Chapters 1 & 2, Baker Street, codes, and Scotland Yard

“There are many ciphers which I would read as easily as I do the apocrypha of the agony column”.

And we’re off. Chapters 1 and 2 have been distributed, and with Holmes’s marvelously rude comment and Watson’s understandable exasperation, the journey into the Valley of Fear begins with ‘The Warning’. If you have any thoughts, theories and readings please do share them in the comments section below. I would be interested to hear what you have to say about the illustrations as well as the story itself. There are likely to be spoilers in any comments below (not least from me!) so do be careful, and make sure you have read the chapters before investigating further.

Cheerio for now,


13 thoughts on “Chapters 1 & 2, Baker Street, codes, and Scotland Yard

  1. Margaret

    Those dread words “to be continued”gave me an inkling of how the original readers must have felt. I think you have proved a point
    The descriptions are striking. Inspector MacDonald’s “great sandy eyebrows bunched in an untidy tangle”…Holmes’ “twitching of his bushy eyebrows bespoke disappointment and irritation”
    The original readership presumably placed great stock on physical descriptions, after all this was the age which revered Johann Lavatar and Giovanni Morelli. The classification by physiognomy and looking for clues in seemingly insignificant details were then the tools of criminal detection.
    Because we no longer place such significance on the appearance of modern detectives, they are more of a blank canvas. The modern author supplies much detail; we know about the Secret Sorrow, the brand of booze, the type of music. It is hard to think of a modern detective who leaps from the page like Holmes.


    1. David Ibitson

      Yes, I do enjoy the ‘To be continued’, as we are left with their cab hurtling off into the next chapter, there’s a real sense of momentum!
      Great points all about the physical descriptions. Your mention of Morelli seems especially important, what with his work as an art critic and the way in which Watson repeatedly refers to Holmes as an ‘artist’ in these chapters.
      Something I noticed was the way Holmes describes people by likening them to animals. Porlock is the pilot-fish with the shark, or the jackal with the lion; MacDonald is the ‘early bird’ trying to catch a worm; and, of course, Moriarty is the ‘poisonous creature’ at the centre of a web. There is a real sense of taxonomic categorisation working alongside the physical descriptions.


      1. Cassie

        I was interested in that discussion of art, too – Conan Doyle seems to be really playing with the material nature of his text, from the emphasis on the physical properties of the Almanack (like the story, in two columns) to the suspense (albeit brief!) in the chronological delivery of the letters in installments. I’m particularly enjoying the Holmes-Watson dynamic, and it seems that Macdonald comes in as a much more astute reader than Watson! Is Conan Doyle flattering his readers or teasing them when Holmes recommends crime fiction as a kind of professional manual of detection, and conoisseurs of crime lit as experts? Or maybe he’s making a claim for his own art as socially useful? I particularly enjoyed Macdonald’s critique of [other?] fictional detectives: ‘chaps that do things and never let you see how they do them. That’s just inspiration, not business.’


  2. Stuart

    We know, of course, that Holmes is above such things but I do think he might have been less waspish if he’d had his breakfast. “Your native shrewdness, my dear Watson, that innate cunning which is the delight of your friends…..” Cunning or otherwise, Watson has, I am quite certain, already attended to the inner man.
    I hardly think we should accuse Holmes of malice when he indulges in such remarks, He is, after all, a man who relishes an inappropriate juxtaposition. Of ‘Whitakers Almanack’; “Though reserved in its earlier vocabulary, it becomes, if I remember right, quite garrulous towards the end” and then, “Alas! the next word is ‘pigsbristles’…”
    We are aware, of course, of his high regard for Watson embodied in the generosity of his remark to MacDonald, “It is a cipher that Dr. Watson and I have had occasion to solve”.

    One should not, perhaps, take exception to a little inconsistency in Holmes’ stated opinions but It did strike me as odd that the man who considered it unnecessary to know whether the sun moved around the earth or vice versa should proclaim,”All knowledge comes useful to the detective”. Mind you, we would agree that a knowledge of auction prices never comes amiss.

    Entertained to see A C-D use the dog in the night trick again when Holmes admits to rifling through Moriarty’s papers “with the most unexpected results.” “You found something compromising?” “Absolutely nothing. That was what amazed me.”

    There is an interesting sidelight on Holmes’ view of Colonel Sebastian Moran (“the second most dangerous man in London”) when Holmes describes him as being “as aloof and guarded and inaccessible to the law as [Moriarty]”. Presumably the Colonel has moved on from his role as air gun toting assassin in “The Return”.

    I particularly like C-D’s conclusion with its stern warning to the reader. “The temptation to form premature theories upon insufficient data is the bane of our profession”. I won’t do that, then. I shall fold my hands and wait quietly for the next thrilling installment.


  3. Lynne

    Enjoying this immensely, I don’t recall this story, though I must have read it before, having read the entire Holmes canon several times. I like the way the leisurely scene-setting in literature of this period lulls the readers into a sort of false sense of security before the sensational stuff jolts them out of it. M.R. James did that particularly well, but Conan Doyle was no slouch either.


    1. Indeed, perhaps there is something of the serialised form dictating the plot here. Each chapter requires its own jolt every week, before lulling the reading in preparation for the next one to ensure they purchase the following installment. Also, you get points for bringing the fantastic M.R. James into the discussion.


  4. Dave

    Excellent. Taking me back to my youth and reminding me why I still enjoy reading detective novels. By the by, the second Harry Bosch novel by Michael Connelly has the same storyline in the first couple of chapters. It will be interesting to see how these two detectives tackle the same case as Bosch is clearly modeled on the old master, Holmes. Looking forward to the next installment.


    1. Great stuff. And, considering the preoccupation of these chapters with paintings, perhaps there is rather more of a connection with Bosch (who is, after all, named after Hieronymus). Now I think of it, the study of paintings also plays a significant role in The Hound of the Baskervilles, and I think I’m right in saying that in one of the stories Holmes claims to be distantly related to the painter Vernet . A quick search has revealed this to be in The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter, where Holmes says ‘art in the blood is liable to take the strangest forms’. I wonder why detectives and paintings should be so closely aligned here…


  5. Brigitte

    Wonderful illustrations which add to the intensity and mood of the storyline. In chapter 1 I would not have realised that Holmes was receiving guests and breaking the cipher before he was even out of his dressing gown if not for the illustrations. Illustration of the body in Chapter 3 & 4 sensitively portrayed to the reader leaving it to the imagination and descriptive portrayal of the ‘horrible’ murder. This story is moving a pace.


    1. Indeed it is! Yes, there is something very Holmes about the dessing gown isn’t there. Clearly rules of formality and states of dress are for lesser men! I see what you mean about the sensitivity of the crime scene pictures, here we have Holmes literally shielding us from the crime. But there is something about that dark smudge just visible to the left of Holmes that hints to the horrors in a way that I find quite unsettling.


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