Archive for February, 2011

The Rediscovered Railway Mysteries

Some pastiches are better than others and John Taylor’s first set of stories, The Unopened Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, was quite good but they had a slightly bizarre and comic element that some Sherlockians may not have liked. I now understand that they were intended for a younger audience.

Taylor’s original stories appeared on the radio before being released on CD, and have now been released as an The Paranormal Casebook of Sherlock Holmes with a foreword that I must have written at some point.

The new stories, The Rediscovered Railway Mysteries, have not been broadcast and appear on CD and download.  They are much more realistic and have the benefit of being read by the latest incarnation of Sherlock Holmes, Benedict Cumberbatch, though he is, of course, narrating the stories as myself.

For once the stories are not from one of the many tin boxes that seem to materialise whenever anyone needs to find a Holmes case to relate but from a wooden chest in my bureau. Yet another “archive of notes referring to some of Holmes’ cases that, for one reason or another, never saw the light of day.”

The first story “An Inscrutable Masquerade” appears not to have an obvious railway connection until very near the end but the byline in the title of the set of stories is “and other stories” so I suppose that is fine. It is nevertheless an intriguing story of how I appear to be leading a double life. It nicely follows my usual style of narration where I give nothing away until all is revealed towards the end.

The second story “The Conundrum of Coach 13” is firmly placed on the rails and is a “closed room problem” although in this case it is a carriage rather than a room, locked from the outside, from which a large quantity of gold bullion has completely vanished without trace.

The third story “The Trinity Vicarage Larceny” again has no railway connection that I could remember. It concerns a robbery (now who can say why this was a larceny rather than a burglary?) where a set of boots provides the main clues that lead to the case being solved.

The fourth story “The 10.59 Assassin” is a very ingenious story involving a very unlikely murderer. Here there is a clear railway connection in a murder and as the suspicion grows there comes an unusual twist. In some ways it reminds me of Silver Blaze. The murderer is the least suspicious of all the possibilities!

Cumberbatch’s reading of the stories is excellent despite the fact that his BBC Sherlock persona that kept popping into my head, especially when he is speaking as Holmes. He also does a very good job of helping the listener distinguish between Holmes, myself and the other characters in the stories and he switches between voices and accents with consumate ease.

These are very accomplished pastiches by John Taylor and, in my view, a much more serious attempt to emulate my style of narration. I hope he is encouraged to write more and that Cumberbatch can be persuaded to narrate again. A complete set of the Canon, read by Cumberbatch, would be a large undertaking but would, I am sure give a fresh take on my stories.

The Rediscovered Railways Mysteries are available on CD and by download here in England and in the USA (CD and download).

The railways are mentioned in many of our cases together, but mainly just as a means of travel. Alistair Duncan’s “Close to Holmes” contains details of many of the stations we used in and around London.

You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive [STUD]

In “A Study in Scarlet”, I told about my being attached to the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers which was an infantry regiment of the British Army. It was the Fifth Regiment of Foot when it was formed in 1674 but was renamed in the reorganisation of 1881 so that when I wrote up the story I used its new name.

Before I could join the regiment, the second Afghan war broke out and I began my duties in Kandahar. I was removed from my brigade and attached to the Royal Berkshire Regiment and I served with them at the battle of Maiwand on July 27th, 1880. Our brigade of 2,500 men were massacred by ten times that number of savage Afghan tribesmen. I was badly wounded right at the start of the battle whilst tending the first man who was hit. I was eventually sent back to England, ending up in London, and eventually meeting Holmes and residing in 221B Baker Street for many years.

It is rare for anyone to attempt to fill in the apparent gaps in my life as attention is more frequently directed at Holmes but in Watson’s Afghan Adventure I attempt to explain to Holmes how I became an army doctor, served with the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers and how a treasure map and the death of a close friend brought me to the battle of Maiwand and on to 221B Baker Street.

Kieran McMullen’s account starts one April when Holmes had concluded two cases that I have yet to chronicle and I had returned to Baker Street just missing Murray, my orderly, who had called with a box containing some items recalling our time together in Afghanistan. This led to me to explain to Holmes what really happened.

McMullen’s account continues with a summary of my early life, my qualification as a doctor, and my decision to join the Army. Then the mystery of my wounds and what is contained in the box that Murray left for me in Baker Street begins to unfold.

The fateful battle of Maiwand rounds off the story and McMullen has clearly carried out some detailed research here. Many of my fellow officers, including Surgeon Major Preston, are mentioned here. It was Preston who decided that I should return to England. My own recent research into the battle of Maiwand on a recent visit to Berkshire corroborates most of McMullen’s detail though I suspect few would understand the geography of the area and the frequent use of arabic terms for weapons, soldiers and tribes. The actual battle was far more bloody than even Mc Mullen’s account relates and perhaps I should write my own account of what happened that terrible day.

I will leave you to find out how the mystery of Murray’s box resolves itself.

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