It was on a bitterly cold night and frosty morning, towards the end of the winter of ’97, that I was awakened by a tugging at my shoulder.
The Abbey Grange is a grand old study of the master. Early on, Holmes delivers a classic scolding of Watson’s love for the sensational narrative over the instructive examination. The doctor seems, in his writing up of the ensuing case, to take the criticism to heart: here is a story which is thoroughly satisfying precisely because Holmes, his methods and his quirks, are at its very centre.
The principle engine of the story is, however, an uncharacteristic doubt: faced at first with an interesting case, he comes quickly to accept the story of the Lady of the manor which, at first glance, covers all the facts. The exchange in which he discusses his reservations with Watson is vintage Holmes: obsessed over the most trivial, most pertinent, details.
Upon returning to the scene, we are given his analysis – that is, the step-by-step process of observation-to-conclusion – in unusual detail. Once he has his answer, the story moves to its denouement more slowly than is ordinary, dwelling on the process as much as the plot.
Holmes’s Scotland Yard protege, Stanley Hopkins, returns yet again here, and even another exotic past in the colonies is developed just enough. This feels like a story which yields its secrets to Holmes properly – not because Conan Doyle forces it, and not without the reader being able to nod along as the detective detects.
Holmes’s textbook of detection alas never appeared – but in The Abbey Grange the game is instructively afoot anyhow.