Now here’s an odd little tale, the opening story of the British Library’s Crime Collection “Capital Crime”. A short story featuring neither Holmes nor – possibly – a crime (although I expect lawyers everywhere will enjoy debating this point), but with no shortage of deception and villainy. As a demonstration of Conan Doyle at his best, it’s up there with A Scandal in Bohemia – still my favourite Holmes story.
I don’t want to give too much of the plot away because I really do want to encourage people to read it. It’s not perfect – few stories are – and, to a point, it’s very much a product of its time – 1893. That said, it’s surprisingly modern. London was a cosmopolitan enough city even in the late 1890s that a doctor is unsurprised to be asked to see a patient from the Middle East, and get well paid for it.
The main flaw with the story is the surgeon’s descent into madness, which does strike me as being a little overdone, although remorse and guilt affect people in different ways. I do like the way Conan Doyle leaves his clues in plain sight; I found myself groaning on a re-read when I saw how obvious they all were! I really should have picked them up, but if I’m honest, I was enjoying myself a bit too much.
I’ve read a bit of non-Holmes Conan Doyle before, mainly the Professor Challenger stories, but this is closer to the great detective than to The Lost World. It’s tight, clever and really quite nasty – and almost totally forgotten. What an outrage – it’s an excellent little story and a great start to the collection.