On December 7, 1941, a radio play starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce entitled “Mrs. Warren’s Lodger” was interrupted on the East coast by an announcement that President Franklin D. Roosevelt would be addressing the nation at noon the following day. That radio play, of course, was based on this particular Sherlock Holmes short story. How’s that for an introduction? But it’s neither here nor there where the story is concerned. I just thought that was an interesting bit of trivia to throw out there, an intersection with history, nothing more. Now that we’ve introduced the idea of Mrs. Warren and her lodger, let’s find out out about them, shall we?
Mrs. Warren, it turns out, wants to find more about her lodger as well, which is why she’s come to 221B. The lodger in question is a young, bearded man who speaks accented English and offered double the rent in exchange for his own terms. One the very first night, he stepped out and returned well past midnight when the rest of the household had gone to sleep. Since that time, neither Mrs. Warren, her husband, nor their servant had seen him. Among the lodger’s terms, the Daily Gazette was provided with his morning meal, along with other requested items. Mrs. Warren has, accordingly, brought some of these items — matches and the end of a cigarette — to Sherlock Holmes, hoping he might divine some answers from them. And as only Holmes can, he delivers. To him, it is clear the cigarette has been smoked without a holder, unusual for a man with a beard. He also eats very little, and never receives visitors nor messages. When Mrs. Warren departs, Holmes tells Watson that it’s likely the lodger is not the same man Mrs. Warren dealt with for the original arrangements. The printed note requests “match,” not “matches,” for example, noting a lack of English language knowledge. The late “return” the first night would ensure no one would see him.
The Daily Gazette, Holmes suspects, is the means through which communications are exchanged, which proves to be correct over the next few days, encoded and signed off with “G.” When Holmes decides it’s time to do some recon, Mrs. Warren returns, claiming her husband was kidnapped that morning, taken by cab to Hampstead Heath, and dumped into the roadway. Holmes realizes that the kidnappers discovered they’d nabbed the wrong man. Hoping to catch a glimpse of the lodger as he takes his lunch, Holmes and Watson arrive at Mrs. Warren’s house just before, where Holmes notes that the lodger’s window offers a good view down the street, and the house at the far end matches the one mentioned in the columns.
Hiding in a boxroom and using a mirror, Holmes and Watson discover the lodger is a young woman with a dark complexion. She prints, rather than writes, to disguise her gender. Equally clear to Holmes is that she and her confederate, either a lover or a husband, are in danger and are seeking refuge. The lodger suspects a trick and reacts in horror, suggesting a matter of life and death. That evening, they are able to see the confederate’s signals, sent by waving a candle. They learn the messages are in Italian, the “a” ending of words intend the recipient to be female, and the signaler is interrupted. This prompts Holmes and Watson into action, where they are surprised to find Inspector Gregson (in his final appearance in the canon) and an American Pinkerton detective named Leverton. They are on the hunt for Giuseppe Gorgiano, a violent killer of whom Holmes is certainly aware. The house has only one door, and they know he’s inside, but they are unaware of the signaled messages. Three men have come out, according to Gregson, but Gorgiano is a giant and cannot be mistaken as one of those three. One of the three, however, matches the description provided by Mrs. Warren at the beginning of the adventure.
Upon entering the room from where the signaling originated, the four crimefighters discover a harrowing scene. Gorgiano has been killed, apparently in a fight, and the bearded man is undoubtedly the killer. Holmes impersonates the bearded man by re-lighting the candle and calling for the lady, who surprises everyone but Holmes upon her appearance. Her name is Emilia Lucca, and the men are shocked by her obvious joy at the sight of the murder scene. She reveals the bearded man to be her husband, Gennaro. They were seeking refuge from Gorgiano, who was seeking to kill Gennaro for betraying the Red Circle, a criminal organization Gennaro had gotten involved in as an angry youth. He never participated in their crimes, however, and he eventually attempted to leave in spite of consequences. They fled Italy to New York, where Gorgiano caught up with them and looked to force Gennaro into killing a good friend who helped him start his legitimate business in the US. Gennaro warned his friend, informed the police, and the two fled to England with Gorgiano on their heels with plans to kill Gennaro and abduct Emilia.
Gregson is compelled to take Emilia into custody, and likely the same will happen to Gennaro, but as all was conducted in self defense, it’s likely the charges will be dropped.
For the diehard Sherlockians out there, this story has provided some bit of consternation and debate. As I mentioned, this is Gregson’s final appearance, for which there has been no explanation. His meeting Holmes is entirely coincidental, but he is grateful for his work with Scotland Yard in the past, so he appreciates what Holmes’ involvement here must mean. The debate over Gregson’s absence ever since has run the wide spectrum from “ACD forgot to bring him back” to “Gregson was killed by the Red Circle” and all points in between. Add to that, because Sherlockians must play “The Game,” the location of the adventure is of great concern. Howe Street overlooks Orme Street, otherwise known as Great Ormond Street in Central London. Sherlockians love to track these things down, much like Marvel fans love to walk the streets of New York and see where their heroes have their great battles. The problem: Howe Street exists only in the imagination of the writer and on the pages of this story. So much for that little quest…
Holmes refers to Leverton, the Pinkerton, as “the hero of the Long Island cave mystery.” As we all know, Sherlockians can’t leave well enough alone. There is no explanation in the canon of what this is, so it’s considered to be one of the untold cases. It seems important to point out that there are no caves on Long Island, New York, where the Pinkerton detective is apparently from. That said, there are caves on Long Island in the Bahamas. Things that make you go, “Hmmm…”
Maybe this is the part where I admit that while I enjoy this story for what it is, I rather enjoy watching the watchers more in this case. Sherlockians are some truly crazy fans. I love that.