Wed 3 Dec 2008
JOHN KENDRICK BANGS – R. Holmes & Co: Being the Remarkable Adventures of Raffles Holmes, Esq., Detective and Amateur Cracksman by Birth. Harper & Brothers, hardcover, 1906. Paperback reprint: Otto Penzler Books, 1994.
The family of writer Jenkins is temporarily out of town. On a blistering hot night he is dozing in a hammock on the fire escape when a nocturnal visitor climbs up it and pops into his flat.
Surprised to say the least, Jenkins follows the burglar to his library, where he finds him perusing royalty statements. The visitor is Raffles Holmes, son of Sherlock and grandson of A. J., and he is there to suggest, if he finds these statements satisfactory, that Jenkins record some of his exploits for mutual financial gain. Besides which, he says, Jenkins needs some new ideas for his fiction. Ouch!
Here follow a few lines about the various adventures related by Jenkins, hopefully without giving too much of their plots away.
? The Adventure of the Dorrington Ruby Seal relates how Raffles Holmes’ parents met during the hitherto unrecorded case of a jewelry theft from Lord Dorrington stately home, the swag including an immensely valuable ruby seal given to the family by George IV. Raffles Holmes’ mother’s name is Marjorie, daughter of A.J. Memo: who was her mother? Though Bunny did hint Raffles’ had a number of escapades with the ladies…
? The Adventure of Mrs Burlingame’s Diamond Stomacher underlines the constantly warring nature of Raffles Holmes — an insistent desire to pinch things and the equally strong wish to bring malefactors to justice. When Mrs B’s highly valuable stomacher is stolen, her dinner guests, despite being the cream of society, are under a cloud of suspicion. To say more would be to reveal Raffles Holmes’ cunning plan to collect the reward money for its return.
? The Adventure of the Missing Pendants involves a theft from Gaffany & Company, whose craftsmen are cutting a section of a fabulous diamond into four pendants. Two pendants go missing, and the solution involves Raffles in disguise and a water cooler.
? The Adventure of the Brass Check comes about because everyone expected Mrs Wilbraham Ward-Smythe has a rope of enormous pearls and everyone knows it. Raffles Holmes hatches a clever plan to claim a reward for its return without actually stealing the pearls.
? The Adventure of the Hired Burglar involves an attempt to save the reputation of a man who has been up to no good with someone else’s bonds and must produce them in a very short time when their owner reaches majority, Raffles Holmes agrees to help out, but this leads to a triple cross…
? The Redemption of Young Billington Rand is necessary because while Rand is an honourable man he is also weak, and as a result is now more or less bankrupt and owes money right, left, and at the club. Raffles Holmes intervenes to save him from taking a criminal step.
? The Nostalgia of Nervy Jim The Snatcher is for his cosy jail cell, preferably for ten or more years, as the old lag cannot cope with life outside prison. To help him achieve his wish, Raffles Holmes and Jenkins sing in the chorus of Lohengrin at a performance at which Mrs Robinson-Jones’ valuable necklace is stolen.
? The Adventure of Room 407 involves an intercepted telegram and a man masquerading as a member of the nobility, but despite a promising start it is perhaps the least of the stories related by Jenkins.
? The Major-General’s Pepperpots are a massive golden pair, a gift from the King of Spain, as now General Carrington Cox relates. Stolen some years before, Raffles Holmes sees one on a friend’s dinner table and he has the other by way of a sentimental event. After hearing why Carrington Cox was given the pepperpots, Raffles Holmes decides he must do something….
My verdict: Fans of Holmes and Raffles will find this collection amusing and some of the planning and execution worthy of old Hawkface himself. The criminal collation tends more to the Rafflian turn of phrase than the Holmesian, and I must admit I laughed out loud when, after Raffles Holmes whacks Jenkins on the shoulders and almost topples him into the fireplace, the former declares “Don’t be a rabbit. The thing will be as easy as cutting calve’s-foot jelly with a razor.”
It’s well worth spending an hour or two with Bangs when readers fancy something a little lighter than usual in the criminous literary line.