On a drive in East Sussex, Paul Ashton and his Wife decided to stop at a car boot sale. What he found there has both shocked and delighted the literary World. For just £2, Mr. Ashton purchased an old copy of Practical Handbook of Bee Culture-the Author?, none other than Sherlock Holmes!. It was thought no copies of the Handbook had survived, yet here over 267 pages is the diary kept by the great man, covering events from his 1903 move to a farm near Beachy Head, in East Sussex.
At this time, Holmes was engaged to his former landlady Mrs. Hudson and fulfills his promise of a retirement keeping bees. The book itself contains exhaustive advice for the would-bee keeper (!) as well as original and unique accounts of some of Holmes' final cases. Adjusting remarkably to domestic life, Holmes takes to rustic life with the passion of the city-dweller. Among the former Detective's acquisitions is a box brownie which he uses to great effect capturing images both charming and dramatic.
|Just for fun-Holmes showing Watson his Hives (IMAGE NOT IN THE BOOK!)|
Holmes' work also includes a litany of current events – as well as their intrinsic value, these serve to give the book a framework and place the events securely in their time, as they happened. In the approved style of Forrest Gump and The Hundred Year Old Man (who climbed out of the window and disappeared) Holmes moves through this period meeting or renewing acquaintance with such luminous creatures as Lenin and Debussy, to name, but two. Old habits die hard though and from time to time Holmes engages his legendary mind on those problems to which is is best suited-an enquiry for a concerned American family here-a poltergeist case there, these include two cases that set Holmes' past crashing into his present.
The rural idyll continues, with Holmes the bee-keeper fully immersed in village life. A visitor!-none, but Watson and the two old friends discuss the atrocious events known as the Whitechapel Murders. Other cases follow- bigamy and blackmail mix with the ever-present trials and tribulations of apiculture.
The book blends Holmes' (fictional) cases with actual criminal scandals of the day in a seamless fashion and as well as solving a Regal jewellery theft with his old comrade-in-arms, Holmes finds the time to champion the cause of Suffrage, foil Latvian Anarchists and attempt to recover a stolen Da Vinci. Ill-health then causes Holmes to break off his writing-or so we are told. The book itself concludes with an intriguing yet informative end-note from Mr.Ashton. For the first time, Ashton reveals that Sherlock Holmes became a Secret Agent, including a stint working on vital matters to foil the Germans at the outset of the Great War.
So, does Practical Handbook of Bee Culture warrant a place on your shelf?. Most assuredly!; it is a gem, a weave of fact and fiction that sets Holmes' later years down for posterity in a unique and rather charming way. As a Sussex resident myself, I was delighted with the Author's knowledge of the area and the whole thing is such an unexpected pleasure I have no hesitation in recommending this fine book to you all.