It was with great excitement that I first learned of a deed box that had been deposited in the vaults of one of our great London banks nearly one hundred years ago, and somehow left untouched and forgotten for most of that time. My friend at the bank told me that this box had stencilled on it in white paint the words “JOHN H. WATSON MD” on the top, with the initials “JHW” and the legend “TO BE LEFT UNTIL CALLED FOR” on the side.
Though Watson is a common name, and John even more so, any medical doctor of that era bearing that evocative name surely must recall an association with that most famous of detectives, Mr Sherlock Holmes, who was at the height of his career in the decades immediately preceding the depositing of this box in the bank’s vaults. The legal proceedings by which I eventually gained custody of the box are technical, and a very little interest to anyone except a lawyer (and it seems to me that even the most dedicated lawyer would find little of interest!).
On my opening of the box, I discovered a treasure trove – treasure, that is, for all who have followed the exploits of Sherlock Holmes and have been tantalised by the hints dropped by Watson concerning the cases about which he had written, but had never published.
I chose to include tales which show hitherto unsuspected aspects of Holmes, some of which have been hinted at earlier by Watson.
The Deed Box Set
Tales from the Deed Box of John H. Watson M.D.
- The Odessa Business introduces a new member of the Holmes clan, as Sherlock Holmes investigates a death at an academy for young ladies, which opens more doors than were previously suspected.
- The Case of the Missing Matchbox reveals the truth about the “remarkable worm, said to be unknown to science”, which drove men to insanity.
- The Case of the Cormorant takes Holmes and Watson to Cornwall, where dark doings are afoot, which nevertheless must be kept hidden from the public.
A collection of well-thought out and very well written stories. It is also a joy to find a Watson who, whilst he isn’t as intelligent as Holmes, is nonetheless portrayed as a thoughtful and valued member of the team.
I love all the original Holmes tales, and will definitely be buying the other books in this series.
More from the Deed Box of John H. Watson M.D.
- Colonel Warburton’s Madness – why would a respectable retired Indian Army officer fling his breakfast boiled egg out of the window?
- The Paradol Chamber – a dead man in a locked vault, with the Angel of Death lying in pieces on the floor
- The Giant Rat of Sumatra – scandal and intrigue in the highest reaches of the Royal Navy
This Hugh Ashton has a fine talent in resurrecting the greatest sleuth of all time, Sherlock Holmes. If you didn’t know it wasn’t Conan Doyle then you wouldn’t know it wasn’t Conan Doyle. This is the second book in the series that I’m avidly reading and have favourably reviewed, and I’m delighted to give it a five-star rating even though I’m only half way through knowing fully what to expect. Absolutely spot on, I can’t wait to get stuck into the next one.
The stories in this collection, entitled Secrets from the Deed Box of John H Watson MD, all represent some aspect of Holmes and his adventures that has previously been undiscovered. In many ways these are (with the possible exception of The Bradfield Push, which Watson left unpublished for personal reasons) somewhat darker in tone than the stories that he did release to the public and publish in the Strand magazine.
For some reason, Watson failed to date most of Holmes’ adventures, and we must therefore make a guess at the chronology of these stories through their allusions to other cases.
- The first of these tales, The Conk-Singleton Forgery Case, is mentioned by Watson. He gives no other details in The Adventure of the Six Napoleons, and the story was presumably withheld from the public on account of Holmes’ brush with the police as described here. The story provides excellent examples of Holmes’ skill in deduction from seemingly trivial observations, as well as details of his methods of working a case.
- The Strange Case of James Phillimore, is likewise mentioned in passing by Watson. James Phillimore is described as stepping into his house to retrieve his umbrella, never to be seen more in this world. This brief description implies a somewhat supernatural twist to things, but the truth of the matter is even more surprising. The open antagonism between Sherlock Holmes and some officers of the Metropolitan Police Force may come as somewhat of a surprise to those who have always regarded him as an unflagging ally of the official guardians of law and order.
- In The Enfield Rope, we enter unknown territory.Watson never alluded to this case. The principals here were far too well-known to Watson’s public to allow of this case’s publication, even with pseudonyms, and respect for the British Establishment would have restrained Watson in this instance. Holmes’ sense of the dramatic is shown here, and his admiration and liking for a member of a part of society that was often shunned at that time shows a human, more attractive side to Holmes than is often portrayed by Watson.
- The Bradfield Push is an early case of Sherlock Holmes, where Watson loses both his heart and his watch. Holmes can retrieve one, but not the other.
“My goodness! I have never read a pastiche that felt so close to Doyle’s style – that is, until today, when I discovered this marvelous book by Hugh Ashton. His ‘Watson voice’ is impeccable and so are his interactions between Holmes and Watson.”
The Darlington Substitution
The deed box proved to have a false bottom, under which lay the manuscript of a full-length adventure of Sherlock Holmes, in which the great detective needs all his cunning and detective powers to unravel the mysteries at Hareby Hall.
Mentioned in passing by Dr. Watson in his account of A Scandal in Bohemia, The Darlington Substitution is a tale of deceit, treachery, and murder most foul, set in the wild Border country of northern England. Holmes and Watson encounter a centuries-old legend which tells of the future extinction of an ancient noble family, and set themselves against one of the most ingenious and fiendish villains ever to cross the path of Sherlock Holmes.
Holmes and his faithful biographer come to life again in this case, following in the tradition already set in the three volumes of the “Deed Box” series of shorter Holmes adventures.
I’m an amateur Sherlockian with 45 years of reading Holmes under my belt. My library of Sherlockiana is massive and there are not too many days that go by that I’m not reading Sherlock stories or scholarship. Over the years, I’ve read hundreds and hundreds of pastiches. Some better than others. In my opinion the work of Denis O. Smith has stood out as the best in this genre. When I came across Hugh Ashton’s work a few months ago, I finally found a rival to Smith.
This is simply the perfect pastiche. I can’t tell you all that the perfect pastiche must contain, but I know it when I read it. Simple as that. When you read it you end up forgetting that the story did not come off the pen of Doyle. Indeed, you could take one of these stories and insert it into the canon and someone who does not know the titles of the original 60, would not be able to pick it out as the pastiche.
The Adventure of the Trepoff Murder
The investigation by Sherlock Holmes of the murder of Admiral Trepoff, a Russian diplomat, takes him to Odessa, where he must match his wits against two opposing factions of the Okhrana – the feared Tsarist secret police.
He swiftly discovers wheels within wheels – and the result is shocking to him and to Dr. Watson, who faithfully recorded the case from Holmes’ account on his return.
This adventure was originally published as a 10-part serial on the Internet.