Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is famous for giving his stories mind-whirling names.
The Five Orange Pips - of course is right up there on this list of intriguing and gripping names.
I mean, come on: orange pips?
What on earth would five orange pips have to do with a Sherlock Holmes mystery?
It's not just the name though.
The Five Orange Pips has such a fascinating mystery that it ranks right up there among the best Sherlock Holmes stories.
If I had to tell you my bare thoughts when I read the story for the first time, here's what my first thought would be: this story is so weird that I can't think of any possible solution...
You get the point: it's a weird story with a gripping mystery that's as good as any other Holmes story out there.
Here are my ratings for the story:
It all begins on a windy and stormy night in 1887, when a young man of 21 - John Openshaw - storms into Holmes’ apartment. He tells Holmes and Watson an incredibly remarkable story.
Around 9 years ago, in 1878, John was a young boy who lived with his reclusive, US returned uncle Elias. One morning, this uncle received an envelope that had five orange pips and the letters K.K.K. in it. This horrified the uncle and made him more reclusive - almost as if there was a secret attached to those pips.
Within two months, this uncle died under really shady circumstances!
All was well until 1883 - till 4 years ago, that is. In that year, John’s father received a similar letter that again contained - guess what - five orange pips.
The father tried to laugh it off - but he died in an accident within the next 3 days.
And now, in September 1887, John Openshaw himself has received an envelope that has five orange pips and a one-lined letter.
And that has brought him to Holmes.
An illustration of the envelope being opened by Josef Friedrich
Anyone who hears this story has to concede that at first glance - the mystery seems unbeatable.
I was stumped! I mean, what the heck do these five orange pips mean? Also, what do the senders of the letters want?
Is there something the uncle has done in the past and hasn’t told anyone else about?
It’s a bit gruesome, yes…and also terribly mysterious.
The first magic moment is simply the moment when John Openshaw finishes telling Sherlock Holmes and Watson his story. The story itself is so incredible and unbelievable (especially in Conan Doyle’s words), that it makes you stop for a moment.
Did you read it right? Five orange pips and 2 murders with the third one about to happen. What’s the deal?
An emotional Holmes regretting the fact that he couldn't save Openshaw (Josef Friedrich)
When John Openshaw dies despite Holmes’ attempt to save him, Sherlock Holmes is very saddened. While this is definitely not a “splendid moment”, it is a moment when Holmes expresses his emotions freely.
It makes us see Holmes as a human being rather than seeing him as a perfect, super-intelligent dude who can do no wrong.
I do feel the conviction in Holmes’ words when he says,
He then jumps into the case with double the vigour.
When Watson asks him if he’ll consult the police, an emotional Holmes says -
Now don’t get me wrong - I am not heartless enough to say I enjoyed Sherlock Holmes' being sad.
But then, a part of me did say: 'Ah, so Holmes is like you and me. He can express his feelings. '
I was glad to know that.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle compiled his own list of Best Sherlock Holmes Stories Ever in 1927 in The Strand Magazine.
He ranked The Five Orange Pips seventh on this list.
Here's the complete list by the way (number 7 is The Five Orange Pips).
Now this one’s interesting. John Openshaw - Sherlock Holmes' client - tells Holmes and Watson that his father was the patentee for the Openshaw Unbreakable Tire.
This isn't exactly related to the case, but it made me wonder: was there really such a tire?
Well, the truth is that there wasn’t.
The “Openshaw” unbreakable tire is simply fictitious.
What does unbreakable tire mean anyway? It refers to the tires that were used before pneumatic tires (used today) were invented. Tires in the 19th century were mostly tires made of wood, metal or rubber without any air.
Most probably, Conan Doyle was referring to metal tires as unbreakable - because metal tires were invented in 1866 - around the same time when John Openshaw's father lived.
.And just in case you're wondering what bicycles in those days looked like, here’s a picture of the Penny Farthing, a bicycle invented n 1870 that had solid rubber tires on steel rims.
This interesting looking cycle does not have air in its tires.
Pretty interesting times, weren’t they? When I think of how much bicycles - and life have changed since then and yet - how little Sherlock Holmes’ appeal has waned since then, I’m fascinated!
In The Five Orange Pips, many places, especially ports are talked about again and again.
You see, the first envelope with the five orange pips arrives from Pondicherry, the second one from Dundee, and the third from London.
John Openshaw himself lives in Horsham, Sussex, England.
So where exactly are all these places?
Here they are. Take a look at the world map below:
It’s always fun to visualize what’s happening in the story, isn’t it?
Throughout the story, K.K.K. - the Ku Klux Klan is mentioned again and again. In fact, John’s uncle receives a letter along with the pips that reads - K.K.K.
What the heck is this K.K.K.? Did it (and does it) really exist?
It is sad but K.K.K. is a real organization. There have been three Ku Klux Klans at different times in history - and the first one did exist during the 1860s and 1870s.
These guys were sick - they murdered black people, and declared that whites were cool and blacks weren’t.
They did some pretty gruesome things in southern USA like chasing black candidates into the forest and murdering them.
So yes, Conan Doyle did base the K.K.K. in the story on the real organization.
I don’t really want to talk about these guys.
Well, so that’s about The Five Orange Pips.
If you haven’t yet laid your hands on the story, well, you can absolutely do so now.
These are 2 cool options: