When I was a little girl of about eight, I found a set of abridged books that had once belonged to my mother when she was a child. They included Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne, a set of three macabre tales by Edgar Allan Poe, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and my favourite, a set of three Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This book included these following stories: The Red-Headed League, The Speckled Band and The Copper Beeches.
This post is about The Adventure of the Copper Beeches – namely the television version. It belongs to The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes story collection. We are introduced to Holmes while he is having an ardent discussion with Watson regarding the chronicling of his cases. Then afterwards he produces a letter in which a red-haired young lady, Violet Hunter, asks him advice on whether she should accept a position as a governess in the Rucastle household in the countryside. She is offered an overly generous salary, only one six-year-old male child is under her charge and the offer of pay is increased when she rejects the offer after learning that cutting her tresses is a necessary condition of her employment. After some deliberation, she thinks her rejection is hasty and accepts the position when Mr. Rucastle writes to her. But she does consult Sherlock Holmes before she leaves and he warns her to take care and to send him a telegram if she would need his assistance.
Violet finds the situation she is in very odd. The estate is very large and she is told that there is a mastiff that is only fed every two days to keep him perpetually hungry if intruders break in to the premises. Her discovery of a set of tresses similar of colour to that she cut off from her own head puzzles her. The two servants, Mr. and Mrs. Toller seem like an unsavoury pair. She is sometimes told to wear an electric blue dress (electric blue came into vogue in 1890 – two years before the publication of the story in Strand magazine) and with her back to the window, she is told a series of funny stories by Mr. Rucastle which makes her laugh. Mrs. Rucastle sits in on these sessions but does not ever laugh and when Violet sneaks a glance in a mirror hidden in her handkerchief, she notices a bearded man behind the bars of the gates. She is most frightened when she wanders into the mystery wing with the shuttered turret and then Mr. Rucastle discovers her intrusion as she wanders out. He first makes a pretense of soothing her fears but when he threatens her with the dog, she decides its high time Holmes became involved in the affair.
Holmes and Watson arrive at the Rucastle estate when the master and mistress are away. They decide to break into the tower but finds the room empty but obviously someone had been kept shut up there. Mr. Rucastle returns and with the thought the trio had helped his daughter to escape with her lover goes to release the mastiff. Unfortunately he is mauled by the dog as it turns on him because Mr. Toller had not fed the hound for two days. Watson shoots the dog with his revolver. It turns out Miss Hunter had been hired for the express purpose of impersonation due to a matter of inheritance.
Mr. Rucastle (played by Joss Ackland) comes across as a bit of a creep from the start owing to his tone of voice. I think the sinister veneer this bestowed on him made it rather obvious he was the villain of the piece but you rather expect him to be more dastardly in his actions. Violet Hunter (played by Natasha Richardson) is incredibly beautiful and was a wonderful actress until her life was tragically cut short. The fact the TV version is highly faithful to the original is a credit to its producers as you feel it would have met with distinct appreciation by its original author.
The Sherlock Holmes series in which Jeremy Brett plays Sherlock is quite addictive. It is a little more sombre in character than Poirot or Marple – the latter two have touches of modern influence in the set lighting. The story I will focus on today is called The Adventure of the Priory School. Part of this story is said to pay tribute to this Greek myth.
The ten-year-old Lord Saltire, son of the Duke of Holdernesse, is kidnapped from his preparatory school. Not only the boy missing because it seems the school’s German teacher, Master Heidigger and his bicycle have also gone. The principal, Thorneycroft Huxtable, employs the services of Sherlock Holmes. The Duke is offering a princely sum to those who can inform him about the whereabouts of his missing son and the kidnappers involved. Holmes accompanies the principal and investigates the school and the residence of the Duke. He finds out the boy used to cry at night and disappeared on a day that he received a letter. James Wilder, the personal secretary of the Duke lets slip the information that the Duke is divorced from the boy’s mother who lives in Italy. But the Duke insists that his ex-wife is not involved, no ransom note comes forward and the Duke’s letter to his son which was posted by James Wilder has been taken so nobody can find out its contents.
Holmes and Watson scour the moor for clues and stumble upon some bicycle tracks. It turns out the tyres don’t match with Heidigger’s bike. Eventually the body of the poor German master is discovered with his head smashed in. There are only cow hoofprints near the scene but it seems to Holmes that the cow had walked, cantered and galloped – highly improbable behaviour for such a placid animal. After Watson expresses a desire to dine after the walk in the desolate moors, they find an establishment with a man who has a scar imprint upon his cheek. The food is terrible . In the stable, there is a horse and Holmes examines its hooves – it has been recently adorned with new nails on its old horseshoes. Watson tells Holmes that he has an instinctive feeling the gruff man, who uses the name of Hayes, knows all about the missing boy.
When a cyclist arrives from the direction of the Duke’s residence, Holmes and Watson hide and observe it is James Wilder. After Holmes examines the bicycle tyres, he knows he has found his culprit. The episode culminates in a chase scene where James Wilder takes the boy as his hostage into an underground cavern while Holmes follows closely behind. Unfortunately, things take an unexpected turn for both the villain and the detective but the Duke is reunited with his missing son. It turns out James was jealous of the boy because he was an illegitimate son and wanted manoeuvring power to force the Duke to change his current will. This ending is not similar to that of the book although three-fourths of the storyline subscribes to the original plot.
