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The Best of Sherlock Holmes

by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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What are the clues in the Sherlock Holmes story "The Adventure of Blue the Carbuncle"?

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If a "clue" means a piece of hard evidence—an object—we will not find ten of them in many detective stories, since few criminals are that careless. If, however, we include multiple deductions from the same piece of evidence, as well as intangible clues, there will be plenty from which to choose. For instance, the story opens with the first piece of evidence: "a very seedy and disreputable hard-felt hat." From this, Holmes makes at least ten deductions. Whether we say that the hat is a clue or that it gives Holmes ten clues is a matter of semantics. His deductions include the following:

1. The owner is highly intellectual.

2. He has been reasonably well-off within the last three years.

3. He is no longer well-off now.

4. He used to have foresight, but now he has less.

5. His wife no longer loves him.

6. He leads a sedentary life.

7. He is middle-aged and out of condition.

8. He has grizzled hair, which he has had cut within the last few days.

9. He wears lime cream in his hair.

10. He probably does not have gas provided at his house.

Further clues include the goose, the blue carbuncle itself (which is found inside the goose), the thousand-pound reward, and the newspaper report of John Horner's trial. We then have Henry Baker's acceptance of the replacement goose Holmes provides, which proves his innocence in the matter, and his naming of the Alpha Inn. From the landlord of the Alpha, Holmes secures the name of Breckinridge, who directs him to Mrs. Oakshott and hence to James Ryder. When Ryder faints upon seeing the blue carbuncle, the case is essentially solved, and Ryder's story merely fills in a few narrative details rather than providing any fresh clues. If the separate names are each taken as a clue, and Ryder's fainting as the final one, this means we have ten separate tangible and intangible clues in "The Blue Carbuncle," as well as multiple deductions from the same piece of physical evidence.

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"The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" can be divided into two distinct parts: in the first, Holmes details for Watson his methods for constructing a profile of Henry Baker, all drawn from the state of his hat. Later, the commissionaire Peterson returns with news that a stolen gem had been found in Baker's goose. Holmes proceeds to conduct an investigation, working backwards to unravel the crime.

I would say that the first part of the story is where we really see the heavy use of clues (in this case, to build a profile for Mr. Baker). From the hat's size, Holmes deduces that Baker must possess a large brain and thus a great deal of intelligence. Given the hat's expensive nature, as well as its current state of decline, he concludes that Baker had once been well off financially but not at present. The hat-securer suggests that Baker had once been a person with foresight, since hat-securers are not sold with these hats but are invaluable in times of bad weather. However, the fact that he had not replaced the broken elastic would suggest that his powers of foresight had declined as well.

Further physical investigation of the hat reveals details about his hair and the cream he uses in it. The hat's dustiness, Holmes claims, suggests marital problems (and the details of the goose, which had been purchased for one Mrs. Henry Baker, rules out his being a bachelor). Thus, Holmes has produced in an extensive profile of the person in question.

From here, the story transitions into an active criminal investigation via the discovery of the stolen gem. Here, Holmes must begin with Baker himself (as it was in his goose that the gem was discovered) and work backwards to discern the nature of the crime. Intending to test Baker's own innocence, he has Peterson advertise the discovery of the hat and goose. When Baker arrives, he returns the hat but reveals that the goose had already been eaten (though Holmes has provided him a substitute). Baker's ready acceptance of that substitute reveals his own innocence, and their interview provides Holmes information from which he can reconstruct this sequence.

From here, Holmes travels to the Alpha Inn, where Baker had received his goose from Mr. Windigate, as part of a goose club. Here, he learns that Windigate himself had received his geese from a seller named Breckinridge. When Breckinridge proves uncooperative, however, Holmes plays to the man's pride and proclivity towards gambling, insisting that the bird he had eaten was country bred, even as Breckinridge tells him otherwise. When Holmes wagers money on this opinion, Breckinridge shows him his books, thus giving Holmes information as to where he had purchased his geese.

After Holmes exits, he spies a new arrival, arguing with Breckinridge, insisting on receiving his goose. This newcomer is revealed to be James Ryder of the Hotel Cosmopolitan. Now Holmes can interview the guilty party.

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The Blue Carbuncle, a classic. I think one of the first clues is when the stranger accidentally broke the window, dropped the goose and ran away. Why would he not try to catch the goose? Remember, it was Christmas time and everyone needed a goose for the holiday meal. A second clue is when the guy didn't place an advertisement for the goose. A third is the hat or rather the condition of the hat. Fourth, remember the guy who Holmes knew was an alcoholic? That relates back to the hat. Fifth, the hat-securer, more importantly "foresight". Sixth, the stains and the ink. Seventh, the burning tallow. Eighth, walking up the stairs every night (a big clue). Remember the reward offered? That's another big clue. Lastly, remember the guy at the Hotel Cosmopolitan? Look at him closely when you re-read the story.

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