In re-reading “The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place” recently to prepare for a meeting of the Agra Treasurers of Dayton, I was reminded of the falsity of the old canard that the later Sherlock Holmes stories invariably aren’t up to scratch.
Some of them aren’t, of course – and neither are some of the earlier stories. But “Shoscombe,” the very last Canonical story published and apparently the last written, is an excellent mystery of the “what is being done” type seen in so many Holmes stories. The mystery isn’t whodunit, whydunit, or howdunit, but what is going on with Sir Robert Norberton.
The solution involves (spoiler alert!) an impersonation that is worlds more believable than the one in “A Case of Identity,” the second Holmes short story published. And along the way we get a nice opening, good old Watson, good detecting, good dialogue, good scenes, and a nice ending.
Opening: “Sherlock Holmes had been bending for a long time over a low-power microscope.” That puts us right there in Baker Street where we belong.
Good old Watson: He may spend half his wound pension playing the ponies, but he’s “a rich vein” of information about Shoscombe Old Place and Sir Robert in this tale.
Good detecting: Holmes first explores the wrong theory that Sir Robert killed his sister, but that is part of the process. Borrowing Lady Beatrice’s spaniel enables him to establish that she is not the woman in the carriage. He then follows the bone to the crypt. This is not one of those regrettable stories where Holmes does essentially nothing.
Good dialogue: “This is Baker Street, not Harley Street.” “These are deep waters, Mr. Mason; deep and rather dirty.” “We are getting some cards in our hand, Watson.” “Dogs don’t make mistakes.”
Good scenes: The confrontation at the haunted crypt is downright gothic! For an earlier blog post on that, click here.
Ending: The final paragraph, while not memorable, is distinctly Watsonesque and closes out the Canon on a somehow pleasantly elegiac note.
In sum, the last Sherlock Holmes adventure may not be of the very first rank but is nowhere near the bottom. The author of this racing-related story did not limp to the finish line.