This rare third person account of the skills of Sherlock Holmes not written as an account by his boon companion John Watson has the legendary consulting detective coming out of his self-imposed retirement to Sussex to raise and study bees. At the center of suspense stands one Herr Von Bork, a German intelligence agent who has been a nefarious presence in English for four years, operating without the least bit of concern of punishment and, along the way, building up a rather substantial and impressive amount of wealth.
Baron Von Herling is seated with Von Bork in the luxury of his Harwich home, enjoying the vitriol his friend is directing toward the very basic elemental component of character among the Brits. His work close to ending, he has merely to meet with an Irish-American agent named Altamont whose own scorn for the English is nearly a match for the German’s. At the heart of the espionage being conducted is the transfer of England’s secret naval signals to the waiting hands of Germany.
Von Herling takes his leave and Von Bork’s housekeeper, Martha retires for the evening, allowing Altamont to arrive with his chauffeur without fear of undo tension. Unfortunately for Von Bork, Altamont is anything but uneasy: questions pour forth that bring into question whether the German has taken all necessary security precautions. He also expresses concern about the manner in which the Germans seem to routinely bring the lives of agents to a swift end immediately upon the realization that they no long prove useful. Altamont wants his money before delivering the goods. Von Born wants to inspect the goods before delivering the payoff.
A standoff ensues.
Von Bork’s own lack of trust in Altamont turns out to be ideally placed. The intelligence which he is eager to retrieve and hand over to his superiors back in Germany is not exactly what he is expecting. The parcel which is handed over by Altamont turns out to be a book. A book titled Practical Handbook of Bee Culture. While this is certainly an unexpected turn of events, what happens next is even more so: a rag soaked in chloroform pressed against his face.
The Irish-American Altamont turns out to be none other than Sherlock Holmes in one of many disguises. And the chauffeur who delivered him to Von Bork’s luxurious home? None other than Dr. Watson. Only after the revelation of the true identity of Altamont is it revealed that Sherlock Holmes has been hot on the trail of the German agent for two years in an investigation which has seen him travel from Ireland to Chicago to the East Coast of England. Not only was John Watson recruited to take part in the sting operation, but it has been suggested that Mrs. Hudson herself may well have been the housekeeper of Von Bork who was also in on the game that was afoot right beneath the German’s nose.