"A Study in Emerald" is a short alternate-reality Sherlock Holmes story written by British author Neil Gaiman. It was first published in Shadows Over Baker Street, a collection of Sherlock Holmes short stories set against the backdrop of H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos.
A wounded soldier back from Afghanistan meets a famed detective and together they solve a case of murder, in which the soldier is amazed by the detective's "science of deduction".
The story is split into five chapters, each titled according to its content. The story is told in the first person and describes the narrator's introduction in 1881 to a certain "consulting detective" through a mutual friend and the first mystery in which he followed his investigations. The mystery revolves around a corpse found at a derelict house in Shoreditch, London with the word "RACHE" scrawled in blood on the wall beside the body.
The New Friend
In 1881, the (yet-unnamed) narrator is sent home to convalesce after being wounded in the shoulder in Afghanistan. In London, a mutual friend introduces the narrator to a potential flatmate. The two meet in the chemical lab of St. Bartholomew's Hospital, where the man proceeds to astonish the narrator by deducing that he is a soldier recently returned from Afghanistan. Although the narrator warns the man that he sometimes screams in his sleep, the man humorously replies that he snores, is easily bored, is selfish, and sometimes uses the mantle for target practice. The two take up lodgings in Baker Street, where the narrator is intrigued by the constant flow of odd visitors that his flatmate receives.
Sometime later the two are eating breakfast when the narrator's friend perceives that they will shortly be joined by a client. He is proved right when Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard enters, who proceeds to sit down and help himself to some sausages. The narrator's friend states that clearly this must be a case of national importance, frightening Lestrade into believing that the matter was public knowledge. However, he reassures him that he only deduced so because Lestrade came despite not being able to be publicly seen getting the advice of London's only "consulting detective", and in addition without eating breakfast. Lestrade, somewhat cautiously, asks whether it would be best for the narrator to leave the room; however, the detective assures him that it is better he stay. The detective then again confounds Lestrade by asking when they should leave for Shoreditch (because of the yellow mud on the inspector's pants), and accepts the case.
The narrator and the detective travel to the East End of London, though in a separate cab from Lestrade. On the ride there, the narrator asks his friend about his job as a "consulting detective". The detective responds that he does not take cases: rather, people bring him their insoluble problems, he listens, and sometimes solves them. Most of his clients are in fact police and detectives who are incapable of solving their crimes. As they enter the rookery slum of St Giles, the narrator asks the detective if he is sure he had like to have him along. The detective replies that he feels the two were meant to be together, and that knows the value of a good companion, making the narrator feel self-worth for the first time since Afghanistan.
In Shoreditch, the two friends reunite with Lestrade and make for the crime scene, located in a cheap lodging house guarded by policemen. The body lies gutted in the center of the room, and green blood is splattered on the floors and walls. On one wall the word "Rache" is written in the victim's blood, which the detective proceeds to examine. Lestrade assumes that the victim was writing the name "Rachel". He deduces from the green colour of the blood, the number of limbs on the body, and the nature of the eyes that the victim was clearly a royal, likely a prince of a German state. Lestrade confirms that the victim was Prince Franz Drago of Bohemia, a nephew of Queen Victoria who was staying in England for his health (or, as the detective puts it, for "theatres, whores, and gaming tables"). The detective, complaining about the police's amateurish efforts destroying the evidence, proceeds to inspect some splattered mud and a pile of ash. He then states that Lestrade is foolish to be looking for a woman, as the word "Rache" means "revenge" in German.
After leaving the detective notices the narrator visibly shaken, and asks is it is the first time he has encountered royalty. The narrator responds yes, to which the detective replies that he will shortly have the pleasure of meeting a royal in person. The detective points out a black carriage with the royal crest emblazoned in gold on the door. The two climb into the carriage and head off towards towards the royal palace.
At the palace the two men are met by the Queen's consort, Prince Albert. The prince informs them that the queen is very upset, and that is was he who suggested bringing the detective in to work on the case. The two are ushered in to the Queen's audience chamber, a cavernous, dark room where the Queen, a massive, hulking figure, squats in a corner. She beckons them forward with a squirming limb: the narrator is too frightened to move, but the detective pulls him forward. The Queen places her limb on his shoulder, relieving his pain and filling him with a sense of-well being. She then communicates (apparently telepathically) with the detective, who fills her in on the details of the case, stating that there were two men in the room with her nephew. After leaving the palace it is already dark, and the detective says nothing to his companion all the way back to Baker Street. Upon returning to the house, the narrator looks at his wounded shoulder in the mirror: he notices that some colour has come back to the formerly frog-white skin.
