Sherlock Holmes 2: The Dispatch-box series

The first deed box sent to me from London containing some of the untold cases of Sherlock Holmes was a source of wonder to me as I explored the various documents within it. When I had come to the end of the cases, though, I confess to having been somewhat disappointed that not all the cases mentioned by Watson in the published works were present. Was it possible, I asked myself, that the box that had been sent to me was not the box that Watson had mentioned in Thor Bridge? Perhaps there was more than one box that had been deposited in the vaults of Cox & Co?

I’m afraid it has spoilt your beautiful bust, for it passed right through the head and flattened itself on the wall.”

As it turned out, my guess was correct. As I was in the final stages of editing The Darlington Substitution, I received another message from my friend in the bank in England. Amazingly, another box had been discovered, also with Dr Watson’s name painted on the outside. She asked if this should also be sent to me. You may guess at my answer!

When the box arrived, I opened it with some excitement, which rapidly turned to an initial sense of disappointment. While the first box had contained neatly sorted papers, for the most part concerned with the ­cases of Sherlock Holmes, and complete adventures described in a style which required little work before they could be published, the contents of this new box, the physical appearance of which which came far closer to the description of the dispatch-box described by Watson, were different. This box seemed to have been used as a storage place for all Dr. Watson’s papers, and not only those relating to Sherlock Holmes. I found myself confronted by laundry lists, old wedding invitations, press cuttings relating to medical colleagues (or so I assumed), and very little which marked John Watson as the intimate friend and biographer of the famous detective Sherlock Holmes.

But my disappointment soon turned to excitement. In the manner of an archæologist who has dug his way through layers of modern refuse, eventually to discover a Roman mosaic or some similar treasure, I discovered at the bottom of the dispatch-box a cardboard box, stuffed to overflowing with records of Sherlock Holmes and his cases.

To be sure, these papers were in nowhere near the condition that I had discovered the papers in the first of the boxes. Some were rough notes, some were completely contained in notebooks, obviously fair copies which had been intended for publication, but for some reason had never seen the light of day, and there were several packets of loose papers. One of these packets contained many papers written in a hand that I failed to recognise; it being neither that of John Watson, with whose writing I was now unhappily familiar (“unhappily” on account of its splendid illegibility), nor that of Sherlock Holmes, samples of whose hand I had encountered in the previous box. Of this packet, more below.

Notes from the Dispatch-box of John H. Watson M.D.

Notes-from-the-Dispatch-box-of-John-H-GenericAnother discovery from the vaults of Cox and Co., the old London bank which had previously forwarded the Deed Box of John H Watson to the author. The Dispatch Box contains all manner of illuminating documents about Messrs. Holmes and Watson. Of particular interest are what the author refers to as:

  • The Affair of the Vatican Cameos
  • The Reigate Poisoning Case, with a shocking conclusion,
  • And a document apparently written by the man Holmes himself called ‘the fourth smartest man in London’, The History of John Augustus Edward Clay, As Told by Himself

Canon from start to ending and stretching from the Victorian and into the Edwardian eras with complete fidelity to Conan Doyle’s originals. Thoroughly enjoyable tales of the greatest detective who ever existed (no, he never lived but he has surely existed in the world of novels and stories for a very long time).

Further Notes from the Dispatch-Box of John H. Watson M.D.

Further-Notes-from-the-Dispatch-box-GenericIncluded in this volume are four tales, all referenced in the canonical originally published adventures:

  • The Abernetty Horror: A bloody crime in a Welsh fishing village points to one seemingly obvious answer. Holmes brings his reasoning powers to bear on the parsley and butter to discover the true solution (mentioned in The Six Napoleons).
  • The Finsbury House: “the shocking affair of the Dutch steamship Friesland, that so nearly cost us both our lives” (The Norwood Builder).
  • The Curious Affair of the Archdeacon: Mentioned in passing at the beginning of the Red Circle, this case is more light-hearted than many of Holmes’ adventures.
  • An Account of the Victor Lynch Forgery: An account of an early case of Sherlock Holmes, related not by Watson, but by Inspector Lestrade, in the form of a letter to the good doctor, following the events at Meiringen. Mentioned in both Study in Scarlet and the Sussex Vampire.

