Israel Zangwill (1864 – 1926)

Let me once again come back to this author (my blog post is here) to include him on my blog entries regarding the biographies of authors who helped shape our favourite genre; even though he is known for one single story.

Israel_ZangwillIsrael Zangwill (21 January 1864 – 1 August 1926) was a British humourist and writer. He was born in London in a family of Jewish immigrants from Czarist Russia, to Moses Zangwill from what is now Latvia and Ellen Hannah Marks Zangwill from what is now Poland. He dedicated his life to championing the cause of the oppressed. Jewish emancipation, women’s suffrage, assimilationism, territorialism and Zionism (a Jewish liberation movement) were all fertile fields for his pen. His brother was also a writer, the novelist Louis Zangwill, and his son was the prominent British psychologist, Oliver Zangwill.

Zangwill received his early schooling in Plymouth and Bristol. When he was nine years old Zangwill was enrolled in the Jews’ Free School in Spitalfields in east London, a school for Jewish immigrant children. The school offered a strict course of both secular and religious studies while supplying clothing, food, and health care for the scholars; today one of its four houses is named Zangwill in his honour. At this school young Israel excelled and even taught part-time, moving up to become a full-fledged teacher. While teaching, he studied for his degree in 1884 from the University of London, earning a BA with triple honours.

Zangwill married Edith Ayrton, a gentile feminist and author who was the daughter of cousins Matilda Chaplin and William Edward Ayrton. In later life, his friends included well known Victorian writers such as Jerome K. Jerome and H. G. Wells.

In 1881, his short story “Professor Grimmer” won a literary contest, and his career as a short story writer and novelist was launched. Zangwill published his first book, Motza Kleis (1882), anonymously. The work, which was later included in his most famous novel, Children of the Ghetto (1892), used Yiddish expressions to paint a portrait of London’s Jewish East End. It was in these years when he wrote and published his first and only mystery novel, to my knowledge, The Big Bow Mystery, the first novella-length locked-room puzzle. It has been almost continuously in print since 1891 and has been used as the basis for three commercial films. In the 1880s, Zangwill published under the name J. Freeman Bell and “Marshallik.” He wrote columns for Jewish periodicals as well as The Idler. With the publication of Children of the Ghetto, Zangwill became a literary celebrity. His other collections that specifically treat Jewish themes include Ghetto Tragedies (1893), Dreamers of the Ghetto (1898), and Ghetto Comedies (1907).

At the turn of the century, Zangwill became actively involved in political movements such as Zionism and women’s suffrage. A member of the group the “wanderers of Kilburn,” he befriended other important Jewish intellectuals of his day, including Solomon Schechter and Solomon J. Solomon. He was a noted playwright, and his dramas from this period include The Melting Pot (1908). Zangwill also founded the Jewish Territorial Organization (the ITO), whose goal was to find and establish a Jewish homeland wherever possible. As part of the ITO, Zangwill helped engineer the Galveston Plan, which allowed 10,000 Jewish people to immigrate to the United States between 1907 and 1914. He ultimately broke with political Zionism and died in 1926. Several of Zangwill’s works are available from Project Gutenberg. (Several sources)

Bibliography: The Big Bow Mystery (1892); The Grey Wig (1903) {contains The Big Bow Mystery and other stories}

The Big Bow Mystery is an 1892 mystery novel by the British writer Israel Zangwill. It was originally serialised in The Star newspaper in 1891, before being published as a novel the following year. Set in London’s East End, it is one of the earliest examples of the Locked-room mystery genre. The story served as the basis for three Hollywood film versions. The The Perfect Crime (1928) and The Crime Doctor (1934) were both set in the contemporary United States, while The Verdict (1946) returned the story to the late-Victorian London setting of the original novel. (Source: Wikipedia)

Zangwill’s classic novella “The Big Bow Mystery” (1891) is the flagship of the modern locked room story. In these tales, a crime is committed in a room that is locked from the inside. How could any murderer have committed this crime, and then escaped? It seems impossible. This sort of puzzle is one of the main categories of modern mystery fiction. Writers have devoted considerable ingenuity to developing solutions to the locked room murder. Locked room puzzles climax with the work of John Dickson Carr. A full detailed history of locked room fiction can be found in Robert C. S. Adey’s Locked Room Murders and Other Impossible Crimes. This book contains a bibliography, listing over 2,000 impossible crime novels and short stories.  (A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection by Mike Grost)

Further reading: “A Tongue-in-Cheek Assessment of The Big Bow Mystery by the Author Himself,” by Mike Gray (Ontos)