Over the next ten days the detective leaves the house several times under a number of masterful disguises, but shares nothing with the narrator about what he has been doing. At last the detective asks the narrator if he would like to accompany him to the theatre, an invitation which he accepts. They head to the Royal Court Theatre, located very near the rookery of St Giles on Drury Lane. The narrator, who was expecting some sort of opera, is surprised as the theatre is the worst on the street. As they take their seats in the stalls, the detective tells the narrator he should be glad he did not have to accompany him to the brothels and gambling-houses, or the madhouses, where the prince also liked to visit. He begins to tell the narrator that the prince never visited one place more than once, with one exception, but is cut off by orchestra signalling the start of the show.
The show consists of three one-act plays, the first a comedy of mistaken identity, and the second a tragedy about an impoverished young violet-seller. The third act, however, is a historical epic entitled "The Great Old Ones Come", which recounts the emergence of the Old Ones from the sea and their conquest of the world. The show ends with the entire audience cheering as a paper moon turns from yellow (as it was in the past) to crimson (as the narrator remarks it is currently.)
Following the performance, the detective and narrator go backstage, where the detective asks for Mr Sherry Vernet. The detective introduces himself as Mr 'Henry Camberley', a theatrical promoter from the New World, and his friend as Mr Sebastian. 'Camberley' asks if Vernet wrote the last play: Vernet replies no, although he did devise the magic lantern effects that accompanied it. He declines to name the author, stating that he does not want his connection to the theatre to be known. 'Camberley' acts disappointed, then brings out a pipe and pats his pockets. Not having any tobacco, he asks for some of Vernet's, who gladly gives him some of his. The two smoke while 'Camberley' describes his vision of a multinational performance tour, starting with the play depicting the arrival of the Old Ones and followed by two more new acts written by the mysterious author. He promises Vernet fifty percent of the take, if he and his author friend will come to Baker Street the next morning to draw up the contracts. Vernet announces this to the company, who react enthusiastically.
After the two leave the theatre, the narrator attempts to ask the detective what he was looking for, but is interrupted by his friend, who cautions him that the city has many ears. Once inside a cab, the detective proceeds to tap the tobacco from his pipe into a small tin, and announces that he has found the Tall Man, and hopefully tomorrow will have found the Limping Doctor. The narrator reacts with confusion to this, but the detective explains that from the footprints at the crime scene he could tell that of the two men in the room, one was very tall: this was the Mr Vernet they had just met. The other had a limp, and from the skill which he eviscerated the prince, must have been a doctor. As the two get off the cab, the detective tips the man a florin, but finds it odd when he does not stop for another man at the corner.
The Skin and the Pit
The next morning Lestrade arrives at Baker Street, and posts policemen outside to arrest anyone who tries to leave the building after entering as they wait for Mr Vernet to arrive. The detective shows his pipe from last night and the vial of ash he collected in Shoreditch to Lestrade, saying that it is the final nail in the coffin of Mr Vernet. He then asks the narrator what he knows of the Restorationists.
Despite Lestrade's obvious discomfort and protestations, the detective proceeds to explain that the Restorationists are rebels who want to overthrow the Old Ones and put mankind back in control of its own destiny. It was they who killed Prince Franz Drago. The word "Rache", an old term for a hunting dog as well as meaning revenge, was his signature. However, the hunter did not kill the prince. The man who wrote the word on the wall was tall, having written the word at eye-level and tapped his pipe out on the mantle – an unusual blend of shag. The footprints in the room indicated that someone had been waiting inside the room, someone who had put more pressure on his right foot. The tall man had entered the room with the prince, where his accomplice had been waiting to murder him. However, despite spending days retracing the prince's movements, he had not been able to figure out who the tall man was until he saw in a Bohemian newspaper, that an English theatrical troupe had performed for the prince in Prague. The leading man, Sherry Vernet, was therefore obviously a restorationist.
At that moment a knock comes on the door. The three men are disappointed to see it is not Vernet, or the limping doctor, but rather a young boy with a letter for Mr 'Henry Camberley'. The detective accepts the letter, and asks about the man who gave it to the boy: he replies that the man was tall, dark-haired, and smoked a pipe.
The letter reveals that the Tall Man knows not only that the detective is not Henry Camberley, but that he knows his real name. He in fact has read a number of his papers, and corresponded with him on his paper The Dynamics of an Asteroid.