After watching Love Never Dies, I read this book of short stories of the above title by Raymond Carver on the one-hour train trip home. Given his status as a demigod of American Literature and staple diet of university literature courses, I wanted to know what was so amazing about his writing. To be honest, while I liked the short stories and the how he made the humdrum banality into a tale worth telling, it didn’t particularly strike me as a must read!
Three of them which stood out to me was the one about the man who attempts to abandon his dog, the one in which the husband of a waitress has her diet to see what customers say about her appearance and the one about a mother who is frightened of her son who displayed a disposition towards violence.
Al, the protagonist in ‘Jerry and Molly and Sam‘ is about him feeling that his life is about to fall apart. He feels that the loss of his job is impending at any given moment, he has had an affair and is terrified by how insecure it makes him, he has just rented a new apartment and worst of all, his sister-in-law had bought the kids a useless dog that pees on the household carpet. Thinking that getting rid of the dog might ease all the pressure he’s feeling, he decides to abandon the dog in his old neighbourhood where it would be adopted by a family that wouldn’t find it a burden. But when Al tries to leave the dog to fend for itself, he feels an inner turmoil as guilt bubbles in him. When he returns home, it is clear the dog is sorely missed by his kids. So he goes back to reclaim the dog, realising he can’t simply fix a problem by putting it somewhere else.
‘They’re not Your Husband‘ is another striking story about the marriage of a man to a woman who works as a waitress. He feels embarrassed when his wife is insulted by a pair of customers who make comments about her weight. So he gets her to go on a diet program and has her do exercises until she becomes a lot thinner. She comments her work mates have been worried about her rapid weight loss but her husband tells her they are not your husband. Carver’s writing does not glorify the human beings in his sparse short stories. His description of the main characters shows little mercy and brutal honesty but somehow he manages to grasp the stream of thoughts, feelings and events that led to the aftermath. Then her husband tries to see what the customers say about his wife after the transformation while he masquerades as a stranger.
The story titled ‘Why, Honey?’ which was written in the format of a letter by a mother who had sought to hide herself from her miscreant son who has since become a famous politician; he has now unearthed her identity even though she had changed her name and moved away in the hope he would never find her again. The family cat, Trudy, had apparently been a victim of his cruel childhood prank where she was forced to have firecrackers explode in her ears and “you-know-what”. It is obvious the son has brought upon himself a reputation for being an accomplished liar; he lied about the amount of money he made at his part-time job, he lied about going to the show when he attended a dance and he lied about going on a field trip when he played truant. The most climactic moment comes when his mother asks him to tell the truth and he asks her to kneel. Given we only have the fearful mother’s perspective whose faith in her dishonest son is quite shaky, it’s a bone-chilling moment.
Each story has its own individual trait but somehow appear to be interconnected by a common thread where each seems to communicate with the others. There might be merit in the approach taken by the film Short Cuts which rests on the belief all of Carver’s work is one storyline about occurrences.
When I first got into mysteries and tales of murder and intrigue, it was through copious volumes of Nancy Drew tales – by the way do you know Carolyn Keene is not one writer but a bevy of them? I must admit Enid Blyton had a hand in it too what with her Five Find Outers and Famous Five adventure stories. The most recent crime story related book I read was called Murder in Vegas: New Crime Tales of Gambling and Desperation. It is a collection of crime short stories about Las Vegas edited by Michael Connelly.
For me, three of the stories particularly stood out: Nickels and Dimes by Ronnie Klaskin, A Temporary Crown by Sue Pike and Iggy’s Stuff by J. Madison Davis.
Nickels and Dimes is a short story about a stop in Las Vegas made by two parents on holiday with two young children. Once is a bookish sister who tends to have allergies and the other is bit of a tomboy. The father is told by the mother to only use nickels and dimes if he gambles. But he disregards her advice and makes a tidy sum, which he conceals from revealing to her because he used dollars. Then when his young daughter, the tomboy, wants to make her pocket money higher, he places the bets for her and doubles her pocket money. Coming up with a cunning plan, the girl says she wants to nap and she is sent to her room to sleep. But while her parents and sister are in the other room, she sneaks away to take her chances with the slots. When her parents return, they can’t find her in the room or in the hotel and get even more worried when they hear girls have been kidnapped for ransom there. When they report her missing and the older sister sneezes after receiving a hanky from a lifeguard, she discovers the culprit because of a trick her sister used to play on her using sprigs of lavender.
A Temporary Crown is about a lady who is obsessed about a celebrity and thinks that he is her boyfriend. Somehow she accidentally escapes her confines and meets with a strange woman. This woman who had a temporary crown discards it but fails to notice that a fake pink fingernail also gets dislodged. The celebrity obsessed woman picks up the crown with the fingernail stuck to it and puts it in her pocket because she likes to collect treasures. The woman with the crown then takes this woman who thinks the celebrity is her boyfriend to an apartment and gives her the hotel key. When she goes into the hotel room, the crazy woman sees a murder scene but in her mental incomprehension leaves the temporary crown enmeshed with the fingernail of the true murderer as a tribute.
Iggy’s Stuff is about a stoned pool boy who stumbles upon a murder scene and unwittingly gets involved because of a traffic mishap. He thinks when he gets involved that he is rescuing a woman from a would-be brutal and sadistic rapist but in reality what he is treated to is a staged scene. So when the actors who are responsible for the staging find out the pool boy is a liability because of his accidental heroics, they want to dispose of him but things don’t go quite as they planned.