Thursday, July 10, 2014

Brad's summer reading list #11 - Black Peter (BLAC) - Sherlockain pinterest

I love Black Peter! I don't know if that is akin to loving 'spotted dick' or what, but it is one of my favorites.
As well it should be.
It is the namesake story of the first scion I belonged (and still belong) to, The Harpooners of the Sea Unicorn. Taking a reference from BLAC and the building of missiles at then MacDonald Douglas in St. Charles. (We even had a fake harpoon the the most recent member to commit a Sherlockian faux pas had to carry throughout the meeting.)
Which meant we did a presentation on the story each year on the anniversary of our group.
So I have been over it a lot.
I even did a large painting of this F.D.S. illustration that we could hang at our meetings and events. It is one of my favorite F.D.S. illustrations.
So, needless to say, I have attended the inquiry into the death of Peter Carey many times.
But, like with most of the Canon, you can always walk away with something new.

And with the line; "I have never known my friend to be in better form, both mental and physical, than in the year ‘95. His increasing fame had brought with it an immense practice, and I should be guilty of an indiscretion if I were even to hint at the identity of some of the illustrious clients who crossed our humble threshold in Baker Street."
the date 1895 is firmly planted in the minds of readers as the date the will always be associated with Holmes and his time in Victorian history.

 ". . .  Here, though the world explode, these two survive,
And it is always eighteen ninety-five." V.S.
But arguably we would have to examine the four to six stories (depending on the chronology you follow) collected from 1895 in the canon to see how they hold up as favorites and to see if this was indeed Holmes at his best.
Several other years contain more documented cases. And none were actually published in 1895 to my knowledge.
1887, 88, and 89 all have many more documented cases than 1895.
But even with all that said, there are still some great things to explore in BLAC. Once again we find our adventure starting in Baker Street. Only Holmes and Watson are both present at the start of the case. And once again Scotland Yard is in need of Holmes' help.
Like so many we have been reviewing for Brad's summer reading list, the case again takes Holmes and Watson out of London to the more rural environs.
And again, as mentioned in the last review, the story involves nautical intrigue. And, as also mentioned, another wealthy man who got his gains from nefarious acts while on board a boat. Although we never actually meet Peter Carey, alive or dead, he has to rank up there with the best of the bad guys in the Canon for temper, strength and loathsomeness.
Repeating myself, once again we get some insight into Watson's knowledge of nautical terms and ship board life. It is never mentioned in any of the stories that Watson actually carries a note book with him, In many television and film adaptations we sometimes see Watson making notes at the end of the day, and there are a few Canonical references to back that up. But most of Watson's writings are done from memory, even his note taking. But to get the nautical references so accurate one most have some experience with boats, like the literary agent Doyle did. Or Watson was using a lot of artistic license.
Most of Holmes investigations take place from the confines of Baker St. with the aid of the newspapers and information he can gather from Baker St. The crime scene gives up little that Holmes does not already know.
Again we are teased in this tale of cases we will never read about; The sudden death of Cardinal Tusca and the Wilson the notorious canary-trainer. Oh, how we have speculated about those, especially Wilson, imagining how he could train canaries to commit crimes. Amazing! 
We get to meet Stanley Hopkins and find that he is not all that different the Lestrade other than he know Holmes does something different from the police but really can't get a hold of what that is.
And why was the elder Neligan, then Holmes and Watson, going to Norway. I mean the younger Neligan got the securities back, at least the ones that were left.  Well I guess in July Norway could be nice. Unless the original Neligan is not dead? What's up with that!
I did a presentation once about the difference in Whale and seal harpoons and the individuality of each type of hunt. We have had presentation on the design of steam trawlers, which was the Sea Unicorn. Terms and trades that were so common at the time, but unknown or unfamiliar to us now.
And very few tales have as much atmosphere as BLAC. First of course we have 221b Baker St.                                                                         We have a train ride.                                                                                             We have high adventure on the high sea.                                                     Mansion of dark happenings                                                                           A very grotesque crime scene (more on that in a minute).                   Interesting little room called 'the cabin'.                                                       Holmes and Watson about to embark on another adventure.
Now back to the point about grotesque. I have noticed with the re-reading of our summer reading list that the word grotesque has appeared several times, and not always in places where I would expect it. To me, the death of Peter Carey and the means by which it was carried out, would appear to have been very grotesque. At least me modern use in films and books. But seldom does Watson use the term as we would now. And for good reason. While I usually associated the word with horrible images in horror or action movies, which does apply, that is not the only use or original use of the word. And for a quick reference to the history of use of the word I will quote wikipedia; "    Since at least the 18th century (in French and German as well as English), grotesque has come to be used as a general adjective for the strange, fantastic, ugly, incongruous, unpleasant, or disgusting, and thus is often used to describe weird shapes and distorted forms such as Halloween masks. In art, performance, and literature, grotesque, however, may also refer to something that simultaneously invokes in an audience a feeling of uncomfortable bizarreness as well as empathic pity. More specifically, the grotesque forms on Gothic buildings, when not used as drain-spouts, should not be called gargoyles, but rather referred to simply as grotesques, or chimeras."
And several other sources have referenced about the same.

'Sherlock' Benedict Cumberbatch walking in with the harpoon
was indeed grotesque, as is the bug on our windshield. But several of the times Watson has used the word I questioned it's placement and, as in the case of BLAC, I questioned why it wasn't used there. But now we know.    
So, yea, I really like BLAC. It gives those of us who enjoy  what is now the history part of the stories a lot to think about.]
And that can never be wrong.        
Although it did lack beer.                    


  1. No beer, but some very nautical rum. I wonder if you are familiar with "The Sherlock Holmes Illustrated Cyclopedia of Nautical Knowledge" (2009) by Capt. Walter W. Jaffee, put out by the Glencannon Press? Set up like Jack Tracy's "Encyclopaedia Sherlockiana", it's 240 pages that a landlubber like me really needs. Highly recommended.

    Excellent review. I'm glad to see you're keeping up with Brad's summer reading, even when he's not. Oddly, he seems to be busy posting links to "Elementary" merchandise, helping the show and CBS. Even when the show is not part of the popular conversation, he seems to be plugging it ("There's no such thing as bad press"). I won't say it's an obsession with him, but the word "intervention" does spring to mind.

    Love the link to the definition "grotesque". It's nice to be reminded how careful a writer the good doctor was when it comes to word choice.

  2. I will check out the book if it is still available.
    Loved Tracy's book.
    Don't know what is up with Brad. Peoria is not a small town, so he can't be lonely.
    Thanks again for stopping by.