1054837_ZangwillI_BigBook Description: The first in a new series of classic detective stories from the vaults of HarperCollins is the world’s first locked-room mystery, a seemingly impossible crime story as powerful as any that have copied the scenario since. “The Detective Story Club”, launched by Collins in 1929, was a clearing house for the best and most ingenious crime stories of the age, chosen by a select committee of experts. Now, almost 90 years later, these books are the classics of the Golden Age, republished at last with the same popular cover designs that appealed to their original readers. Originally published as The Big Bow Mystery in 1891, and re-published by the Detective Club to coincide with a new film version called ‘The Perfect Crime’, Israel Zangwill’s novel invented the concept of the ‘locked room mystery’ and influenced almost every crime writer thereafter. ‘A man is murdered for no apparent reason. He has no enemies and there seemed to be no motive for anyone murdering him. No clues remained and the instrument with which the murder was committed could not be traced. The door of the room in which the body was discovered was locked and bolted on the inside, both windows were latched, and there was no trace of any intruder. The greatest detectives in the land were puzzled. Here indeed was the perfect crime, the work of a master mind. Can you solve the problem which baffled Scotland Yard for so long, until at last the missing link in the chain of evidence was revealed?’ This new edition includes a brand new introduction by the Golden Age crime expert, Dr John Curran, author of ‘Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks’. (HarperCollinsPublishers UK publicity page)

From the introduction by John Curran: [The Big Bow Mystery] is more socially aware than many of its contemporaries. Two of the main characters are closely involved with the labour movement and a detail picture of the social conditions of London’s East End an its denizens is conveyed through the characters and their circumstances.

The Big Bow Mystery has been reviewed, among others, by Will Thomas @ The Rap Sheet; Mary Reed @ mystery file; Wyatt James @ gadetection; Mike Grost @ gadetection; Les Blatt @ Classic Mysteries; Marta Marne (Leer sin prisa) en Culturamas; DavidPrestidge @Crime Fiction Lover; Rich Wetswood @ Past Offences; John Harrison @ Countdown John’s Christie Journal; and at Publishers Weekly.

Enclosed picture: The elusive true first edition. Image courtesy of a private collection. Source:

Edgar Wallace (1875 – 1932)

600px-Bundesarchiv Bild 102-13109, Edgar WallaceEdgar Wallace, in full Richard Horatio Edgar Wallace, was born illegitimately in Greenwich, London, in 1875 to actors Mary Jane Richards and T.H. Edgar. As an infant he was adopted by George Freeman, a porter at Billingsgate fish market. Aged eleven, Wallace sold newspapers at Ludgate Circus and upon leaving school took a job with a printer. He later enlisted in the Royal West Kent Regiment, before transferring to the Medical Staff Corps, and was sent to South Africa. In 1898, he published a collection of poems called ‘The Mission that Failed’, and subsequently left the army to become correspondent for Reuters. South African war correspondent for ‘The Daily Mail’ followed and his articles were later published as ‘Unofficial Dispatches’. His outspokenness infuriated Lord Kitchener, who removed his credentials. He then edited the ‘Rand Daily Mail’, but gambled disastrously on the South African Stock Market. Returning to England, Wallace at first reported on crimes and hanging trials, before becoming editor of ‘The Evening News’. It was in 1905 that he founded the Tallis Press, publishing ‘Smithy’, a collection of soldier stories, and ‘The Four Just Men’. The latter was published with the ending removed as an advertising stunt and he offered œ500 to readers who could successfully guess the ending. Unfortunately, many did and he was almost bankrupted. At various times Wallace also worked as a journalist on ‘The Standard’, ‘The Star’, ‘The Week-End Racing Supplement’ and ‘The Story Journal’. In 1917, he became a Special Constable at Lincoln’s Inn and also a special interrogator for the War Office. The Daily Mail sent Wallace to investigate atrocities in the Belgian Congo, a trip that provided material for his ‘Sanders of the River’ books. In 1923, he became Chairman of the Press Club and in 1931 stood as a Liberal Parliamentary candidate for Blackpool. Wallace’s first marriage in 1901 to Ivy Caldecott, daughter of a missionary, ended in divorce in 1918 and he later married his much younger secretary, Violet King. Along with countless articles, some 23 screenplays and many short stories, Wallace wrote more than 170 books, which have been translated into 28 languages and sales of which have exceeded 50 million copies. Over 160 films have been made from his books – more than any other author. In the 1920’s one of Wallace’s many publishers claimed that a quarter of all books read in England were written by him. His sales were exceeded only by ‘The Bible’. He died in 1932 whilst working on the screenplay for ‘King Kong’, having moved to Hollywood after being offered a contract by RKO. (Source: House of Stratus)

