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Tuesday 28 February 2023

‘Sherlock Holmes and the Persian Slipper’ by Linda Stratmann

Published by Sapere Books,
10 February 2023.
ISBN: ‎978-1-80055903-5 (PB)

These stories are taken from the memoirs of Doctor Arthur Stamford, who preceded Watson as the first biographer of Sherlock Holmes. The stories are set at the time when Holmes and Stamford are students at Barts Hospital: Stamford is studying to become a doctor, while Holmes is following his own esoteric studies to perfect his detective skills. Although Stamford has been involved in several of Holmes’ previous cases, this is the first time that he has had a personal involvement. Stamford’s cousin, Lily, tells him she is worried about her friend, Una. Lily is a pretty, frivolous girl but Una has always been sensible, strong willed and hard-working. Because her face is disfigured by a red birthmark, it had seemed unlikely that Una would ever marry and would always work for her living, but she inherited a house in Essex from an elderly cousin who had failed to make a new will when his daughter died. Lily had been surprised when, within a few weeks of receiving her inheritance, Una married John Clark, a man she had only recently met. Clark is reputed to be a wealthy man with properties in several parts of the country, but Lily is worried about Una, who has sent her some letters expressing concern about her husband’s secretive ways. She mentioned that he keeps a small gun concealed in one of a pair of embroidered Persian slippers in the drawer of a cupboard next to his bed.

Stamford tries to involve Sherlock Holmes in Una’s situation but he appears more interested in the experiment he is carrying out in the Barts’ laboratory. Una asked Lily to destroy her letters and has told her not to visit her. Lily has kept the letters but knows she must obey the command to stay away, so Stamford travels down to the rural Essex village where Una lives to check she is all right. He takes the letters with him, hoping to discuss them with Una, who he has met occasionally in company with Lily.

Stamford’s first view of Una’s house horrifies him because of its dilapidated state but worst is to come. He is greeted by a policeman who informs him that John Clark has been found dead in his bed, shot by the gun he kept in the Persian slipper. Una and her husband did not share a bedroom and she and Mrs Pettigrew, the housekeeper, both claim they did not hear the shot. This is not a locked room mystery, but it does seem to be a locked house mystery, because Mrs Pettigrew insists that she locked and bolted both front and back doors and there was no access via the windows.

As Una and Mrs Pettigrew do not believe anybody could have been concealed in the house overnight, it appears that either Clark committed suicide or he was murdered by one of the two women who were known to be in the house. This is the theory adopted by the detective who has come to investigate Clark’s death and, as Mrs Pettigrew is a well-known and respected local woman, Inspector Mackie’s suspicions settle on Una. When Mackie interviews Stamford his questioning technique flusters the young student doctor into revealing the existence of Una’s letters to Lily and their contents add to Mackie’s belief that Una had murdered her husband.

Overwhelmed by anxiety and guilt because he has made Una’s situation worse, Stamford sends an urgent message to Sherlock Holmes begging him to come to Essex to investigate. Holmes does come but Mackie will not allow him to participate in the investigation. However, the doctor who has been called in to examine the corpse and later to do the post mortem is more obliging and allows Holmes and Stamford to assist him. Unfortunately, none of the medical experts can believe there is any likelihood of Clarke having committed suicide. Inspector Mackie arrests Una to try to make her confess to murdering or conspiring to murder her husband. He also pressurises Stamford to admit that he was Una’s conspirator, whom she had admitted to the house to commit the crime. Stamford knows that he was blamelessly at home in his lodgings, but he cannot prove it, unlike Holmes who has the alibi of his somewhat destructive experiments in the Bart’s laboratory.

Fortunately for Stamford, Holmes is convinced that he is innocent and, despite Inspector Mackie’s attempts to exclude him from the investigation, he continues to consider other suspects. Holmes also wants to work out how an outsider could have entered the house and is determined to discover more about Clark’s background than Una can know after such a brief courtship. Lily comes to stay with Una to support her with her friendship and, remarkably, it is frivolous Lily who supplies Holmes with a vital clue.

Sherlock Holmes and the Persian Slipper is the fourth book in the early adventures of Holmes, narrated by Arthur Stamford. It is an excellent series with an authenticity that makes it easily believable. The plot is cleverly constructed and Stamford is an engaging narrator with a voice and character that is different to Watson, despite the fact that they are both doctors. Sherlock Holmes and the Persian Slipper is a fascinating book which I recommend.

Reviewer:  Carol Westron

Linda Stratmann was born in Leicester in 1948 and first started scribbling stories and poems at the age of six. She became interested in true crime when watching Edgar Lustgarten on TV in the 1950s. Linda attended Wyggeston Girls Grammar School, trained to be a chemist’s dispenser, and later studied at Newcastle University where she obtained a first in Psychology. She then spent 27 years in the civil service before leaving to devote her time to writing. Linda loves spending time in libraries and archives and really enjoys giving talks on her subject.

Carol Westron is a successful author and a Creative Writing teacher.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  Her first book The Terminal Velocity of Cats was published in 2013. Since then, she has since written 5 further mysteries. Carol recently gave an interview to Mystery People. To read the interview click on the link below.

To read a review of Carol latest book
The Curse of the Concrete Griffin
click on the title. 

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