Tuesday ’Tec! The Adventure of the Dancing Men

Cracking the code…


Since spring is almost upon us (that falls decidedly into the category of wishful thinking…), the fretful porpentine has gone into hibernation for a while to recover from the horrors of the winter. So, as well as the approaching return of Transwarp Tuesday!, it’s time for a new series. Don your deerstalker, take a swig from the bottle of hooch in your desk drawer, polish off your little grey cells, and join me for the first…

Tuesday Tec

The Adventure of the Dancing Men

by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle


Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sherlock Holmes is busily showing off his deductive powers to Watson when they are interrupted by the arrival of a new client, Mr Hilton Cubitt. He tells them that there have been strange doings afoot at his manor house in Norfolk – mysterious pictures of dancing matchstick men have been appearing, first in letters sent to his wife, and now scrawled on doors and buildings around the grounds. Mr Cubitt is a good, old-fashioned Englishman, who would never be discombobulated by such childishness. But his wife Elsie is plainly terrified. She is American, and on the day before their marriage following a whirlwind romance, she extracted a promise from Mr Cubitt that he would never question her about her past. So our upright friend has come to Holmes for help to solve the mystery of the dancing men…

Dancing Men 1

Holmes bent over this grotesque frieze for some minutes, and then suddenly sprang to his feet with an exclamation of surprise and dismay. His face was haggard with anxiety.

The Dancing Men (1984)

This may well be the story that really inspired my love of crime fiction, and quite probably influenced me to prefer clues and mysteries to mavericks and gore. It’s one of the many stories in which Holmes actually fails pretty dismally and I fear I can’t let him off the hook very easily – had he sent a telegram when he discovered the truth, all may have been well. However, the story would have been considerably duller and Conan Doyle never made the error of saving an innocent victim or two at the expense of telling an exciting yarn. Holmes, having failed to prevent the crime, sets himself grimly to solve the mystery and get vengeance for his client – a common feature of the stories. For Conan Doyle, it is always more important that the villain should get his just desserts, whether at human or divine hand, than that the crime should be prevented.

“I guess the very best case I can make for myself is the absolute naked truth.”

“It is my duty to warn you that it will be used against you,” cried the inspector, with the magnificent fair play of the British criminal law.


Sherlock Holmes The Dancing Men 2

I love pretty much all of the Holmes stories. They were variable, especially in terms of plotting, but Conan Doyle was such a master storyteller that he could make even the flimsiest plot enjoyable. In this one, the plot is good, but the main emphasis is less on the story or on finding clues than on the breaking of the code and, for me, that’s what makes it such a joy. Watson plays completely fair – we get all the messages at the same time as Holmes does, and the solution makes complete sense. So the reader can either read the story straight through, or do what I did (when I was about 11) and spend hours trying to break the code before reading the solution, Sadly, I now know the story too well to repeat that bit of fun, but there was a time when I was actually able to use the code to write my own secret messages!

So once you’ve read the story (click here) and memorised the code here’s a little bonus message just for you.

Elementary, my dear Watson!

Sherlock Holmes The Dancing Men 3

* * * * *

Little Grey Cells rating: ❓ ❓ ❓ ❓ ❓

Overall story rating:      😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

It's a Poirot!
It’s a Poirot!

* * * * *

(NB The Little Grey Cells rating will measure the mystery element of a story. To get 5 cells and thus become a Poirot, the story must have a proper mystery and clues, and a solution that it’s possible for the reader to get to before the detective.)

48 thoughts on “Tuesday ’Tec! The Adventure of the Dancing Men

  1. FictionFan – Isn’t this a great story!! It was actually one of the first Holmes stories that I read, and helped to get me hooked on the genre :-). I’m glad you found it both ‘tec-y and a good story!


    • I loved this one! It was the fact that we really got all the same clues as Holmes, so his brilliance was obivous when he did what I failed to do. Conan Doyle is such a great storyteller. 🙂


  2. Marvellous, marvellous! I loved this as a youngster and Conan Doyle was a huge influence on me. If I could ever get to a fraction of his brilliance I would be delighted (just recently, though, some naughty people have been distracting me from my proper storyline… can you believe such scamps? 😉 ) I remember my friends and I drawing the stick men all over our school books, it was a sort of threat as I remember (!). Now I must go back and remind myself of the code…


    • Conan Doyle’s style is just so great for this type of adventure story! I loved the Dancing Men – I got a Kindle version once that didn’t have the drawings and I was driven to complain bitterly till they fixed it! (Who would do that?!? *whistles and tries to look innocent*) We could use the code if we ever wanted to send secret messages to each other… *giggles a bit*


      • How could there possibly be a version without the drawings??! Thank goodness for your tenacity or a whole generation could have missed out! You are a hero now. I can see that we might need to send secret messages – it’s the perfect code!
        Also I LOVE the grey cells scoring system! I shall delight in crying – “It’s a Poirot! ” at those deemed worthy. Really bad ones could be a Catchpool 😀


        • I know! Couldn’t believe it! How will we cope in the next war if today’s youth don’t get the chance to learn code-breaking early?? Haha! I’m going to look out for a really bad one now just so I can use ‘It’s a Catchpool!’