Zangwill’s “The Big Bow Mystery” (1891) anticipates in tone Wallace’s The Four Just Men (1905). Both books are full of liberal satire, both feature crimes that are public cause celèbres, both are locked room stories, and in both the motive behind the locked room is partly to create The Perfect Crime. Both are also novella length. Zangwill’s finale, where one of his characters penetrates rather threateningly to the Home Secretary, reminds one of the central plot in Wallace against an English minister. The Four Just Men surprises with its liberal attitude toward politics and social justice. It is far more openly liberal than about anything in modern mystery fiction. Current mystery writers suffer from their disinterest in politics, society, science or just about anything else out of the common range of interests. Wallace’s book seems like a model of openness in a desert of right wing Tom Clancyness. Wallace also includes mountains of sparkling social satire in his book. (A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection by Mike Grost)

Further reading:

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(Facsimile Dust Jacket, Small, Maynard & Company (USA), 1920)

The Four Just Men amounted to an innovative example of the ‘challenge to the reader’ which –stripped of cash prizes – became a popular feature of later detective stories. Wallace’s thriller was not only highly topical at the time it first appeared, but also, more than a century later, seems strikingly modern in its concerns – immigration and international terrorism. (The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books by Martin Edwards)

Description: When the Foreign Secretary Sir Philip Ramon receives a threatening, greenish-grey letter signed Four Just Men, he remains determined to see his Aliens Extradition Bill made law. A device in the members’ smoke room and a sudden magnesium flash that could easily have been nitro-glycerine leave Scotland Yard baffled. Even Fleet Street cannot identify the illusive Manfred, Gonsalez, Pioccart and Thery – Four Just Men dedicated to punishing by death those whom conventional justice can not touch. (Source: House of Stratus)

The Four Just Men has been reviewed, among others by David L. Vineyard at Mystery File, John Grant’s Reviews  at Goodreads, FictionFan’s Blog Reviews, Vintage Pop Fictions, Classic Mysteries, Past Offences, and Tipping My Fedora.

Previously I’ve reviewed, at The Game is Afoot,The Man Who Bought London (1915) here, and The Crimson Circle (1922) here.

Raymond Chandler (1888 – 1959)

OIPRaymond Thornton Chandler was an American novelist and screenwriter. In 1932, at age forty-four, Raymond Chandler decided to become a detective fiction writer after losing his job as an oil company executive during the Depression. His first short story, “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot”, was published in 1933 in Black Mask, a popular pulp magazine. His first novel, The Big Sleep, was published in 1939. In addition to his short stories, Chandler published just seven full novels during his lifetime (though an eighth in progress at his death was completed by Robert B. Parker). All but Playback have been realized into motion pictures, some several times. In the year before he died, he was elected president of the Mystery Writers of America. He died on March 26, 1959, in La Jolla, California. Chandler had an immense stylistic influence on American popular literature, and is considered by many to be a founder, along with Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain and other Black Mask writers, of the hard-boiled school of detective fiction. Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, along with Hammett’s Sam Spade, are considered by some to be synonymous with “private detective,” both having been played on screen by Humphrey Bogart, whom many considered to be the quintessential Marlowe. Some of Chandler’s novels are considered to be important literary works, and three are often considered to be masterpieces: Farewell, My Lovely (1940), The Little Sister (1949), and The Long Goodbye (1953). The Long Goodbye is praised within an anthology of American crime stories as “arguably the first book since Hammett’s The Glass Key, published more than twenty years earlier, to qualify as a serious and significant mainstream novel that just happened to possess elements of mystery”. (Source: Goodreads)

Raymond Chandler (1888 – 1959) Selected Bibliography and Spanish Titles

Novels: The Big Sleep (1939); Farewell, My Lovely (1940); The High Window (1942); The Lady in the Lake (1943); The Little Sister (1949); The Long Goodbye (1953); Playback (1958); and Poodle Springs (1959) – incomplete; completed by Robert B. Parker in 1989

Raymond Chandler at The New Thrilling Detective Web Site

Raymond Chandler at Golden Age of Detection Wiki

Mike Grost on Raymond Chandler at A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection

