BBC Radio: The Return Of Sherlock Holmes - The Dancing Men Review

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

The Dancing Men is a case I have memories of from the Jeremy Brett TV series. It involves the mystery of chalk men scrawled on various surfaces and written in letters – clearly some sort of code.

This audio adaptation adopts an unusual format; one of various flashbacks. We enter the story a little like some audio Doctor Who stories, with Holmes and Watson already embroiled in an adventure and on their way to prevent a death. They are, however, too late, and – in flashback – we discover what has brought the men to Norfolk.

Hilton Cubitt has come to Holmes asking for help with the mysterious messages his wife has been receiving. His wife, Elsie, is an American whom he married 3 years ago. Before doing so, she insinuated her past life was undesirable and that Hilton was never to ask her about it. The appearance of the dancing men clearly stirs up past problems from Elsie’s life. Unsurprisingly, the men turn out to be a code which Holmes duly deciphers. However, he and Watson are too late to prevent Hilton being shot, and Elsie being mortally wounded. He is able, though, to lure Abe Stanley, another American to the murder scene and reveals his hand in Hilton’s death.

Abe is from Chicago and was Elsie’s former fiancee. It is implied that Elsie is the daughter of some kind of mob boss and that she was essentially given to Abe. On discovering her new marriage, Abe came to England to win her back resulting, eventually, in the murder.

This is a fairly straightforward case, especially once Holmes realises the dancing men are a code, and I think the decision to tell the story in a series of flashbacks, with Holmes explaining the case to the local police inspector, was made to hide this linearity a little. Without this format, there is little in the way of mystery. We know Elsie has a mysterious past; the men are fairly obviously a code of some description. All that remains is for Holmes to crack the code and reveal the murderer. There is a little added depth with some other clues involving the volume of the gunshots and smell of gunpowder but they are quickly rationalised by Holmes.

One interesting aspect of this case is that this is a rare occasion where real history is actually referred to in the story. Hilton and Elsie are shown courting at the celebrations of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. This occurred in 1897. There's also a reference to The Empty House, with Watson trying to decide whether it is a good title for that particular case.

The small cast for this story are, as usual for these productions, a pleasure to listen to and I’m finding it difficult to decide whether I prefer Merrison and Williams or Briggs and Earl as my audio Holmes and Watson of choice.

Another fascinating case for Mr Sherlock Holmes.

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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