The Scottish Question
A Scottish crown, its history lost in the mists of time, was taken by Edward the First of England from the Scottish King John Balliol whom he defeated in battle and ignominiously deposed.
What if the most celebrated consulting detective in the world, at the height of his powers in 1897, was put on the trail of the Crown of Scotland? What if the most potent symbol of Scottish sovereignty was stolen, members of the British Royal Family abducted, threats made against the Queen and a campaign of terror planned by separatists aided by a Great Power?
Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson track a conspiracy against the Union by some of the highest in the land that might lead to a war of cataclysmic proportions.
“A very good tale in the Sherlock Holmes canon.” Dennis M Forsythe
Back in the year of Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson are on the trail of a missing icon of Scottish sovereignty (I won’t give the game away), a missing duke and duchess and a Scottish Nationalist group planning to – well we’re not quite sure what they are planning till we get to the end!
The Scottish Question is an exciting mystery story with amusing and interesting characters – including Mycroft Holmes, Lord Rosebery and the Duke of Edinburgh – and several intertwined plots that keep the action moving. A few early scenes lag a little, but generally the necessary historical background to the plot is smoothly unfolded.
As we have come to expect from this writer, the dialogue is exceptionally good – authentic sounding and spiced with wit and character. The scenes in which our two bachelor lodgers are scolded by Mrs Hudson are priceless.
A fast-paced read with a slam-bang ending. Highly recommended. Amazon
Icons of Scotland
I came down from my bedroom to the sitting room of our lodgings at 221B Baker Street and found my friend Sherlock Holmes already at the breakfast table clad in his threadbare, mouse-coloured dressing gown. Our pageboy stood on a stool by the fireplace changing the old gas mantles for new ones. He wore his Sunday best clothes under a white apron.
“Well, Watson, I fear that we are entering the season of equinoctial gales,” said Holmes.
“Good morning, Holmes, and to you, Billy.” I went to the window, opened it wide and peered out. “Why so? We are barely past the ides of July, and it is a beautiful morning with not a cloud in the sky. I imagine that we are in for another stifling day.”
“Local portends suggest stormy weather,” Holmes replied, tapping his nose with his finger. “Note the new curtains.”
I joined him at the breakfast table, helped myself to toast, leafed through the newspapers and chuckled. “Have you seen this account of the airship sightings in America in Billy’s paper, Holmes? I remember a droll story last year repeated from a California newspaper. Seven-foot beings reportedly emerged from an airship and attempted to abduct a Colonel Shaw (of what branch of the United States military I cannot recall) with his female companion and his horse and buggy, but he fought them off.”
I flipped the page as I followed the current article. “And here repeated from the St Louis Post-Dispatch is a story reporting that one W H Hopkins of Springfield, Missouri encountered a grounded airship twenty feet in length and eight feet in diameter. The vehicle was propelled by three large propellers and crewed by a woman and a bearded man, both, ahem, unclothed. Mr Hopkins attempted to communicate with the crew to ascertain their origins. Eventually they understood what Hopkins was asking of them, and they pointed to the sky and said ‘Mars’. Ha ha! Pass the coffee pot.”
I frowned as I poured my coffee. “Here is a more sinister account from three months ago. A story published in the Table Rock Argus claims that a group of ‘anonymous but reliable’ witnesses saw an airship sailing overhead. The craft had many passengers. The witnesses report that among these passengers was a woman tied to a chair, a woman attending her and a man with a pistol guarding their apparent prisoner. Before the witnesses thought to contact the authorities the airship was gone.”
I laughed aloud, threw the penny dreadful newspaper onto the sofa and wiped my eyes with my handkerchief. “Oh, dear, what drivel people may be hoodwinked into believing.”
Holmes flipped down a corner of his newspaper. “Hmmm?”
“Anything in the post?” I asked.
Holmes smiled. “An intriguing summons by messenger.”
Mrs Hudson bustled in with a tray. “Here’s your breakfast, Doctor.”
She laid a bowl of steaming grey gruel in front of me. “Mrs Campbell at number ninety-seven had a sack of fine oats sent from Clackmannan just yesterday. She gave me a pound or so and I made a braw porridge.” She wagged her finger at me. “Simple Scots oats boiled with a pinch of salt and served hot as you’d like with cold milk on the side.” She turned to Holmes. “Have you finished yours, Mr Holmes?”
“I have,” said Holmes, passing her his empty bowl. “And I am in an excellent mood for eggs and bacon, if that could be managed?”
Mrs Hudson beamed at him. “The porridge will set you up for the day.”
She left us and I stared doubtfully at my bowl. “You say you finished yours, Holmes?”