However, as I discuss in my Raymond Chandler essay, “The Amateur Detective Just Won’t Do: Raymond Chandler and British Detective Fiction,” Chandler in fact was an admirer of two British detective novelists who sometimes have been dismissed as dull (“Humdrum” even), Freeman Wills Crofts, a major subject of my book Masters of the “Humdrum” Mystery who recently has been reprinted by the British Library, and R. Austin Freeman, whom in Masters I dub the father of the so-called “Humdrums.” (The Passing Tramp)

Raymond Chandler’s Grudge Against British Mysteries, Reconsidered by Curtis Evans


(Facsimile Dust Jacket, Alfred A. Knopf (USA), 1939)

The Big Sleep (1939) is a hardboiled crime novel by Raymond Chandler, the first to feature the detective Philip Marlowe. It has been adapted for film twice, in 1946 and again in 1978. The story is set in Los Angeles. The story is noted for its complexity, with characters double-crossing one another and secrets being exposed throughout the narrative. The title is a euphemism for death; the final pages of the book refer to a rumination about “sleeping the big sleep”. In 1999, the book was voted 96th of Le Monde’s “100 Books of the Century”. In 2005, it was included in Time magazine’s “List of the 100 Best Novels”.

The Big Sleep, like most of Chandler’s novels, was written by what he called “cannibalizing” his short stories. Chandler would take stories he had already published in the pulp magazine Black Mask and rework them into a coherent novel. For The Big Sleep, the two main stories that form the core of the novel are “Killer in the Rain” (published in 1935) and “The Curtain” (published in 1936). Although the stories were independent and shared no characters, they had some similarities that made it logical to combine them. In both stories there is a powerful father who is distressed by his wayward daughter. Chandler merged the two fathers into a new character and did the same for the two daughters, resulting in General Sternwood and his wild daughter Carmen. Chandler also borrowed small parts of two other stories, “Finger Man” and “Mandarin’s Jade”. (Source: Wikipedia)

Book Description: Los Angeles PI Philip Marlowe is working for the Sternwood family. Old man Sternwood, crippled and wheelchair-bound, is being given the squeeze by a blackmailer and he wants Marlowe to make the problem go away. But with Sternwood’s two wild, devil-may-care daughters prowling LA’s seedy backstreets, Marlowe’s got his work cut out – and that’s before he stumbles over the first corpse . . (Source: Amazon)

The Big Sleep has been reviewed, among others, at Mysteries in Paradise, Mystery File, the crime segments, Yet Another Crime Fiction Blog, Past Offences, Bitter, Tea and Mystery, and Golden Age of Detection Wiki.

The World of Raymond Chandler and ‘The Big Sleep’

My take: Although my favourite Chandler’s book is The Long Goodbye, I have chosen The Big Sleep as the most representative of his novels and a good starting point to become acquainted with Chandler’s works.

Gaston Leroux (1868 – 1927)


Gaston Louis Alfred Leroux was a French journalist and author of detective fiction. In the English-speaking world, he is best known for writing the novel The Phantom of the Opera (Le Fantôme de l’Opéra, 1910), which has been made into several film and stage productions of the same name, such as the 1925 film starring Lon Chaney, and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1986 musical. It was also the basis of the 1990 novel Phantom by Susan Kay. Leroux went to school in Normandy and studied law in Paris, graduating in 1889. He inherited millions of francs and lived wildly until he nearly reached bankruptcy. Then in 1890, he began working as a court reporter and theater critic for L’Écho de Paris. His most important journalism came when he began working as an international correspondent for the Paris newspaper Le Matin. In 1905 he was present at and covered the Russian Revolution. Another case he was present at involved the investigation and deep coverage of an opera house in Paris, later to become a ballet house. The basement consisted of a cell that held prisoners in the Paris Commune, which were the rulers of Paris through much of the Franco-Prussian war. He suddenly left journalism in 1907, and began writing fiction. In 1909, he and Arthur Bernède formed their own film company, Société des Cinéromans to simultaneously publish novels and turn them into films. He first wrote a mystery novel entitled Le mystère de la chambre jaune (1908; The Mystery of the Yellow Room), starring the amateur detective Joseph Rouletabille. Leroux’s contribution to French detective fiction is considered a parallel to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s in the United Kingdom and Edgar Allan Poe’s in America. Leroux died in Nice on April 15, 1927, of a urinary tract infection. (Source: Goodreads)

Some of Leroux’s works, in both French and English, can be downloaded from Project Gutenberg.

