"This story has great richness of voice and will take you on a fascinating journey. It is both an adventure and a colourful experience." —Calvert Markham, Treasurer of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London
It's 1893. King Kamehameha III of Hawaii declares Sovereignty Restoration Day ... Tension grows between China and Japan over Korea ... The Bengal Famine worsens ... A brilliant scientist in Calcutta challenges the system ... The senior priest at Kyoto's Kinkaku-ji temple is found dead in mysterious circumstances.
Dr. John H. Watson receives a strange letter from Yokohama. Then the quiet, distinguished Mr. Hashimoto is murdered inside a closed room on a voyage from Liverpool to Bombay. In the opium dens of Shanghai and in the back alleys of Tokyo, sinister men hatch evil plots. Professor Moriarty stalks the world, drawing up a map for worldwide dominion.
Only one man can outwit the diabolical Professor Moriarty. Only one man can save the world. Has Sherlock Holmes survived the Reichenbach Falls?
About the Author
Vasudev was born in Delhi and has meandered around the world with lengthy stopovers in Tallahassee and Dallas. His books span a variety of interests, from Indian classical music to crime fiction, humor, and business management. A violinist and animal rights activist, Vasudev lives with his family and five snoring dogs in Bangalore, India where he runs a consulting firm.
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Sherlock Holmes, The Missing Years: Japan
By Vadusev Murthy
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2015 Vasudev Murthy
All rights reserved.
A Letter from Yokohama
My friend, you may have lived in Osaka and I in Nagoya for the past thirty years. And yet the bonds of our silent friendship are stronger than the steel of a Samurai's sword.
When I wrote The Final Problem, advising the public on the circumstances leading to the death of Sherlock Holmes and his arch-enemy Professor Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls near the village of Meiringen in Switzerland, I had not bargained for the reaction. To say that the man on the street felt no embarrassment in joining a collective cry of anguish would be an understatement; his rooms at 221B Baker Street became a veritable shrine for the devout. The costermonger, the clerk in the shipping office, the constable, Holmes' friends in the criminal class—all stood shoulder to shoulder outside in silence, mourning his passing. My eyes misted when I saw how much love my strange and solitary friend had commanded from the citizenry of the city; of course, he himself would have dismissed such speculation contemptuously, for, in his rational mind, love of any kind had no place except as a lens into the behaviour of the human mind, a tool he frequently used in his investigations.
Thereafter, a number of unscrupulous individuals attempted to profit from such sentiments by reporting the alleged spotting of Holmes in many places—he was in Bombay trading in Indian antiquities, said one dispatch. A confirmed sighting in Durban, swore an Army colonel. In Santiago as a respected violinist, calmly asserted a returning ship's captain. An innkeeper in Vaasa, Finland, said the excited wife of the second secretary of our Embassy in that country.
I, however, reconciled to his death and went back quietly to my country home with my wife. I swore to keep his memory alive and began the onerous task of collecting and organizing his papers, personal effects, and correspondence; I was keenly aware of how history would view and idolize the memory of this great man and was not unaware that my association with him would be remarked upon favourably. Holmes' brother Mycroft most generously handed over whatever he had of his brother's effects, including his beloved Stradivarius violin, saying, 'The bonds of blood do not always take precedence over the bonds of loyal friendship, Watson.' I was deeply touched.
The letter from Japan, a little over two years after the affair at Reichenbach Falls, came as a complete surprise. The handwriting was vaguely familiar. I dismissed the surge in my heart and speculated on the contents inside the yellow envelope with the unfamiliar stamps and markings. I saw that it had taken more than three months for the letter to reach me from the city of Yokohama. I opened the envelope and was mystified to see a single first-class ticket for carriage from Liverpool to Yokohama on the merchant ship North Star for the 13th of June 1893.
I glanced at my calendar; the date was barely a week away. As I examined the ticket again, a single scrap of paper fell out of the envelope on to my desk. It was a terse note in Sherlock Holmes' hand.
Watson, I need you. My violin, please. S.H.
