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The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans

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"The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans"

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Published in:December 1908
Set in:November 1895
Client:Mycroft Holmes
Villain: Hugo Oberstein
Valentine Walter

"The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans" is one of the Sherlock Holmes short stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It was first published in The Strand Magazine with 6 illustrations by Arthur Twidle, and in Collier’s Weekly Magazine with 5 illustrations by Frederic Dorr Steele in December 1908. It was published in the book, His Last Bow in October 1917. Doyle ranked "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans" fourteenth in a list of his nineteen favourite Sherlock Holmes stories.

Plot Edit

Towards the end of November 1895, a thick fog has settled over London, confining Sherlock Holmes and John Watson to their house for several days. Holmes grows progressively more restless as the days wear on, disappointed that nobody has taken advantage of the fog to commit a spectacular crime and commenting to Watson it is fortunate for London he is not a criminal.

The monotony of the day is broken by an unexpected telegram from Holmes' brother Mycroft, which informs the two that he will shortly be visiting to discuss a certain Cadogan West. The name seems familiar to Watson, but Holmes is too surprised that Mycroft has left his usual routine to respond. He asks Watson whether he knows what his brother's work is. Watson, who vaguely remembers him from The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter, replies that Holmes told him he had some middling position in the British government. Holmes replies that because he did not know Watson so well in those days he understated his position. In fact, Mycroft serves as a kind of general analyst, knowledgeable on all matters pertinent to government policy. Although his position is officially unimportant and works mainly behind-the-scenes, he is so influential that Holmes remarks he occasionally "is" the British Government.

Considering the importance of Mycroft's work, Holmes is perplexed by who West could be. Watson suddenly recalls where he heard the name, and draws up a newspaper article on Arthur Cadogan West, a young clerk at Woolwich Arsenal who had been found dead on the Underground. According to the inquest, West had left Woolwich on Monday night and was last seen by his fiancé, Miss Violet Westbury, at 7:30 in the evening. He had intended to take her to the theater, but had left abruptly, a fact to which Miss Westbury could give no motive. The body was found at six Tuesday morning on the tracks by Aldgate Station. His head was crushed, apparently in a fall from the train. The body could not have been dumped in the station due to the manned barriers at the station's entrances. The train was running west to east, but it was impossible to tell where he had embarked because no ticket was found on his body. There were no signs of robbery, as his purse and fifteen pounds were found on his body, along with two theater tickets and a packet of technical papers.

Upon hearing about the papers Holmes at last seems to understand, but does not explain as at that moment Mycroft enters, followed closely by Inspector Lestrade. Mycroft flops into an armchair and proceeds to complain about the immense annoyance of the crisis, which had the Prime Minister and Admiralty in an uproar. The technical papers found in West's pocket were the plans for the Bruce-Partington submarine, a top-secret government project. The plans were kept under strictest security in Woolwich, and were under no circumstances to be removed, so how they were stolen presented the first question. Worse, however, was that while ten pages were stolen, only seven were recovered, with the three most essential ones still missing.

The official guardian of the papers, Sir James Walter, is a decorated official and beyond suspicion. He left his office at three in the afternoon and returned to London with his key, where he spent the rest of the evening at the home of an Admiral Sinclair: his story is corroborated by the admiral and Sir James' brother, Colonel Valentine Walter. The other key was in the possession of the senior clerk and draughtsman, Sidney Johnson, also of excellent repute. He locked up the plans before leaving for home where he spent the evening with his wife, and insists his key never left its hook. Cadogan West had ten years of service and a good record, and was known as being hot-headed but honest. He worked alongside Mr Johnson, and had daily contact with the plans.

Holmes, at this point, finds it most likely that West simply stole the plans and intended to sell them, as they would be worth a great deal to any foreign government. He took the train into London to sell the plans, and was killed on his way back to Woolwich. Mycroft objects, noting that Aldsgate is considerably farther than London Bridge, which would have been his stop for Woolwich. Furthermore, why had he arranged to take his fiancé to the theater and then left her halfway there? What had happened to the missing three pages, as if they were missing in the morning he would surely have been suspected, and where was the money he would have received for his treason?

Lestrade interrupts Mycroft, arguing that obviously West and the foreign agent had disagreed about the price, and that the agent had followed West on his way home and killed him. After taking the essential papers and the ticket stubs, which would have revealed his residence, he threw the body from the carriage to dispose of him. Holmes congratulates Lestrade on his cohesive theory, but states that if it were the case there is nothing to be done, as the plans must already be on the continent. Holmes' agreement with Lestrade irritates Mycroft, who jumps up and exhorts him to action, saying that all his instincts are against that explanation. Holmes bows to his request, agreeing to go investigate for him, but rejoining that Mycroft shouldn't expect much from the investigation. Together with Watson and Lestrade he sets out for Aldgate Station.