The Adventures of Joseph Rouletabille: Le mystère de la chambre jaune (1907) aka The Mystery of the Yellow Room; Le parfum de la dame en noir (1908) aka The Perfume of the Lady in Black; Rouletabille chez le tsar (1912) aka The Secret of the Night; Le château noir (1914); Les étranges noces de Rouletabille (1914); Rouletabille à la guerre (1914); Rouletabille chez Krupp (1917); Le crime de Rouletabille (1921); and Rouletabille chez les Bohémiens (1922)

Further reading:

First published in the newspaper L’Illustration, Gaston Leroux’s novel, Le mystère de la chambre jaune (The Mystery of the Yellow Room) (1907), is a ‘closed-room mystery’ solved by the acumen of the Descartes-inspired investigative journalist Rouletabille. Leroux claimed that he wished to create ‘something better’ than both Poe and Conan Doyle.

Narrated by Rouletabille’s friend, Sinclair, a law student, who though not as obtuse as Watson, remains in the dark throughout the investigation, the ‘mystery’ is centred principally around how the assassin was able to leave the yellow chamber when it was locked from the inside and surrounded on the outside. As the plot unfolds, the highly competitive Rouletabille desires nothing more than to outdo the Parisian detective [Frederic Larson in charge of the case]. His methodology is overly Cartesian, and he claims that he will resolve the apparently inexplicable using pure reason. He disparages Larson’s techniques, which, he claims are entirely based on Conan Doyle.
A strong influence on Agatha Christie’s country-house mysteries, the novel relies heavily on detailed reasoning that lead step-by-step from room to rooftop and is complete with floor-plans. diagrams and lists. Frequent references to Poe are made, yet the novel combines the latter’s ratiocination with plenty of action: the killer strikes more than once, and is known to have access to the chateau’s grounds, if not actually inhabit them. (The Cambridge Companion to Crime Fiction, edited by Martin Priestman. Cambridge University Press, 2003. pp. 68-69).


(Facsimile Dust Jacket. Grayson & Grayson (UK) 1908)

One of the defining novels of the entire crime genre, Gaston Leroux’s The Mystery of the Yellow Room has inspired readers and writers including Agatha Christie and John Dickson Carr, and is now republished in hardback in the Detective Club series with a brand new introduction.

Breaking down her door in response to the sounds of a violent attack and a gunshot, Mademoiselle Stangerson’s rescuers are appalled to find her dying on the floor, clubbed down by a large mutton bone. But in a room with a barred window and locked door, how could her assailant have entered and escaped undetected? While bewildered police officials from the Sûreté begin an exhaustive investigation, so too does a young newspaperman, Joseph Rouletabille, who will encounter more impossibilities before this case can be closed.

The Mystery of the Yellow Room by Gaston Leroux, best remembered today as the author of The Phantom of the Opera, has been deservedly praised for more than a century as a defining book in the ‘impossible crime’ genre, as readable now as when it first appeared in French in 1907.

This Detective Club classic includes an introduction by John Curran, who discusses how the book impressed and influenced a young Agatha Christie, was lauded by genre giants including John Dickson Carr, Ellery Queen and Julian Symons, and remains to this day one of the most effective and enjoyable locked room mysteries ever written. (Collins Detective Club Crime Classics)

The Mystery of the Yellow Room has been reviewed, among others, at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, Golden Age of Detection Wiki, Classic Mysteries, My Reader’s Block, Past Offences, Pramod Nair’s Reviews at Good Reads, FictionFan’s Book Reviews and The Invisible Event.


To tell you the truth, after I first read The Mystery of the Yellow Room, I was disappointed. My post is here. Now that I believe my tastes have somewhat evolved, and in view of my growing interest about locked-room mysteries and impossible crimes, I look forward to reading again soon The Mystery of the Yellow Room in this new edition published by Collins Detective Club Crime Classics.

My Book Notes: The Sign of Four (1890) by Arthur Conan Doyle

Esta entrada es bilingüe, para ver la versión en castellano desplazarse hacia abajo

Included in The Complete Sherlock Holmes and Tales of Terror and Mystery by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Signature Edition The Complete Works Collections, 2011. Format: Kindle Edition. File Size: 2804 KB. Print Length: 1592 pages. ASIN: B004LE7PCM. ISBN: 2940012102744.

41lo0viddcl._sy346_Book Description: In Arthur Conan Doyle’s second Sherlock Holmes novel, client Mary Morstan poses two puzzles for the master detective—the 1878 disappearance of her father, Captain Arthur Morstan, and her mysterious receipt of six pearls (one per year) since answering a newspaper query in 1882. With time running out and the body-count mounting, Holmes and Watson must unravel a plot involving the East India Company, a rebellion, and stolen treasure.

