BBC Radio: The Return Of Sherlock Holmes - The Adventure of Black Peter Review

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

The Adventure of Black Peter finds Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson thrust into a murder case. It’s only since doing this marathon and including some of these stories that I’ve realised how few of Holmes’s cases actually revolve around a murder.

The murder of ‘Black Peter’ is gruesome and the set up of the case reminded me very much of more modern police procedural shows such as CSI. Peter Carey, an ex-sailor, is found skewered by a harpoon. Few are sad at this turn of events, least of all his wife and daughter who suffered at his hand when his bad temper overflowed.

The scene of the crime provides a number of clues and Holmes is brought in by the investigating policeman, Inspector Stanley Hopkins. Hopkins admires Holmes and attempts to use his methods to ascertain the murderer’s identity. When a young man attempts to enter the murder scene to retrieve old logbooks, he is apprehended by Hopkins, Holmes and Watson. He is attempting to find information about his father who had security papers from his failed bank. His father took them to sea and was never seen again. However, the man, Neligan believes that Carey came across his father and stole the papers, possible murdering his father in the process.

Hopkins believes he has caught his man, but Holmes is not as convinced. He has been carrying out his own machinations in the background and these eventually come to fruition when he is contacted a burly ex-sailor, Patrick Cairns.

The clues point more readily to Cairns and it transpires that Carey did indeed murder Neligan’s father and that Cairns was a witness to this and his theft of the documents. Cairns killed Carey whilst attempting to blackmail him over those events.

This is an intriguing case and another example of Holmes refusing to believe where the evidence may be pointing less intelligent, although well-meaning, policemen (it is similar to the situation in The Norwood Builder).

An interesting element of this is that Watson is on narration duties. This isn’t something the BBC Radio series has done an awful lot, although it is part and parcel of Big Finish’s approach. It’s also, through the narration, a rare occasion of the year being explicitly stated – 1895, in this case.

There is also some clearer reference to the death of Watson’s wife which, as far as I can tell, happened in the time Holmes was apparently dead. There was some subtle dialogue related to it in The Empty House adaptation from Big Finish, but this is the first of the BBC Radio dramas set in this period to refer to it, as Watson muses on about his loss.

When googling ‘Black Peter’ to remind myself of character names, I stumbled across references to Zwarte Piet. This is a character related to St Nicholas and Christmas traditions in countries such as the Netherlands and Belgium. A controversial tradition in that he is often represented by people in ‘blackface’ make up, I wondered if there was any link with the Sherlock Holmes story. However, it seems clear that it is pure coincidence (even though Zwarte Piet has been around since medieval times) due to there being no other link aside from the name. There was an book published in 1850 featuring the character but I think it more likely that Peter Carey’s name and terrible temper is why he is given the nomenclature, Black Peter.

A satisfying case, intriguing clues and some good interplay between Holmes and Hopkins make for a strong entry into the canon.

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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