Sherlock Holmes and the Nine-Dragon Sigil

Sherlock Holmes and the Nine-Dragon Sigil

by Tim Symonds
MXPublishing (November 2016)
358p. ISBN 9781787050358

Publisher’s Summary

It’s the year 1906. Rumours abound that a deadly plot is hatching – not in the fog-ridden back-alleys of London’s Limehouse district or the sinister Devon moors of the Hound of the Baskervilles but in faraway Peking. Holmes’s task – discover whether such a plot exists and if so, foil it. But are the assassins targeting the young and progressive Ch’ing Emperor or his imperious aunt, the fearsome Empress Dowager Cixi? The murder of either could spark a civil war. The fate of China and the interests of Britain’s vast Empire in the Orient could be at stake. Holmes and Watson take up the mission with their customary confidence until they find they are no longer in the familiar landscapes of Edwardian England. Instead, they tumble into the Alice In Wonderland world of the Forbidden City.

General Summary

Unlike several of the reviews I’ve written for the Society so far, this book (which was sent to me by the author, Tim Symonds) features a Holmesian story much like the ones in the Canon.  Watson is the narrator, Holmes and his case are the focus, and it takes place in the era that the Canon was originally set.  This will, I am sure, make a number of Society members very happy.

The story, as noted in the publisher’s summary, takes place in 1906 and is firmly set during the Retirement Era.  Holmes is away in Sussex with his bees, while Watson tends to his practice.  It becomes clear from the get go that Watson is rather bored without the stimulation of his friend’s cases.  It is hardly surprising, then, that when approached by General Yuan for his help in developing a company of Chinese army medics, he leaps at the chance.

The book is steeped in historical detail which many readers will find incredibly rich.  The author meticulously notes the ephemera of the Edwardian era, such as ads and brands and the popular fashions of the time.  It does an excellent job of making you feel like you’re there, standing next to Watson.  When the narrative moves to China, the historical details do not end, and you’ll find yourself discovering a plethora of fascinating information.

The mystery is complex and knotty, and will satisfy anyone who has a fondness for royal dramas.  It was difficult to work out in advance, as no one is telling the full truth.  It also moves incredibly swiftly, moving from action to action to action, and it will certainly keep you engaged.

The Chinese characters, while occasionally steeped in unfortunate stereotypes both historic and modern, were as complex as the plot itself.  The Empress Dowager and the Emperor are, in particular, fully examined and have a plethora of emotions and motivations.  The Empress Dowager in particular was incredibly complicated character to understand, which is not necessarily surprising, given her role in history and the diversity of opinion on her rule.  Because the book primarily takes place in China, there are very few Canon characters who appear, but Mycroft shows off his role as The British Government as well, in a way that will certainly make Mycroft fans grin.

Canon was referenced throughout, and one can tell that Watson feels a bit nostalgic for the Good Ol’ Days, but it also serves to show just how deep the history between Holmes and Watson runs.  There is an easy camaraderie between the two that demonstrates the close friendship, and how quickly they can fall into old routines and patterns, despite the physical distance between them most of the time.

For anyone who likes a more traditional Holmesian romp, with an emphasis on investigation and friendship, this will certainly appeal!

What About Our Watson?

Watson is very much the central character in this story.  Even though it was Holmes that ultimately solves the mystery, it is Watson who drives the action and provides all the relevant clues.  As it is said in Canon, he is a conductor of light.

Delightfully, this story begins with Watson, not Holmes, being approached by a Chinese general who wants his help.  The General wants him to help build a company of medics in the Chinese military.  Although this explanation deflates a little bit later on, Watson provides a great deal of information and suggestions to the General, taking his job very seriously.

Watson also serves as a confidant to a number of people.  They tell him their problems with ease, as well as their secrets.  It is this quality of Watson, his unobtrusiveness, concern, and compassion, that provide him with so much information necessary for Holmes to solve the mystery.

If I have one complaint, it’s that the first-person narrative is perhaps a little distant, and so we don’t get to know a great deal of how Watson feels about the things he’s hearing and experiencing.  I would have loved to know more about his internal life throughout this book.  But he is a solid Watson, and I look forward to seeing this author’s other works.

You Might Like This Book If You Like:

Court intrigues; travelogues; Shakespeare; the Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce films

Is there a book you want Lucy to review?  Let her know!

On February 23rd… The Singular Affair of the Aluminum

Name the two cases these quotes are from if you would like:

We all filed into the front room and sat round the central table while the Inspector unlocked a square tin box and laid a small heap of things before us. There was a box of vestas, two inches of tallow candle, an A D P brier-root pipe, a pouch of seal-skin with half an ounce of long-cut Cavendish, a silver watch with a gold chain, five sovereigns in gold, an aluminum pencil-case, a few papers, and an ivory-handled knife with a very delicate, inflexible bade marked Weiss & Co., London.

