The Adventure of Black Peter
First published in: The Strand Magazine, March 1904, Collier’s Weekly, February 27, 1904
Time frame of story (known/surmised): Early July 1895 (given) Most likely July 10.
H&W living arrangements: H&W sharing quarters at 221B
Opening scene: Holmes had been out early at the butcher’s, harpooning a pig’s carcass, to judge the difficulty of similarly impaling a man. As H&W sat down for breakfast, Inspector Hopkins joined them, but had already eaten. He had an air of deep dejection.
Client: Hopkins, who asked Holmes for assistance.
Crime or concern: Killing by harpoon of “Black” Peter Carey, a ornery retired sea captain. Carey was an intermittent drunkard, and when he had the fit on him he was a perfect fiend. Women ran for it when they heard him coming. He was loathed and avoided by every one of his neighbours, and there was not a single word of sorrow about his terrible end.
Villain: Black Peter, who was murdered, was a villain. His killer, Patrick Cairn who had been a harpooner under him on the whaler “Sea Unicorn”, claimed self-defense. Neither one of them was a fine fellow. Peter had rescued, then robbed a banker (old Neligan) at sea, stole securities, and threw him overboard. Cairn attempted to blackmail Black Peter over this, but harpooned him instead when Peter got violent.
Motive: Black Peter killed old Neligan to steal securities being taken to Norway. Patrick Cairn killed Black Peter in a violent argument between them over blackmail.
Logic used to solve: The amazing strength, the skill in the use of the harpoon, the rum and water, the sealskin tobacco-pouch with the coarse tobacco — all these pointed to a seaman, and one who had been a whaler. There was a red-herring, young Neligan, who traced stolen securities to Black Peter, and was trying to clear his father’s honour, who broke into Black Peter’s cabin following his killing. Young Neligan was captured by Holmes and Hopkins. Holmes had experimented with a harpoon and realized Neligan did not have the physical stature to have done the deed. Holmes advertised for a harpooner, and Patrick Cairn came looking.
Policemen: Story includes the introduction of Stanley Hopkins, a young police inspector, for whose future Holmes had high hopes, while Hopkins in turn professed the admiration and respect of a pupil for the scientific methods of the famous amateur. Hopkins was about thirty years of age, with an erect bearing.
Holmes’ fees: No mention. Holmes worked for the Yard on many occasions, but there was never an explanation or mention of him being paid for his efforts. Since Holmes, like everyone, needed to buy his bread and cheese and pay other expenses, it is reasonable to believe he had some sort of retainer arrangement. This would also explain the common result of Holmes’ not taking credit for his solutions.
Transport: Following Hopkins’ visit, the three of them took a four-wheeler to the station and went on to Forest Row, alighting at a small wayside station and went on through the weald to Black Peter’s cabin.
Food: H&W had breakfast, no details specified.
Drink: Black Peter was a habitual drunkard, flushed with drink and as savage as a dangerous wild beast the night he was harpooned. After the murder, there was bottle of rum and two dirty glasses upon the table.
Vices: Black Peter smoked very little, and yet he might have kept some tobacco for his friends.
Other cases mentioned: PRIO. The famous investigation of the sudden death of Cardinal Tosca — an inquiry which was carried out by him at the express desire of His Holiness the Pope — and the arrest of Wilson, the notorious canary-trainer, which removed a plague-spot from the East End of London.
Notable Quotables: “There can be no question, my dear Watson, of the value of exercise before breakfast.” – SH
“What savage creature was it which might steal upon us out of the darkness? Was it a fierce tiger of crime, which could only be taken fighting hard with flashing fang and claw, or would it prove to be some skulking jackal, dangerous only to the weak and unguarded?” – Watson, dramatizing stake-out duty.
“One should always look for a possible alternative, and provide against it. It is the first rule of criminal investigation.” – SH
Other interestings: Watson tells us Holmes had at least five small refuges in different parts of London, in which he was able to change his personality. (“safe houses”, in modern lingo)
There was a tantalus containing brandy and whisky on the sea-chest in the cabin. It was of no significance to the mystery, however, since the decanters were full and it had therefore not been used.
When all was said and done: If you want me for the trial, my address and that of Watson will be somewhere in Norway — I’ll send particulars later.” Holmes gave no explanation for this, but was probably going to Norway to hunt or trace securities old Neligan planned to take there. Or maybe Sigerson had a girl-friend. Holmes was multi-lingual, speaking French, German, and Italian in addition to English, and maybe others. It is hard to imagine how he impersonated a Norwegian explorer for quite some time if he had not mastered Norsk as well.