|The “Moriarty” of French warfare|
This story begins in Baker St. as Holmes and Watson are sought after by Inspector Smythe of Scotland Yard. As usual, the Yard has a case they cannot solve: a former soldier in the Napoleonic wars, General Farnsworth Armstead, has been murdered. He was a member of a curious lottery where the man who lived the longest would receive a significant cash sum. His death means that there are five remaining participants and five very good motives for murder. Mr. Armstead is also the author of a tell-all book about various “treasures” and may have been about to reveal the secretive owner of the Polar Star Diamond. Two lines of investigation but only one dead body. This should be fun!
|Inspector Smythe. Maybe Lestrade was on holiday?|
I had to look it up, but it seems that tontines were a real thing in the 18th and 19th centuries, but they are banned today in many countries. Apparently, creating a reason for you to want to murder your fellow investors is looked down upon. It appears that real tontines paid out proceeds to survivors over time in addition to the lump sum at the end. Fraud was a major problem in these early contests, especially at a time when birth and death records were not as well-documented. Smythe provided Holmes with the list of our five tontine suspects: Captain Robert Juergens, Ned and Clarence Thomas, William Rowland, and Peter Dudley. Up until his duel, Armstead was the youngest of the bunch, a youthful 74-years old.
|Armstead was also an author and art collector.|
All of those potential motives out of the way, Smythe finally tells Holmes what happened: at 10:00 AM this morning, an elderly French man came to General Armstead’s front door. He was greeted by his valet and told that Armstead did not take guests in the morning, but the gentleman was insistent and claimed that the general would make an exception for him. He gave the valet a letter to deliver to Armstead, suggesting that once the general saw the letter he would agree to meet. He was right: Armstead agreed to the meeting and the valet showed the visitor to the general’s study.
|It’s only a flesh wound!|
As before, I search the paper first. This murder happened just a few hours ago so there isn’t much:
I suspect I’ll find more leads in the paper once I know what I’m looking for.
- A banquet to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Waterloo survivors is coming up and all of the tontine members are expected to attend. The article says that I can get further information from either the Langham Hotel or the Times.
- Norgate and Company was already advertising their new edition of Treasures of the Conquerors, complete with a blurb about the Polar Star discovery.
|A newly unemployed valet.|
|Maybe Napoleon just needed to pee?|
The valet continues his info-dump by explaining to Holmes that at the time of his death, the general was working on the new chapter about the Polar Star. Fortunately, he told his valet some of the details: the gem had last been owned by the Russian Count Rostov but was stolen three years ago. Armstead recently received an offer from Pierre Matin to reveal the identity of the current owner... for a fee. The valet even tells us that Mr. Matin is staying at the Bridge House Hotel if we care to pay him a visit. We also learn that the general was supposed to visit with an old friend today, Jean Paul Gerard, at the French embassy. They hadn’t seen each other in nearly forty years. Could he be another suspect?
|A champion fencer in his youth?|
Holmes asked about the study doors: they were still locked on the inside when the valet found them. Since the only two doors into the study were through the kitchen or the garden, the killer must have gone out the other way. But in that case, why didn’t the valet see him leave? The garden was surrounded by an 8-foot tall fence so either he hid in there, the valet knows more than he’s letting on, or he had prepared some form of escape. My best guess so far is that the letter accused the general of an act of cowardice during the war, symbolized by Napoleon’s turned back. General Armstead felt his honor challenged, fought and lost the duel with his opponent who subsequently escaped. Our job then would be to figure out what was in the envelope and who felt the need to approach General Armstead with this now. This would mean that all three other leads (the Polar Star, the Waterloo Tontine, and Lord Fitch) are red herrings, but we may find a connection down the road.
Since Lestrade was essential last time (he had the only clue I found to the gun dealer), I try him again in this case. Unfortunately, he seems back to his old unhelpful self. His team has assembled a list of suspects, but they won’t share it with us. That’s a dead end.
|An old friend in a dimly-lit room.|
We meet with Mr. Gerard in a parlor in the embassy and get his story. He and Armstead had been stationed together for a year in war college and had become good friends. He tells us that the general was a womanizer even after his engagement to Mary Fitch, the future Mrs. Armstead. His secret nickname for her was “horseface”. Armstead saw his time in France after his engagement but before his marriage as his last “great freedom”. During these dalliances, the future general fell in love with a girl that he called his “little flower”, but he knew that he had to keep his promises to Lord Fitch for his own future. This hurt Armstead deeply and he seemed very sad over the loss of his love. Pierre tells us that last week was the first time he had seen Armstead in 40 years. They dined together and saw a French opera. In their interactions, the general seemed upbeat, excited for both the tontine and the work he was doing on the Polar Star. We also learn that Armstead spoke French, but I do not know if that will be important later. It’s hard to fully discount Pierra as a suspect because he is an elderly Frenchman who walks with a cane just like our murderer. Did the valet ever meet Mr. Gerard? Would he have recognized him?
He tells us that just prior to the murder, a large Russian man came to the hotel and asked for Mr. Matine. The front desk thought nothing of it and sent him straight up to his room, but he came down running a few minutes later. The staff didn’t realize anything was amiss until the porter went up to deliver a wire that had just arrived. When he got to the room, he found Mr. Matine dead but no blood. An inkwell had been knocked over in a struggle and inky footprints led out the door. Homes suggests that the man was strangled. We inquire about the wire and discover that it came from Armstead’s publisher. They were trying to get in touch with Mr. Matine to see if he would sell the information to them directly, presumably so they could still finish the book without General Armstead. It seems a bit premature given that he only died this morning, but the potential value of the updated book makes it understandable that a publisher would not want to take any chances.
Could both murders relate to the Polar Star? Did someone at Norgate have General Armstead killed so that they could learn the whereabouts of the diamond themselves? That seems crazy, but possible. Could the Russian man that apparently strangled Mr. Matine be related to Count Rostov? Is he trying to recapture the gem himself? How does any of this connect with our honor killing? We’ll have to keep digging.
|An evil publishing magnate?|
What thread should I pull on next? I can keep following the Polar Star leads or go back to Lord Fitch or the tontine suspects. I decide to keep working on the diamond for now. I send an Irregular to the Russian Embassy and find out that Count Rostov is staying at De Keyser’s Royal Hotel. I select to head there next and Holmes gets an audience with the count. He admits that his valet, Vladimir, had gone to speak to Mr. Matine but that he was dead before he arrived. For obvious reasons, he has also been investigating the theft of his diamond and had discovered that Pierre Matine’s brother, Andre, was the original jewel thief. Vladimir had hoped to get the current location of the diamond from Pierre but someone must not want that getting out.
|Excuse me sir, can you say “nuclear vessel”?|
With that thought, it’s time to end for this week. I’m enjoying this episode a lot, even if I seem to be getting longer info-dumps than in some of the previous cases. There is a lot of evidence to cover and many possible suspects! What do you think? Both of the previous cases fell down a bit as we approached the finish line. Will the same happen here? I guess we’ll find out in a few days!
But, before we get to the epic conclusion, we have one fantastic surprise in store: David Marsh, the art director for Consulting Detective, as well as one of the designers behind Deja Vu, Shadowgate, The Uninvited, Dracula Unleashed, and many more games will be speaking to us in a special interview. He’s absolutely fantastic so set an alarm for this Friday and make sure to check it out.
Time played: 1 hr 05 min
Total time: 7 hr 00 min