And:

Here’s the record of the Tarleton murders, and the case of Vamberry, the wine merchant, and the adventure of the old Russian woman, and the singular affair of the aluminium crutch, as well as a full account of Ricoletti of the club foot and his abominable wife.

Portrait of Charles Martin Hall

Portrait of Charles Martin Hall (1863-1914)

 

What do these two quotations have in common? Aluminum!

Charles Martin Hall was able to isolate “aluminum metal by passing an electric current through a solution of aluminum oxide in molten cryoliteFebruary 23, 1886.

The “Hall Process” made aluminum available for use in relatively inexpensive commercial products like the pencil-case and crutch above.

Source
Information provided from the volume A Curious Collection of Dates, by Leah Guinn (JHWS “Amber”) and Jaime N Mahoney (JHWS “Tressa”), with additional information on the Hall Process from the American Chemical Society.

Villainesses, Adventuresses, and Other Canonical Women

Illustration by Sidney Paget from the Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton

In front of him, in the full glare of the electric light, there stood a tall slim, dark woman, a veil over her face, a mantle drawn round her chin. [CHAS]

Last week, author Michelle Birkby [Elise Elliot (JHWS “Lucy”) has reviewed both The Women of Baker Street and The House at Baker Street as part of our Dr Watson’s Library] was featured in iNews with an article called “The Female Villains in Sherlock Holmes Were Ahead of Their Time”.

Comparing the women in contemporaneous works – like Collins’ Armadale, Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret, and Dickens’ Bleak House – with some memorable Canonical women – like Sophy Kratides, Kitty Winter, and the unnamed mysterious lady who appears in “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton” – she says:

The bad women of Victorian literature lose. They have to, or what’s the world coming to? They are hanged, or kill themselves to save their loved ones, or just go mad.

No matter what their crime, if they deviate from the perfect Victorian woman, they must be punished.

Except for the female villains of the Sherlock Holmes stories. They get away with it.

(Why was a certain obvious name left off that list of “memorable Canonical women”? Birkby states right off the bat that “Irene Adler, from A Scandal in Bohemia, is, despite nearly every screen adaptation ever, not a villain.” Her reasons for this assertion are very clearly laid out, just in case anyone needed convincing. And for more on the topic, see Esther Inglis-Arkell’s io9 post from 2013, “Why can’t any recent Sherlock Holmes adaptation get Irene Adler right?”)

A good number of Canonical women defy the Victorian ideal of femininity, whether they be villainesses, adventuresses, or something else entirely. Birkby offers some thoughts on why this might be. What do you think? Who is your favorite Canonical woman (villain or not!), and why?

On February 22nd…

February 22, 1886: The beryl coronet was reclaimed by its owner. [BERY]

Illustration for the Beryl Coronet by J C Drake

J C Drake illustration for the Chicago Inter-Ocean

“That would be unnecessary. Three thousand will cover the matter. And there is a little reward, I fancy. Have you your cheque-book? Here is a pen. Better make it out for four thousand pounds.”

With a dazed face the banker made out the required cheque. Holmes walked over to his desk, took out a little triangular piece of gold with three gems in it, and threw it down upon the table.

With a shriek of joy our client clutched it up.

“You have it!” he gasped. “I am saved! I am saved!”

The reaction of joy was as passionate as his grief had been, and he hugged his recovered gems to his bosom.

“There is one other thing you owe, Mr. Holder,” said Sherlock Holmes, rather sternly.

“Owe!” He caught up a pen. “Name the sum, and I will pay it.”

“No, the debt is not to me. You owe a very humble apology to that noble lad, your son, who has carried himself in this matter as I should be proud to see my own son do, should I ever chance to have one.”

Source
Information provided by William S Dorn DWNP, BSI, from his book, A Day by Day Chronology of Sherlock Holmes.

Test Your Canonical Knowledge

Sherlockian author Tim Symonds let us know about a Canonical quiz he composed over at Education Quizzes: Fictional Characters – Sherlock Holmes. (Wait a second…. What’s this fictional business?!) I scored 100%, but the best part is the additional information revealed once you submit your answer to each question.

Tim Symonds is author of five novels about Holmes and Watson. The most recent is Sherlock Holmes and the Nine-Dragon Sigil. (A review will be posted later this week, so watch this space!)

Cover image of Sherlock Holmes and the Nine-Dragon Sigil by Tim SymondsIt’s the year 1906. Rumours abound that a deadly plot is hatching – not in the fog-ridden back-alleys of London’s Limehouse district or the sinister Devon moors of the Hound of the Baskervilles but in faraway Peking. Holmes’s task – discover whether such a plot exists and if so, foil it.

China’s fate and the interests of Britain’s Empire in the Orient could be at stake.

Holmes and Watson take up the mission with their customary confidence – until they find they are no longer in the familiar landscapes of Edwardian England. Instead, they tumble into the Alice In Wonderland world of the Forbidden City in Peking.

On February 21st… It’s a Special Day!

If you live in a country in which this numerical date is typically entered with month first, Then you have a chance by adding a B to have a very special day:

Happy 221B Day!!!!

