As an American, I celebrate Thanksgiving on the 4th Thursday of November. And as an American, I always have to deal with the absolute nonsense of overblown marketing that says Christmas stuff must happen before Halloween. It has little to do with the holiday season itself and more to do with the greed of retailers. And as a Texan, I never get anything resembling a proper Victorian era Christmas anyway. It’s either hot or just slushy, with any snows happening once every 5 to 10 years, and usually in February when it does happen. Christmas is a wonderful fantasy ideal for me that the real world intrudes upon. And so, I’m in the camp that says no Christmas until the Christmas season. When this buddy read really started getting some traction, it was a concern of mine that we should get our Holmesian Christmas story before it was time. I need not have worried, however. Timing turned out perfectly, and I get to engage with “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” appropriately on Black Friday instead of engaging with the holiday shopping frenzy that actually starts on Thanksgiving or before now because retailers are all afraid of Amazon. “Peace on earth and good will toward men” indeed. This planet has lost its collective mind, not that this is a new concept by any stretch of imagination. Friends, this is my idea of a happy holiday: an entertaining story, a little eggnog, some appropriate music to set the mood, and a little peace and quiet so as to enjoy it all properly. Let the holiday season begin.
The Blue Carbuncle is a near priceless jewel, stolen from the hotel suite of the Countess of Morcar. The police have arrested John Horner, a previously convicted felon working as a plumber. Despite claims of innocence, he’s busted simply for being in the Countess’ room repairing the fireplace near the time of the jewel’s theft. The jewel is still missing.
Two days after Christmas, Watson pays Holmes a visit, where he finds the detective pondering a battered hat brought to him by Peterson, the hotel’s commissionaire. After a scuffle with street roughs, a man dropped both the hat and a Christmas goose. Peterson brought them to Holmes in hopes of returning them to their proper owner. The goose is tagged to belong to Henry Baker, and the hat is likewise monogrammed “H.B.,” but there are far too many people by that common name in London to assume identification. Peterson took the goose home for dinner, and Holmes kept the hat so as to work his mind. When Watson attempts to apply Holmes’ methods to the hat, the result is one of those great classic exchanges that keeps me coming back to these stories time and again.
Peterson returns in short order, carrying the Blue Carbuncle, claiming it was found in the goose’s throat. (Side note: the claim is the gem is found in the goose’s crop. Geese do not have crops, a fact which drives hardcore Sherlockians absolutely bonkers because surely Holmes would know this. Some go so far as to claim this to be Holmes’ “greatest blunder.” Really? Really?!) At any rate, the identity of Henry Baker is now part of the greater mystery of the jewel. Through all of Holmes’ deductions, he cannot ascertain whether or not Baker was aware of the Carbuncle’s presence, so he resorts to placing ads in the local papers to draw Baker to him.
When Baker shows, all of Holmes’ deductions about him prove to be spot-on (as if there were doubts). Holmes explains the goose had been eaten and offers a replacement. When Baker accepts and declines to take the remnants of the original bird, Holmes is convinced that Baker is ignorant of the jewel. Through him, Holmes learns the original goose was bought at the Alpha Inn, a pub near the British Museum.
And so… the game is afoot. Holmes and Watson set out across the city to follow the path of the jewel from the hotel room to the goose, discovering that others know of the jewel’s connection to the goose. Holmes brilliantly dupes an angry merchant, Breckinridge, into revealing the goose’s supplier, one Mrs. Oakshott of Brixton Road. But the appearance of a cringing little man named James Ryder eliminates the need to make the trip. Ryder is the head attendant of the hotel where the Carbuncle was stolen, and he tries to pressure Breckinridge to reveal the location of the geese. Holmes and Watson intervene and lure Ryder back to 221B, where they tell him that they know about the goose, and that it “laid an egg after it is dead.” Ryder is duly terrified that he’ll be turned over to the authorities as soon as Holmes produces the Carbuncle and reveals a plot with his accomplice Catherine Cusack, the Countess’ maid, to frame Horner. Fearing arrest, he hid the stone to one of the geese being bred by his sister, the aforementioned Mrs. Oakshott, secure in the knowledge that the goose in question had been promised to him as a gift. But he confused the bird with another, ending up with the wrong goose. By the time he realized it, the others had all been sold, which led him to Breckinridge.
Let it not be said Holmes doesn’t have a heart. In the spirit of the season, Holmes decides that arresting Ryder would only make him a hardened criminal later. Ryder flees to the continent, and Horner is to be freed as the case against him would be nothing without false testimony against him. Holmes makes a snide comment about not being retained by the police to remedy their deficiencies. I love that. Despite his superior methods and example, Holmes understands better than anyone that you just can’t fix stupid… or is it simply willful ignorance? I suppose it ultimately doesn’t matter either way.
Happy Holidays, everyone.