BBC Radio: The Return Of Sherlock Holmes - Charles Augustus Milverton Review

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

Charles Augustus Milverton is a rather odd Sherlock Holmes story. It’s a story which Holmes is almost inconsequential to and it features a villain who almost matches up to the reputation of Moriarty.

Milverton is a blackmailer and well known to Holmes before the events of this story. He is repulsed by Milverton, and certainly this is the way he is portrayed in the story – an oily, snake of a man, coiling himself around his victims leaving them with no choice but to pay him to keep their secrets secret. He uses servants with grudges, more often than not, to obtain incriminating letters and often will hold on to such things until the time is ripest to use them to his advantage. Holmes is clearly disgusted by his methods.

As a story, though, there is no case for Holmes to solve. He knows of Milverton before Lady Eva comes to him with details of Milverton’s latest blackmail scheme. Lady Eva, though, stirs him into action determining to defeat Milverton once and for all. The old Holmes trope of disguising himself as a member of the lower classes comes into play and eventually, in scenes reminiscent of The Speckled Band, he and Watson break into Milverton’s house, one night, to steal away his incriminating documents.

What then happens is very atypical of these stories in that Holmes’ defeat of Milverton is trumped by a woman. She arrives at the house whilst Holmes and Watson are hiding and shoots Milverton dead. Holmes manages to destroy the various letters before escaping with Watson, lest they be caught at a murder scene.

It’s all rather odd and I’m not sure what I made of it. After listening to this radio adaptation (with Merrison and Williams again being superb as Holmes and Watson) I realised that Milverton is one of the characters that has been adapted for the Moffat/Gatiss Sherlock series. In that version he is also a blackmailer and is killed by one of his victims (although the reveal of who in the context of that particular series was rather shocking). But as a story, this lacked the things that, for me, make Holmes fun. There was no mystery, no trail of clues. It was very similar to The Final Problem in that we are presented with an adversary that Holmes knows of (but whom we as an audience have never encountered before), there is some posturing from Holmes and the villain and then this ‘worthy adversary ends up dead. There is no cleverness from Holmes leading to this conclusion; just fate stepping in to help sort it out, whether that is a slippery waterfall or a wronged woman.

The dating of this story is particularly tricky. I've been listening and reviewing these audio adaptations in chronological order of the actual events taking place, and originally had this story down to be included around 1890, a date based on a chronology of stories I had found on the net. However, other sources cite it as being 1899, so I moved it to that date as that seems to be more of a consensus and it ties in with the fact that Milverton is probably based on a real-life blackmailer, Charles Augustus Howell, who died in 1890.

A different, if not entirely successful for me, story which adds some interesting elements to the Holmes 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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