The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Solar Pons & the Dead Fishmonger
August Derleth created Solar Pons as a successor to Sherlock Holmes. You know that, of course, because I’ve written about Pons several times and I mention him at the bottom of every post. A Praed Street Dossier was a collection of Pons odds and ends written by Derleth, related to the ‘Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street.’
Included were some “Notebook” entries, attributed to Dr. Parker. Derleth would write two more “Notebook” installments for The Pontine Dossier, the newsletter of the Praed Street Irregulars.
The “Notebooks” are among my favorite Pons writings by Derleth. They provide additional insights into Pons and even add a case or two to the Pontine Canon. In fact, I like them so much I have continued on with the series, including ‘Notebook’ entries in several issues of my Solar Pons Gazette. I plan on adding more.
Tongue a bit in cheek with the names, here is a case from one of my ‘Notebooks’ entries in the Gazette. While Dr. Parker included this case, he never saw fit to fully write it up and publish it, so you are likely not familiar with it.
20 April, 1921
“Did you see this letter in the Herald, Pons?” I asked, handing him the item of discussion. He briefly glanced at it and then tossed it aside without a word. “You don’t think much of the suggestion, then?”
Solar Pons looked at me with the trace of a smile. “I believe that you are intentionally baiting me, Parker. So be it. No, I do not believe that ‘optograms’ will aid in finding the killer of Andrew Treacher.”
I could not recall Pons ever commenting on optical photography. “Why is that?”
“Those who argue that optical photography is a science are misguided fools. A murderer’s portrait cannot be obtained from the victim’s retina. It is sheer folly.”
“But Pons, there is a considerable body of work in support of the theory.”
“What is a theory but an assertion not backed by proof? The Society For Forensic Medicine published research conducted by Dr. Vernois, a French scientist, completely debunking optical photography. No one has yet disproved his conclusions.”
It was clear that Pons gave no credence to the idea, but I wished to further discuss it. “Come now, what harm can it do?”
“Really? Should we invite other charlatans into the case? Read the dead man’s palm? Bring a phrenologist to the morgue? No, Parker. My illustrious predecessor said that deduction should be an exact science. Conventional methods are called for, not quackery.”
I reclaimed my paper and settled back into my chair. “Conventional methods don’t seem to have served the Yard in this matter.”
Pons moved over to the fireplace and rested with his back against the mantel. “I believe that I am occasionally more successful than Scotland Yard in these matters,” he said, archly. I should not be surprised if Inspector Jamison does not call upon us in the coming days.
23 April, 1921
Inspector Jamison still has not come to ask Pons for help with the murder of Andrew Treacher, which remains unsolved according to the dailies. My friend has no other cases before him and would eagerly look into the crime.
4 May, 1921
Jamison finally visited our lodgings today, file in hand, to ask Pons for help in the Treacher case. Pons could not resist tweaking the inspector.
“I am shocked that the optograms did not reveal the killer’s identity to you, Jamison.”
“We are obliged to pursue all possible clues, Pons. We can’t be selective on such matters like you can,” He replied, obviously ruffled. “But this case has us in the dark.”
Neither Jamison or myself understood what Pons muttered quietly, but I thought it sounded like “An environment I would think you are used to operating in at the Yard.” Louder, he said “Then more traditional methods will be needed. Andrew was found, dead of a knife wound, at the fish shop he owned with his brother, Matthew. It was Matthew who discovered the body.”
Jamison’s calm returned as he shifted his focus to the case, rather than Pons’ comments. “It’s plain as a pikestaff that he interrupted a robbery attempt. The cash box was pried open and emptied.”
Pons meditated on his pipe for a moment before answering. “Your theory is that the robber was caught in the act and attacked Treacher, stabbing him in the chest?”
Jamison nodded his head in assent.
“You brought the knife?”
Jamison handed him a serrated knife, obviously used for gutting fish. “There were no prints of any kind.”
Pons gingerly accepted the knife, commenting on the bloodstains on both sides of the blade. He moved over to his deal-topped chemical table and informed us that he would be busy for some hours. Jamison grunted at this rudeness and took his leave. I retired to the Diogenes for the evening, knowing that Pons would be completely absorbed in his task. In fact, he ignored my return and was still at it when I went upstairs to bed.
5 May, 1921
Pons was just finishing his breakfast when I joined him at the table. “Come Parker, you have time for a quick bite, then we go to join Inspector Jamison at the Treacher’s establishment.”
“You have found some clue?”
There was a sparkle in his eye as he replied. “I daresay Jamison missed something obvious that should lead us to the killer.” Pons could be infuriating when closing the net around a villain and he refused to elaborate during the cab ride to meet Jamison.
We were gruffly greeted by Jamison and more cordially by Matthew Treacher, brother of the dead man. Once inside, Pons carefully examined the array of knives and implements used in the daily business of the shop. He then took out the murder weapon and gazed at it.
“Jamison, does nothing strike you about this knife?”
“I couldn’t help noticing that it is covered in blood, and thus it was used to kill Andrew Treacher,” he answered, shortly.
Pons smiled. “You are not very cheerful this morning. Perhaps your disposition will improve as the day goes on.”
He put down the knife, moved to the end of the room and turned to face us. At that moment, there was a pounding at the back door. “You’ll excuse me, gentlemen. Morning deliveries.” So saying, Matthew Treacher moved into the next room.
“Did you ask Matthew Treacher if this is his knife?”
“Of course, Pons. He said the business has had it for several years. It is my theory that the robber grabbed it from the table and killed Arthur with it. It was a convenient weapon.”
Pons’ smile grew wider. “I think not, inspector. Look at the metal not touched by blood. That knife is no more two years old than I am. Detailed examination of the upper portion will reveal to you that it has been scraped to appear aged. Other areas indicate that the knife is no more than two months old.”
I peered over Jamison’s shoulder as he more closely examined the weapon. Pons then quietly instructed me to stand next to the door and be on my guard. I complied.
Matthew Treacher reentered the room. “That’s taken care of. Mister Pons, have you discovered anything new?”
“Indeed I have, Mister Treacher. I understand you’ve had this knife for some time.”
He looked over at the item in question, still held by Jamison. “Yes sir. We use it for slicing certain parts of fish. I believe that my brother bought it a few years ago.”
“Indeed.” Pons moved slightly closer to the man. “I think not. This is a new knife. And it is of a different make than the others used here. I posit that you purchased it several months ago, aged it as best you could; quite imperfectly, I might add, and used it to kill your brother.”
“Why would you say such a thing?” Treacher was unflinching in the face of my friend’s accusation.
“Perhaps because I know that your brother intended to sell his share of the business and move to America with his wife and young child. Since you are actually the minority partner, this could considerably change your situation.”
Treacher smiled. “I don’t know where you heard such ridiculous rumors, but I assure you…”
He never finished his sentence. Instead, he lunged forward and grabbed a wicked-looking knife, some twelve inches in length. He waved it menacingly at Pons and Jamison, backing away from them. He must have forgotten my presence and when he partially turned towards the door, I delivered a solid right cross to his jaw. He crumpled to the floor, dropping the knife.
“Good work, Parker!” Solar Pons complimented me as he and Jamison moved to the unconscious form. The inspector added his praise as well.
Back in our lodgings, Pons expanded upon the details of the affair. “You see, Parker, I was not totally idle before Jamison came to us with the knife. I looked into Andrew Treacher’s financial affairs and discovered that which I told his brother. I also did a little research regarding brother Matthew.”
He adjusted his pipe and continued. “Matthew is a frequent loser at the track. I am certain that Jamison will find that the man was borrowing from the business. If Andrew Treacher sold his share of the business, his financial misdeeds would come to light. He killed his brother and staged it to look as if it was a burglary gone awry.”
“Thus preventing the sale, covering up his actions, and effectively giving him full control of the business,” I interjected.
“Exactly. I imagine that Andrew’s young son will eventually own the family business. Who knows? Perhaps some day we shall stop in at an Arthur Treacher’s Fish and Chips restaurant?”
Other Solar Pons posts here at Black Gate:
Meet Solar Pons
The Science Fictional Solar Pons
Why Solar Pons?
The Dorak Affair
Who Needs a Hard-Boiled Detective?
The Case of the Copyrighted Detective
The Solar Pons – Fu Manchu Connection by William Patrick Maynard
Starrett’s Intro to ‘The Adventures of Solar Pons
You can read Bob Byrne’s ‘The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes’ column here at Black Gate every Monday morning.
He founded www.SolarPons.com, the only website dedicated to the ‘Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street’ and blogs about Holmes and other mystery matters at Almost Holmes.
His “The Adventure of the Parson’s Son” is included in the largest collection of new Sherlock Holmes stories ever published
Delightful, best reading of the day.
While I’m here commenting, I have another topical question for you, Bob. For Christmas I was given 3 volumes of The Sherlock Holmes of Montague Street. Turns out these are Martin Hewitt stories by Arthur Morrison, edited to become early Holmes stories. I’m not at all sure I approve, but I reD two of the original stories from my copy of Best Martin Hewitt Stories, and the same two from this revised set, and except for the name change there appears to be little difference.
I’m thinking rather than returning the gift, I might just read the stories as Hewitt ones, ignoring the name change, since I don’t have the complete set of those stories. Your thoughts?
R.K. – Thanks! I really have enjoyed writing as Parker in the Notebooks. There are more entries coming via The Solar Pons Gazette.
I have the Montague Street books as well. They were done by fellow Ponsian David Marcum, who put together and edited that three volume MX Anthology of New Sherlock Holmes Stories (volumes IV and V coming).
A few folks were bothered that he rewrote the Hewitt stories as pre-Watson Holmes adventures.
I like Morrison’s Hewitt, though I admit the stories are a bit dull. I’ve got just about all of them in some form or other.
I liked David’s rewrites as well. He intentionally tried to keep them as similar as possible to the originals.
I think, since you don’t have all the Hewitt tales, you’re good with either option: read as Hewitt or as Holmes. Whichever you prefer.
On page 4 of the link, you’ll find my “assertion” that The Bruce Partington Plans was actually a fraudulent retelling of a Hewitt case. Rather, Hewitt’s Watson, Brett, claims that.