He sniffed. “Not quite. I do not feel any need to be set up for such a bright day.” He coughed softly and signalled to Billy. The boy stepped down from his stool, brought a retort from Holmes’ laboratory bench to the breakfast table and opened the lid to disclose a bubbling, heaving grey mass. He raised his eyebrows. I nodded, and Billy scraped the contents of my bowl into the retort and returned it to the bench.
I buttered my toast as I glanced at my Telegraph. “I see the Queen is going to Balmoral earlier this year than is her usual practice. I expect she is looking forward to a change of scene after the exertions of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations.”
“I could wish for a trip to Scotland, Holmes: the scented heather, lofty bens, trickling becks and noble lochs. Do you not yearn for the fresh, clean air and romantic vistas of the Highlands?”
“I do not,” he answered.
“Balmoral is a fine building, by all accounts,” I said. “It is on the River Dee.”
Holmes flicked down a corner of his newspaper again. “A baronial Scots mansion adorned with the necessary turrets, battlements and crow-stepped gables, but with touches of Saxe-Coburg und Gotha from the drawing board of Prince Albert. A curious hybrid of Celt and Teuton, much like the sovereigns of these British islands.”
“Who rule a significant portion of the earth,” I reminded him.
Holmes smiled. “Hybrids are often hardier than their progenitors.”
Billy whistled an annoying music-hall tune as he moved his stool to the gas jets on the far wall. I gave him a sharp look and he desisted.
“You mentioned a summons, Holmes?” I asked.
“The dean of Westminster Abbey requires my presence at the West Door of the Abbey at noon precisely. He wishes to consult me on a matter of some delicacy.”
I chuckled. “Have you been up to anything indelicate, Holmes? You haven’t denied the Trinity or disallowed the forty-nine articles, I hope.”
Holmes ignored my gibe. “If you are as intrigued as I am, you might like to accompany me. It will be good for our souls, slightly spotted as they are this morning, to confess our sins.”
“I do not indulge in the practice of confession,” I said stiffly.
“Weel, all may,” said Holmes in a faux Scots accent, “none must, and some should, as the saying goes.”
We finished our breakfast and smoked our morning pipes in companionable silence until the mantel clock struck ten, when we dressed, went downstairs and collected our hats and canes from the stand in the lobby. Billy followed us downstairs with the retort.
I sniffed as I caught a whiff of carbolic soap in the air. It came from Billy. “Where’s your uniform?” I asked him.
“On the line out back, Doctor,” he said looking down at his toes. “Which, Mrs H took my suit of buttons apart and scrubbed it. She sewed it back up again and it’s being aired.”
“That retort needs cleaning, Billy,” Holmes said loudly enough to be heard in the kitchen. “At the drain in the backyard, I suggest, as the contents are toxic.”
Holmes snapped his fingers. “Lend me thruppence, will you?”
I handed Holmes the coin and he flicked it to Billy and tapped his finger to his lips. “Hush.”
The day had already grown hot, and bright sunlight glinted off the metalwork and glass of the carriages that pressed around our cab as we threaded through heavy traffic towards central London. I shielded my eyes from the glare with the rim of my bowler.
Billows of dust rose from the rumbling carriage wheels, and the city smells — smoke, horse dung and rotting rubbish — were augmented by the sharp taint of hot leather and horse sweat.
After a weary journey, our cab dropped us at the West Door of the Abbey where a young man in clerical garb met us and introduced himself as Canon Isaac Blood. He ushered us through the Nave and Choir of the church. I was glad of the cool and tranquil atmosphere that prevailed in the Abbey after the dust, oppressive heat and jangling noise outside.
I gazed up in awe at the vaulted ceiling high overhead. It seemed astonishing that such a magnificent structure had been built by human labour unaided by steam engines and cranes. I wondered whether, with all our inventiveness and skill, modern man could create a monument that would stand as a testimony to faith and the human spirit for hundreds of years. I feared that, as we neared the end of the nineteenth century, the focus of our scientists and inventors was more on destruction than on creation.
“Are you related to General Binden Blood of the Malakand Field Force?” I asked the canon. “I read of his exploits in the Telegraph.”
“Distantly,” Canon Blood replied in a soft voice tinged with a Scots burr. “Binden Blood’s is the cadet branch of the family, mine the Irish-Scots.”
He stopped at the chapel of Edward the Confessor, screened by a black curtain. “We have closed this section of the Abbey to visitors, gentlemen. If you step behind the cloth you will see why.”
I raised my eyebrows.
“A case of burglary and sacrilege, Doctor,” said Canon Blood, lifting the curtain.