Wednesday, June 26, 2013

55. Errors

“There is some guilty secret in the room.”
“The Adventure of the Three Garridebs”

After a succession of stories involving either attempted or accomplished murders, jewel thefts, or creeping men, the reintroduction of the confidence trick to the Case-Book would seem a welcome respite, if only “Garridebs” was not a confidence trick tale steeped in both murder and theft. Sensing the shift, as it were, Watson himself declares the story might be a comedy of sorts, acknowledging in the next sentence that it was the sort of comedy that very nearly cost him his life. And, in one respect, it is a comedy, and one that highlights Holmes’s methods with aplomb. That is to say, it is a comedy of errors.

“Garridebs” begins its litany of errors like so many breadcrumbs for Holmes to follow as one of the titular gentlemen, Mr. John Garrideb of Moorsville, Kansas (an American, Holmes notices, resplendent in years-worn London-bought finery, indicating that he has been resident for some time) regales the detective and Dr. Watson with a tale of a large inheritance awaiting not only himself, but two namesakes, provided he can find them. One has already been located, in London, an eccentric gentleman who, in his modest room, collects a number of unusual and exotic items. As if telegraphing the solution to come, Holmes makes an errant reference to a ‘Lysander Starr,’ a name which, as William Baring-Gould noted in The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, should sound familiar to readers of the canon as being close to that of Lysander Stark, from “The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb”—a name recognized by John Garrideb, but whom Holmes later confesses to Watson he made up on the spot.

As immensely entertaining as someone trying (and failing) to lie to Sherlock Holmes is, the detective quickly discerns that whatever scheme is cooking up around Nathan Garrideb, the collector, it is likely to prove a dangerous enterprise. Once the plot is hatched, it involves yet another miasma of errors that Holmes and Watson must uncover, this time in a newspaper advertisement for the third Garrideb. In one of the more sprightly dialogues of the canon, the two sleuths debate the nuances of English as interpreted in the former Colonies and, in contrast, how it is conveyed “at home.” In the final dénouement (and with some crucial information from Inspector Lestrade), the errors accumulate to paralyze the culprit, although not without cost, as Watson recounts a serious injury as well as the unfortunate consequences for their client. As with many of the “long cons” of the canon—the criminal errs to his own ruin.    

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