Did you know that, over the course of 56 short stories and 4 novels, Arthur Conan Doyle introduced us to twenty-five Scotland Yard Inspectors, fourteen Constables, three French inspectors, two Pinkerton Agents, one German Inspector, one private detective, and one New York City cop in a pear tree? That might seem hard to believe, considering most adaptions only focus on G Lestrade (he of the first initial and no canon given name) or Tobias Gregson, but there was an exhaustive cast of supportive Yardies and other law enforcement personnel bumping heads with and lending a hand to Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. And they get forgotten way too often.
A lot of what looks like favoritism or forgetfulness might be nothing more than quantity – Lestrade shows up in eleven of the Sherlock stories and two of the novels – the two more well-known and more frequently adapted, A Study in Scarlet and The Hound of the Baskervilles. The frequency of his appearance means we have far more time to get to know him and for Doyle to develop his character. His continued antagonism of Holmes and his frequent disrespect of Holmes’ skills also makes him a popular friendly foil. Gregson’s adaption popularity probably stems in part from his long-standing feud with Lestrade, and the fact Holmes considers him the smartest of the Yardies. In fact, in A Study in Scarlet, Holmes refers to Gregson and Lestrade as “the pick of a bad lot.”
Quick historical sidebar (I promise it’ll be quick) – Scotland Yard (aka the Metropolitan Police Force) was a fairly young institution at the time Doyle was creating the likes of Lestrade and Gregson. Policing in any form close to what we’re used to didn’t come to exist in England until the Metropolitan Police Act of 1829. Previously, London had been overseen by the Marine Police Force (created in 1798), the Bow Street Runners (1749), and the Bow Street Horse Patrol (1805). None of these groups had extensive governmental oversight. Previous experience with less than entirely moral and law abiding “cops”- both before the MPS was created and after – led to considerable distrust of the police. When you take into account unofficial “thief-takers” who would extort victims in order to get the criminals that wronged them punished, the public just had more reason than ever to not trust the “official” versions blessed by the government. It took time, and some good cops, for the general populous to begin seeing cops as anything but a public menace all their own.
I could make a comment about history repeating itself where public perceptions of law enforcement are concerned, but I try to keep this blog, at least, fairly politics-free.
If I wanted to really stretch this out, I’d go into the difference between the Metropolitan Police Force and the City of London Police, but that might lead into other tangents, and we all know what happens if I give in to too many of those. Chaos, that’s what.
So why am I talking about the other 46 (#hamilparaphrase) in regards to “Black Peter,” since that’s the story I’m supposed to be blogging about? Because this story is the second time we get to spend a little fictional time with Inspector Stanley Hopkins, who we previously met in “The Golden Pince-Nez.” (We’ll meet him again in “Abbey Grange” and he gets mentioned in “The Missing Three-Quarter.”) Hopkins is something of a student of Holmes’methods, even if how he applies them is sometimes…well, wrong. But hey, he’s only human. It’s not his fault the evidence of a notebook at a crime scene pointed to a killer who couldn’t actually manage to commit the murder. We’re all susceptible to falling for a red herring when it drops in our lap, right? As was discussed back when I covered the “Boscombe Valley Mystery,” it’s super easy to take the, well, easy way out.
Hopkins isn’t the only dutiful student among the Yardies: Alec MacDonald, which we met in The Valley of Fear, appears to be studying – and applying – Holmes’ methods. Unlike other members of the force, MacDonald is willing to believe that Moriarty might not be all he says he is – remember, VOF is set in a time before Reichenbach, possibly to deal with the fact Doyle basically one-shotted the man who was supposed to be Holmes’ ultimate nemesis. We know, from Watson, that MacDonald is big, brash, ginger, and from Glasgow, and that he and Holmes are close enough that Holmes has given him a cute nickname – Mr. Mack – which is something none of the others earn (unless ferret-faced is a term of endearment).
Inspector Bradstreet, he of no first name or initial, appears in three stories, but we don’t know much about him at all, except he was a Bow Street Runner before he became a cop. He doesn’t make much of an impression on Holmes – or not enough of one to have him say anything about him to/around Watson that gets conveyed to us. He does get to carry the ball in one of the most iconic of Holmes stories – “The Blue Carbuncle” – and has been used as a fill-in for Lestrade in the Granada series in an episode where the actor playing Lestrade was unavailable.
Then there’s Inspector Baynes, who only shows up in the two-part story collected as “The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge.” Baynes is the only inspector ever shown to be even close to as good an investigator as Holmes, and that’s potentially because Holmes just didn’t care enough to really investigate (or was a ghost, or a doppleganger, or sick…see this post about “Wisteria Lodge.”).
Of course, I’m as guilty of forgetting about the rest of the Yardies as anyone else. When I started writing Charlotte – when I started outlining and world building and filling out the stick figures holding places for actual characters in my universe – I went straight to Lestrade. Which is funny, since I still haven’t written the story where Charlotte and Lestrade first cross paths, though I’ve got a clear picture of it in my head. I’ve dusted off Bradstreet – he even clocked Watson – but I’ve stayed entirely away from Lestrade so far. That was an entirely unconscious decision that I find really interesting now.
(Confession: I played with Lestrade a bit in November. But he was backup to my playing mostly with Inspector MacDonald. I may have relocated him to Scotland. I needed an excuse to romp about in the Highlands for a month. Fictionally.)
So, my point is this – the bullpen at Scotland Yard is very deep and a lot of the relievers Doyle traded for don’t get the innings of work they should. There is a very handy Wikipedia list of all the canon inspectors, constables, detectives, and agents that worked with or assisted Holmes. If you’re writing pastiche or fanfiction and you need a handy Yardie or two, try looking into one of Lestrade and Gregson’s colleagues and give them the ball for a couple innings. You might find something really fun.
Like a cheeky, kilt-wearing Glaswegian who tries his damnedest to take over your story.