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20 - The Giant Rat of Sumatra

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 April 2021

Andrew Glazzard
Affiliation:
Royal United Services Institute
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Summary

The late story ‘Thor Bridge’ opens with a celebrated passage in which Watson reveals the existence of ‘a travel-worn and battered tin dispatch- box with my name, John H. Watson, MD, Late Indian Army, painted upon the lid’ (Case-Book, 23) in the vaults of the Charing Cross branch of Cox and Co. bank. This was a real bank, founded in 1758 and which specialised as an army agency, responsible for army logistics and payments to officers and men: for its military customers it would have taken care not only of salaries but also of tax, insurance and bills, and it had branches across British India as well as the British Isles. For a former Indian Army doctor, therefore, it would have been a logical choice for placing an account, and its branch at 16–18 Charing Cross was, during the First World War, one of the busiest banks in the world, open all hours for men returning from the front. Its wartime expansion could not be sustained and it was taken over by Lloyd's Bank in 1923, the year after ‘Thor Bridge’ was published in the Strand, although Lloyd's later sold its Indian operations which eventually became Cox and Kings travel agent, and which flourishes to this day.

Watson anchors the opening of this story to a fact, one that would have been recognisably true to many of its original readers. He then asks us to believe that this fictional tin box is ‘crammed with papers’ which document the untold adventures of Sherlock Holmes. These fall into three categories. The first are the ‘unfinished tales’ and ‘unfathomed cases’ – records of Holmes's ‘complete failures’ that lack a ‘final explanation’ and so, while being of possible interest to students, would ‘hardly fail to annoy the casual reader’ (23). Then there are cases ‘which involve the secrets of private families to an extent which would mean consternation in many exalted quarters if it were thought possible that they might find their way into print’. To spare the blushes of the nobility, Holmes will ensure that ‘these records will be separated and destroyed now that my friend has time to turn his energies to the matter’ (23).

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Information
The Case of Sherlock Holmes
Secrets and Lies in Conan Doyle's Detective Fiction
, pp. 218 - 228
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2018

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