My Take: The Sign of the Four (1890), also called The Sign of Four, is the second book in the Sherlock Holmes canon. It was published after A Study in Scarlet (1887), the first story featuring Sherlock Holmes, and it pre-date the first collection of short stories, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892). As in the case with the first book, at the time, The Sign of Four was not successful, and it wasn’t until a year later, when the first short story to feature Sherlock Holmes was published in The Strand Magazine, that Sherlock Holmes and his creator Arthur Conan Doyle, begun to achieve the immense popularity which they still hold nowadays.

The Sign of Four appeared first in the February 1890 edition of Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, an American monthly magazine, as The Sign of the Four; or The Problem of the Sholtos, in both London and Philadelphia. Over the following few months in the same year, the novel was then republished in several regional British journals. These re-serialisations gave the title as The Sign of Four. The novel was published in book form in October 1890 by Spencer Blackett, again using the title The Sign of Four, which has been since then the accepted title. (Source: The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia and Wikipedia).

‘In America the editor of Lippincott’s Magazine found it [A Study in Scarlet] interesting, and Doyle was asked to meet a Lippincott representative paying a visit to London. As a result of a dinner at which Oscar Wilde was also present, both Wilde and Doyle wrote books for the magazine. Wilde’s book was The Picture of Dorian Gray and Doyle’s was The Sign of the Four which appeared in Lippincott’s in February 1890.’ (Source: Julian Symons. Bloody Murder. Penguin Books, 1974. pp.68). Doyle discussed what he called this “golden evening” in his 1924 autobiography Memories and Adventures.

The story takes place in London, in the year 1888. The plot unfolds as follows. A young woman by the name of  Mary Morstan, comes before Sherlock Holmes one day to ask him for advice. Briefly her story is as follows:

‘My father was an officer in an Indian regiment, who sent me home when I was quite a child. My mother was dead, and I had no relative in England. I was placed, however, in a comfortable boarding establishment at Edinburgh, and there I remained until I was seventeen years of age. In the year 1878 my father, who was senior captain of his regiment, obtained twelve months’ leave and came home. He telegraphed to me from London that he had arrived all safe, and directed me to come down at once, giving the Langham Hotel as his address. His message, as I remember, was full of kindness and love. On reaching London I drove to the Langham, and was informed that Captain Morstan was staying there, but that he had gone out the night before and had not returned. I waited all day without news of him. That night, on the advice of the manager of the hotel, I communicated with the police, and next morning we advertised in all the papers. Our inquiries led to no result; and from that day to this no word has ever been heard of my unfortunate father. He came home with his heart full of hope, to find some peace, some comfort, and instead …. he disappeared upon the 3rd of December, 1878 – nearly ten years ago.’

Upon arriving at this point, she goes on to say:

‘I have not yet described to you the most singular part. About six years ago – to be exact, upon the 4th of May, 1882 – an advertisement appeared in The Times asking for the address of Miss Mary Morstan, and stating that it would be to her advantage to come forward. There was no name or address appended. I had at that time just entered the family of Mrs. Cecil Forrester in the capacity of governess. By her advice I published my address in the advertisement column. The same day there arrived through the post a small cardboard box addressed to me, which I found to contain a very large and lustrous pearl. No word of writing was enclosed. Since then every year upon the same date there has always appeared a similar box, containing a similar pearl, without any clue as to the sender. They have been pronounced by an expert to be of a rare variety and of considerable value. You can see for yourselves that they are very handsome.’

To conclude, she explains Sherlock Holmes the real purpose of her visit. This morning she has received a letter that she hands to him which reads as follows:

“Be at the third pillar from the left outside the Lyceum Theatre to-night at seven o’clock. If you are distrustful bring two friends. You are a wronged woman, and shall have justice. Do not bring police. If you do, all will be in vain. Your unknown friend.”

Both, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, will willingly accept to accompany her to the mysterious appointment.

If you have already read this story, there is no need to add anything more. If you haven’t, I believe it will be more than enough to spark your interest.

I do not wish to overlook that the story begins with quite an appealing discussion between Holmes and Dr Watson in which the essential building blocks of the Holmes mythos are brought up for the first time (see Past Offences review below).

In other words, maybe the book most interesting feature is to see how the myth of Sherlock Holmes begins to take shape gradually. And though, for my taste, it is not among the best books in the canon –both The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes are superior– The Sign of Four might have worked better as a short story. Quality wise, it is above A Study in Scarlet and is worthwhile reading.

My rating: B (I liked it)

The Sign of (the) Four has been reviewed, among others, at Past Offences.

