Monday, June 20, 2016

Holmes and the street con.

Man, do I love the Sherlock Holmes stories. Even after a good four decades of reading, they still pop up with little unexpected delights, as happened this evening when I was reading the latest issue of The Serpentine Muse, which arrived in the mail today.

Chris Redmond's article "Fun with Sherlock Holmes" to be specific. Chris was writing about parlour games as a sort of Victorian fun Holmes was sure to be aware of, citing the quote from "Three Students" that read:

"Quite a little parlor game -- sort of a three card trick, is it not?"

As Sherlock Holmes and playing cards has intrigued me as far back as at least 1985, when I wrote a little article for our local journal Wheelwrightings called "Holmes and Cards," my ears immediately perked up. This wasn't whist that Sherlock Holmes was talking about, as he hoped to play while awaiting the climax of "The Red-Headed League." It was "a three card trick."

But what "three card trick?" Some sort of magic trick . . . like . . . wait, Now You See Me: The Second Act, which I saw last week, had a thee card magic trick in it, based on the old street hustle Three-card Monte. Could Holmes have been talking about Three-card Monte?

"Quick, Watson, to the Wikipedia!" I exclaimed, and there it was . . . .

Though the real origin of the con is lost to history, as all truly successful crimes must be, "Canada Bill" Jones was traveling Chris Redmond's home turf, honing his Three-card Monte skills, as early as the 1860s. And Canada Bill was a Yorkshire lad who had learned many a con before heading to Canada. And as a British professor named Louis Hoffman published a work called Card Sharping Exposed in 1882 that translated an earlier French work on the subject (French surely being no handicap to Holmes, in any case) from 1861 . . . .

Sherlock Holmes most certainly knew of that three card trick.

And for Sherlock Holmes, whose main focus in his early career was focussing every bit of his learning and attentions on crime, Three-card Monte would be something his mind would pull up first as "a parlour game," since he probably spent very little time in actual parlours playing actual games.

Now one has to wonder how proficient Sherlock Holmes himself was at Three-card Monte, if he made a full study of it in learning of various cons -- con artists surely being a particular delight to a man who loved exposing the facts behind any situation. And that child within us that wants to learn chemistry, bee-keeping, and the violin just because Holmes did now has one more little excitement to pick up on.

Man, do I love the Sherlock Holmes stories. So much fun packed into such a compact package.

No comments:

Post a Comment