The View from the East End
L.E.S.K. for GOLD
by Inspector Hopkins
Another story of suspense and marital problems, along with a hefty dose of betrayal, revolution, imprisonment and anarchy! Finally coupled with a suicide and perhaps delayed justice, this tale has a little bit of everything for everyone. Let’s take a look at some “Loose Ends and Story Killers” (L.E.S.K.) for the tale of The Golden Pince-Nez, a story admittedly not amongst my favourites, but yet one with which I have some obvious close ties.
Sherlock Holmes himself provided the Story Killer for this case, when he stated that if Willoughby Smith had NOT seized her glasses during his struggle with Anna, then there would be no clue to the mystery . . . and thus no story for Watson to record.
This story has a number of Loose Ends, some of which are quite puzzling and which do not seem to make any logical sense. They could be considered, in fact, as a number of “inverted” Story Killers, if you will permit that phrase.
1) Anna’s “agent”: Who was he? According to her testimony, he was a private detective that she hired. He posed as the second assistant hired by Professor Coram, and the one who left his employ. Where did Anna find this man, and how did she pay him? In addition, if she spent a number of years in a Siberian prison, then how could she have afforded gold framed glasses? These questions remain unanswered, and we can only suppose that Anna was in the London area for a few months beforehand, perhaps obtaining employment . . . but at what?
2) An undercover agent with a conscience: According to her story, Anna claims this agent was able to secure employment with the professor, infiltrate his study, make a duplicate Chubb’s key (how did he do that?), and find the papers she was looking for. If he indeed went to all that trouble, then why didn’t he simply steal the papers and bring them to her? She claimed that he “would go no further”. Why was that? Obviously if he did, his action would result in another story killer, and perhaps that would answer the question in and of itself.
3) Poor directions: Indeed, if Anna’s agent provided her with enough detailed information as to the whereabouts of the papers, then why didn’t he at least map out exactly where the house itself was? That way, she would not have had to ask directions from anyone, let alone the extremely coincidental meeting with Willoughby Smith on the road. I see this loose end as simply a necessary evil in Watson’s account to allow the use of the dying man’s words (“Professor – it was she”), as a vehicle to heighten the mystery of the story.
4) Sentimental keepsakes: One thing that has always puzzled me about this case was the reason for Coram to keep Anna’s diary and the letters written by Alexis. Where were these documents at the time of Anna’s arrest? Wouldn’t they have helped her and Alexis at that time? If Coram did indeed betray his wife and Alexis and their Nihilist companions, it would seem that the documents would not be of any benefit at all to him; indeed, they might throw suspicion on him in addition to exonerating Alexis and Anna. Why did Coram not simply burn them? The story needs a reason for Anna to surreptitiously enter the house, and the documents provide that just that. Depending on how one reads the story, if Anna was deeply in love with Alexis (rather than just an admirer), Coram may have indeed been jealous enough to keep these papers to prevent proof of Anna’s innocence at the time of her arrest, and then to gloat over them at a later time as a reminder of his treachery. I am open to further suggestions on this loose end.
5) Anna’s suicide: This one is difficult to explain away. Why did Anna kill herself at the end of the story? If she were simply going there to take her papers back, why was she carrying poison around with her? Wouldn’t she want to live to see Alexis freed from prison, and perhaps reunite with him? The only explanation I can suggest for her suicide is that it provides some sort of closure for this case. Anna did kill Willoughby Smith, albeit accidentally. Thus she may have been found guilty of manslaughter. She also committed a burglary, albeit to retrieve her personal property. Her suicide may just have been a device to tidy things up a bit, and to avoid dragging the story out to deal with these legal issues. In this light, one might also argue that she had the poison with her in case something did go wrong. It is not hard to imagine that after years in a Siberian prison, she was determined not to be imprisoned ever again.
So many loose ends in this story somewhat force me to consider Watson’s literary agent and speak “outside the Game” here. This tale (loose ends aside) does have the classical Watsonian descriptions of the rooms at baker Street, with howling rainy weather outside, and the client seeking Holmes’s help and advice at midnight . . . the good Inspector Stanley Hopkins this time.
It showcases Holmes’s abilities to deduce a description of the Villain based upon an article of clothing, as well as to unravel the train of thinking of the Villain; it also demonstrates Holmes’s cleverness in using the cigarette ashes to locate the hidden Villain, and so on. However, in light of all the loose ends outlined above, I still cannot walk away from this tale without thinking that it has very “contrived” feel to it . . . as if one loose end were put in as an afterthought to explain away another loose end, etc. etc. As an example, Anna stated that she knew Coram still had her diary because he quoted parts of it in a letter he wrote to her while she was imprisoned. This tells the reader that the diary existed, and provides a target for Anna to enter Coram’s house. But then, it begets yet another loose end: why would Coram bother to write to her if he hated her? Simply to rebuke her? Wouldn’t his letter reveal his whereabouts to the Brotherhood?
And so it goes . . . loose end after loose end . . . fact after FACT . . .
It is little wonder then, that I owe my namesake’s byline to this particular case, and it sums up my feelings very well:
“I’ve got my facts pretty clear . . . all I want now is to know what they all mean”.
Until next time, and thanking you for your attention, I am as always,
Past 2010 Columns