If a twist in the end that boggles your mind, is what you're after...The Norwood Builder won't disappoint you.
In fact, I must confess that I was completely stumped when I finished the story for the first time - because I had not expected it to end that way at all!
Of course Sherlock Holmes' deductions in this story are cool as well, but the ending overshadows them.
Well, so, without much ado...
Here are my ratings for The Norwood Builder:
The story begins when a Blackheath lawyer (Blackheath is a locality in London) - John Hector McFarlane literally barges into Holmes and Watson's apartment.
The illustration is by our good old Sydney Paget. Thanks to Ignisart for helping me find it.
He is dressed like a gentleman but he is terribly anxious - the police is after him!
The fact that this man has sought Holmes, when the police is after him definitely makes him seem like an innocent man...
But why is the police after him?
Apparently, this man was visited by a guy called Jonas Oldacre the previous day. That guy willed everything of his to our man - John Hector McFarlane, even though these two guys had never met!
To make things more intriguing, Jonas Oldacre called John Hector to his house at night, to discuss more things about the will.
The current issue is this: Jonas Oldacre has apparently died in a fire in his house and the only person who visited him last was our man - John Hector.
Obviously the police thinks, he murdered Jonas Oldacre and that is why they are after him.
The mystery is deep. First - why on earth did Jonas Oldacre will all his property to a stranger? Second - is this guy John Hector telling the complete truth? Third - was the fire in which Jonas Oldacre died an accident?
Yet again...it is all upto Holmes to untangle this very confusing chain of events!
There's a very funny moment right at the beginning of the story that made me smile.
You see, just before John Hector McFarlane rushes into Holmes' apartment, Holmes is ruing the fact that there are no mind boggling cases in London any more.
When McFarlane enters and says that the police wants to arrest him, Holmes genuinely feels happy. I mean, he's finally got a case he'll enjoy solving! The funny moment comes when Holmes actually almost expresses his happiness at McFarlane's arrest by saying:
Holmes is actually about to say "gratifying"! The fact that poor old Holmes was so desperately in need of a case that he actually was about to use that word makes this a magical moment for me. :-)
Generally, Sherlock Holmes is quite prompt in finding clues and deducing tonnes of stuff from them but sometimes, he just can't find things out.
There's one such frustrating moment in The Norwood Builder, when Holmes has no freaking idea about how to prove that McFarlane is innocent.
All he says is that he can feel it.
Just at that moment, Inspector Lestrade from the London police sends Holmes a message about another proof against McFarlane being discovered.
When Holmes arrives and take a look at the proof - a thumb impression in blood on the wall, he smiles.
That thumb impression wasn't there the previous day - when Holmes had examined the wall!
This moment is definitely a magical moment for me - because that thumb impression changes everything. After all, if a thumb impression has suddenly appeared, someone else must be wanting McFarlane's arrest.
Who is that person?
Guess who drew that picture first? Yup, it was Sidney Paget...in 1903.
Sherlock Holmes loves drama - there's no denying that. Or should we say he thrives on it? :-)
Once Holmes deduces that Jonas Oldacre is not dead, but is actually hiding, Holmes plans a fantastic way to get him out of his hiding place.
He gets two piles of straw placed outside Jonas Oldacre's hiding place and asks Watson to light one of them. Then, he asks all the constables present to participate in a fascinating drama:
Out comes Jonas Oldacre and he's of course immediately nabbed by the police. This is definitely one of my favourite moments from the story.
What I lo..ve is that characteristic Holmesian drama...even when the situation is really serious.
Maybe I love it because...that's how I am in real life - sometimes even to the dismay of my dear wife? ;-)
A heartening moment in the story is when Sherlock Holmes refuses to let his name appear in Inspector Lestrade's police report.
He asks Lestrade to, in fact, take credit for his (Holmes') own work.
Holmes also says that for him, the work is its own reward. I know it's a bit too ideal...but somewhere that philosophy resonates with me.
Honestly, I wouldn't be that generous with others putting their names over my efforts - but maybe, one day, I'll have that maturity which Sherlock Holmes seems to have.
Maybe I'll un-copyright all the content on this site on that day, eh? ;-)
Well, this is definitely a magical moment for me, in any case.
All the action in The Norwood Builder takes place at The Deep Dane House, at the Sydenham end of Sydenham road in Lower Norwood.
Lower Norwood does exist today as West Norwood. It's a place in south London.
Now, my question is: does Deep Dene House really exist?
Currently, there is definitely no Deep Dene House in existence.
However, till 1967, when it was demolished - a building called Deep Dene House did exist in Dorking village in Surrey, England. It did not exist in the place where it exists in this story - Lower Norwood - but the name was the same.
Was this Deep Dane House, that belonged to BritRail before it was demolished in 1967, the same house described in the story? I am not really sure - though as I said - the name's exactly the same.
An interesting fact however is, that the client John McFarlane spends a night at an inn called The Anerley Arms, in the story.
This inn does exist even today! However, it is now a pub, rather than an inn.
Here's a picture that shows exactly where The Anerley Arms is, where the 'real' Deep Dene House that was demolished was...and where Deep Dane House in Norwood is!
It also shows Blackheath, the place where John McFarlane lives in the story. Blackheath is a real place in London, by the way.
When John McFarlane comes to Holmes' apartment, he asks Holmes to read about the previous night's murder in the newspapers. Holmes, then picks up The Daily Telegraph and reads an account of the murder.
Now, I've always imagined, the newspapers of those times to be very similar to those of today. But...were they? I decided to find out.
I mean, what was Holmes looking at - when he was scouring the papers?
Here's a nice graphic that's emerged from my research on old newspapers!
Newspapers in the 19th century were wa...ay too different from today's newspapers!
Well, did you? I didn't! But yes, that's where he lived for 3 years from 1891 to 1894.
His address was: 12, Tennison Road, South Norwood.
But - and that's a big but, the story itself takes place in Lower Norwood, which today, is called West Norwood. So while Doyle did live somewhere nearby, he didn't exactly live in the same area as the Norwood builder - Jonas Oldacre.
In fact, here's a picture that shows you Conan Doyle's house...and where Jonas Oldacre's house is, in the story.
An interesting point here is that - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's house is still there. So you can actually take a look at it, if you're in or around London.
The Norwood builder first appeared in two magazines - the Collier's Weekly in The USA (in October, 1903) and The Strand Magazine in the UK (in November, 1903).
Here's a picture of the front page of The Strand Magazine.
Thanks to Sociètè Sherlock Holmes de France for helping with this one!
Sherlock Holmes was a big deal for readers of The Strand. You can see that from the fact that The Norwood Builder is mentioned on the front page!
Well, that's about the Norwood Builder.
If you haven't yet read the story, I can see no reason why you shouldn't read it now!