The Adventure of Black Peter is a simple story that I've thoroughly enjoyed every single time I've read it.
Why do I call it simple?
Because it's like that dish that has only 3-4 ingredients, takes around 10 minutes to prepare...but surprises everyone with its superb flavour.
Simple but delicious.
Unlike some other Sherlock Holmes stories, you won't gasp when you look at the mystery in this story.
But the way Sherlock Holmes pieces things together block by block, elegantly, right in front of your eyes - it's beautiful.
Well, well. Here go my ratings for The Adventure of Black Peter:
There's a man called Peter Carey and he's been murdered in his own outhouse. With a harpoon.
He's been 'pinned to the wall like a beetle on a card.'
Now this Peter guy (the 'Black Peter') was an abusive drunkard - not exactly a sweet guy. But why would anyone murder him? You don't just kill someone because he's a jerk.
Black Peter also used to be the captain of a ship around 12 years ago. Could there be a link there?
Then there's an intriguing log-book that talks about 'stocks' and 'securities' that's been found near Peter. A seal-skin tobacco pouch has also been found.
And yes, a bottle of rum and two glasses were there too...
It's all like a puzzle with the pieces scattered about.
Could Sherlock Holmes please join the right pieces and tell us who the culprit is?
Right in the beginning of the story, Sherlock Holmes walks into his apartment with a harpoon 'tucked' under his arm.
Apparently, he has been practicing stabbing a dead pig with this harpoon to understand the case better!
He tells Watson as he enters 221B, Baker Street:
This moment is fun for me because frankly, I never see Sherlock Holmes practicing with spears except in this story.
It is a different avatar of his.
Of course, it is only later in the story that we learn how freakin' important this spear-exercise is...
There's this moment in the story when the inspector involved in the case - Stanley Hopkins - is a bit too sure that there's not much evidence at the crime scene.
He insists that there were no foot-marks anywhere and that there was no trace of the criminal to be found.
Sherlock Holmes is a bit irritated when he hears this.
He's says something to this effect, "You mean, you've found nothing right, Hopkins? How the heck can there be nothing."
But Hopkins is sure. And confident.
When he again insists, Sherlock Holmes finally says:
That's a funny moment for me - seeing Sherlock Holmes frustrated with Hopkins' stubbornness. :-)
One of the most interesting moments for me in any Sherlock Holmes story is when Holmes and others hide and wait in ambush to catch the culprit.
The Adventure of Black Peter has such a moment - and I love that moment.
Sherlock Holmes, Inspector Hopkins and Watson are hiding behind some bushes waiting for an intruder to enter the outhouse where Peter Carey was murdered.
They had found the lock of the outhouse to be damaged - but unbroken. They think the guy who tried opening the lock earlier, will come again this night.
Most importantly, who is he?
As Watson says:
Finally, when a man does come - and does try to open that lock again - it's thrilling.
And then comes Inspector Hopkins' sudden hand on his shoulder as he says, "Now, my fine fellow..."
I find these moments of waiting to be exciting because you know something is going to happen - but you have no idea what exactly might happen.
These are the moments when you actually become those people waiting - and your heart starts beating a bit faster too...
Every once in a while Sherlock Holmes makes an uber-cool deduction that turns the case on its head.
And the funniest part is that when he makes the deduction, you're like 'That's so true! That's obvious. Why didn't I think of that?"
Now in the very first scene of The Adventure of Black Peter, Sherlock Holmes tells Watson that he just can't drive a harpoon through a dead pig. It's too hard to do that.
Later, Sherlock Holmes, Watson and Inspector Hopkins catch this guy called John Neligan in the outhouse where Peter Carey is murdered.
It's clear that this Neligan guy is lying about something. He's got a notebook that he wants to hide and a lock that he's tried to break open stacked against him.
Basically, it's almost a given that he's the murderer.
Inspector Stanley Hopkins arrests this guy. He has to be the murderer.
And then Sherlock Holmes drops his surprise.
How on earth, he asks - could this Neligan dude - who's weak and sickly - drive a god-forsaken harpoon into a man?
After all, despite his best tries the Sherlock Holmes couldn't drive it through a dead pig.
The case is wide open again.