          Liked by 1 person

  3. You, madam, are very creative, and I won’t hear you say otherwise! *holds ears in advance* First off, love the new font. I like details like that. The new category is just brilliant. As is the grAy cell smileys.

    *laughs* I think I can picture an 11-year-old FEF working on the mystery. It’s a great image. I was always too…desirous of the answer to do such things.

    So, look here: the coolest thing happened. (No laughing to scorn!) I clicked on the link you gave for the book, and I was able to download it to my computer! It’s in my iBooks. Now how cool is that? I didn’t even know this was possible…and you worry about not being cool…

    Book report: I’m still loving Dune. Almost all finished. Gurney just made peace with LadyJ. Still looking forward to reading the sequel with you as well.


    • *laughs happily* Oh, you! You’ll convince me one day! *shakes head* Thank you very much, sir! I’m running out of smileys now – will have to stop having new categories soon…

      I think I failed, but I comforted myself with the fact that I wasn’t quite as baffled as poor Watson. In fact, that’s a thought that has comforted me often throughout life…

      *doesn’t laugh – well, only a chuckle…or three* Yes! I only knew I could do that because someone told me – and he was even more ancient than me! Maybe old people are better at technology… *thinks of BUS and changes her mind* Project Gutenberg is a great place to get hold of the old classics free. (And if you got an e-reader you could download them to it too.)

      Do you still think Alia’s sweet? Whenever you’re ready to start the next one just let me know… *smiles bigly*


      • I will, that’s right! Yeah, it looks typewriter-ish. Great pic. (Finally glad I get to enjoy the fonts!)

        *laughing lots* And he was a doctor, too! Just think, if the FEF now was reading the book for the first time, well…I’m sure you’d solve it. Your abilities have improved.

        You know, you probably mentioned it to me once upon a time…seems somewhat familiar. Poor BUS! She’s doing better, though. She showed up on my blog, once, you know. That was amazing. (Nick does…maybe I’ll steal his.)

        Okay: you’re right, she’s creepy! But so is Paul at times! Okay, I sure will.


        • *smiles bigly* Glad I finally worked out how to do it – only took me two years!

          *laughs* Maybe…though think how many brain cells must have died since I was 11! *starts counting*

          I may have done, I think. I know! Most impressive! Didn’t she give you a list of books to read too?

          Yes, I have to agree – Paul does get a bit creepy. In fact, none of them really seem particularly normal, now I think of it…


        • *laughing* That’s ’cause I didn’t tell you sooner, see.

          Well, not that many…unless you bang your head a lot. Don’t do that, you know.

          She wants me to read the whole Ender book trilogy thingys…but you said no, and you’re my TBR person, right?

          Except Sting. He’s normally bad.


          • Aha! It’s all your fault! That makes me feel better!

            Well, but, so they say, we lose about 9,000 brain cells a day after age 20 – so since I’m a tiny little bit over 20, I must have lost… well, I don’t have enough brain left to calculate it… Even Professors are losing braincells already, you know, you know, and will soon be older than FF – it’s a worry!

            Ah, but you’re more in tune with BUS books-wise, I think. You should follow her advice. I did, and look what happened to me! *sobs a little*

            *nods* Should have stuck to singing.


            • Everything is my fault…

              After 20?! Rats. Imagine me with even less brain cells. Can you do something about it, please? There has to be a way to grow brain cells. Then again, I never use them much, I’m thinking.

              *laughing* Oh, you’re just perfect. And no! It’s the two of us. Just finished Dune this morning! So, I’ll be ordering the next, and we can start. I may send you an email with all my thoughts. I’m such a bother.

              Such a small part in the book, too!


            • You’ve noticed that too?

              Yep, you’re already on the downward slope. Past your peak! Over the hill! Apparently eating raw fish can help… *fears for Bubbles*

              *preens* I am? I mean, I am!! Yay! I’m so glad you enjoyed it! And I’ll just download the e-book so will be ready as soon as you want to start – the next one is Dune Messiah.


            • No, that’s just what you tell me all the time, so I’ve adopted it.

              Yeah, well…no sushi for this professor! *gags* Yucketh. Bubbles! I forgot about him.

              You is! Dune Messiah…I shall get it forthwith. I’ll have a collection of Dune books soon, I think.


            • Very wise, my fluffy little warrior-babe! *waits to see if he adopts that too*

              Awww! How could you forget poor Bubbles? Just ‘cos he’s forgotten us… *sniffles a bit then flounces*

              My plan is to make you require another bookcase…


            • *mouth drops* Will not nether! Imagine me calling myself that. I think I could be murdered somewhere. *shudders*

              I think I’d like to rampage–the sudden. Every time you flounce you make me want to rampage.

              Another one? I keep a collection of music books, too, you know.


