BBC Radio: The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes - The Red-Headed League Review

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Andrew East continues his journey through the audio adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

This is one of the earliest Sherlock Holmes stories from the first collection of short stories: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Apparently Conan Doyle ranked this as his second favourite story and, having listened to adaptations of later stories before this one, it is interesting to note how he clearly liked a couple of plot details so much he more or less reused them later.

The story sees a man with red hair, Jabez Wilson, come to see Holmes because of a strange employment he has been engaged in; which has mysteriously ended with no advance notice. An odd tale of a legacy bequeathed only to those with red hair unfolds and Holmes, with his usual knack for spotting the normality obscured behind the charade, realises that it is merely a scheme to get Wilson out of his pawnbrokers shop for a few hours a day.

This story is more reminiscent, for me, of The Stockbroker’s Clerk which, similarly, had a man employed on a seemingly pointless task, appointed by a mysterious benefactor, all with the purpose of removing the man from where they would usually be. In that case it was so someone else could assume his identity and here it so the criminals can gain access to a bank. Both stories’ ‘villains’ are known criminals who have been pursued for some time by the authorities (interestingly, in the television adaptation of this story for the Jeremy Brett series, apparently Moriarty is masterminding the affair and the criminals involved are students of his ways).

The climax of The Red-Headed League also reminded me of The Speckled Band, both seeing Holmes and Watson waiting silently in the darkness for their quarry.

The clues in this story are a bit more obscure than they have been in others and there is a fair amount of vagueness which is only explained later by Holmes once the whole affair is finished with. This is a little frustrating as it seems that Holmes jumps to some rather tenuous associations; but then that is often the way with Holmes and how his mind works. It’s just a shame that the explanation for the bizarre Red-Headed League almost seems like an afterthought in the final scene of the adaptation (I have no idea if this is how it is written in Doyle’s original story).

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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