Friday 22 December 2017

The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes - The Secret of the Old Smock

Written by Joe Pranevich

Welcome back! I ended last week stuck: I confirmed that Ms. Carroway’s “secret admirer” wasn’t directly connected to the murder, although it is still suspicious that he and the murderer hung out at the same pub. The tavern keeper at the Moongate pointed me in the direction of the man I believe to be the real killer, a taxidermist named Blackwood, but he didn’t know where the man’s office was and there appears to be no 19th century equivalent of the Yellow Pages that we can search. (Kids, ask your parents.) My only lead was a single taxidermied head hanging in the local tobacco shop.

I’ll spare you all of the random wandering as I found the solution right where I expected it to be. I had been imagining something overly-complicated like mounting a mirror on a stick, but the solution was actually just to move some packing crates across the room and stand on them. Obvious, right? It was not quite that easy because the store clerk initially refused to let us, but Holmes is very persistent and we talk him into it eventually. That doesn’t quite get me what I wanted since the plaque just says that the head was given to John Bradley, the store owner, in 1885. It was a let down, but not a permanent one as we can use the “move” command to look behind the head and find a label on the back of the mount: Oxford Taxidermy, 188 Oxford St. We have a new map location!

Lions and tiger and bears… all dead!

The new icon on my map takes me to a crowded taxidermist’s shop. A man in a smock is busy stuffing a gazelle or whatever it is a taxidermist does. It’s grim business and I am probably better off not knowing. Since I do not know if the man doing the carving is the murderer or not, I start by exploring the room. The walls are covered with preserved animals of all stripes (literally), but I do not see any large white birds that would match the feather I found at the pub. I sift through the tools on both the main table and one off to the side. While most of them are uninteresting, I find what I am looking for: a serrated knife, looking very much like a scalpel, is one of the tools of the trade. I pocket it and hope that the taxidermist doesn’t notice.

Across the room is a second smock, this one much bloodier, that doesn’t seem to fit the man doing the taxidermy now. I finally start to interrogate him and am relieved that he is not the Blackwood that I am looking for, rather an apprentice named Lars Sorenson. His boss is out and he doesn’t know where he is. We ask him about the serrated knife and he tells us that it is for cutting through skin. Holmes fires off at him that it might be a murder weapon, but Lars has never heard of Sarah Carroway and doesn’t seem to be involved in the crime. We keep pushing and he admits that the bloody smock is Blackwood’s and only when he is threatened does he finally tell us that his boss is at an appointment at the Surrey Commercial Docks. He helpfully tells us that his boss has a medium build, gray hair, a top hat, and a monocle. Is it the guy from Monopoly?

Unfortunately, Watson tells us that the docks are too big of a place and without knowing more of where Blackwood is, we can never find him. He suggests that we get Toby, a crime-fighting dog, to help locate Blackwood’s scent. Is that why I needed the smock? It seems like a good idea so we head off on our way.

A private little menagerie.

That gives us yet another new location, “Old Sherman’s” on the south side of the Thames. For all that the taxidermist was filled with dead animals, this place is filled with live ones. What kind of place is this? It looks like an animal warehouse. Toby, or as the game puts it, “Your canine friend, Toby” is laying by the door with Sherman sitting at a nearby table. We make some small talk and Sherman lets us borrow the dog. He hands us a leash and when we use it on Toby, we are automatically taken to the docks. Incidentally, neither Sherman nor Toby are new to this game, both appear in The Sign of Four. I have no recollection of either of them.

Good dog!

Toby leads Holmes through the docks and up to a specific door. Before approaching, I search around and find a hammer and rope in a nearby shed. I can also see that there is a pail sitting far above the door in question. What is it for? This isn’t going to be some comical thing where I set it up that the pail will land on the murderer’s head and everyone has a laugh, right? I explore further. There is a nearby ship which Holmes confirms is used for smuggling. In any event, the door is locked and Watson will not let me break it down using my hammer (because we have no idea what danger may be behind it) so I will have to think of something else. I also learn that Watson left his revolver back at Baker Street and we do not have time to go back there and pick it up now.

