms of his powers of observation and deductive reasoning, in fact has an elder brother whose skills, or so Holmes claims, outstrip even his own. As a consequence of this, Watson becomes acquainted with the Diogenes Club and his friend's brother, Mycroft.
Mycroft, as Watson learns, does not have the energy of his younger brother and as a consequence is incapable of using his great skills for detective work:
“ If the art of the detective began and ended in reasoning from an arm-chair, my brother would be the greatest criminal agent that ever lived. But he has no ambition and no energy. He will not even go out of his way to verify his own solution, and would rather be considered wrong than take the trouble to prove himself right.”
In spite of his inertia, the elder Holmes has often delivered the correct answer to a problem that Sherlock has brought to him. On this occasion, however, it is Mycroft who has need to consult Sherlock. Mr. Melas, a Greek interpreter and neighbour of Mycroft, tells of a rather unnerving experience he has recently gone through.
Melas was called upon one evening by a man named Harold Latimer to go to a house, supposedly in Kensington, to do some translation in a business matter. On the way there in Latimer’s coach, Melas noticed that the windows were papered over so that he could not see where he was. Latimer also produced a bludgeon, laying it beside him as an implied threat. Melas protested, saying that what Latimer was doing was unlawful. The kidnapper replied that he would make it up to Melas, but also threatened him with unspecified retribution should the evening’s business ever be made public.
For approximately two hours they rode, at last arriving at a house. It was dark, and Melas only got a general impression of a large lot as he was hustled out of the coach and into the house. The house itself was poorly lit, but Melas made out that it was quite big. In the room into which he was led by Latimer and another, nervous, giggling gentleman — whose name is later discovered to be Wilson Kemp — Melas noticed a deep-pile carpet, a high marble mantel, and a suit of Japanese armour.
Another man was brought into the room. He was thin and emaciated and had sticking plaster all over his face, notably a big piece sealing his mouth. Melas knew then that things were not right. Melas was sly enough to observe that his kidnappers were utterly ignorant of Greek, and used this to find out some information. While Latimer and his giggling companion had Melas translate demands that this man sign some papers, Melas added his own short questions to the dialogue. The man not only answered Latimer that he would never sign these papers, but he also answered Melas that his name was Paul Kratides, that he had been in London for three weeks, that he had no idea what house he was in, and that his captors at the house were starving him. He wrote all his answers, unable as he was to speak through the sticking plaster.
Much could be inferred from Kratides’s answers to Latimer, too. Evidently, Latimer was trying to coerce Kratides into signing over property to him, and a woman was also involved. Latimer had warned Kratides that his obstinacy would do her no good.
Melas would have extracted the whole story from this stranger had the woman herself not burst in unexpectedly, but even that event furnished new information. She recognized Kratides as “Paul”, whereupon he managed to get the plaster off his mouth and he called her “Sophy”. They both behaved as though neither had expected to see the other.
Melas was ushered back into the coach for another interminable ride and was deposited far from his home on Wandsworth Common. He made it to Clapham Junction just in time for the last train to Victoria. He has now presented his story at the Diogenes Club to Mycroft, who asks his brother Sherlock to look into it.
An advertisement has already been placed begging the public for information. It yields a result. A Mr. Davenport knows the woman in question, and she is currently residing at the Myrtles, a house in Beckenham. Sherlock Holmes and his brother Mycroft, who received the message from Davenport, decide that they must go to Beckenham to see about this. Watson comes, too, and they decide to pick up Inspector Gregson, and Melas as well in case some translating needs to be done. They find, however, that he has already been picked up, by a nervous, giggling man brandishing a bludgeon. Holmes knows that this means trouble. Obviously the thugs know that Melas has betrayed them.
After the necessary legal procedures for securing a warrant have been completed, the group proceeds to Beckenham only to discover that the house, which indeed turns out to be as Melas has described, has been abandoned. Tracks advertise that a fully loaded coach has recently pulled out of the drive. Breaking in, they discover Melas and Kratides bound in a closed room where some charcoal has been lit to gas the two of them. Kratides is dead, but Melas recovers thanks to Watson's timely intervention.
Apparently, Kratides never signed any papers. It turns out that Sophy’s friends contacted Kratides, who was Sophy’s brother, in Greece to tell of what they thought was a bad situation for her with Latimer. He then came to England and wound up in Latimer’s power. He tried to force Kratides to sign over his sister’s property, and he refused absolutely.
All that is ever again heard of the thugs Latimer and Kemp is a news story from Hungary saying that they have both been stabbed to death. The official report says that it was a fight between the two of them. However, Holmes thought that perhaps Sophy has had her revenge on them somehow.
I recommend thi book to any reader that appreciates a well written mystery.

If you read this review, feel free to leave a comment.

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