What’s Five Orange Pips all about?:
Sherlock Holmes’ new client, John Openshaw is worried about a curse that appears to fall on his family. Both his uncle, his father, and now he himself have received five orange pips in the mail with the lettering K.K.K. on the envelope. This appears to be a threat as his uncle and his father have now died in mysterious circumstances after receiving the pips.
What did I think?:
Where do I start with this one? Well, as usual I’ll give a little (spoiler-free, of course) summary of the story and then I’ll try and talk about my very fragmented thoughts on this particular tale. Watson and Holmes are sitting peacefully in the study at Baker Street commenting on a few of their old cases as a gale is howling outside the windows. This provides a perfect opportunity for the next client to come knocking and plead his case to the ever superior Holmes and his willing assistant Watson. The client is John Openshaw and he promises that his case will be one of the strangest that Holmes has ever heard which instantly intrigues our canny detective.
It all started with John’s uncle, Elias Openshaw who emigrated to America as a young man and had a lot of success on a plantation in Florida. He then fought in the army as a Colonel and returned to his plantation where he stayed for a few years before returning to Britain and taking up a small estate in Sussex with his fortune. It is said that he left because he had “an aversion to the negroes, and his dislike of the Republican policy in extending the franchise to them.” Elias was a bit of a belligerent character, not liked by many and enjoyed a drink or three but had a bit of a soft spot for his nephew, John and begged him to come and work on his estate as household manager which John agreed to do. John had no problems with his uncle and they managed to live in harmony together yet John was always curious about one room that was out of bounds which, peeking through the keyhole, seemed to contain only chests and bundles of paper. Then one day at breakfast, his uncle receives an ominous letter postmarked from India which instantly makes him nervous:
“Opening it hurriedly, out there jumped five little dried orange pips, which pattered down upon his plate. I began to laugh at this, but the laugh was struck from my lips at the sight of his face. His lip had fallen, his eyes were protruding, his skin the colour of putty, and he glared at the envelop which he still held in his trembling hand, “K.K.K!” he shrieked, and then “My God, my God, my sins have overtaken me!”
The next day John is called up to the curious room which always remains locked where his uncle is burning papers and making his will with his lawyer. Turns out he was right to do this as after a few tense weeks where his uncle is constantly on edge (and mostly drunk) he is found at the bottom of the garden face down in a small pool. The estate passes to John’s father whom after a few weeks receives the same letter with five orange pips and the K.K.K. marking with the postmark Dundee, letting the receiver know that some “papers” should be placed on a sundial in the garden. John thinks that they should inform the police, but his father doesn’t seem too worried and he tells us, is slightly obstinate, but John is still shocked when he receives a telegram to say that his father has been found dead, apparently after falling over a deep chalk pit. Now John has received the same letter, the same request and the same five orange pips with the K.K.K. marking and he is desperate for Holmes help.
I’m not going to give away the ending but I have to say this has to be the most frustrating Sherlock Holmes story I have read so far. I really enjoyed the build-up, the whole mystery and the way Holmes went about figuring it out. Then, comes the ending and I was so disappointed! Although I think it’s great that Conan Doyle doesn’t end every single Holmes story with him solving the case, catching the perps, getting a pat on the back etc and there are even times when Holmes is beaten, I just really really wanted to have the mystery explained in this case. It’s still bugging me. I am still giving it a three star rating however, as I was captivated by the story up until that point. For people who have read it, did you feel the same as me? I’d love to know.
Would I recommend it?:
Not sure. Probably for the story – not sure for the ending.
Star rating (out of 5):
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