BBC Radio: The Return Of Sherlock Holmes - The Second Stain Review

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Andrew East returns to the world of Holmes...


The Second Stain is part of the short story collection, The Return of Sherlock Holmes. The plot of this story provides a thematic link with A Scandal in Bohemia. Here too we have a person of great standing enlisting the services of Holmes, in this case, the Prime Minister. He is accompanied by the Foreign Secretary. As with the previous story, the case involves the whereabouts of a document, this time a letter rather than a photograph, which could have far reaching consequences for the ‘realm’. Indeed, the letter in question (the actual contents of which are a little vague) could potentially start a war in Europe. The final link is the perpetrator of the crime being a lady of good standing, the wife of the Foreign Secretary.

The plot itself is a little unremarkable in that it revolves around a missing letter which, to be frank, is a little dull. There is a murder but this is a subplot and something that Holmes doesn’t even investigate, leaving that case to Inspector Lestrade – making his first appearance in a case and played here by Donald (Monster of Peladon) Gee. The murder does have some bearing on the case in that the victim is behind the plot to steal the letter, but his killer is nothing to do with the main plot and as a consequence (at least in this audio adaptation) the whole situation seems a little inconsequential. The solution to the crime, though, is a classic Holmes clue in that a blood stain shows how a carpet at the murder scene has been moved (to retrieve the stolen letter).

The end of the story sees Holmes playing a deception of his own to protect the honour of the Foreign Secretary’s wife. It all becomes a little Jonathan Creek-esque in the final scene as the Foreign Secretary opens his despatch box (from which it had been originally stolen) to find the letter still intact with Holmes spinning a yarn about how the letter wasn’t anywhere else but had been in the box all along (having returned the letter to the box moments prior to the Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister entering the room).

The Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary are not named in the audio adaptation (although the secretary’s wife is given the surname Hope). In the original short story though, the Prime Minister is named as Lord Bellinger. Both he and the Secretary, though, are fictitious inventions. The actual Prime Minister in 1888 was Lord Robert Cecil. The backdrop of a Europe poised on the brink of war that a single letter could ignite does, though, seem believable in a world which was only 30-odd years away from World War One (with numerous smaller conflicts even nearer such as the Boer War).

Maybe not a classic Holmes (although coming 8th in Conan Doyle’s personal favourites) it was interesting to have the thematic links between this story and A Scandal in Bohemia.

A primary school teacher and father of two, Andrew finds respite in the worlds of Doctor Who, Disney and general geekiness. Unhealthily obsessed with Lance Parkin’s A History, his Doctor Who viewing marathon is slowly following Earth history from the Dawn of Time to the End of the World. He would live in a Disney theme park if given half the chance.

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