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"The Lowther Park Mystery" is a Sherlock Holmes short story by Lyndsay Faye. It was first published in The Strand Magazine, and later included in her collection The Whole Art of Detection: Lost Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes. In it, Holmes and Watson must defend the safety of the Empire by attending a formal tea at Mycroft's request.

Plot[]

Holmes informs Watson that he has received a strange and particularly unpleasant request from Mycroft: he has been asked to attend a formal tea being held that afternoon at Lowther Park, an estate near London. The host is one Damien Kenworthy, a wealthy and well-connected young politician who was recently chosen to oversee the modernization of Britain's telegraph lines. Kenworthy proposed to use a Spanish telegraph company, the Compañía Telegráfica de Murillo, as a model. However, Mycroft had discovered that the company did not exist. Suspecting the young man to be compromised, he has asked Holmes to watch Kenworthy carefully for any suspicious behavior, as his knowledge of government secrets could make him a threat if he turned traitor. Holmes reluctantly agrees to take the assignment, but asks Watson to join him.

The pair arrive at Lowther Park and find the estate filled with the cream of London society. Kenworthy greets them enthusiastically when they enter the house, and introduces them to Francisco Murillo, the ex-president of the Compañía Telegráfica de Murillo. Murillo explains that he met Kenworthy at a diplomatic function the previous week, and had sent him the study of his company when he learned it might be useful to Kenworthy's work. However, as his business in London has concluded, he will be returning to Barcelona the next day, and excuses himself to make his farewells. Holmes and Watson are next approached by Miss Jacquelynn Bost, a society writer who is an avid reader of Watson's work for The Strand, much to Holmes' chagrin.

At that moment, the party is interrupted by shouts of theft from Murillo, who appears waving an empty briefcase. He claims that the briefcase, which had been locked in Kenworthy's study, contained over two thousand pounds in valuable securities and deeds. Kenworthy appears beside him, shocked, exclaiming that he had the only key. Miss Bost excitedly suggests that Holmes investigate the crime, and Kenworthy accepts.

He leads Holmes and Watson to the study. Watson immediately notices scratches around the door's lock, which Holmes carefully examines. Holmes confirms that Kenworthy left the briefcase on the desk, then undertakes what seems to Watson to be an uncustomary cursory sweep of the room. To everyone's shock, Holmes announces that he is defeated; the theft must have been the work of a master criminal, as he can find no clues in the room besides the scratches on the lock. Furthermore, the lock itself is of a particularly difficult design, which even Holmes would struggle with. Holmes proposes the only avenue left is to carefully interrogate the guests, then dourly stalks out of the room, leaving Kenworthy and Murillo slumped in dismay.

Watson catches up with Holmes in the hallway, and is shocked to see his gloom turned to delight. Holmes explains that the crime scene he saw was utterly impossible to be solved, and that it would be a waste of time to question the guests. Murillo and Kenworthy reappear, and Holmes flippantly asks them not to spread word of his failure to solve their mystery. Murillo announces he must leave at once to catch his ship, but Holmes demands to see his briefcase. When he insists, Murillo attempts to flee, and Holmes chases him down, finally tackling him in the carriage drive. Holmes is wounded when his arm breaks a window in the scuffle, but he and Watson finally subdue Murillo. Holmes searches the briefcase, and finds a secret compartment filled with government documents.

Whitehall agents arrive soon afterwards to arrest Murillo and Kenworthy. While Watson tends to Holmes' wound, Holmes explains the case to him. Kenworthy had evidently needed money, and arranged to sell secret military papers to cover his debt. He had hired Murillo as an accomplice and presented him as the president of the fictional telegraph company, which he had not anticipated would be discovered so quickly. Murillo would be able to perform his charade of having his briefcase robbed. After Murillo had left the country, the documents would be discovered to be missing. Kenworthy would then be able to pin the theft on the Spaniard, claiming he had been the victim of a hoax perpetrated by a cunning spy - after all, Murillo's telegraph company had never existed. Holmes, of course, immediately knew the theft was a ruse after seeing the lock; no criminal capable of opening such a subtle device would leave such clumsy scratches.

Shortly afterwards, a popular women's magazine publishes a writeup of the case by Miss Bost, earning Watson a grudging admission from Holmes that his stories for The Strand are, if only by comparison, "highly literary".

Trivia[]

  • Jacquelynn Bost tells Holmes she recognized him immediately from Sidney Paget's illustrations for "The Adventure of the Red-Headed League".
  • The lock on Kenworthy's study door is described as a Protector lock, an "unpickable" model designed in the 1850s by the American locksmith and inventor Alfred Charles Hobbs (1812-1891).
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