I stared at the paper, stupefied. It seemed impossible, and yet, there was no mistake. It was Holmes' handwriting. And the slight whiff of a familiar tobacco confirmed it. Sherlock Holmes was alive and he had sent the note!
I threw logic aside at once. Holmes had often rather cruelly remarked that my mediocre medical qualifications came in the way of alert thinking and that I was a creature of conditioning who would follow the mob if I could at all help it. 'I am sorry if my remarks pain you, Watson, but mere action in Afghanistan does not imply the highest in mental faculties,' he had once said with a mocking laugh. But here I was, joyfully accepting an invitation to Japan from a friend who I believed had died so tragically two years ago!
I made preparations, post-haste, for the journey. I took my wife into confidence and was surprised to see her ready approval. She saw no foolishness in the proposition that Holmes might still be alive and that he might be in Japan; she felt a certain pride that I had been called to his side in such strange circumstances. With her usual efficiency, she ensured that I was well equipped for an unusual journey. And in a few days, we departed for Liverpool.
'Look after yourself, my dear,' I said, pressing her hand. We stood at the Langton Dock, while I prepared to board the North Star, a small ship that carried only a few passengers in first-class while ferrying goods between several ports.
'Don't worry about me,' she responded with a smile, her eyes unusually bright. 'Your place is by Mr. Holmes' side. I always believed he was alive. He needs you now more than I do.'
* * *
I was greatly touched and recalled Holmes' understated appreciation for her. 'A fine lady there, Watson. Perhaps she deserves better,' he had said, filling my heart with both pride and resentful anger at his jibe. I turned, unable to speak, and soon boarded the North Star with my friend's beloved Stradivarius in a special rectangular case that could also pass off as hand luggage. As the ship sailed out of Liverpool and the raucous crowd on the dock faded away, I wondered what new adventure awaited me in a strange land, in the company of Sherlock Holmes.CHAPTER 2
The Voyage Begins
My friend, do not stop me. I must begin without knowing that I shall end. I have heard that the seas will never reveal their secrets but shall bless the brave who set forth to do their duty.
The long journey to Yokohama was to take me through the Strait of Gibraltar, halting at Marseilles, Alexandria, Aden, Bombay, Singapore, and Shanghai. I had hoped that the sea breeze and the solitude would allow me to consider various possibilities and scenarios, undisturbed, pertaining to the pleasant but baffling re-emergence of Sherlock Holmes.
I shared my cabin with a tall, quiet, and distinguished Japanese gentleman, Kazushi Hashimoto, who indicated that he was returning to Japan after a sojourn of some six months in Scotland looking after certain business matters. He kept himself absorbed in a Japanese board game of some kind, which suited me perfectly. He had with him an interesting musical instrument he called a koto, which he strummed gently in the evenings after asking my permission and apologizing profusely for the inconvenience. The sounds were not unpleasant, though unusual, and I was able to block them out of my consciousness after a short while. Indeed, they almost helped my meditative reflections in the evening. I found myself quite comfortable in his presence and in a couple of days moved into a routine of sorts.
The captain of the North Star was Samuel Groves, a curious individual of middle height, aged about fifty, who conveyed a mix of competence with a mild dissolution in manner that I found unsettling.
He spoke in restless disconnected phrases. 'Good weather! Good people! Never liked Gibraltar! Can't stand the place!'
On the first night, he joined us in the first-class dining room. I looked around the table. On my right was Mrs. Edith Andrews, a lady aged about thirty with an aristocratic demeanour, who said she was joining her husband at the governor's residence in Aden after a brief holiday at her country home near Bury St. Edmunds. To her right was Colonel James Burrowe, who said he was with the Royal Horse artillery regiment. I was sure we would have acquaintances in common. He said he was travelling to Penang. However, since Mrs. Andrews separated us, I could not speak much with him without seeming impolite. I decided to have a word with him as soon as possible.
To my left was a Sikh gentleman, Mr. Shamsher Singh, who introduced himself as an aide to the maharajah of the Princely State of Patiala in the Panjab. He was a striking turbaned man with piercing eyes and indisputable charisma. He spoke English extremely well, though with a pronounced Indian accent.