About the Author: Arthur Conan Doyle, in full Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle, (born May 22, 1859, Edinburgh, Scotland—died July 7, 1930, Crowborough, Sussex, England), Scottish writer best known for his creation of the detective Sherlock Holmes—one of the most vivid and enduring characters in English fiction. While a medical student, Conan Doyle was deeply impressed by the skill of his professor, Dr Joseph Bell, in observing the most minute detail regarding a patient’s condition. This master of diagnostic deduction became the model for Conan Doyle’s literary creation, Sherlock Holmes, who first appeared in A Study in Scarlet, a novel-length story published in Beeton’s Christmas Annual of 1887. Driven by public clamour, Conan Doyle continued writing Sherlock Holmes adventures through 1926. (Source; Britannica)

The canon of Sherlock Holmes:  Four novels: A Study in Scarlet (1887); The Sign of the Four (1890); The Hound of the Baskervilles (1901–1902); The Valley of Fear (1914–1915). And five collections of short stories: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892); The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1894); The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1905); His Last Bow (1917); and The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (1927).

The Official Site of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Literary Estate

The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopaedia 

A Doyle Man by Michael Dirda


El signo de los cuatro, de Arthur Conan Doyle

Descripción del libro: En la segunda novela protagonizada por Sherlock Holmes de Arthur Conan Doyle, su cliente Mary Morstan le plantea dos enigmas al experto detective: la desaparición en 1878 de su padre, el capitán Arthur Morstan, y la misteriosa recepción de seis perlas (una por año) que le llegan desde que respondió al anuncio de un periódico en 1882. Con el tiempo agotándose y el recuento de cadáveres creciendo, Holmes y Watson deben desentrañar un complot en el que se ven involucrados la Compañía de las Indias Orientales, una rebelión y un tesoro robado.

Mi opinión: The Sign of the Four (1890), también llamado The Sign of Four, es el segundo libro en el canon de Sherlock Holmes. Fue publicado después de A Study in Scarlet (1887), la primera historia protagonizada por Sherlock Holmes, y es anterior a la primera colección de relatos, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892). Como en el caso del primer libro, en su tiempo, The Sign of Four no tuvo éxito, y no fue sino hasta un año después, cuando se publicó el primer relato breve de Sherlock Holmes en The Strand Magazine, que nuestro personaje y su creador Arthur Conan Doyle, comenzaron a alcanzar la inmensa popularidad que todavía tienen hoy en día.

The Sign of Four apareció por primera vez en la edición de febrero de 1890 de Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, una revista mensual estadounidense, como The Sign of the Four; o El problema de los Sholtos, tanto en Londres como en Filadelfia. Durante los siguientes meses del mismo año, la novela se volvió a publicar en varias revistas británicas regionales. Estas re-serializaciones tuvieron como título The Sign of Four. La novela fue publicada en forma de libro en octubre de 1890 por Spencer Blackett, nuevamente usando el título The Sign of Four, que ha sido desde entonces el título aceptado. (Fuente: The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia y Wikipedia).

En Estados Unidos, el editor de la Revista Lippincott encontró interesante [A Study in Scarlet], y le pidió a Doyle que se reuniera con un representante de Lippincott que se encontraba en Londres. Como resultado de una cena en la que Oscar Wilde también estaba presente, tanto Wilde como Doyle escribieron sendos libros para la revista. El libro de Wilde fue The Picture of Dorian Gray y el de Doyle The Sign of the Four que apareció en Lippincott’s en febrero de 1890. “(Fuente: Julian Symons. Bloody Murder. Penguin Books, 1974. pp.68). Doyle se refirió a lo que llamó esta “tarde dorada” en su autobiografía de 1924 Memorias y aventuras.

La historia tiene lugar en Londres, en el año 1888. La trama se desarrolla de la siguiente manera. Una joven llamada Mary Morstan, se presenta ante Sherlock Holmes un día para pedirle consejo. Brevemente su historia es la siguiente:

