The story revolves around the history of a young man who went by the name of John Openshaw whose uncle had adopted him. His uncle had died in a mysterious, sinister way after receiving a letter containing five orange pips with the letters K. K. K printed on the front of the envelope. The same fate had overtaken John’s father and now John himself had received the same said letter and was excusably terrified of meeting the same gruesome end, this was why he had come to call upon Holmes in an effort to try and get some help.
Holmes however just sent him away though advising him to be careful and then explains to Watson that;
“The ideal reasoner, would, when he has once been shown a single fact – deduce from it not only the chain of events which led up to it, but also the results which would follow from it. ” However, Holmes knows something which Watson hasn’t deduced that those sinister letters K.
K. K stand for Ku Klux Klan, a racist society based in America and created in Pulaski who murdered for racist reasons. Given that the first two gentlemen who received the letter had died unknown deaths it doesn’t take a genius like Holmes to work out that John was now in the same boat.
What however we don’t know at this point is whether or not Holmes would be able to save him from the same sticky end as the former letter receivers.
The method that Holmes uses to solve this case is very different from the rest of the cases he has written and uses methods which we would have thought was common police work. He uses the post mark on the letter to guide him through the mysteries of the case, the trail leads to him finding out that at each time a letter was posted a particular ship ‘The Lone Star’ was nearby at each relevant time of the posting.
This is definitely thorough work but not cleverly deductive which is Doyle’s usual style of writing. Most of the excitement in the story lies in the terrifying, Gothic atmosphere which seems to play a big part in the suspense of the story. Conan Doyle employs pathetic sophistry to create a sense of terror: “All day the wind has screamed and beaten against the windows… we were forced… to recognise the presence of those great elemental forces which shriek at mankind through those bars of his civilisation, like untamed beasts in a cage.
” The suggestion that all that separates from these elements is a thin glass pane makes us see how close the danger really is, and how our safety is only an illusion. Conan Doyle then adds: “The storm grew higher and louder, and the wind cried and sobbed like a child in the chimney. ” Adding a touch of pathos through this use of personification. The sense of vulnerability her shows that Doyle was able to create male as well as female characters who appear to be terrified victims of powerful and mysterious evil forces.
The ominous effect is heightened by the fact that we never see hide or hair of these murderers who mysteriously disappear at the end of the story. Once again Sherlock Holmes has successfully solved a case though over here he didn’t manage to capture them, rather Mother Nature took a hand and the murderers were presumed drowned. The Victorian reader who has been held in suspense for the part when the criminals were caught is still satisfied by the ending and Holmes still manages to keep credit for the identification and hunt of these heavenly punished assassins.