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“A Case for Langdale Pike” • 149 to read and discuss the stories. Nonetheless, a coterie of distinguished Irregulars believes that the BSI of the twenty-first century has already grown too large and consequently lost the intimate camaraderie characteristic of meetings in the 1930s and ’40s. Several of these Sherlockians and Doyleans now hold their own dinners and cocktail parties during the birthday weekend, keeping the numbers small, the company lively, and the drink flowing. “A Case for Langdale Pike” • After having presented several brief and lighthearted talks at various BSI functions, I finally felt ready to enter the lists of Sherlockian speculation and scholarship. Because of my investiture name, it was probably inevitable that I should explore the background and complex hidden life of gossip columnist Langdale Pike. My paper, originally presented at a University of Minnesota conference (“Victorian Secrets and Edwardian Enigmas”), shocked even some of the most weather-beaten Irregulars, though appalled may be the word I really want. I opened, slowly. with an account of my serendipitous discovery of an exceedingly rare 150 • volume entitled A Case for Langdale Pike. Only gradually did I unveil the full import of this book on our understanding of Sherlock Holmes. What follows are just a few highlights. A more complete text of the paper, including photographs, footnotes, and an exchange of letters about the reference to “the late Sir Harry Flashman,” may be found in Canadian Holmes: The Journal of the Bootmakers of Toronto, Fall and Winter 2007. “A Case for Langdale Pike” To many students of the canon “The Three Gables” is arguably the most controversial of Dr. Watson’s reminiscences of the great detective. In fact, Holmes appears so out of character that some Sherlockians, such as Martin Dakin, have regarded the entire account as spurious. Les Klinger gives a full survey of the story’s oddities in the commentary included in his magisterial New Annotated Sherlock Holmes. In brief, though, “The Three Gables” describes an uncomfortable case involving London toughs, a dead diplomat, a robbery, and a Spanish adventuress, the celebrated beauty Isadora Klein. But what interests us here is the following: At a point of crisis and uncertainty Holmes suddenly, unexpectedly turns to his faithful companion and says,“Now, Watson, this is “A Case for Langdale Pike” • 151 a case for Langdale Pike, and I am going to see him now. When I get back I may be clearer in the matter.’ Watson proceeds to explain: I saw no more of Holmes during the day, but I could well imagine how he spent it, for Langdale Pike was his human book of reference upon all matters of social scandal. This strange, languid creature spent his waking hours in the bow window of a St James’s Street club, and was the receiving-station, as well as the transmitter, for all the gossip of the Metropolis. He made, it was said, a four-figure income by the paragraphs which he contributed every week to the garbage papers which cater for an inquisitive public. If ever, far down in the turbid depths of London life, there was some strange swirl or eddy, it was marked with automatic exactness by this human dial upon the surface. Holmes discreetly helped Langdale to knowledge, and on occasion was helped in turn. This is, obviously, an eye-opening passage on several counts. First, excluding the nonpareil Sherlock, the languid Pike is clearly the third member in what might be called the canon’s triumvirate of masterminds, the others being Professor Moriarty, with his finger on the 152 • criminal pulse of Britain, and Mycroft Holmes, that human computer who gathers and analyzes British intelligence from around the world. What Moriarty is to crime and Mycroft to every sort of foreign and domestic intrigue, Pike is, apparently, to society. Second, Langdale Pike has made himself wealthy through his vast knowledge and acquaintance, though there is a tinge of disapproval in Watson’s voice when he describes how the man supplies insider information and scandal to the newspapers. The comments about the“turbid depths”also imply that Pike’s knowledge isn’t always just gossip, but something far more unsavory, the kind of information that might turn up in a modern investigative reporter’s notes or in a private eye’s report—sexual indiscretions, financial shenanigans, every manner of secret vice. And finally, Watson himself knows Pike personally, for he refers to him familiarly as Langdale. This is all we ever learn about Langdale...


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