            • *laughs lots* Yes perhaps it’s not the most ferocious sounding title – I shall have a re-think, mon loup!

              It’s all most exhausting, isn’t it?

              Eventually you should reach the stage where you can read while playing guitar…


            • Mon loup is nice! Or the ferocious one. Or…Hector!

              It very much so is, yes. But just think, it kills the calories.

              *laughing* Interestingly enough, sometimes I can daydream. But that might be too hard.


            • *laughing lots* I liked it! That may be something I’d watch, interestingly enough. Hector reminded me of Mr. R, though.

              Aw, thanks! Very thoughtful of you. *takes the cake*

              4 hours? My eyes would fall out.


            • Haha! He is a bit like him! But that Kiki the frog used to drive me insane as a child – I can’t quite remember why now, but I think she was the first fictional character I wanted to stomp on…

              Hoy! Hands of my cake!! *growls*

              That’s OK, you could move on to audiobooks then…


          • *laughing* Yes! Kiki annoyed me as well. Imagine having that for a neighbor. And it even borrowed through their wall!

            But…but… *hands it back* I was just making sure there wasn’t any worms.

            *laughing lots* My ears would be jello, then.


  4. Oh! OH! OHHHHHHHHHHH! you have surpassed yourself, Madam. And, moreover, assured yourself of a double ‘like’ from me, by featuring the wonderful, wondrous Jeremy Brett, who is, as you know, MY piece de resistance as far thesps Sherlockian go. You can keep your Cumberbatches and all the rest.

    Not to mention the appealing image of an inky fingered young FF, wearing a deerstalker, pipe in mouth (unlit, we hope) breaking the code……….


    • Ta very much! Haha! I thought you’d like that pic! I had to get my own fave in too, though…

      I never had a deerstalker sadly, but I may well have been ‘smoking’ a pipe. My dad, being a cigarette smoker, used to get gifts of all kinds of smoking related stuff, including a pipe rack with a couple of pipes which he only smoked once in a blue moon – mainly because we all complained about the blueness of the moon whenever he did! I regularly used to play with them – I was a strange child! Don’t think I ever did crack that code though…


  5. Oh I’m looking forward to more of these as much as I shall miss the fretful porcupine! This is one of the earliest Holmes stories I read and unlike you I was far too impatient to have the answer to try to break the code myself but I always regretted not at least giving it a go!


    • I seem to have acquired a few crime anthologies over the last couple of years so it made sense (well, my kind of sense, anyway) to feature some of them. I think I failed to crack the code, but I remember reading the next little bit where he’d reveal the first letter, and trying again, and then going back to the story for the next hint… a strange child! 😉


  6. “Ira Whitney, brother of the late Elias Whitney, D.D., was much addicted to opium”. The first line of the first Sherlock Holmes story I ever read, and the start of a life-long addiction. Mind you, I didn’t know what a D.D. was, what addiction meant or anything about opium, but I did know how to use a dictionary. I would write “great review” in the Dancing Men code, but I don’t know how to type dancing men! 🙂


    • It’s funny – I was thinking as I compared two books I’m currently reading, one classic, one modern, that I’m glad I grew up with books where the vocabulary was a bit more challenging than it is now. Really once you’ve mastered the f-word these days, it appears you don’t require any further adjectives…or verbs!


  7. Nice review! This was one of the Holmes stories I really love (Speckled Band is another)..especially the cryptography part..and I cracked your code I cracked your code!! Please don’t mind the over enthusiasm..this was one of the few codes I had the patience to solve..keep ’em coming! 😀


    • Woohoo!! You’re the first to crack it, so you get to wear a deerstalker and smoke a pipe!! Congratulations!!

      Haha! I love trying to solve codes too, and I’m very impressed that you managed it! Maybe I should have a code at the end of every one of these posts… 😉 I love Speckled Band too – it’s another of my favourite Holmes stories. And I love the Musgrave Ritual, ‘cos it’s got the riddles to try to solve…


      • Yayy thank you..now if you could just courier the hat and pipe to India.. 😛
        If you like codes/cryptography I would recommend Simone Singh’s ‘The Code Book’, if you haven’t read it already.. 🙂
        I’ve completely forgotten about The Musgrave Ritual..maybe it’s time to revisit Holmes.. 😛
        Waiting for your next post-with-code.. 😀


        • Haha! I’ll send them by carrier pigeon… 😉

          I haven’t heard of that one – I’ll take a look. Thanks for the rec!

          The Musgrave Ritual is great fun, but you have to try to solve the riddle before Holmes does – good luck! 😉

          Working on it…


      • I’m a sick-o-path. I haven’t had the flu in years, and it’s quite potent this year. My husband just became ill, now that I’m returning to something of a normal state today, although still with hacking cough.


        • Euch, flu is horrible. I’ve only had ‘real’ flu once, as opposed to just a bad cold, and I really felt as if death would be preferable at its worst point! Hope you get better soon, though without wanting to sound gloomy, it did take me a while to get back to normal from what I remember… so take it easy.

          Liked by 1 person

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