If you were following the news about three months ago, you might have read about a “lost” Sherlock Holmes story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle being discovered in an old book of short stories from 1904 (called “The Book ‘O The Brig”), originally published to raise money for the construction of a bridge in Scotland.
Interestingly, you can actually read the story online and it is titled: “Sherlock Holmes: Discovering the Border Burghs and, by deduction, the Brig Bazaar“.Anyway, I thought that I’d give my thoughts about the story and about ‘lost’ stories in general. This won’t really be a proper review of the story, but I’ll be taking a look at it nonetheless.
This story is one of a couple of shorter Holmes stories that Conan Doyle wrote to promote various things. The other stories of this nature that I’ve read (albeit about a decade ago) were collected in a book that accompanied a collection of the complete Sherlock Holmes.
Since I can’t seem to find my copy of this collection at the time of writing, I can’t remember the titles of these other stories – but “Sherlock Holmes: Discovering the Border Burghs and, by deduction, the Brig Bazaar” is fairly similar to them.
In other words, this story consists of little more than a random conversation between Holmes and Watson, where Holmes deduces something about Watson that is relevant to the thing that Conan Doyle is trying to promote. In this case, Holmes deduces that Watson plans to travel to Selkirk to attend the fundraising bazaar for the bridge.
But, the most interesting thing about “Sherlock Holmes: Discovering the Border Burghs and, by deduction, the Brig Bazaar” is the fact that it’s narrated by an unnamed journalist, rather than by Watson.
There are only a few other Holmes stories by Conan Doyle where Watson isn’t the narrator (“The Lion’s Mane” is narrated by Holmes, “The Reigate Squires” (?) is mostly narrated by Holmes and both “The Mazarin Stone” and “His Last Bow” use third-person narration). So, it’s strange to see that Conan Doyle has done this here too.
Anyway, the narrator is introduced in a slightly long-winded way at the beginning of the story. But, Conan Doyle still somehow managed to sneak in a timelessly cynical point about journalism into this introduction: “And are you not aware that all journalists are supposed to be qualified members of the Institute of Fiction, and to be qualified to make use of the Faculty of Imagination? By the use of the latter men have been interviewed, who were hundreds of miles away; some have been “interviewed” without either knowledge or consent. See that you have a topical article ready for the press for Saturday. Good day’.”
But, thankfully, the bulk of the story is taken up with a conversation between Holmes and Watson that the narrator happens to witness. One of the first things I will say about this conversation is that some of it really hasn’t aged that well though.
In other words, Holmes and Watson sometimes talk about topical issues of the day which, unless you’ve studied early 20th century British politics, will probably leave you completely baffled: “Sherlock Holmes, as has lately been shown by a prominent journal, is a pronounced Free Trader. Dr Watson is a mild Protectionist, who would take his gruelling behind a Martello tower, as Lord Goschen wittily put it, but not ‘lying down!’ The twain had just finished a stiff argument on Fiscal policy. ”
Still, saying this, Conan Doyle still manages to add a few tantalising references to other cases that Holmes and Watson are working on (eg: “The inquiry into the “Mysteries of the Secret Cabinet” will be continued in Edinburgh on Saturday”). This is one of the things that I absolutely love about Sherlock Holmes and it’s great to see that Conan Doyle has done this here too.
However, Holmes’ deductions in this story are a little bit more convoluted than usual and, again, some of his deductions are taken up by confusing descriptions of early 20th century politics.
But his deductions also contain an absolutely hilarious line about Waston, which is well worth quoting here: “ I was still further confirmed in this idea by hearing you in several absent moments crooning a weird song of the Norwegian God Thor.” Personally, I like to imagine that it went something like this:
Complete with a historically inaccurate 19th century horned viking helmet, no less!
So, this isn’t a perfect “Sherlock Holmes” story by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s still absolutely great to read what is effectively a “new” story by a long-dead author. And, well, this is one of the things that I really love about the idea of ‘lost’ stories – they are often a way for fans of a particular author to feel the thrill of seeing something new many years after new stories have stopped being written.
Plus, in a way, “lost” stories often give us a really interesting look ‘behind the scenes’ at either our favourite characters (seriously, I wish Conan Doyle had published a book of these random conversations between Holmes and Watson), at the imaginations of our favourite authors or at the things that led them to create their most famous works.
I mean, when Conan Doyle wrote “Sherlock Holmes: Discovering the Border Burghs and, by deduction, the Brig Bazaar“, he had probably only just got back into writing Holmes stories again after a long hiatus (that was only broken by the publication of “The Hound Of The Baskervilles” in 1901), so it’s interesting to see Conan Doyle get re-acquanited with his most famous character again.
In addition to this, it’s a much more “experimental” Holmes story than usual. Not only does Conan Doyle use a completely different narrative style to any of his other stories, but Holmes talks a lot more about current events than he does in most of his stories. So, it’s really interesting to think about what kinds of new directions Conan Doyle was planning to take his stories at the time. Either that, or he was just goofing around.
Nonetheless, despite it’s flaws, “Sherlock Holmes: Discovering the Border Burghs and, by deduction, the Brig Bazaar” is certainly worth reading if you’re a Holmes fan.
Anyway, I hope this was interesting 🙂