Starting to piece it all together, I move a barrel first which lets Holmes climb up to grab the pail. Why I need it, I still do not know. When I pull it down, a rag falls onto the ground and I pick that up too. I try to have Holmes look through or open the window, but it is too dirty. Aha! Is Holmes supposed to clean the window with the rag? I try that and it doesn’t get me anywhere, just moving around the dirt, but I think I am heading in the right direction. If I then use the pail on the nearby river, I can scoop up some water and then put water on the rag. (How clean was London’s water at this time, I have no idea.) With that, I can clean the window and look in. Two men are having a business transaction, including Mr. Blackwood. He is handing over Sarah’s pendant! What to do? Eventually, I realize that now that I know what is going on behind the door, Watson will let Holmes smash it with the hammer and we run in together.

And I would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for you detectives and that mangy dog.

Holmes rushes in and we are greeted with a brief cutscene. I can’t do anything but watch as the fence escapes but Holmes and Watson capture Mr. Blackwood. As fast as it starts, it is over and we are back at Baker Street. Games over? No! We have some dialog where we learn that Lestrade has him and can hold him on a charge of possessing stolen good, but not the murder of Sarah Carroway. Our case isn’t over. We have the murder weapon and the murderer, but no motive and nothing to prove that he was the one that did it. Holmes recommends that we go talk to the prisoner.

I will spare you the details, but we have another brief bit of Scotland Yard bureaucracy where we have to visit the jail, be told that we’re not permitted to see the prisoner, head to Scotland Yard to get a pass, and then back to the jail. It adds nothing but makes the game longer so let’s just skip to the chase.

See? Nothing to it.

We interrogate Blackwood and he is at first very reluctant to talk to us. He tells us that he didn’t intend to kill Sarah, only that he had been hired to steal an envelope that she was supposedly carrying. He was the one that had ransacked both her dressing room and her home looking for it. He only killed her by mistake, but once he did he knew that he needed to make it seem like the Ripper had done the deed. He would have fooled Scotland Yard too, if it wasn’t for me. He claims to be a small-time crook doing work for hire like blackmail. That is the first time that he ever killed anyone.

He also admits that he killed the wrong person: it was Anne Carroway that was carrying the letter, not her sister. The guy that hired him only gave him her last name which seems stupid, especially because he says that when he went back to the mysterious person that hired him, he knew that she had a sister and was very upset that the wrong one was killed. Holmes gets him to admit that the guy that hired him was named “Fitzroy”, but that may have been an alias. Finally, Blackwood will not reveal who he was selling the pendant to. He may have just info-dumped a bunch of stuff, but he’s not going to sell out his friends in the underworld too.

As exciting as this sequence is, I am stuck again. Lestrade and Scotland Yard have nothing new to say, even if the suspect admitted to us that he killed Ms. Carroway, we cannot return to the docks to look for clues, and time still hasn’t passed at the Opera to let me get more information about Anne. I’m carrying around the murder weapon and absolutely no one seems to care. I even check at the rugby pitch to see if Sarah’s boyfriend was named “James Fitzroy”, but that doesn’t work either. I am stuck.

Never underestimate the power of the underclasses.

So, with regret, I turn to another one of the hints from two posts ago, this time from Alex Romanov. There was a plot thread much earlier in the game that I failed to follow up on: There's someone who can help with the cigarettes, but that person is under supervision, you need to distract someone first to get the info.

And of course, it’s obvious when you think about it. I had noted that the game would now let me buy different fragrances and I even picked up one or two, only to restore my game in the event I was spending money that I didn’t have. If you look closely at the counter, you can see that one of the fragrances (“La Cote de Azur”) is all sold out. I then ask for that fragrance and the sales woman has to duck into the backroom to retrieve a bottle. I use that time to interrogate the cleaning lady and she remembers that the person that bought that perfume smoked “Senior Service” cigarettes! It doesn’t seem like much, but I take that information straight to the rugby coach.

Smoking is bad for your complexion.

The rugby coach is finally able to help us: even though there are multiple tall players named James who have oiled dark hair, there is only one tall player named James with oiled dark hair who smokes Senior Service cigarettes. Eureka! Unfortunately, James absolutely refuses to admit that he was dating Sarah Carroway because doing so would land him in trouble with the coach over team rules. I am eventually able to get him to talk to me by showing him the perfume which he purchased for Sarah as a present. He partly admits defeat and claims that it is his roommate that is courting Sarah, not him. But he’ll gladly give us his address so we can go interrogate the roommate. That’s good enough for me!

