The Cardboard Box is not the most awesome Sherlock Holmes story ever, but it's a superb competitor for the "Most Intense and Gruesome Sherlock Holmes Story Award."
They say that it was not published in the British edition of The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes…till 25 years after it was written.
And it was published and immediately removed from the American edition…
Now, that raises eyebrows.
You must have realized by now that there is quite a plot here.
Apart from the engaging plot, I also love Holmes' superb deductions (like the one in the picture below!) in the story.
"I can deduce your thoughts Watson!", is what Holmes is thinking. (Sidney Paget)
There is the famous 'thought deduction scene,' in which Sherlock Holmes correctly deduces Watson's thoughts...
There are many more deductions too: when I read The Cardboard Box for the first time, I was stunned by how Holmes deduces so much from just examining that cardboard box.
When I read it again, more carefully, my astonishment turned into admiration.
Well, well: here are my ratings for the story...
The story begins when a middle-aged woman in Croydon (a place near London) receives a mind boggling packet.
The packet contains…two human ears.
Now if I received such a terrible packet, I would be stumped. Miss Cushing (the woman in question) is just as stumped. Is someone playing a joke on her? Or is there some gruesome secret which our dear Holmes needs to unravel?
The mystery is definitely startling because come on:
why would anyone send you two human ears?
One of the best parts of the story is when Holmes takes a look at this gruesome packet and immediately deduces clues that will eventually solve the mystery.
I won't tell you anything else. You've got to read it yourself! And if you already have, let's discuss some of the magical moments of this thrilling story.
The opening scene of the story is pretty fascinating: our dear Watson is sitting in his chair lost in deep thought when Holmes says to him:
"It does seem a most preposterous way of settling a dispute."
Holmes basically reads Watson's thoughts because Watson was indeed thinking about how useless war is! Of course Watson is surprised as he remarks:
"What is this Holmes. This is beyond anything I could have imagined."
That's when Holmes calmly explains how he followed Watson's train of thought. This is definitely one of my magical moments in the story.
Here's an interesting picture that shows Watson's thoughts and how Holmes deduced their trail.
(Read Holmes' observations from the bottom of the left box to the top of the left box. Watson's thoughts deduced on the basis of Holmes' observations, are on the right.)
As you can see, it all starts with Watson looking from Gordon's portrait to Beecher's... Holmes takes it from there.
I'd love to deduce my wife's thoughts like that. ;-)
The main highlight of The Cardboard Box is of course…the cardboard box with two human years that Miss Cushing receives.
When Holmes examines the box, he immediately observes and deduces that...
These deductions definitely made me even more curious about the case and created a magical moment for me.
Holmes is in the end, a detective, and a detective has to procure information from different people about his case.
That requires an understanding of human psychology and also...empathy.
Miss Cushing, the woman who receives the ears, is bombarded by questions from just about everyone. When she says, "I am weary of questions!", Holmes understands her situation and rather draws her into a conversation about her sisters.
Now if I were the one investigating, I might have been tempted to say:
"Well, these questions are important Miss Cushing and I am sorry, but you will need to answer them."
Holmes doesn't do that. He understands that she might like to converse about her sisters and her family but she might not like to be questioned about the crazy parcel.
So, instead of asking her more about the parcel, he asks her about her family.
I know this isn't a very happening and thrilling moment in the story, but I definitely admire Holmes' understanding of human psychology here.
That's a sketch of Holmes, Watson and Miss Cushing by Robert Lutz Verlag in 1908
When Sherlock Holmes has solved the case, he says to Lestrade,
...because the case was a bit too easy for him.
I think that is kind of cool!
I mean, solving the mystery of the cardboard box was not easy at all, at least from my point of view. Also, we all want to take credit for what we've done, and its quite refreshing to see a guy solve the case and not want any credit for it.
I've got a thing or two to learn from Holmes there, when it comes to taking credit...
The Cardboard Box ends with Jim Browner's confession about his double murders.
He had murdered his wife and her lover and sent their ears to his wife's sister who had encouraged the affair because of her selfish motives.
It's a sad ending because you can feel the murderer's pain and guilt and yet you can't just forget what he's done: murdered his wife and her lover and cut their ears off.
His story is so strange, so intense and yet so tragic, that: I'd not call the moment when his confession ends a magical moment.
I would however call it a 'introspective moment', a moment that makes you think about revenge, forgiveness and what jealousy and hatred can lead to…
As Sherlock Holmes says:
The Cardboard Box is the only tale suppressed by Conan Doyle and not published in a book till 1917, even though it was published in the Strand Magazine in 1893.
Why is that so? I mean, it's definitely got a super-gripping plot.
Well, some guys say this is because this story has adultery and in those days, that was taboo, especially for younger readers. Others including a famous Sherlockian scholar called Christopher Metress say that Arthur Conan Doyle had a secret reason to not allow The Cardboard Box to be published.
What's that secret reason? We don't know!
Final crux: The Cardboard box was published in The Last Bow and NOT in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. Even today, it appears in The Last Bow in American Editions.
Here's an interesting map I've created that shows all the happening places in The Cardboard Box.
In the beginning of the story, Holmes deduces what Watson is thinking and then says something like this (I've rephrased it): Remember, I was reading out one of Poe's works on thought reading and you'd said you didn't believe it? So I've tried to do that to you today!
Now, I was intrigued by which work of Edward Allen Poe, Holmes might be referring too.
After some research, I've finally figured out that he's referring to a scene from Murders in the Rue Morgue, a famous novel by Poe. In this scene, there's a uber cool detective called Auguste Dupin, quite like our dear Holmes, who deduces what the narrator in the story is thinking without a word being exchanged.
That's the passage Holmes refers to in The Cardboard Box.
By the way, if you really are intrigued by Murders in the Rue Morgue, you can try reading it for free here.
One thing that confuses me and so many other Sherlock Holmes fans is the freaking messing up of dates and events in some of the stories. Take a look at this picture.
The question is: if Watson got married after the Sign of Four (mentioned in the Cardboard Box), then how is he blissfully single and in Baker Street in The Cardboard Box?
Maybe he was temporarily separated from his wife or maybe Conan Doyle just messed up the dates...
Not that I am complaining too much about these dates as long as the stories are awesome (which they are). ;-)
But just noticing, you know...
What, you haven't yet read The Cardboard Box? Here you go...