The Adventure of the Stockbroker’s Clerk does not shine for me; it does not resonate. I am sorry, but that’s the way it is. I don’t deny that it has points of interest, but I’ve already alluded to these points in a previous story that was the topic of discussion at a meeting of Doctor Watson’s Neglected Patients. (The Outpatients met Feb. 3, but not at Pints Pub, which was closed because of a liquor violation.)
You may recall from my trifling monograph on The Crooked Man that I was charmed by Sherlock Holmes’ obvious need to have the company of his old friend Dr. John Watson. In that story, he essentially manufactured a reason why Watson should accomplish him (to act as a witness), but in this story, Watson serves no purpose other than as a companion. (It’s still touching that Holmes requires his Watson, but it’s better handled in CROO.)
Again Holmes says the present case contains those “unusual and outré features which are as dear to you as they are to me.” Mr. Hall Pycroft, a laid-off stockbroker’s clerk, has just landed a job with Mawson & Williams’s, “the great stock-broking firm in Lombard Street.” But that very same day, he is approached by Mr. Arthur Pinner, who offers him a position as business manager with the Franco-Midland Hardware Company, Limited, at five hundred pounds a year, in the firm’s Birmingham office.
But he must report to Birmingham immediately and not inform Mawson & Williams that he has taken another position. Mr. Pinner also asks that Pycroft write and sign a letter indicating his willingness to be hired by Franco-Midland. To seal the deal, Pinner advances Pycroft £100. Pycroft readily agrees to this, especially as Pinner will pay £300 more a year than Mawson & Williams’s.
When Pycroft reports to the temporary Birmingham office and meets Mr. Pinner’s brother, Harry, however, he wonders if the whole business is a hoax. The temporary office is shabby and unfurnished and Pycroft is given make-work. He also wonders at Mr. Harry Pinner’s uncanny resemblance to his brother.
However Pycroft, with the reassuring £100 note in his pocket, tackles his tedious task of cross-referencing businesses from a Paris directory and returns after a week to deliver the results, whence he is given another tedious task. However during this last conversation with Mr. Harry Pinner, he realizes the man shares the same badly stuff gold filling in the exact same tooth as his brother, Mr. Arthur Pinner. Now knowing that he’s been duped, he asks Holmes to investigate.
And now Watson, Holmes and Pycroft are on a train speeding to Birmingham. When they arrive, Pycroft takes Holmes and Watson to meet the putative Mr. Arthur Pinner. Holmes and Watson pose as fellow City friends of Pycroft, also looking for employment with Franco-Midland.
When they meet with Pinner, however, it’s obvious the man is very disturbed. He tries to act interested in hiring Pycroft’s friends, but then blurts out: “I have every hope that the company may accommodate you. I will let you know about it as soon as we come to any conclusion. And now I beg that you will go. For God’s sake leave me to myself!”
Then Pinner hurriedly excuses himself and slips into another room and locks the door behind him. Odd noises from within prompt Holmes, Watson and Pycroft to break down the door, where they find Pinner, who’s tried to hang himself with his own suspenders. They cut down Pinner and revive him. They then learn from the newspaper that Pinner had been reading before his suicide attempt, that a robbery at Mawson & Williams’s has just been foiled and that a suspect was killed. The suspect, a forger and cracksman (safe cracker) named Beddington worked at Mawson & Williams posing as Pycroft.
Holmes had already deduced that Pinner, now revealed from the newspaper article as Beddington’s brother, needed a copy of Pycroft’s handwriting in order for someone to pose as Pycroft at Mawson & Williams’s. He had also explained that the Arthur/Harry imposture was necessitated by their only being two people involved in the scheme. Once Pinner learned of his brother’s death, he hanged himself in despair. Thanks to their rescue, however, Pinner will be going to jail.
I suppose I dislike this story so much because Holmes really does almost nothing beyond explain what is unclear to Watson and Pycroft. And most of the mystery would have eventually been solved even without Holmes’ intervention. In fact, had Holmes not been involved, Pinner would most likely have succeeded in killing himself, saving the crown from having to prosecute him.
This is is clear distinction to The Red-Headed League, which this story so closely resembles. In both stories, someone is kept away from a place of business by giving them busy work, but in REDH, Holmes and Watson are instrumental in the capture of John Clay.
This story hardly best illustrates Holmes’ powers of observation and deduction. There is curiously little risk in this story as well. The Beddington brothers surely would have been better served if they’d killed Pycroft after they had obtained a handwriting sample. The brother who was killed had killed the nightwatchman at Mawson & Williams, so it was obvious the duo would not stop at murder.
In the end, there is nothing wrong in this story, it‘s just not very exciting or perplexing and is too similar to a far better story. But next month, the Outpatients will meet at 12:30 p.m. March 3 at Pints Pub to discuss The Naval Treaty, a much more satisfying tale. Check our facebook page to make sure Pints Pub has reopened.