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"The Adventure of the Mad Baritone" is a Sherlock Holmes short story by Lyndsay Faye, first published in The Whole Art of Detection: Lost Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes. In it, Holmes must determine the motive behind the mysterious repeat kidnapping of a vagrant singer, and whether the man is who he believes himself to be.

Plot[]

A stormy November night brings a dramatic scene to 221B Baker Street, when an armed man bursts in and threatens to commit suicide in front of Holmes and Watson. After Holmes calms him down, he introduces himself as Horatio Falconer, a former opera singer who has been reduced to vagrancy as a result of alcoholism. He alleges that he is being subjected to a strange harassment: he has been kidnapped three times. No-one believes him, least of all the police, dismissing his story as a drunk's ravings.

He tells Holmes that the first kidnapping occurred about a fortnight ago. After a day of street-singing at Covent Garden, he blacked out at a bar and awoke in a strange bedroom, with a feeling of being drugged. A window lit the room with a strange blue light, and from downstairs he could hear a woman's voice pleading and weeping, and a man refusing her request. After some time his kidnapper, a tall man dressed in black and hooded, enters and presses a chloroform rag to his nose. This has happened twice since, most recently last night. To Holmes' disappointment, Falconer can only offer few details about the neighborhood outside the window, consisting of rundown brick row-houses common across London. Nevertheless, Holmes agrees to take the case for free.

The next morning, Watson asks whether it is possible that Falconer's experiences are a delusion induced by his alcoholism; however, Holmes insists they are genuine. He tells Watson that he intends to watch Falconer carefully, as he has misgivings about the case.

Holmes remains busy for the next few days, going in and out in a number of disguises. Eventually he takes Watson to Ainsley Street, a small, dingy street off Bethnal Green Road that closely resemble's Falconer's account. Holmes points out a bright blue light marking a police substation, and tells Watson that the house to the left of the station belongs to a tall physician by the name of Elijah Ashman. After a while a woman emerges. Holmes and Watson stop her, and she introduces herself as Mrs Sarah Pattison. She tells them Dr Ashman is a psychologist and friend of her brother James, and is currently attempting to treat her brother after a fall into alcoholism. She gladly allows them to escort her back to her home near Trafalgar Square.

In the carriage, Mrs Pattison explains that James fell in with a bad company and has nearly ruined himself. Mrs Pattison provided him with an allowance to live, but she has recently directed then to Dr Ashman instead to settle her brother's debts. Tragically, she informs them that her brother has lost his mind: he no longer recognizes her, and believes himself to be an opera singer. She confirms that she frequently used to visit her brother at Dr Ashman's; however, his condition deteriorated significantly about a month ago, and Dr Ashman has since not allowed her into his room for her safety. She informs them that she will soon have to put her brother in an asylum. Holmes, however, insists that she should not allow her brother to be put away without attempting to bring him to his senses in person one last time. She agrees, on the condition that Holmes and Watson accompany her. After Mrs Pattison gets off, Watson questions if Falconer is indeed completely mad; however, Holmes suspects foul play, and sends a note to Falconer insisting that he not resist if he is kidnapped the next night.

The next night, Holmes and Watson return to Dr Ashman's clinic, where Inspector Bradstreet is waiting on Holmes' instructions. Mrs Pattison arrives, and Holmes explains Bradstreet's presence as a necessary protection in a neighborhood as dangerous as Bethnal Green. Before they enter, she tells Holmes that her brother's full name is James Abergavenny. Dr Ashman opens the door, and Holmes insists that Mrs Pattison be allowed to see her brother. When Ashman refuses, Inspector Bradstreet produces a warrant, and restrains him as Holmes heads upstairs. They release Falconer, who has been locked in the room, and Mrs Pattison is shocked to see that he is not her brother. Holmes declares that Abergavenny has likely been missing for a month, and Ashman is promptly arrested.

On the way back Baker Street, Holmes explains that he never doubted Falconer - while Mrs Pattison's story was plausible, he detected genuine training in his voice. It is later revealed that Ashman killed Abergavenny in a drunken dispute, accidentally stopping his primary source of income. When he heard Falconer singing at Covent Garden, he recognized the similarity of his voice to Abergavenny's. This formed the basis of his plan to convince Mrs Pattison that her brother was still alive, and thus keep her money flowing into his pockets.

Following his experiences, Falconer sobers up and returns to professional singing. Mrs Pattison, however, is less happy with the outcome, as she preferred to think her brother mad than know that he was dead.

Trivia[]

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