This collection includes a Foreword from consulting Sherlockian Dr. Philip. C. Eyster, who writes, “I had only read a few pages of his initial story, when I knew that Mr. Ashton has not only the skill but also the deep-felt desire to faithfully add to the canon the same Sherlock as came from the pen of Arthur Conan Doyle over 100 years ago.”

The Death of Cardinal Tosca

The-Death-of-Cardinal-Tosca-GenericA Papal legate, on a secret mission to England from Rome, is discovered dead. How did he die? And why?

Mycroft Holmes, master of many of the secrets of the realm, calls in his younger brother Sherlock to discover the answer to these questions.

When he arrives at the scene of the crime, Sherlock Holmes discovers that the Cardinal’s corpse has been moved – inside a locked room. A search for a missing document which may prove to be the clue to this riddle – but Holmes and Watson find themselves caught in a tangled web of mystery and political intrigue as they investigate The Death of Cardinal Tosca.

Hugh Ashton did a wonderful job continuing the stories of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. His style is reminiscent of Conan Doyle and it’s very clear he’s done a lot of research. I loved this mystery, it had me enthralled in the mystery once I picked it up! It was a little like a Dan Brown mystery but through Holmes and Watson.

Without my Boswell

Without-my-Boswell-GenericBefore John Watson had his fateful encounter with the eccentric beater of corpses at Barts, there was a consulting detective by the name of Sherlock Holmes, who had already built up a practice and a reputation that extended to Scotland Yard. However much he may have felt lost without his Boswell later in his career, Holmes was playing a solo game when he started out.

Here are five cases which helped to establish Sherlock Holmes in his career as the world’s first consulting detective, all of which are mentioned by name in the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:

  • The Tarleton Murders
  • The Case of Vamberry the Wine Merchant
  • The Singular Affair of the Aluminium Crutch
  • The Case of the Abominable Wife
  • The Adventure of the Two Bottles

Consisting of 5 different cases from Holmes’ pre-Watson days, each of a different flavour and texture – from the light-hearted to the gruesome, all the cases are a delight to read. They show Holmes in a new light, back to the days when he was just learning to become the world’s foremost consulting detective, and am sure Doyle would have approved of these. A definite recommend to fans of Holmes!

The Last Notes from the Dispatch-Box of John H. Watson M.D.

The-Last-Notes-from-the-Dispatch-box-GenericFound at the bottom of a dispatch box once belonging to John H Watson, MD, are notes of cases which, until now, had never been read.

The first of these, The Case of the Russian Bear, involves the British Government, as represented by Mycroft Holmes. The circumstances surrounding it are mentioned in The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax, where Holmes mentions to Watson that it would be impossible for him to leave London while “old Abrahams” is in such danger. We are not told any more about Abrahams in the Canon, but he may be identified as Sir David Abrahams, who makes his appearance in The Enfield Rope.

In it, we see Holmes’ varied interests, including Kaballah, and some knowledge of the anarchist and revolutionary movements in Russia at the end of the 19th century (the last no doubt at least as the result of his work for Mycroft). There can be little doubt in my mind that Watson witheld publication of this adventure on account of its political sensitivity.

The second adventure recorded here, The Hand of Glory, is a purely domestic adventure, taking place as it does in a small unnamed Warwickshire market town, which it is impossible to identify from the sketchy description here.

Holmes’ knowledge of the esoteric superstitions of the past stands him in good stead here, and leads him to a satisfactory elimination of a criminal conspiracy, set up and masterminded for reasons of personal revenge.

The grisly elements in this story are beyond anything described elsewhere by Watson, surpassing even The Cardboard Box and Black Peter in their gruesome nature. It seems to me that this would form a reason for this adventure to remain unpublished by Watson.

Lastly, we turn to the Disappearing Spoon; a light-hearted look at a very minor incident in which Holmes renders assistance to a former schoolfellow. Disappointingly, though, we are not informed which school he attended (my personal belief is that Holmes was educated at Stonyhurst College, but there is no way of verifying or disproving this from the material available here).

Hugh Ashton is the premiere Holmesian pastiche writer today without exception. I have read every single one of his stories and “The Hand of Glory” in this volume is one of the most perfect stories he has written. It has everything you would expect and then some. Holmes and Watson are the perfect team in this one and the ending is wrapped up neatly with Holmes anticipating the actions of his foes, employing Watson to play trump cards in one location while he closes the deal in another. Thoroughly enjoyable.