He expressed interest in Shakespeare and impressed me with his knowledge of the activities of the British Museum. I found him slightly disconcerting, though I could not say why; perhaps it was his overwhelmingly strong personality.
To his left sat Mr. Hashimoto and beyond was Miss Clara Bryant, a small fading lady in her late forties with intelligent blue eyes and a quiet, though sprightly, manner. She said she was travelling to Shanghai, where she was the tutor to the Japanese consul-general's children. I made a mental note to speak to her later; after all, here was my first tangible English link to Japan. Seated next to her was Mr. Simon Fletcher, who introduced himself as a banker travelling to Singapore. He was very correct in his manner and quite polished, though bland. He must have been about fifty- five and was on the heavier side.
The captain breezed in and wished us all a good evening.
'We have the most excellent wines,' he said heartily. 'Good winds this evening! Thirty voyages captaining this ship! Aden, an excellent place to rest for a day and see the sights! Decent library on the ship, plenty of books on crime!'
'You will be leaving us at Aden, Madam,' he said, turning to Mrs. Andrews.
She coloured unexpectedly. 'I don't much care for the place, honestly.'
'Ah? Why so?' asked the captain, interested.
'It's very hot and I don't care for the natives,' Mrs. Andrews said with a shudder.
Miss Bryant suddenly interjected from across the table, 'You can make yourself like any place, you know. I love Shanghai now, though I once thought I never would—the beastly weather, the Chinese. But now I rather like them. I'm glad to be going back. There's something eternal about the culture.'
I liked her attitude and saw Mr. Hashimoto look at her sideways with approval. Mrs. Andrews turned to me, a silent plea in her eyes. I took the hint and changed the topic.
'I have never been to the Far East. I wonder if any of you could give me some suggestions on what I might expect,' I said, looking around the table.
'Be careful,' chortled the captain.
Shamsher Singh agreed. 'Yes,' he nodded. 'Be careful. Do not believe anyone, including me.'
'Avoid exploring the ports of call, if you can. They attract the scum of the earth,' said Simon Fletcher with a vehemence that seemed out of character. 'Just get to where you want to go and damn the local culture!'
I saw Mr. Hashimoto look at Simon Fletcher thoughtfully.
'I do intend to visit Alexandria, if we can be allowed,' said Mr. Singh in a deep and deliberate voice. 'I find the Egyptian culture interesting, though somewhat barbaric.'
'Oh yes, you'll have a couple of days to look around, if you like. Good people. Fruits. Water—be careful! Very careful! Mosquitoes! Plenty of little crooks!' said the captain.
'Perhaps you will join me,' said Mr. Singh, turning toward me. It was a command and I found myself agreeing without hesitation.
From across the table, Miss Bryant spoke up. 'I shall join you too, if I may?'
'So shall I,' said Mr. Hashimoto. Something in his voice made me look at him quickly, but his face was inscrutable.
'Not I,' chuckled Colonel Burrowe. 'I'll spend some quiet time in the ship's library and have a few drinks. Alexandria is fine and I've been around a few times, but nothing like Bombay, my friends, nothing like Bombay!'
One evening, just prior to reaching Marseilles, we were back in our cabin after supper and I had settled down to a cigar and a book when Mr. Hashimoto suddenly looked up from his game.
'Dr. Watson, it is not in my nature to be inquisitive, but may I ask you the purpose of your proposed visit to my country?' he asked in unaccented, precise English.
I hesitated for the briefest fraction of a second.
'I have a weak constitution and have been advised a bracing sea voyage,' I said.
'I see,' he responded thoughtfully. 'It is rare, of course, to travel to Japan for constitutional improvement,' he said with a friendly smile.
I smiled, but did not respond, seeking the safety of my book.
'I do sense the presence of evil on this ship,' he said quite suddenly.
I put down my book. 'Really, my dear sir ...'
