Literary thriller | Detective fiction
Albert Einstein was born in Ulm and grew up in Munich—bustling, wealthy towns in the Swabian region of southern Germany. At the age of five he was shown how a compass needle always swings to magnetic North. From that moment he determined to become a great physicist, more famous than Isaac Newton.
At 23 Einstein sired an illegitimate daughter with Mileva Marić, a fellow physics student at the Zurich Polytechnikum, who later became his first wife. No-one to date has solved the mystery of the infant’s fate. Mileva and Albert referred to her by the Swabian diminutive ‘Lieserl’ – Little Liese. Her life was fleeting. At around 21 months of age she disappeared from the face of the Earth. The real Lieserl may never have come to the eyes of the outside world but for an unexpected find 83 years after her disappearance. In California, Einstein’s first son, Hans Albert Einstein, investigated an old shoebox tucked away on the top shelf of a wardrobe. It contained several dozen yellowed letters in German type, exchanges between Albert and Mileva. Italian, Swiss, German and Austro-Hungarian postmarks reflected their peripatetic life. Letters dated between early 1901 and 1903 mention Lieserl. After September 1903 her name never appears again, anywhere.
Lieserl remains a subject of mystery and speculation. Researchers regularly trek to Serbia to conduct investigations. They comb through registries, synagogues, church and monastery archives throughout the Vojvodina region, the place of her birth and short life, but to no avail. In The Mystery of Einstein’s Daughter Holmes exclaims, ‘the most ruthless effort has been made by public officials, priests, monks, friends, family and relatives by marriage, to seek out and destroy every document with Lieserl’s name on it. The question is: why?’
As the American scientist Frederic Golden put it in Time magazine, ‘Lieserl’s fate shadows the Einstein legend like some unsolved equation’.
Three hapless ‘must have’ theories hold sway. Lieserl must have died in an outbreak of scarlet fever in Novi-Sad in the late summer of 1903. She must have been adopted by family friends in Belgrade. She must have been placed in a home for children with special needs.
In The Mystery of Einstein’s Daughter, Holmes and Watson are led to a dramatic Fourth Theory.
Dr. John H. Watson
Junior United Service Club
The events I relate in The Mystery of Einstein’s Daughter took place well into the reign of King Edward the Seventh, the year in which the Simplon Tunnel was driven through the Alps and when Charles Perrine discovered Jupiter’s seventh satellite, Elara. In faraway South Africa, Thomas Evan Powell brought the Cullinan, the world’s largest rough diamond, to the surface. In England there was talk of a new automobile association employing cycle scouts to help unwary motorists avoid police speed traps.
In the spring of that year, my comrade Sherlock Holmes undertook an investigation into what at first appeared to be a very humdrum matter concerning a recent graduate of the Physics Department of a Swiss Polytechnikum. It turned out not to be so humdrum a matter after all. The young man’s name was Albert Einstein. He was soon to become the world’s most revered scientist, gaining fame and respect the equal of, or greater than, Presidents and Prime Ministers.
1. I am Offered a Commission
Early in 1905 the Strand Magazine’s Publisher, Sir George Newnes, approached me with an offer: would I accept the kingly sum of six hundred guineas in return for securing a photograph of Sherlock Holmes at the now-infamous Reichenbach Falls in the Bernese Oberland? Sir George wanted an engraving or half-tone illustration from the plate to grace the Strand’s Christmas cover. The Falls were the site of the death of the arch-criminal Professor Moriarty at the great detective’s hands fourteen years earlier, on 4 May 1891. Six hundred guineas was the equal of three years of my Army half-pay pension, hard-earned in the arid Pāriyātra Parvata and a pestilential stint at the Rawal Pindi Base hospital, both of which I deemed myself lucky to have survived.
‘A front-cover picture of Sherlock Holmes at the Reichenbach Falls will increase the run by at least a quarter of a million,’ Sir George opined gleefully.
He was right. A cover reprising Holmes’s miraculous escape from a watery grave at Moriarty’s hands would generate a welcome boost to sales.
Until his reappearance some three years later, it was believed that my great comrade had died in the struggle with Moriarty. During this Great Hiatus the obscure mountain stream and waterfall soon became a place of pilgrimage. The nearby Englischer Hof guest-book was filled with guests’ comments, keen to pay their respects. Visitors included the New York Police Department alongside a delegation from the French Sûreté led by Monsieur Dubuque, and James McParland of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.
