“On Christmas Day 1950 four Scottish students removed the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey. On 11 April 1951 it turned up 500 miles away – at the high altar of Arbroath Abbey!”
So says the official souvenir guide to Edinburgh Castle, which I picked up last year on our Scottish vacation. The oblong red sandstone block – also known as the Stone of Scone and used for centuries in the coronation ceremony of Scottish monarchs – has been on display at the castle since the English returned it to Scotland in 1996.
That is the historical fact. But there are many alternative facts, and one of the most intriguing is the idea that Sherlock Holmes (or a reasonable facsimile) was involved retrieving the stolen stone. August Derleth ploughed this ground in “The Adventure of the Stone of Scone” in The Return of Solar Pons. More recently, Mike Hogan spun a great yarn with The Scottish Questions: Sons of the Thistle.
Now comes Richard T. Ryan with another enjoyable tale, The Stone of Destiny. This time around, it’s a group of Irish rebels who decide to kidnap the ancient stone shortly after the death of Queen Victoria and hold it ransom. The price for Edward to get it back for his coronation is independence for the Emerald Isle.
Like Ryan’s earlier The Vatican Cameos, the story is told in chapters that alternate between Dr. Watson’s narrative and another viewpoint. In this case, the other narrative is a third-person account from the point of view of the Irish who took the stone. Since we already who they are, the suspense is wondering how Holmes will figure out where the stone is being held.
Holmes does not disappoint. His method, combining brilliant deduction and a trap or sorts, is extremely clever and worthy of the Master. In a foreshadowing of his undercover work in Irish disguise in “His Last Bow,” Holmes masquerades in Ireland as a chimney sweep. And Watson goes undercover, too – even sacrificing his mustache for the cause!