“Mi padre era oficial en un regimiento de la India, y me envió a Inglaterra cuando era niña. Mi madre había muerto y yo no tenía ningún pariente aquí, pero me ingresason en un cómodo internado de Edimburgo, donde permanecí hasta que cumplí los diecisiete años. En 1878, mi padre, que era capitán de su regimiento, consiguó un permiso de doce meses y regresó a Inglaterra. Me puso un telegrama desde Londres diciendo que había llegado sin contratiempo, pidiéndome que fuera a verlo de inmediato, y dándo como dirección el Hotel Langham. Su mensaje, tal y como yo lo recuerdo, estaba lleno de amor y de cariño. En cuanto llegué a Londres me dirigí al Langham donde me informaron que el capitán Morstan se alojaba allí, pero que había salido la noche anterior y no había regresado todavía. Esperé todo el día sin tener noticias suyas. Aquella noche, por consejo de gerente del hotel, me puse en contacto con la policía, y a la mañana siguiente pusiomos anuncios en todos los periódicos. Nuestras pequisas no tuvieron ningún resultado; y desde entonces hasta la  fecha no hemos vuelto a saber nada mas de mi pobre padre. Regresó a su tierra con el corazón lleno de esperanza, buscando paz y reposo, y en lugar de eso …. desapareció el 3 de diciembre de 1878, hace casi diez años.”

Al llegar a este punto, continúa diciendo:

“Aún no le he contado la parte más extraña. Hace unos seis años, para ser más exactos, el 4 de mayo de 1882, apareció un anuncio en el Times, interesándose por la dirección de la señorita Mary Morstan, y asegurando que le convenía mucho presentarse. No se incluía ningún nombre ni dirección. Por aquel entonces yo acababa de entrar al servicio de la señora de Cecil Forrester como institutriz. Siguiendo su consejo publiqué mi dirección en la columna de anuncios personales. Aquél mismo día me llegó por correo una cajita de cartón, que resultó contener una perla muy grande y brillante. Nada más, ninguna palabra escrita. Y desde entonces, cada año, por la misma fecha, siempre me llega una caja parecida, conteniendo una perla similar, sin el menor dato de quien las envía. Un experto ha dictaminado que son de una variedad rara y que tienen un gran valor. Vean por ustedes mismos que son bellísimas.”

Para concluir, le explica a Sherlock Holmes el verdadero propósito de su visita. Esta mañana recibió una carta que le entrega y que dice lo siguiente:

“Acuda esta noche, a las siete, a la puerta del Teatro Lyceum, tercera columan de la izquierda. Si no se fía, traiga un par de amigos. Ha sido usted perjudicada y se le hará justicia. No avise a la policía. Si lo hace, todo será en vano. Su amigo desconocido”.

Ambos, Sherlock Holmes y el Dr. Watson, aceptarán de buen grado acompañarla a la misteriosa cita.

Si ya ha leído esta historia, no es necesario agregar nada más. Si no lo ha hecho todavía, creo que será más que suficiente para despertar su interés.

No deseo pasar por alto que la historia comienza con una discusión bastante atractiva entre Holmes y el Dr. Watson en la que se mencionan por primera vez los elementos esenciales del mito de Holmes (ver la reseña de Past Offences, antes mencionada).

En otras palabras, quizás la característica más interesante del libro es ver cómo el mito de Sherlock Holmes comienza a tomar forma gradualmente. Y aunque, para mi gusto, no está entre los mejores libros del canon, tanto The Hound of the Baskervilles como The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes son superiores, The Sign of Four podría haber funcionado mejor como un relato breve. En cuanto a calidad, está por encima de A Study in Scarlet y vale la pena leerlo.

Nota: Ignoro el nombre del traductor.

Mi valoración: B (Me gustó)

Sobre el autor: Arthur Conan Doyle, su nombre completo Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle, (nacido el 22 de mayo de 1859, Edimburgo, Escocia, fallecido el 7 de julio de 1930, Crowborough, Sussex, Inglaterra), fue un escritor escocés más conocido por su creación del detective Sherlock Holmes, uno de los personajes más vivos y permanetes de la novela inglesa. Mientras estudiaba medicina, Conan Doyle quedó profundamente impresionado por la habilidad de su profesor, el Dr. Joseph Bell, al observar los detalles más minuciosos con respecto a la condición de un paciente. Este maestro de la deducción aplicada a sus diagnósticos se convirtió en el modelo de la creación literaria de Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes, quien apareció por primera vez en A Study in Scarlet, una historia de la extensión de una novela breve, publicada en el Beeton’s Christmas Annual de 1887. Empujado por el fervor del público, Conan Doyle continuó escribiendo aventuras de Sherlock Holmes hasta 1926. (Fuente; Britannica)

El canon holmesiano: Cuatro novelas: Estudio en escarlata (1887); El signo de los cuatro (1890); El sabueso de los Baskerville (1901 – 1902); El valle del terror (1914 – 1915). Y cinco colecciones de relatos: Las aventuras de Sherlock Holmes (1892); Las memorias de Sherlock Holmes (1894); El regreso de Sherlock Holmes (1905); Su última reverencia (1917); y El archivo de Sherlock Holmes (1927).

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