We meet James at his room and he’s there, alone. We do a quick walk through and it’s clear that while he does really have a roommate, he is interested in chemistry and not rugby. Given that we found rugby clothes in Sarah’s flat, we know already that he is the real boyfriend. Thankfully, he is, although he does not want to talk to us much. He assumes that we are trying to ruin his career by getting him kicked off the team for socializing with the ladies. Unfortunately, he simply does not believe me that Sarah is dead. We have to give him proof, but I do not yet know how to do that. I can find a copy of her death certificate in the morgue, but I am not allowed to pick it up. I suspect I will have to steal it, but I do not see how yet. I’ll leave that as a problem for next time.

Here are my conclusions so far:
  • I was right about the killer, but the “real” killer is whomever hired him. Someone wants an envelope that Anne Carroway is hiding and we need to track it down soon.
  • Anne is in imminent danger. We need to find her soon. I am hoping that her calling in sick today was her knowing to hide.
  • I am not sure if the pendant is a macguffin or a key item in this investigation. Holmes seems interested in tracking down Blackwood’s fence, but I don’t quite see why yet. We might want to recover the lost property, I suppose.
  • James is dimwitted, but once I prove that Sarah is dead, he will help me locate Anne. He has to know where her new address is, right?

Time played: 3 hr 15 min
Total time: 12 hr 45 min
Inventory: message requesting help, business cards, iron bar, perfume bottle, pink carnation, card, sample of powder, cigarette butts, analysis results, a brass key, a large key, opera tickets, a note to enter Anna’s dressing room, cufflinks, wire hook, feather, Catarrh Preparation, serrated scalpel, bloody smock, leash, hammer, rope, wet rag, La Cote de Azur perfume


  1. Great post, you are in the right track !

    1. I am having a lot of fun, but it is a shame that I keep getting stuck on little things like this. I think I have a feel for the way the game thinks so that will help. I am mostly concerned that I am not as far along as I thought I was now that the killer is in jail but he's not the "killer". I have a vague fear I'll be writing about this game until spring!

    2. Yes, this game's plot is surprisingly vast, with numerous plot threads yet to uncover. I'd estimate that you're maybe 45% through. The sequel is even bigger, but isn't able to maintain the same level of pacing.

  2. "He helpfully tells us that his boss has a medium build, gray hair, a top hat, and a monocle. Is it the guy from Monopoly?"

    This made me laugh. :)

    1. if you look at him in jail, he looks kind of monopoly guy, older, with some bad decisions on his shoulders

  3. This game's puzzles are an odd mix of good ones (understanding clues you've found to pick the correct dialogue choices, distracting the perfume shop owner) and a few mediocre ones (the needless Scotland Yard bureaucracy and other cases where it turns out you simply have to keep talking, and some pixel hunting). But even the occasional bad puzzles never are illogical, just blandly straightforward.

    1. This is why I love this series so much, instead of doing a Monkey Island or King's quest clone, they adapted the puzzles to fit a holmesian setting.

      You are not building crazy contraptions, or doing plot unrelated fetch quests. You are just investigating, making deductions, talking with people.

      By the way, this article covers one of the only classical "puzzle heavy" oriented scenes on the entire game, which is the Surrey docks, all that stuff with cleaning the window is like 3 or 4 steps of typical puzzles in a kind of "escape the room" location (you cannot exit it, unless you solve it)

    2. The Holmesian dialogue-heavy approach I love too (I disliked some cheesy inventory combination puzzles in the Holmes games by Frogwares), especially when there is actual thinking involved.

      By "simply have to keep talking", I mean instances such as the first Scotland Yard scene: Duncan doesn't want to call Lestrade. The solution? Talk to the "blind" vendor to unlock the dialogue option to convince Duncan. And if you hadn't done that yet, Watson helpfully points out that talking to the vendor might be useful. No real thinking involved on the player's part, just following basic adventure gaming thoroughness. It's padding, and Duncan should've been able to call Lestrade right away. There are other moments like this but it's among the most egregious ones.

      To be fair, I am nitpicking, and these non-puzzles are relatively few and harmless.

    3. Yeah I get it, there's tons of "just talk to Watson until he points something out", and more conversations unlock. And yes, the game is very long as it is, but still, a masterpiece for me


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