DO NOT CHANGE CHARLES WITHOUT TALKING TO HIM.
It’s amazing what one can do with a wooden spoon, a shoe lace, a bare neck, and a twist of the wrist (occasionally limp). Play asphyxiation games. Commit suicide. Perform a deuce of a murder.
Or create a mystery worthy of Sherlock Holmes and his literary life’s partner Dr. John Watson, of 221B Baker Street [where they recently hosted a gala for Sir Elton John. Housekeeper Mrs. Hudson, a High Church Anglican, was absent.]
The victim in this strange scenario (if indeed he was such) is one Richard Lancelyn Green — age 50, a millionaire, the world’s foremost Holmes expert — who on a foggy London day last March was found in his double bed quite, quite dead. Alone.*
Green was surrounded by stuffed toys, a bottle of good gin, and Holmesian memorabilia. When the police broke in — his frantic sister Priscilla West had repeatedly tried to telephone him — he was found with a shoe lace coiled tightly around his ample neck.
Prior to this curious garroting Green had been trying to prevent the auctioning at Christie’s of unpublished Sir Arthur Conan Doyle letters and manuscripts originally promised to the British Library. He coveted access to this material to finish a “definitive” Doyle biography he had been working on for 20 years.
The coroner ruled suicide, but foul play was strongly suspected by many. Chat rooms were rife with speculation. (“As for self-garroting, it’s like trying to choke oneself to death by your own hands,” emailed one armchair sleuth.) A British tabloid headlined CURSE OF CONAN DOYLE’ STRIKES HOLMES EXPERT. Extra! Extra!
As far as curse du jour is concerned there are those (unfortunately dead) who might have agreed. Doyle. Actors Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett. Doyle found that his brainchild had become a monster he couldn’t control. His waking hours were spent devising plot twists and singular solutions worthy of his genius detective.
Six years after Doyle created Holmes, he did the poor bloke in, along with nemesis Professor Moriarty, in “The Final Problem.” Doyle wrote in his diary for December 1893, “Killed Holmes!” But public outcry was so great that Doyle had to bring Holmes, like some mythic demigod, back from the dead eight years later.
As for Rathbone and Brett, playing Holmes on screen so closely identified each actor with the detective that other stage roles were eclipsed or forgotten. Rathbone grew to hate Holmes, and Brett suffered a nervous breakdown over him.
“There’s something about the greatest of all detectives that’s obsessing,” says Jeff Montgomery, who since 1979 has been a member of the worldwide Baker Street Irregulars (named for street urchin informants). “You find yourself looking at details, connecting dots, and applying logic to everything. You know quotes by heart — the plots inside and out. It takes over.”
According to Jeff, new Baker Street Irregulars are given two links to the Holmes canon: a shilling — the reward given by Holmes to his boys for uncovering clues — and a story name. (Jeff’s — bestowed when he was 27 — is Inspector Montgomery, taken from “The Adventure of the Cardboard Box.” Famous Irregulars include science fiction writer Isaac Asimov, mystery writer Rex Stout, presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry S Truman.)
“Green’s death is still a mystery,” says Jeff. “He was closeted, but for some reason Scotland Yard failed to contact Triangle Foundation for assistance. Frankly it’s out of our jurisdiction. However there are enough dastardly Moriaritys around here to keep the game afoot. We shall prevail. Oh, yes: God save the Queen.”