He proceeds to list the mistakes the detective made in his disguise when visiting the theatre: firstly, that it is unlikely a pipe-smoking man would have a new pipe and no tobacco; secondly, that it is very unlikely that a theatrical producer would not only be ignorant of the usual theatrical payment standards; and thirdly, that he would be accompanied by a taciturn ex-army officer (whom he also correctly deduces is back from Afghanistan). Furthermore, he advises that cab drivers also have ears, and that in the future it would be best not to take the first cab that comes along.
Finally, the letter-writer admits that he was the one who lured the "half-blood creature" to the room in Shoreditch, after promising him a virginal girl abducted from a convent in Cornwall whom the prince could easily drive to madness, a practice for which the prince (and the other Old Ones) was known. The doctor, who also wrote the play seen, was waiting for them. The letter concludes by saying that the detective almost proved a worthy adversary, and the Tall Man will not reveal his name until the world is restored. It is signed "Rache".
Inspector Lestrade leaves with the young urchin for the place where he was given the letter. The detective comments that the police will likely close all the ports and trains to prevent them from leaving the country, but that it is more likely that the two are hiding out in the rookery of St. Giles until the search dies down. The narrator asks how he knows, to which the detective replies that it is what he would do if their situations were reversed. He advises the narrator to burn the letter.
In the end, Lestrade keeps his job, and Prince Albert writes a letter congratulating the detective on his job, though lamenting that the criminal is still at large. Sherry Vernet remains at large, his true identity unknown, as does his accomplice, tentatively identified as John (or James) Watson, another veteran of the Afghan war. The narrator's shoulder continues to heal where the Queen touched it, and he comments that soon he shall be able to shoot once again. The narrator asks the detective if he remembered his correspondence with Rache, to which the detective replies that he did, though at the time he had been using the name "Sigerson". Finally the Palace sends word that the Queen was pleased, finally closing the case: however, the narrator is unconvinced, saying it will not be over until either the detective or Rache kills the other.
The story concludes with the narrator requesting for his manuscript to be sealed in a strongbox and not opened until everyone is dead, though this may be closer than he anticipates due to recent events in Russia. The letter concludes with the signature "S_ M_, Major (retired), Baker Street, London, New Albion, 1881."
Behind the scenes
A Study in Emerald is a detective mystery short-story written by Neil Gaiman, which was first published in 2003. It is a pastiche of the Sherlock Holmes stories, one of the most famous and iconic literary detective characters, and the Cthulu mythos of H.P. Lovecraft. The story's title derives from the title of the first Holmes novel, in which Holmes describes the story's murder investigation as his "study in scarlet": as the two novels share a parallel structure and similar crime, the title is also a reference to the colour of the blood found at the crime scene, which in both novels has been spattered around the walls of the crime scene.
Gaiman wrote the story at the age of 43. A well-established British author, he had already published short stories in several magazines of the day as well as several novels. Particularly famous for his fantasy books, his best-known works include American Gods, Coraline and The Graveyard Book, the first book ever to win both the Carnegie Medal in Literature and the Newbery Medal. His book Coraline was even made into a film that received the Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Animated Picture. A Study in Emerald was first published in the anthology Shadows Over Baker Street in 2003. It was later published again in Fragile Things, an anthology of Gaiman's short stories, as well as the periodical New Cthulu: The Recent Weird. An online PDF edition has since also been released: it takes on the form of a Victorian periodical, complete with several humorous advertisements referencing period literature. The story received several awards, including a 2004 Hugo Award for Best Short Story, a 2005 Locus Award for Best Novelette, and was nominated for the 2006 Seiun Award for Translated Short Form.
The story parallels quite closely the opening chapters of A Study in Scarlet, in both structure and set-up. The detective and his friend are also quite clearly set up to be seen as Holmes and Watson despite the narrator concealing their names throughout the piece.
- The murdered prince being Bohemian references A Scandal in Bohemia, one of the most popular Sherlock Holmes stories.
- The alias "Sherry Vernet" is a reference to The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter, where Holmes mentions that his grandmother was the sister of the French artist Horace Vernet.
- The Dynamics of an Asteroid, written by Professor James Moriarty, is first mentioned in The Valley of Fear.
- In The Final Problem, Holmes likewise warns Watson not to take the first cab that comes along.
- "Sigerson" was an alias used by Holmes following his apparent death, mentioned in The Adventure of the Empty House.
- A board game based on this book has been developed by Martin Wallace.
- ↑ Davis, Lauren Davis (2013-04-28). "A Study in Emerald: A Board Game based on the Neil Gaiman Short Story".