When I read that, I was like 'Wow, I didn't think of that. I was too taken in with this Neligan dude.'
I love moments like these - the 'turn it on the head' moments. :-)
Sherlock Holmes is the master of ending his cases with a flourish.
In The Adventure of Black Peter, Holmes calls the killer to Baker Street to recruit him for an imaginary voyage.
He asks that guy - Patrick Cairns - to sign on a certain sheet of paper.
Sherlock Holmes has a way of doing things. And I love it!
Take a peek at some fun-facts related to The Adventure of Black Peter!
Thanks to The Diogenes Club for the Collier's magazine picture.
So where is that place in England where Peter Carey gets killed? Where was Peter Carey's ship from?
And are these places real or did Conan Doyle make them up?
All these doubts circled me after I'd read the story.
And this map here is the result...
Thanks to NordNordWest on Wikipedia for the original map outline.
Yes, all the places are real ones.
In fact, Sherlock Holmes and Watson stay at the Brambletye Hotel in Forest Row in the story and that hotel's real too!
Peter Carey, the guy who's killed in the story is the ex-captain of a whaling ship - the SS Sea Unicorn - in the story.
Now the question that popped up in my head was: what on earth were/are whaling ships? I mean, we don't hear much about them these days.
When I tried to find that out, I stumbled upon quite some interesting facts...
Well, the thing is - we all use oil today - oil that's extracted from below the ground. But in the 1800s, most of the oil in the world came from whales.
Yup, whales have this thick layer under their skin called blubber. This blubber's oil was used to light lamps and run industries in the 18th and 19th centuries. This oil was also used in soaps, paints, textiles...you name it.
And so, whaling ships were ships that roamed around the world, killed whales and extracted oil from them.
Obviously, whaling was incredibly important for people back then. It was mind-blowingly profitable.
New Bedford in the USA became one of the richest cities in the world - because of it's abundance of whaling ships.
What's up with whaling today?
Well, after oil started getting extracted from the ground - whaling's no longer been that useful.
In those days, the whaling ports made the most money. Today, oil producing countries make loads and loads of money!
Plus - thankfully for the whales of the world - commercial whaling has been more or less banned by the International Whaling Commission.
A harpoon plays quite some role in The Adventure of Black Peter.
Sherlock Holmes tries to stab a dead pig with a harpoon and well, he fails.
Then this Peter Carey guy is killed using a harpoon.
What is a harpoon? Can we just take a look at one?
For starters, a harpoon is simply a spear that was used to kill whales. It's a special type of spear because the killers wanted the spear to penetrate one end of the whale but not the other.
Harpoons also generally had ropes attached to them so that the captured whale could be dragged behind the ship.
Take a look at different types of harpoons including the one most probably used in Black Peter:
Who fired these harpoons?
In those days, whaling ships had special men for this task - called harpooners. Depending on the type of harpoon, these guys had to either throw harpoons at whales or fire them (from a gun).
These days, whale hunters (the few there are) use a cannon from which a harpoon is blasted away.
Peter Carey - the man who dies in The Adventure of Black Peter - travelled on the whaling ship - the Sea Unicorn in 1883.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the man who's created our good old Sherlock Holmes - travelled for seven months on the whaling shop 'The Hope' in 1880!
Well, he did.
In 1880, Conan Doyle was an average third year's student of medicine in Edinburgh when something interesting happened...Here's how he himself puts it in his autobiography - Memories and Adventures:
Fascinating that he actually replaced another guy and joined in as the surgeon aboard the Hope!
Apparently however, Doyle did much more than just be a doctor - he even almost died once - as he fell into the freezing waters of the Arctic...Dangerous Work: Diary of an Arctic Adventure.
Now we all know that the original manuscript of a Sherlock Holmes story is precious.
I mean, that's a document that was first written in Conan Doyle's own handwriting before the story was published!
However, can you guess how much the original manuscript of The Adventure of Black Peter sold for in 2014?
It sold for $317,000.
Here's the official link to Christie's that lists this sale.
I say, that's cool!
So you're saying you haven't yet read The Adventure of Black Peter? Well, I'd definitely recommend it.
Download the ePUB and PDF versions here: