Monday, October 17, 2011

Review: Sherlock Holmes: The Five Orange Pips by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

For Short Story Monday and the R.I.P. Challenge, Peril the Short Story:

Sherlock Holmes: The Five Orange Pips by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I became a little obsessed the Sherlock Holmes stories after reading The Hound of the Baskervilles in high school. I wrote a paper on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and read a lot of the Sherlock Holmes and Watson stories! And then, as often happens, life got in the way. It came time to look at colleges, then attend college and Sherlock and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were pushed off to the side. Less than a year ago, I discovered most of the stories on Netflix with Sherlock Holmes played by the wonderful actor Jeremy Brett. After watching some of them, I really wanted to read some of Sherlock Holmes' adventures again so I went out and purchased this and I'm so happy I did.

The Five Orange Pips is one of my favorite Sherlock Holmes stories. I think it's one of the best of the many I've read.

It's September 1887 when the story opens with the always talkative Watson summing up some of the cases he has helped Sherlock Holmes investigate during the year. It's been a busy and strange year Watson writes. On this particular day, it's windy and rainy out. Dr. Watson describes the weather so well we can picture the strong winds, teeming rain and the dark, sinister day outside creating the perfect atmosphere for a creepy mystery

All day the wind had screamed and the rain had beaten against the windows so that even here in the heart of great, hand-made London we were forced to raise our minds for the instant from the routine of life, and to recognize the presence of those great elemental forces which shriek at mankind through the bars of his civilization, like untamed beasts in a cage. As evening drew in, the storm grew higher and louder, and the wind cried and sobbed like a child in the chimney.

Sherlock Holmes is sulking because he's bored. Watson frequently comments in the stories about Holmes' brilliance but also his frequent childish behavior such as sulking and pouting! When Watson asks if he heard the bell, Holmes argues with him that there's no client at the door because no one would come out on a night like this. Holmes also reminds Watson that he is Holmes' only friend. But, sure enough Watson was correct, a man has come to see Sherlock Holmes in desperate need of help.

Watson describes the man as young, well-groomed and very anxious. His name is John Openshaw and he's 22 years old. Mr. Openshaw he proceeds to relay a very strange story to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson which soon has them rapt with attention. He tells them about the deaths of his Uncle Elias and his father under very similar circumstances although years apart: Elias died in May of1883, John's father in January of 1885.

Mr. Openshaw's Uncle Elias had been living in England, on an estate in Horsham, West Sussex since 1869 after moving from Florida where he was a planter and served in the Confederate Army. Elias died 7 weeks after he received an envelope postmarked Pondicherry, India which contained five little dried orange pips. On the inside of the envelope's flap, scrawled in red ink the letter 'K' was written three times. When his uncle first saw the envelope, he shrieked "My God, my God, my sins have overtaken me!". When John asked him, "What is it, Uncle?" his uncle said "Death".

Mr. Openshaw told Holmes and Watson that shortly after this, Elias summoned his lawyer to the house and signed over his estate and all he owned to his brother, John's father, expecting that everything would eventually become John's possessions. While Elias was signing all of the necessary documents, John happened to see the box Elias had been keeping all of his important documents in and got a huge shock. Elias' brass box was inscribed with three "K"s just like the envelope!

John relayed that for the next several weeks, his Uncle drank much more than he normally did and rarely went out, spending most of the time in his room with the door locked. Occasionally his uncle would run out of his room in a drunken frenzy and run around the garden brandishing a revolver, screaming that he was afraid of no man. John relayed to Holmes and Watson that he himself experienced a growing feeling of dread during those weeks. One night his Uncle came running out of his room, revolver in hand and never returned. He was found dead on his property the next morning.

John Openshaw went on to tell Holmes and Watson that his father came to live at Horsham after Elias' death. John lived there with his father quite nicely for about a year until January 4, 1885. Openshaw told Holmes and Watson that his father received an envelope containing five dried orange pips and “K K K” in red ink on the inside flap of the envelope. Above the 3 "K"s was written "Put the papers on the sundial". His father treated it as a practical joke calling it all "tomfoolery". Openshaw said his father refused to listen to John who advised him to go to the police and he forbid John to do so. Three days later his father went to visit with a friend, Major Freebody, for a few days. On his second day there, John's father fell over a deep chalk-pit and shattered his skull.

It's been two years and eight months since his father's death. Initially Openshaw said he thought Horsham was cursed but because so much time passed with no incident he was enjoying himself. And then yesterday Openshaw received an envelope with five dried orange pips in it, 3 "K"s in red ink on the inside flap of the envelope and the message "Put the papers on the sundial". Exactly the same as the envelope his father received.

Openshaw tells Sherlock Holmes, in response to Holmes' inquiry, that he has done nothing since receiving the envelope, that he is basically frightened out of his mind and doesn‘t know what to do. He tells Holmes and Watson he feels helpless and in the grasp of some "inexorable evil". Sherlock Holes tells him "You must act, man, or you are lost. This is no time for despair.".

