The Five Orange Pips by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle a Sherlock Holmes short story
I congratulate myself on two counts – First, I think I was actually ahead of Sherlock in solving this mystery.
The client relates how his uncle and then father died under suspicious circumstances, after receiving ominous notes, each containing five orange pips, and that he, the client, has now received a similar communiqué. The uncle emigrated to the United States, made a small fortune, fought for the Confederacy, and then returned to England, where he led a private and friendless life.
SPOILER ALERT – The following contains a spoiler.
When the uncle receives the threatening note, singed by K.K.K. I was immediately suspicious of the Ku Klux Klan. Doyle’s English readers were probably less familiar with the K.K.K., so it was probably more astonishing for Sherlock to draw upon his encyclopedic well of knowledge to make the connection – but for me, considering the victim's history, it was a fairly obvious nexus.
The case is unusual in several respects. Although Holmes solves the case, he fails to act quickly enough to prevent his client’s murder or to see the culprits arrested – though fate deals out justice quite nicely.
Oh yes, my second point of self-congratulation. I am slowly making my way through The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, which purports to put all of Holmes’ cases into chronological order, and I have detected an error in the arrangement. When discussing this case, Holmes asserts:
I think, Watson…that of all our cases we have had none more fantastic than this.
And Watson replies:
Save, perhaps, the Sign of Four.
Which clearly refutes the order in The Annotated Sherlock Holmes in which The Sign of the Four does not occur for some time yet.
Perhaps I should take up sleuthing.
Two amusing bits of dialogue. When a visitor is noted on a particularly dismal London night, Watson wonders if it is one of Sherlock’s friends. Holmes replies:
Except yourself, I have none
A bit later, when the client expresses his impression of Holmes’ reputation, that he was “never beaten” Holmes, in rare humility admits:
I have been beaten four times – three times by men and once by a woman.
The woman is almost certainly Irene Adler – of the three men, I am uncertain. Holmes has not yet encountered Professor Moriarty.