Monday, 12 September 2016

Consulting Detective - A Duel to the Death

Written by Joe Pranevich

The “Moriarty” of French warfare

Last week, we “solved” the second of our three mysteries by unraveling a murder plot hatched by a crazy lazy with a superpower. Now that we’re on the third, I’m curious to see if this one references the previous cases or if all three chapters are completely stand-alone.

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?

The lottery that General Armstead participated in was called the “Waterloo Tontine”, a fundraiser for British veterans of the Battle of Waterloo and their families. Half of the money raised went to fund medical care while the remainder was put aside to earn interest. The value of the account will be paid out to the last surviving member of the tontine. The prize is considerable: £500,000 plus fifty years of compound interest. That is a LOT of money. With only six members left and everyone getting up there in years, it’s easy to see why someone had a reason to hurry the process along.

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.

After his military career, Armstead became an art collector and researcher. He authored a book, Treasures of the Conquerors, that told the stories of stolen valuables and their current owners. At the time of his death, he was working on a second edition which would include a newly written chapter on the whereabouts of the Polar Star Diamond, a gem that had once belonged to Joseph Bonaparte. Mr. Smythe tells us that Norgate and Company were the publishers, in case we want to head there later.

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.

Fifteen minutes later, the valet heard sword fighting in the study. He tried to open the door, but it was locked from the inside. He then heard a crash and breaking glass. The only other entrance to the study was through the garden, so he ran out of the house through the kitchen and re-entered through the side door. By the time he arrived, the Frenchman was gone and the general was near to death, slumped against a broken display case filled with military miniatures. He died moments later. The valet searched the room for the letter, but the Frenchman must have taken it with him.

It’s only a flesh wound!

I love this already! We have two separate threads to pull for suspects, the lottery ticket holders and the current owners of the Polar Star diamond. Given the title of this case, the miniatures must play a role as well. Could the general already have had the diamond and hid it in the display case? That seems farfetched, but it would hardly be the strangest thing we’ve seen in this game.

As before, I search the paper first. This murder happened just a few hours ago so there isn’t much:
  • 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.
I suspect I’ll find more leads in the paper once I know what I’m looking for.

A newly unemployed valet.

Last time, I forgot to visit the scene of the crime until far too late. That caused me to miss critical clues about the Society Burglar and threw me down the wrong path. This time, that is where I send Holmes and Watson first. We meet with General Armstead’s valet and he provides us with a few new details: The saber that the general fought with was usually on display above his fireplace. He also tells us of a display of miniatures that the general kept in his study documenting the last British charge at the Battle of Waterloo. But strangely, someone has made a tiny change to the scene: now, Napoleon is standing backwards! He asks the detectives if he should fix it, but Holmes believes that the police will be interested in this clue. (And, I suspect, so should we!)

Maybe Napoleon just needed to pee?

Holmes asks about Mr. Armstead’s relationship with his wife and the valet describes it as strained, not a marriage for love. Lord Fitch, the young lady’s father, arranged the marriage as he did not want to be left with a “spinster” for a daughter. He spiced up the deal with a generous dowry to make up for his daughter’s difficult personality. His son, the current Lord Fitch, did not approve of the marriage but he and the general are now financially tied together with jointly-owned stock and other assets. That gives us a third suspect and motive! The younger Lord Fitch may have little remaining love for his brother-in-law and those assets may have reverted to him on the general’s death. I’ll file that away for later, but that lead seems promising.

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?

With some prompting from Holmes, the valet finally tells us about our murderer. He describes him an an old man, somewhat short, and walked with a cane. He also carried a carpetbag. He would not give his name, instead insisting that the yellowed letter was sufficient identification for General Armstead. The valet got a good look at the envelope and noticed that it was addressed to “Captain” Armstead and listed the name of his old unit. When the general read it, he went very pale and permitted the man to see him. The battle and discovery of his body went just as we were told before.

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.

Thinking over the clues, I suspect we are dealing with an elderly Frenchman who knew Armstead earlier in his career. My next stop then will be the French Embassy where Armstead was scheduled to meet with his friend today. I doubt that Mr. Gerard had anything to do with the murder, but he might be aware of an incident that would shed light on the case.

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?

Another murder!

With one Frenchman down, my next stop is to his other French contact: the man that was to tell him the location of the Polar Star. But when we arrive at his hotel, the valet tells us that he is amazed we got there “so soon”. Mr. Matine had been killed only ten minutes earlier!

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?

Norgate is my next stop. They knew of Mr. Matine and the timing is just too fishy to pass up. We head to their offices and talk to someone who fills us in on more details of the book. We learn that the first edition generated both enormous sales and numerous libel suits. Armstead insinuated that many of the treasures described in his book were not in the hands of their rightful owners and those owners were not happy to be featured. The only thing they know about the current possessor of the diamond is that he’s an Englishman; they needed to find out who from Mr. Matine. Armstead seems to have been very good at giving people motives to kill him!

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”?