If you are at all familiar with Sherlock Holmes you know that the cases he investigates energize and thrill him. He’s not at all upset about the case Openshaw shared with him but very excited about it! The more difficult and perplexing, the happier he is which makes following along as he investigates interesting and a lot of fun!

When Openshaw tells Holmes he went to the police first and they basically laughed at him, Holmes is obviously annoyed (and probably somewhat insulted!). Holmes, with his fist clenched high in the air rants a bit about the "incredible imbecility" (presumably Holmes is referring to the police). Holmes gets even more excited when Openshaw explains that the police did assign a man to say with Openshaw and he has remained at the house as he was ordered to do. Holmes cannot help but ask why Openshaw didn’t come to him sooner with the passion he always exhibits during an investigation. The answer doesn’t really matter except apparently Holmes believes Openshaw is in some danger and the sooner he acts the better.

Sherlock Holmes, as is usual for him, we learn already has an inkling about what's going on in his new client's life. Openshaw shares that he has brought with him some shreds of documents he took from the fireplace around the time his Uncle received the first envelope with the orange pips in it. Holmes seems very excited by this evidence, which to most of us, like Openshaw and Watson, would mean nothing. Holes sends Openshaw on his way telling him to be very careful as he believes he is "threatened by a very real and imminent danger".

Sherlock Holmes tells Watson that this is one of their most fantastic cases. And when Watson asks Holmes if he knows what are the perils Openshaw faces, Holmes replies "There can be no question as to their nature." For Holmes, maybe! Sherlock Holmes is so attuned to human nature and behavior that he's often figured out most of the case by the time the story is relayed in full.

Sherlock Holmes explains to Watson with amazing detail what he believes is happening in this case and the points he needs to investigate and clarify before he can be quite sure of things. Holmes is a brilliant man and the extent and breadth of his knowledge is amazing. I'm curious about how much research Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did for each of the cases he wrote about.

Holmes is a man of severe highs and lows, he's easily excitable but can become quite depressed, too. This investigation doesn't work out exactly as Holmes thinks it will the way many of Holmes’ cases do. I like that Conan Doyle decided to change things up a little here and show us Holmes in a little different light. Although an arrogantly satisfied and smug Sherlock Holmes is fun to experience, not even Holmes can get everything perfectly right all of the time! Here we experience how Holmes behaves when things don't go as he expects in the middle of the investigation despite his precautions and safeguards. This is a great Sherlock Holmes story that permits the reader to see Holmes at his most challenged and when things don’t work out quite as he expects! I highly recommend The Five Orange Pips!

This story is from Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories, Volume I
Published: October 1986
ISBN: 978-0553212419
Publisher: Bantam Classics
Pages: 1088
Genre: Mystery, Thriller Fiction; British Detective Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5

Book Summary: Since his first appearance in Beeton’s Christmas Annual in 1887, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes has been one of the most beloved fictional characters ever created. Now, in two paperback volumes, Bantam presents all fifty-six short stories and four novels featuring Conan Doyle’s classic hero--a truly complete collection of Sherlock Holmes’s adventures in crime!

Volume I includes the early novel A Study in Scarlet, which introduced the eccentric genius of Sherlock Holmes to the world. This baffling murder mystery, with the cryptic word Rache written in blood, first brought Holmes together with Dr. John Watson. Next, The Sign of Four presents Holmes’s famous “seven percent solution” and the strange puzzle of Mary Morstan in the quintessential locked-room mystery.

Also included are Holmes’s feats of extraordinary detection in such famous cases as the chilling “ The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” the baffling riddle of “The Musgrave Ritual,” and the ingeniously plotted “The Five Orange Pips,” tales that bring to life a Victorian England of horse-drawn cabs, fogs, and the famous lodgings at 221B Baker Street, where Sherlock Holmes earned his undisputed reputation as the greatest fictional detective of all time.


  1. My mother has such fond memories of these books from her childhood - I really need to try one.

  2. it seems every generation has their own Sherlock Holmes. Since I am old, mine is Basil Rathbone. I cannot read a Holmes book without hearing his voice in my head!

  3. I have never read any Sherlock Holmes, even though I have the entire collection in two nicely bound volumes. It sounds as if I really need to get on that sometime soon! Great review on this one!

  4. I have never read Sherlock Holmes, but I don't know why since I think I'd love it!

  5. I had an abridged version of The Hound of the Baskervilles when I was a kid, but I haven't read any Sherlock Holmes since then. Looks like I need to remedy that.

  6. I've never read Sherlock Homles, either... sounds like I'm missing out.

  7. I have been working my way through Sherlock Holmes and enjoying the books. I sort of stalled, so should get back to him!