Those boys from The Final Podblem pack so many observations into a reading of a Sherlock Holmes story that occasionally the drop a thought that makes me go, "Somebody really should pick that up!" And most times I don't make a note, or don't get time to follow up, but this week they hit a particularly choice one, so I grabbed a piece of paper and made myself a note.
As they walked through "The Empty House" this week, Nick and Casey came to Watson approaching the part of Park Lane where the murder of Ronald Adair took place. Watson sees and small crowd has gathered and writes: "A tall, thin man with coloured glasses, whom I strongly suspected of being a plain-clothes detective, was pointing out some theory of his own while the others crowded round to listen to what he said."
"It sounded to me like the gentleman dressed like Dracula from 'The Retired Colourman,'" Casey observed.
"Oh, maybe it was him!" Nick promptly agreed. This is a slightly abbreviated version of the conversation, but only slightly. I was immediately going "Wait! Detective Barker! Let's discuss!" as one does with good podcasts, at least mentally, as the hosts move on.
Let's talk about that fellow from "Retired Colourman," "my friend Mr. Barker," as Holmes calls him.
"A dark man with gray-tinted glasses and a large Masonic pin projecting from his tie," as Watson writes him, as well as an earlier description, "He was a tall, dark, heavily moustached, rather military-looking man." There's even a third use of "tall" to describe him, so he definitely fits the bill of the tall detective-seeming fellow in "Empty House."
Sherlock Holmes refers to Barker as "my hated rival upon the Surry shore," which makes one wonder if Barker didn't decide to take up Holmes's profession after Sherlock Holmes "died" in 1891, putting him in just the spot to be theorizing about the Adair murder to try to advertise his detective skills on the streets. But we needn't stop at that simple origin.
His name is Barker. He's tall. He has dark features. He's buddies with a detective. He would be keenly interested in Moriarty's demise and inspired by Holmes's sacrifice.
And that's a guy we have definitely seen before.
Cecil Barker of The Valley of Fear. Tall, with a fighter's face, strong black eyebrows and "masterful back eyes" . . . just no moustache as yet. He understood a crime scene, even then. And both Barker of The Valley of Fear and Barker of "The Retired Colourman" are described as looking "stern" as some point in each narrative. This has to be the same guy!
Checking the Annotateds, there seems to be no note of anyone going "Hey, Barker is Barker!" but probably just trusting that a.) Watson doesn't recognize Barker in "Retired Colourman," and b.) Holmes actually says, "You had not met Barker, Watson." Both points can be easily discounted because a.) It's been over ten years, Barker now has a moustache and sunglasses, and Watson didn't even remember him in "Empty House," and b.) Remember that whole thing about how Watson heard about Moriarty in The Valley of Fear and then forgot about it in "The Empty House?" Well, if he can forget about Moriarty, he can certainly forget the face of Cecil Barker.
The full life story of Mr. Cecil Barker and his rise as a detective would make an excellent read, and I'm probably a complete fool for writing this blog post and not a novel series featuring the man. But, hey, such things take time! Feel free, anyone with the time to take up that task. I'll buy your book!