After leaving the train, Holmes & Watson rejoice in their escape as they head to the city and the British Embassy. On the road they’re stopped when Watson sees, surrounding them, many fields just streaming with crops of the odd blue flower that he first saw in Afghanistan. Their rejoicing comes to an abrupt end when Watson recalls the name of the plant. They’re surrounded by fields of ‘despair’.
Once they’ve reached the British Embassy, Watson settles down in a hotel whilst Holmes sets about his work. He returns to find Watson enjoying the relaxing hotel environment as he recuperates from their ordeal, but they’re both concerned about the complete lack of people in the streets of the city.
Holmes announces that he’s managed to secure an interview with the new country’s President, something that Watson finds a little too easy. Holmes concurs, believing that the ease at which the appointment was set means that they are heading into a trap, but Holmes knows of no other way to bring this case to a resolution. He offers Watson the chance to return home, but the good doctor will not abandon his friend at this crucial time.
They’re taken to the President in an expensive car, whereupon they find that the President’s wife is none other than Mrs Edgar Curbishley. After exchanging antagonisms, Holmes becomes aware that there is a fifth person in the room, hiding away. He forces the man out into the open, and Watson recognises — Christopher Thrale, the very same man that he’d tried to save in Afghanistan. The man who, just prior to dying in the light of The Guttering Candle, gave Watson that fateful package to take back to England. The package that was ultimate responsible for the shocking culmination of The Gamekeeper’s Folly. Thrale hasn’t aged a day since Watson saw him last, and it’s all the result of the restorative powers of the blue flower.
Thrale originally intended the plant to be cultivated in England but, due to the events at the Hinderclay house, Holmes had arranged with his brother to ban the plant from British shores. This caused Thrale to seek alternative arrangements, such as this new European country.
Thrale takes Holmes & Watson, with Curbishley and her husband, to a processing plant. Officially this plant is to provide clean and fresh water to the populous but, in truth, the water is spiked with a derivative of the blue flower. Thrale believes a second war is coming, and his scheme is to have a willing army ready to fight the new enemy.
A fight ensues in which Watson takes the bullets meant for Holmes and, while dying, he insists that Holmes goes after Thrale. Despite the difference in fitness, Holmes eventually succeeds and Thrale meets his death. With Watson barely clinging to life, Holmes takes his ailing body back to Britain and his wife.
This final instalment of The Ordeals of Sherlock Holmes is more of a “talkie” than the other adventures, but this is quite necessary as there are a lot of loose ends to tie up and a lot of threads that tie all four adventures together to take the listener through. Fortunately, it does this exceptionally well. The writer, Jonathan Barnes, has done an excellent job at feeding each of the previous adventures with just enough of a thread that, when all is revealed, the listener will be thinking “oh, so that’s what that was for” on several occasions.
In previous reviews, I bemoaned the lack of much real deductive work on the part of Holmes but, once you reach this final adventure and you understand what Barnes was trying to achieve, that’s really quite forgivable.
The Sowers of Despair includes several moments of cleverness, including having Holmes chronicle the story, having questions hanging over what happens to Watson (why isn’t he chronicling the adventure – could 1919 be his final story?), a nice twist on a scene from The Empty House, and a post-credits teaser that promises that the adventure isn’t all over by any means.
The final adventure ends with a short set of interviews.
The Ordeals of Sherlock Holmes is a set of stories that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Yes, you can listen to the individual stories on their own and you’ll derive a lot of enjoyment from the performances of Briggs & Earl as Holmes & Watson in Conan Doyle-esque adventures. However, you will thank yourself if you listen to the entire set in short succession (over successive nights in my case). The reward is most definitely worth it.