Conan Doyle – Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle

“I suppose that I am commuting a felony. but it is just possible that I am saving a soul. This fellow will not go wrong again; he is too terribly frightened. Send him to jail now, and you make him a jail-bird for life.”

Originally, I was going to write about the title – I mean, unless you know a fair bit about gemstones, you may be puzzled as to what a blue carbuncle really is. Let me immediately put you out of your misery – it’s a sapphire cut en cabochon and looks something like this:


No, the thing that has really struck me about this Sherlock Holmes story – from the original collection, the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – is actually just how revolutionary and prescient Holmes is in not handing the villain over to the police. He clearly has an opinion that the role of prisons play and it seems has rather a low opinion of them. Whether or not he is right is a debate that still rages amongst criminologists and penal theorists today, but at the end of the nineteenth century, such opinion was well nigh seditious.

Most prisons are large, cold, unforgiving places, frequently overfilled and understaffed and where – to all intents and purposes – the friends one makes inside depend on how well you fare. It is often said that prisons make criminals; I don’t know if this is true, I haven’t looked at the statistics recently. It is also possible that many of the people who are currently in prison probably shouldn’t be there – although equally and likewise, there are a few people not in prison who probably should be.

In sitting in judgment, Holmes has stated that James Ryder ought not go to prison; the fact that his crime has been discovered by Holmes, and that he has lost both the gem and a good Christmas goose has shown that his crime did not pay, is enough to set him on the straight and narrow for life. But there was another criminal in the mix who was forgotten – Lady Morcar’s made was Ryder’s accomplice, as Holmes states earlier in the story, but nothing is said about her fate. Will she make a second attempt to steal her mistress’s jewels, and will she be more successful without the simpering twit that she ended up with in this adventure?

We are not told, and I think the story loses nothing by this. However, I look forward to the sequel where the emerald bracelet disappears and is found in with the Christmas sprouts.


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