Should I believe him? If he’s lying and Vladimir killed Pierre Matine, it doesn’t tell me who killed Armstead. If he’s telling the truth, we still have another killer on the loose that may be silencing everyone who knows of the diamond. Could the mysterious Frenchman have done both murders? It seems implausible as there were different MOs in each case. Matine was strangled, not dueled to death. There’s no matter of honor here. Armstead has a history of dishonorable conduct-- possibly even on the battlefield-- and made many enemies. There may have been a line of murders waiting at his door this morning.

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


  1. I see a couple of minor differences so far between the republished board game and the video game, but nothing that should significantly impact the story or its solution.

    1. Would you mind jotting down your thoughts and posting it when the final post is out? I want to make sure to hear about those differences!

    2. Voltgloss: Would you by chance be interested in writing (with me or alone) a one-off post about the differences between the versions? I desperately want to do it and may try, but I likely will not have enough time... and I don't feel like I've covered this game properly without really taking a deep dive into the source material. If this wasn't the LAST game, I could savor it and spend more time, but right now I'm feeling like we need to close out 1991.

      And that goes for anyone that has the original paper game or the Zojoi re-release and wants to collaborate to talk about the differences. I'd be thrilled if it was a "community" effort. I have both versions (plus the Zojoi re-release), but not the time to do it properly.

      Email me if interested and we'll see if we can work something out... (joe -at-

    3. I'd be honored. Email to be sent shortly.

  2. The Tontine, used in one episode of the Simpson and one Phantom-comic and I actually believe one real Holmes story... or at least in one episode of the Jeremy Brett series. In the Phantom-comic and the Holmes story I think the murderer was one who everyone thought dead, but still had a claim for it and decided to wipe out the competition before "returning from the dead". And in the Phantom-comic the receiver was in fact someone they all forgot about since he was around 80 years old and everyone thought he already was dead.

    And for the backward Napoleon Bonaparte? Well, obviously the victim tried to tell us who it was so he turned Napoleon figure backward to symbolise Etrapanob... E trap nob... It's a trap noob?Admiral Akbar... an Admiral did it ;) But seriously I got no clue.

    1. Regarding your second paragraph... well, this seems apropos:

    2. So you think Armstead is alive? I suppose I could talk to the medical examiner about that...

    3. @Joe Pranevich
      No, he is probably dead, rather someone he thought dead or maybe all of the tontine participants. By the Simpson example, it might be the rightful owner of the treasure they intend to collect... which by rereading it doesn't look plausible since it appear to be a fundraiser. Maybe the fundraiser was issued for one particular soldier who fell at Waterloo... maybe someone who wasn't killed by the french... but backstabbed by the captain? Which the tin soldier would point to with his back turned, but then it wasn't Amsted who turned it, but the unknown frenchman to show the real crime? Maybe someone who actually survived the "backstab", but had to use a cane from then on out and was left in... well, Belgium and adopted french as his languish? Ok, now I'm really invested in this case... so when's the next episode? ;)

    4. I could be wrong, of course, but I don't recall any mention of tontines in the Conan Doyle canon. I think the first time I heard the term "tontine" was actually in this game (which came with a CD-ROM drive I bought in the early 90s).

    5. @Dehumanizer

      I could be wrong, I never read more than a best of Sherlock Holmes book. And the more I think about it, I might confuse it with the Sign of Four which had some sort of ill-gotten treasure divided by British officers. Maybe I tangled it together with the Phantom-comic set around the same era and made some sort of connection? The Jeremy Brett show used to go on sometimes around midnight so might have been half-asleep while watching on a Sunday night.

    6. I too felt like I'd seen this in a mystery somewhere before, but on further research it wasn't in Holmes - it was in Agatha Chrisite. There's a tontine-like arrangement (actually a will settlement, but with the same "final survivor gets it all" motivation for the beneficiaries to off each other) in a Miss Marple book - "4:50 from Paddington" (also published as "What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw").

    7. I have what must be a nearly-complete collection of Agatha Christie novels and story collections, but I don't seem to have that one. :(

    8. @Voltgloss

      Wait, isn't Paddington about... well, I'm gonna spoil this for those who haven't read it, nobhg gur qbpgbe gung xvyyrq uvf svefg jvsr gb pbire hc ur jnf fgvyy zneevrq jura ur jnagrq gb zneel fbzrbar ryfr? Is the tontine a red hearing in that story cause I can't recall it... but then again I only watched the televised version with the witch from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves as Marple.

    9. @Niklas

      Yes, that's also part of the plot in the book. I guess the televised version might have just removed the tontine element.

    10. Which brings us full circle right back to the topic of "changes between versions," because the list of changes between the novel and the Geraldine McEwan TV version is, on Wikipedia at least, twelve bullet points deep! And one of the major changes was the murderer's motivation.

    11. I immediately thought of the Simpsons episode when this game started. And I think I may have seen a similar situation somewhere else in fiction, but don't think it was Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie.

    12. And now I know where I've seen something similar before... an episode of MASH!

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