If you live in a country that lists the day first, well, you had your 221B Day last month!

http://sherlockfood.tumblr.com/post/38942481930/dontmakepeopleintopandasjawn-my-birthday

[Thanks to the Sherlock Food Tumblr for featuring that nifty cake! –Selena Buttons]

On February 20th… Return of the Beryl Coronet

February 20, 1886: Holmes returned the missing part of the beryl coronet to Alexander Holder. [BERY]

Illustration of a Coronet of a Prince or Princess

Coronet of a British Prince or Princess. Probably not the Coronet entrusted to Holder.

With a dazed face the banker made out the required cheque. Holmes walked over to his desk, took out a little triangular piece of gold with three gems in it, and threw it down upon the table. With a shriek of joy our client clutched it up. “You have it!” he gasped. “I am saved! I am saved!” The reaction of joy was as passionate as his grief had been, and he hugged his recovered gems to his bosom. [BERY]

Source
Information supplied by the volume A Day by Day Chronology by William S Dorn, BSI.

On February 19th…

Paget illustratrion of Watson, Holmes, and Holder

“WITH A LOOK OF GRIEF AND DESPAIR” – illustration by Sidney Paget for The Strand, May 1892

February 19, 1886: Alexander Holder asked Holmes to find the missing part of the Beryl Coronet. [BERY]

 

 

 

 

Paget illustration for the Adventure of the Beryl Coronet

“there was a struggle between them” [BERY]

 

 

 

February 19, 1886: Holmes followed the footprints that Arthur Holder and Sir George Burnwell made in the snow. [BERY]

 

 

 

 

 

Illustration by Paget for the Adventure of the Beryl Coronet

 

February 19, 1886: Mary Holder eloped with Sir George Burnwell. [BERY]

 

 

 

Source
Information provided from the volume A Day by Day Sherlockian Chronology by William S Dorn DWNP, BSI.

On February 18th… “The Beryl Coronet”

Photo of Richard Carpenter as Arthur Holder

Richard Carpenter as Arthur Holder

February 18, 1886: Arthur Holder asked his father for money for the third time. [BERY]

Richard Carpenter (left) played Arthur Holder in the 1965 BBC television adaptation of “The Beryl Coronet“. It was the eighth episode of the series starring Douglas Wilmer (as Holmes) and Nigel Stock (as Watson). [Carpenter has another Sherlockian credit, as writer for four episodes of The Baker Street Boys (BBC, 1983) –Selena Buttons]

Bridal Coronet

Bridal Coronet Headpiece by Elnara Niall (Adi Mileva-Thigpen)

February 18, 1886: Part of the beryl coronet was stolen. [BERY]

Could the coronet have looked something like this beautiful bridal coronet by Elnara Niall?

Sources

Chronological information provided from the volume A Day by Day Sherlockian Chronology by William S Dorn DWNP, BSI. [Additional information about the BBC productions from IMDB –Selena Buttons]

On February 17th… The Birth of a Sherlockian Scholar

February 17, 1888: On this date, the Reverend Monsignor Ronald A Knox, one of the most eminent original Sherlockian scholars, was born. Although he was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1912, he converted to Catholicism, becoming a Roman Catholic priest in 1918, later a Monsignor. He is best known for writing the paper Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes.

Cover of RONALD KNOX AND SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE ORIGIN OF SHERLOCKIAN STUDIES, edited by Michael J. Crowe

Available from Gasogene Books (Wessex Press)

If there is anything pleasant in life, it is doing what we aren’t meant to do. If there is anything pleasant in criticism, it is finding out what we aren’t meant to find out. It is the method by which we treat as significant what the author did not mean to be significant, by which we single out as essential what the author regarded as incidental. […] There is, however, a special fascination in applying this method to Sherlock Holmes, because it is, in a sense, Holmes’s own method. ‘It has long been an axiom of mine,’ he says, ‘that the little things are infinitely the most important.’ It might be the motto of his life’s work.

This paper has generated years of Sherlockian studies. It was presented to the Gryphon Club in 1911, published in The Blue Book Magazine in 1912, and republished a number of times, including in Knox’s Essays in Satire in 1928. [The link above will take you to a PDF file of the paper in Blackfriars v1 n3 (June 1920), hosted at the University of Minnesota. -Selena Buttons]

In a response to the paper, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote that “Holmes changed entirely as the stories went on” but that “Watson never for one instant as chorus and chronicler transcends his own limitations. Never once does a flash of wit or wisdom come from him. All is remorsely eliminated so that he may be Watson.” [A frankly absurd assertion! -Selena Buttons]

My source for the information on Knox’s birthdate comes from A Curious Collection of Dates by Leah Guinn (“Amber”) and Jaime N Mahoney (“Tressa”). [Additional information about the presentation and publication of “Studies of the Literature of Sherlock Holmes” and Dr Doyle’s response comes from The Ronald Knox Society of North America. -Selena Buttons]