'I am sorry to alarm you. Nevertheless, I must share with you the fact that I am uneasy.'
'On what do you base your remark?'
In answer, he pulled out from under his pillow, very carefully, a piece of paper.
'I found this placed under our door when I came in after breakfast.'
The paper had this written on it:
* * *
'But what does it mean?' I asked, surprised.
Mr. Hashimoto looked at me quietly for a few seconds.
'Dr. Watson, all that I can share with you is that there is grave danger about us. Let us exercise caution and not take needless risks or strike up unnecessary friendships. For some reason that I do not know, we have been warned by someone.'
A chill crept down my spine. Accompanying it was a feeling of déjà vu. I almost felt as though I was speaking to my old friend Holmes! But that was impossible. Holmes was dead. No, he was in Japan. And Mr. Hashimoto was an old and distinguished-looking Japanese gentleman. I looked across the room and saw him observing me impassively. He had taken out his koto and had started strumming it very softly.
The unfamiliar sounds of Japan filled the room.CHAPTER 3
Murder on the North Star
Be wary of strangers, my friend. Who knows what darkness lies in them? They shall spill blood and go on their way. Only a frail, old wife in Hiroshima may grieve and that is of no concern to them.
At Marseilles, the captain took on some cargo and three more passengers. Two were Japanese gentlemen who indicated they could not speak English at all, and after much bowing and smiling, retreated to their assigned cabin and indicated that they preferred to have their supper and breakfast there, served by the steward. The third was an Irishman, David Joyce, who seemed a surly and uncommunicative individual. He too retired to his single cabin, which happened to be next to the one assigned to Colonel Burrowe.
We began our journey to Alexandria on placid seas. The spare sounds of Mr. Hashimoto's koto danced on the little waves of the Mediterranean. And Mr. Shamsher Singh leaned on the railings watching the approaching darkness, lost in thought, his eyebrows knit.
I mentioned to Mr. Hashimoto that we had new companions; he had skipped dinner, as had Miss Bryant. This was while we were getting ready for breakfast.
'There were two Japanese gentlemen, by the way, and one Irishman.'
'Indeed?' said Mr. Hashimoto, adjusting the sleeves of his jacket. 'What did the Irishman look like?' I found the question quite strange, but I described Mr. Joyce as best as I could and he nodded in a curious, satisfied manner.
The rooms were designed in the following manner: a cabin, such as ours, was large, with considerable privacy afforded by separate bedrooms and a shared room in the middle. On one side was a similar cabin that Mrs. Andrews and Miss Bryant shared. On the other side was the library, which was locked by the steward precisely at eleven o'clock. There were no rooms above us. There were single cabins as well, such as the ones to which Mr. Joyce and Colonel Burrowe had been assigned.
My bedroom had a porthole at a height of about ten feet above sea level. As we moved east, my porthole opened to the south, as did Mr. Hashimoto's. There was one more porthole in the common area of the cabin. They were too narrow for an average person to squeeze through, but a child or a slim individual could, perhaps, pull through with some difficulty. At any rate, we had plenty of light and the Mediterranean was mild, as expected.
The journey from Marseilles to Alexandria took about five days. They were uneventful, though I must describe a couple of apparently innocuous events that were to have great significance later.
Miss Bryant and Mrs. Andrews were thrown together, as they were the only ladies on board. They made for an unlikely pair—a young lady who did not seem very enthusiastic about the trip and an older and wiser lady who seemed to relish life and looked forward to reaching her destination. They would walk together on the deck in silence in the mornings to get some exercise and sea breeze. I could hear them shut and open their door and would greet them as they passed by if I happened to be in the common area of my cabin. Occasionally, I would accompany them on their little walk.
Excerpted from Sherlock Holmes, The Missing Years: Japan by Vadusev Murthy. Copyright © 2015 Vasudev Murthy. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press.
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Table of Contents
A Letter from Yokohama,
The Voyage Begins,
Murder on the North Star,
Alexandria to Bombay,
A Journey Through India,
The Imperial Palace,
The Ghosts of Music,
More from this Author,