The Leather Funnel by Arthur Conan Doyle, 1922
The magic trick:
Drawing on real events for a supernatural story
I don’t much like the non-Sherlock portion of Arthur Conan Doyle’s fiction. There’s something of a sad admittance that Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character by even acknowledging Doyle’s existence. It’s easy to forget when you’re reading Sherlock stories. The characters are so vivid, the stories so wonderful. Plus, Dr. Watson is the author, right?
Well, such self-delusions are not so simply with Doyle’s other work. The stories simply aren’t all that great. There are some gems in there, though. “The Leather Funnel” is pretty sinister and scary.
Cleverly, it draws from actual events, or at least from an actual person. The Madame de Brinvilliers really was a terrifying murderer in the 17th century. “The Leather Funnel” brings her back to life in the narrator’s dreams. That’s a pretty terrifying premise for a story, Sherlock or no Sherlock. And that’s quite a trick on Doyle’s part.
“We have already agreed that this is the badge of a marquis or of a marquise,” said he. “We have also settled that the last letter is B.”
“It is undoubtedly so.”
“I now suggest to you that the other letters from left to right are, M, M, a small d, A, a small d, and then the final B.”
“Yes, I am sure that you are right. I can make out the two small d’s quite plainly.”
“What I have read to you tonight,” said Dacre, “is the official record of the trial of Marie Madeleine d’Aubray, Marquise de Brinvilliers, one of the most famous poisoners and murderers of all time.”
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