Troupes of young London City men and members of the burgeoning Sherlock Holmes societies travelled to the Falls in charabanc loads, wearing bands of black crêpe around their bowlers. Gaggles of women dressed in long grey travelling cloaks clustered at the cliff edge, staring silently down. Some cast a facsimile of Holmes’s fore-and-aft cap (on sale at the local hotels) into the roiling waters below. The suicide watch at the cliff edge, normally posted for forlorn young lovers, now looked out for lone figures of distraught men and women ready to throw themselves into the chasm after the man they called ‘the Master’.
The Strand would pay all costs for a journey retracing our original route. Holmes and I would tread once more in the footsteps of Goethe, Tolstoy and Nietzsche along the charming Rhone Valley. Sir George wanted the photograph to show Holmes standing on the lip of the chasm, down which Moriarty tumbled (or rather, had been tumbled) to his end. The photograph was to capture the atmosphere of Jacques-Louis David’s Napoleon at The Saint-Bernard Pass—as Bonaparte himself put it, ‘Calme sur un cheval fougueux’. In the picture, my comrade-in-arms should stare down on the torrent, behind him crags piled one on the other. My publisher had looked at me quizzically. Did I think Holmes could be persuaded to strike a chord on his violin, staring down over the precipice as though viewing Moriarty’s body cannonading from rock to jutting rock? I replied that it was a ludicrous idea. The spray from the rushing torrent would badly upset a Stradivarius.
My publisher’s wish for an exclusive front-cover to boost sales was understandable. The publishing business was becoming highly-competitive. The daily journey to work for large numbers of the population had triggered a demand for reading material from newspapers such as the Daily Mail and magazines with short articles and stories. Titles like the Harmsworth Magazine or Pearson’s Magazine offered articles of scientific and historical interest, cartoons and celebrity gossip. The Strand looked over its shoulder at the rapid growth of a particularly vulgar halfpenny dreadful, the Penny Blood Union Jack magazine, popular with young men. The Union Jack’s circulation had been lifted by the adventures of the upstart detective Sexton Blake, the poor man’s Sherlock Holmes, and his scent hound Pedro. Another rival was Hornung’s disgraceful invention, A. J. Raffles, the ‘gentleman thief’, whose criminal exploits promoted the sales of Cassell’s Magazine.
In the early stages of the Great Hiatus I was approached only once for assistance by Lestrade, the ferret-like Scotland Yard Inspector. On this occasion, through my medical knowledge, I was instrumental in solving a crime dubbed by the Evening Standard, ‘The Case of The Ghost of Grosvenor Square’, a sobriquet picked up and parodied by Punch.
After Holmes’s assumed death, I had welcomed an invitation from his brother Mycroft to return to Baker Street, to put my former comrade’s papers and possessions in order. Tears had sprung to my eyes when I looked at a lifetime’s souvenirs – the Yupik wolf mask sent from a shaman in Nunivak in 1890, a huge barbed-headed spear, a carving of the demi-god Maui, Lombardini’s Antonio Stradivari e la celebre scuola cremonese, the tennis rackets and cricket gear Holmes last employed in his short time at university.
I relocated the most precious of these household gods and books from the sitting room to his bedroom, which became for me as great a shrine as the bedroom of the late admired Prince Albert in Queen Victoria’s eyes. I left three physical reminders of my friend’s still palpable presence centre-stage on the deal-top breakfast table. The violin, with its well-flamed maple, fine belly grain, and orangey brown varnish glowed where it lay in the morning sun. At its side the bow, like the bayonet of a fallen soldier. And his pipe-rack.
Upon Holmes’s miraculous reappearance, Mrs. Hudson and I had hauled the books back, together with the Betjemann Tantalus, the basket chair, the Persian slipper containing his tobacco (freshly restocked), the writing-desk, bear-skin rug, and a gasogene given to bursting. One wall remained bejewelled with fine fragments of glass shrapnel from such an explosion until we ordered an extensive refurbishment of the front room.
It was not long after his return that Holmes once again showed his talent for the unexpected. He announced his retirement. I was to read it on the front page of the Daily Express and beneath a dramatic headline on the third page of the Times. My old comrade expressed his long-standing desire – completely unsuspected by me – to give himself up entirely ‘to that soothing life of Nature’. I was as astonished as if I had opened the newspapers that day to find his obituary (‘Once again the world mourns the passing of the great Consulting Detective Mr. Sherlock Holmes ...’)
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