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Inknbeans Press

The Death of Cardinal Tosca

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Editor's Notes

In the second box of Dr. Watson’s papers (the “dispatch-box”) from London I discovered a thick envelope, sealed with a wax seal and the impression of a signet with the initial ’S’. On the back flap were written, in that splendidly scrawling but legible hand with which I am now familiar, the words “Not to be opened before September 25, 2014”.

Dare one disobey the instructions of Sherlock Holmes? Dare one cross swords with the great detective and defy his will, even long after his death?

For a long time this envelope stood on my desk, Holmes’ words ringing in my ears as I contemplated them. In my mind’s eye I could see all those famous actors who have sought to bring back to life that most famous adventurer of the London fogs. Basil Rathbone’s finger wagged at me. Benedict Cumberbatch’s sneer of disdain was directed at me. And Jeremy Brett simply turned his back on me in disgust.

But yet... I had to know more. What was there in this envelope that had to remain hidden for so long? It was almost certainly another adventure that Holmes and Watson had shared, which had not been published, for reasons unknown. But what? The game was afoot.

With a prayer to the saint who protects the overly curious, I slit open the envelope. As well as the expected manuscript, written in Watson’s crabbed hand, some newspaper clippings dealing with the outbreak of the Great War, and a letter, written in another, strangely familiar style, appeared. It took me a little time, but I recognised the handwriting as that of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, John Watson’s literary agent. On reading this, I realised that I had stumbled upon a matter—the death of Cardinal Tosca—which was of great significance at the time it was written, and still had resonance today.

Naturally, I could not resist reading Watson’s account, and to my surprise, found that the case of Cardinal Tosca was much more complex and had far more wide-reaching implications than I would ever have imagined.

Watson writes about his friend’s “famous investigation of the sudden death of Cardinal Tosca - an inquiry which was carried out by him at the express desire of His Holiness the Pope” in Black Peter, but never tells us more. Many people have guessed that Holmes was summoned to Rome to investigate a death in the Vatican. The truth is actually more complex than that, and involves Mycroft once again—who seems to have acted as the éminence grise of the late Victorian and early Edwardian governments.

I reflected on whether to publish this case, and decided that the dangers to the British way of life that Holmes (and Doyle) feared in 1914 no longer applied.

The roles of religion and the monarchy in the life of the nation have changed almost beyond recognition, and the problems that beset the Edwardians have largely been resolved—at least to the point where they would no longer be an issue in determining the publicity or otherwise of this case.

This edited and corrected manuscript has now been published by Inknbeans Press and is available in print and ebook format.