Trivia Edit

  • The Bruce Partington Submarine was likely a code word for the British built E-class Submarine. This was launched on November 9, 1912. It was 178 feet long, had a beam of 15.05 feet, had a displacement of 665 tons when surfaced and 796 tons when submerged, It also had a surface speed of 15 knots and a submerged speed of 10 knots and had a range of 3,000 nautical miles at a cruise speed of 10 knots and a range of 65 nautical miles submerged at 5 knots. This would coincide with the publication date because the story may have been published once the submarine was officially launched after it was already released to the news. The story takes place during the research and developmental phases of the construciton of the submarine and thus it would correlate.
  • Holmes is mentioned as writing "a monograph upon the Polyphonic Motets of Lassus", which is, in the story, "said by experts to be the last word upon the subject". Hugo Oberstein is one of the few minor characters in the Holmes stories who is brought back and used for more important reasons in a second story. He first appears in The Adventure of the Second Stain as one of three possible spies that a missing foreign office document may have ended up with. Watson finishes the story by mentioning that Oberstein was sentenced to 15 years of prison. Both murder and treason/espionage were capital crimes in the Victorian Era. The lenient treatment suggests - though it is not explicitly stated - that Oberstein bought his life by revealing some secrets in his possession, which prefigures the treatment of actual German agents in the World War II Double Cross System.
  • The story can be considered as an eerie precursor of the spy thriller, not yet developed into a genre in its own right. The theme of theft of military secrets by a hostile power was a prominent element of the Dreyfus affair, at the time of writing convulsing neighboring France and a major subject of news all over the world.
  • The reference to "the Bruce-Partington submarine", in whose "radius of operation" naval warfare becomes impossible, foreshadows the critical importance which submarine warfare would assume in the coming World Wars. The submarine's means of attacking surface craft is never made clear, being a closely guarded military secret.
  • The background to the story includes two different recent crimes to the date of composition (1908). In 1905, a young woman, Mary Money, was found dead on a set of railway tracks in London; she had been the victim of an assault. Her killer was never found. This death is mirrored in the apparent death of Cadogan West by the tracks of an underground line. Then, in 1907, the Irish Crown Jewels were stolen from Dublin Castle the day before King Edward VII was to give a state visit requiring the regalia. It too was a crime that was never solved, and which resulted in the dismissal of Conan Doyle's cousin, Arthur Vicars. Conan Doyle, when he combined real-life events, entangled them into a new version. One of the lead suspects in the theft of the Irish Crown Jewels was Frank Shackleton, a shady individual who was the brother of the prominent Polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, who had come within ninety miles of the South Pole the previous year. It has been noted that Frank Shackleton is the model for Colonel Valentine Walters, the man who helps the spies steal the plans in "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans". His brother is a public servant of great probity, Sir James Walters (who dies of shame when he realises what Valentine has done). But there is more than this odd connection. In 1875, the career of a major British army hero (and friend of the Prince of Wales) ended in disgrace. Colonel Valentine Baker, brother of the noted hunter and African Explorer, Sir Samuel Baker, the first white man to find Lake Albert, was convicted of an indecent assault on a woman, and was cashiered from the British army (subsequently he served in the Egyptian Army). The assault was in a railway car (shades of the fate of Mary Money), and Col. Baker's relationship with the Prince of Wales - later King Edward VII - tied his fall from grace with that of the King who was victimized in the theft of the Irish Crown Jewels. The result seems effortless to the reader who is unaware of it, but it shows how complex Conan Doyle can be in his literary constructions.

Adaptations Edit

  • "The Great Game", the third episode of Sherlock, uses several of Doyle's stories as inspiration, among them "The Bruce-Partington Plans". The victim there is an MI6 clerk named Andrew West, nodding to the original victim's name. Many of the other clues, like an unused train ticket and blood traces on a windowsill, are also used.
  • The story was adapted for a 1988 episode of the television series The Return of Sherlock Holmes. It differs in showing that the death of West was manslaughter, as well as that, after the capture of Oberstein, Colonel Walter is allowed to "disappear" so that Special Branch can use him to trap other spies. Lestrade is replaced by Inspector Bradstreet.
  • The Elementary episode titled "Blood Is Thicker", will find Joan Watson and Sherlock Holmes working a case that was partly inspired by this classic mystery.[1]

See also Edit

References Edit

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