“The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb”
Watson tells us at the beginning of this story that this is only one of two cases that he referred to Holmes during their partnership. The puzzle begins with a man arriving at Watson’s residence in dire need of medical attention as a result of his thumb being amputated. Victor Hatherly tells Watson that the story of his missing thumb is an extraordinary one for which he’ll need to contact the police, but Watson recommends that he tell his story first to Holmes, and Hatherly agrees, saying he is familiar with Holmes’ reputation and will pursue whatever recommendation Holmes gives him. Once at Baker Street, it is revealed that Hatherly is a hydraulics engineer who used to be employed with an engineering firm but now is in business for himself. He hasn’t many clients or a lot of work, so when a man appears—Colonel Lysander Stark—with a job for him which he is willing to pay Hatherly twenty guineas to complete, Hatherly instantly agrees. However, the job is a curious one—he must appear at his client’s house at 11pm in the evening, and he must tell no one anything about the job itself. There is also no train back to London and so Hatherly will have to spend the night at his client’s home. Hatherly is a bit suspicious but he agrees, and as the evening progresses he becomes even more suspicious. He does finally have a look at the machine and identifies the problem, but he also knows that the machine cannot be used for the purpose that Stark has claimed it is used for. Revealing this knowledge puts Hatherly in danger and results in the loss of his thumb.
I think that this story is one of my least favorite stories. Hatherly states the case to Holmes and Watson, but once he does, Holmes calls in Scotland Yard and they go to apprehend the culprit. There’s not much thinking involved, just the resolution and reveal of the business that Hatherly has gotten himself mixed up in.
“The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor”
This is the story of Lord St. Simon and the “strange” events of his marriage. Holmes receives a letter from St. Simon, requesting his assistance in a highly delicate matter. Holmes turns to Watson to get the backstory on St. Simon, who has been following the man’s story—both leading up to and after his marriage—in the papers. Watson explains to Holmes that St. Simon at last finally proposes to and marries a young American heiress, and that the newspapers are up in arms because it seems that the sons of the British aristocracy have begun to select American wives instead of British wives. Immediately after the wedding takes place, the wedding party returns for a wedding breakfast, and ten minutes into the breakfast, the bride excuses herself and completely disappears. St. Simon hopes that Sherlock can help him solve the mystery of his missing wife. Holmes does, quite easily, and he says that he’s known even before meeting St. Simon what the likeliest explanation was for his wife’s disappearance.
This story is similar to the one that precedes it in the collection—there is long exposition of the case and the reveal happens almost instantaneously. This story was okay, but again, not one of my favorites. I like it better when Holmes and Watson actually do some detecting.
“The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet”
In this story, Sherlock’s client is one Alexander Holder, a London banker. This story also begins in an entertaining way. Watson is standing at the windows and notices a man running down the snowy, icy streets of London; he thinks the man is an escapee from an asylum, while Sherlock believes that he is their newest client, and of course he ends up being correct. Once the banker is able to calm himself, he begins to state the case to Holmes and Watson. Just the previous day, he was approached by an incredibly prominent, important personage whose face everyone in London would recognize but whom Holder will not name for reasons of propriety and discretion. This person asks Holder for a short term loan of 50,000 pounds, and because the banker is known for not making loans unless some kind of collateral can be given to secure the loan, this person provides Holder with the beryl coronet—a most valuable public possession of the empire. If anyone were to find out that this person has used the possession to secure a loan, or if anything should happen to the coronet, it would be quite the public scandal. Holder, of course, agrees to give the loan, but at the end of the day he feels uneasy about leaving the coronet in the safe in his office. He thinks it would be better to always have it in his possession, and so he takes it home with him, where it is promptly stolen from his bedroom that very night. In the house at the time are some servants whom Holder has the utmost faith in, save one, as well as his son and adopted daughter. Holder’s son has a problem with gambling and getting into debt, and when Holder hears a noise that night and goes to investigate, he finds his son holding the coronet, which has been damaged and from which three of the beryls have been removed. Holder believes his son to be guilty and has him arrested. He has come to Holmes for help in locating the missing beryls and trying to convince his son to reveal what he has done with them. Sherlock takes the case.
I thoroughly enjoyed this story, and it’s one of my favorites in this collection. Again, Holmes has to do some detecting and looking into motives for the crime. Holmes is notorious for donning disguises, and once again he puts on the disguise of someone who is “disreputable” merely by changing his clothes, offering further commentary on how appearances can be deceiving. Another thing about this story is that Holmes’ favorite maxim makes an appearance: “When you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” After finishing this story, I found myself hoping that Steven Moffatt would choose this story to adapt for the Sherlock series. I can totally imagine Mycroft bringing this case to Sherlock and asking him to solve it. This is definitely one of the must-read stories in this collection.
“The Adventure of the Copper Beeches”
The beginning of this story is wonderful. Indeed, the first couple of pages are the best part of the story. Holmes and Watson are home at Baker Street, and Holmes tells Watson that he tends to embellish the stories, and notes that he doesn’t write up the cases that get the greatest public attention but those cases which showcase Holmes’ powers of deduction and logic. Feeling a bit stung by Holmes comments, Watson calls Sherlock egotistical and that it is one of Holmes’ qualities that he finds most repellent. Holmes says “Crime is common. Logic is rare.” He goes on to tell Watson “You have degraded what should have been a course of lectures into a series of tales.” The opening is a fantastic look into the relationship between the two men. Of course, their conversation is interrupted by a new client. Her name is Violet Hunter, and she is a governess. She comes to Holmes to ask if she should take a new job and tells him the story of her potential employer and his odd idiosyncrasies. The one she finds most offensive is his request that she cut her lovely chestnut hair. Ultimately, Holmes advises her to take the case but also cautions her that there is something wrong about the job offer and tells her to call him when she feels herself to be in danger. She does call, and Holmes and Watson go out to investigate. The solution to the mystery reminded me a bit of The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe, but otherwise, this was one of my least favorite stories in the collection. It’s only the beginning that redeems it.