The year '87 furnished us with a long series of cases of greater or less interest, of which I retain the records. Among my headings under this one twelve months I find an account of the adventure of the Paradol Chamber, of the Amateur Mendicant Society, who held a luxurious club in the lower vault of a furniture warehouse, of the facts connected with the loss of the British bark Sophy Anderson, of the singular adventures of the Grice Patersons in the island of Uffa, and finally of the Camberwell poisoning case.
—The Five Orange Pips
Bartell: I take you for a very charming gentleman, a wonderful storyteller, and a fine host. [Watson's chuckling, mutters of thanks] Well, you are a gentleman, of the old school... [More mutters of thanks] And you do tell a fine story.Watson: Well, you flatter me, you-Bartell: And you are a perfect host. That meal we had tonight was wonderful. And, um, that wine, what kind was it?Watson: It was Petri wine, and you know it, and I should've known that you were leading up to something. Mr. Bartell, you should be ashamed of yourself.
Petri Wine was one of the many charms of the series, and although there were plenty of other series, no advertiser or host was ever as charming as Mr. Bartell with his Petri Wine— and Mr. Bell of Kreml Hair Tonic frankly creeped me out. By the time John Stanley replaced Tom Conway as Sherlock Holmes, the series really had me lost, and I've only listened to a handful of episodes from this era.
So who could step in and deliver a good version of these stories? Could such a thing be done? I then discovered, to my delight, that francophone author René Reouven has indeed written a short story about the Amateur Mendicant Society. Only his story, Histoires secretes de 1887 (Secret Stories of 1887) is a bit more ambitious. It not only gives you the mysterious doings of the AMS, it goes in and throws the Paradol chamber at you, as well as the loss of the Sophie Anderson! (It comes from a reference in The Five Orange Pips, quoted above. The Grice Patersons are dealt with elsewhere by Reouven, and for the Camberwell poisoning case the Boucher case is absolutely perfect.)
The Amateur Mendicant Society is, apparently, a charity organisation. People who were once destitute have exited from poverty, and now they have formed the AMS. Their mission is to take deserving people off the streets and give them a good start in life, a shot at success. Surely there can be nothing wrong in that? In fact, it’s an admirable mission.
Only it seems that once the AMS have made their selection, the recipient of their generosity inevitably disappears, never to be seen again… And this is where the Paradol chamber and the bark Sophie Anderson come in to make everything even more mysterious.
Enter Sherlock Holmes. He obviously doesn’t like what he sees and begins to investigate the AMS. He comes to a few conclusions. Some of them are startling, others are not. The not-so-startling conclusion is the plot of the AMS. I have finally managed to outguess Reouven and solve the mystery before he did. But in all fairness, there weren’t all that many possible solutions to begin with. Once I factored in the notion that the story was so shocking Watson couldn’t publish it with the rest of the canon, I was forced to conclude that only one thing could really be going on, and I was right.
However, it is a far more reasonable solution than the hasty explanation that was proposed in The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and I like its deviousness and ingenuity. And after the solution has been unveiled, there is another twist, a genuinely surprising one this time, and we see one of Holmes’ major cases foreshadowed beautifully by this adventure. I will not indulge in any cutesy hints about which case it is: it could just as easily be The Final Problem as The Dying Detective as The Hound of the Baskervilles or any of Holmes’ other cases. You’ll have to read this story to find out...
This story was originally published in a French magazine called Enigmatika, in an issue dedicated to Reouven's work. It’s a terrific story that really shows you Reouven’s strengths as a Holmesian writer. Although the solution is not the most shocking one in the universe of Holmesian continuations, the style really matches up with Dr. Watson’s style, and the plotting is nicely paced. It’s a short story of about 7500 words, which matches up more or less with the length of Conan Doyle’s original short stories (which, after all, form the majority of Holmes’ adventures). And it’s a very good addition to the Holmesian universe.
And one other thing: why so much Sherlock Holmes all of a sudden? I’ve got one Holmes book in my “Currently Investigating” box and I can already tell you I’ve got another Holmes book read and ready to review. What’s going on? Well, a few weeks ago I realized that 2013 was shaping up to be a nostalgic year, with me going back and re-reading old favourites. If I was going to do that, I might as well toss in some Sherlock Holmes stories, I reasoned. And so I went and started reading a bunch. But hey, look on the bright side – Nick Cardillo now does other stuff, not just Holmes! So I’m not exactly stealing his niche away. I hope this leaves me justified. No? Then forget it. It’s Sherlock Town.