Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Mystery of Cloomber

I ran into a reference to this work, The Mystery of Cloomber, quite by accident, searching for something else. I know Doyle had written other types of works in addition to his Sherlock Holmes series, but this was one I hadn't heard about before.

This isn't a Holmes-Watson tale, but, frankly, it could have been. It's set in Scotland, off the coast of the Irish Sea. The countryside is described in part as being as unappealing and frightening as the Moor in The Hound of the Baskervilles.

John Fothergill West, his sister, and his father have moved here because of the kindness of his father's stepbrother. The stepbrother, advised by his physician to seek a warmer climate, was going to move to Italy, and he asked John's father if he would like to move into his place while he was gone and act as steward. Being in financial difficulties at the time, the offer was immediately accepted.

Shortly after moving there, John, the POV character, discovered that the long abandoned Cloomber Hall had been taken up once again, apparently by a wealthy family, for considerable money was spent on repairs.

But, this wasn't just an ordinary move into a neighborhood by ordinary people. The family consisted of Major-General J. B. Heatherstone, Ret., his wife and son and daughter. John West first met Heatherstone the night Heatherstone came to look over the place. It was dark, and when Heatherstone saw West in the light of the lantern, he jumped back, became very agitated and remarked that West's skin was very dark, that he wasn't an Englishman. The property agent with Heatherstone reassured him that West was an Englishman and that there was no need to be alarmed. Several days later, they met again in the daylight, and Heatherstone apologized, but again remarked that West was darker than the people in the area usually were. West said it was because he had Spanish blood.

Further curious episodes occurred. Heatherstone had a high fence built entirely surrounding the house and grounds. The maids were from London, thus depriving the villagers of the endless amount of information that could be counted on if some of the domestic staff had been local people. Furthermore, when the Wests' went to pay their first neighborly call on the new family, they found the following sign by the gate:
"General and Mrs. Heatherstone
have no wish to increase the circle
of their acquaintances."

In addition, the Heatherstones become quite popular with the local stores for they lay in a supply of food for months, much as if they expected to be enclosed in a siege.

However, Heatherstone's son and daughter, Mordaunt and Gabriel, respectively, feel quite differently about increasing their circle of acquaintances, and in time John and his sister Esther become well acquainted with Mordaunt and Gabriel. The Wests eventually learn that the Major-General isn't always like this; it is only as they approach Oct. 5 that he becomes so frightened and agitated. Once October 6 arrives, he becomes his old self again, only to fall into a depression as Oct. 5 comes around once again.

The Major-General asks the Wests to be on the lookout for strangers, vagabonds, gypsies, "that sort of people" who arrive in the neighborhood.

A brief search of the India Army list reveals that Major-General Heatherstone had been stationed in India for a number of years and had taken part in several significant and bloody battles.

Curious and curiouser: the man served in India, the mysterious East, the home of wisdom and powers unknown to Europeans; his fear that increased every year as they approached an anniversary? of something; his attempt to build an impregnable fortress and avoid contact with people; and his fear especially of darker skinned people.

I kept expecting Holmes and Watson to appear on the scene. But, I guess they were busy at the time, and I had to go it alone, relying solely upon my own poor powers of deduction.

The inside front cover blurb reads: "Master of detective fiction, Arthur Conan Doyle here presents an extraordinary tale..., revealing his deep fascination with spiritualism and the paranormal."

It's an interesting story, not as strong as Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles, but still an interesting short novel.


  1. I read this book about 2 years ago as a download ( on my pda ) from . I was looking for something with a gothic feel to it, and this book fit the bill. I kind of liked that Holmes wasn't in it. It gave me a chance to see how the author could handle something different.

  2. Cheryl,

    I found my copy in the library, much to my surprise. I didn't expect to find it there.

    I enjoyed the story. Have you read any of Doyle's "Professor Challenger" stories? Those probably would be classified as SF today.

  3. Did you ever think of starting your own online reading group? You've written about some interesting books of different genres on your blog. The groups I belong to
    ( Yahoo ) have gotten a little stagnant, and I'd be interested in something different. Just a thought.

  4. Cheryl,

    What kind of format were you thinking about?

  5. Fred,

    It'd be up to you. Novels, but unlike so many groups it wouldn't be limited to a specific genre. I know on Yahoo the groups are mostly broken up into categories (i.e. classics, horror, SF, mystery, mainstream, etc.). I think it'd be more interesting if all of theses categories - and others - would appear in one single reading group. You could do the picking of the monthly read - at least at first - or at least suggest the category of the month, so appropriate books would be nominated. Totally up to you, of course. I think people in the groups you belong to would be interested. You could "put out feelers" to see if others might be interested.

  6. Cheryl,

    It's something to consider, but right now I really wouldn't have the time. I'm in four face-to-face groups and seven groups on yahoo, in addition to this blog. I will keep your suggestion in mind.

    Have you considered doing it yourself?