Analysis of The Crooked Man

The Adventure of the Crooked Man analysis: by hook or crook Sherlock solves the case. Find out how Sherlock, Watson, and Doyle changed the rules of the game in THIS mystery.

Adventure of the Crooked Man analysis

Here's the info you will find on this page:

About This Unit Study

The information below is taken from Sherlock Holmes: The Unit Study. Within the unit study, information is presented in short activities without the answers.

Before reading the story, students were asked to do two things in their reading:
  1. Determine who the "crooked man" was.
  2. Note anything unusual about the point of view.
While we have examined the basic pattern of almost every Sherlock Holmes short story, each one has unique features. Below we have listed many of the unique qualities of The Crooked Man.

Let's Meet the Characters

A Look At Sherlock

A closer look at Sherlock as his short stories

We all know who Sherlock is and at least something of how he functions. Watson builds on his previous portraits of the series' hero with this description:
His eyes kindled and a slight flush sprang into his thin cheeks. For an instant the veil had lifted upon his keen, intense nature but for an instant only. When I glanced agin his face had resumed that red-Indian composure which had made so many regard him as a machine rather than a man.
(The unit study does address racial stereotypes which Doyle occasionally - as in the passage above - throws in.)

The character of Sherlock in this story is largely in keeping with the detective previously revealed: a man consumed with logic and justice. At the end, when he decides not to report the true nature of Barclay's death, we get a glimpse into how he balances the letter of the law with the finer points of fairness to mankind.

A Look At Watson

A closer look at the role of Watson in the Sherlock Holmes tales.

Part of this analysis is the role Watson plays in this story that differs from other stories.

Once again Sherlock solves the daunting mystery all by himself. Or almost all by himself. He did 5/6 of the investigationn by himself before he even consulted Watson. So why did he decide to bring Watson at the end?

Watson serves a unique purpose as a character and as a literary device. As a character, he is Sherlock's side kick. Sherlock needs his faithful sounding board in order to think through the twists and turns of the complicated cases.

If Sherlock Holmes was talking in the forest and Watson wasn't there to listen, would he get it right?

But as a literary device Watson has a role beneficial to the reader: he is our eyes and ears. And, in this story, this literary device in the shape of the humble Dr. Watson is a bit different.

Watson's Role

Sherlock explains his role for Watson:

Sherlock: So now, my dear fellow, you see exactly how we stand and why it is I want you....(Henry) is the only person in this world who can tell us exactly what happened in that room.
Watson: And you intend to ask him?
Sherlock: Most certainly - but in the presence of a witness.
Watson: And I am the witness?

Sherlock reveals to Watson his reason for calling upon his old friend in the middle of the night: he needed a witness who could appear in a court of law to testify about the confession Sherlock was about to force from the lips of Henry Wood. If you have read the story, you know that the confession ended up much different than one Sherlock expected.

A Look At Henry Wood

Pictures of Henry Wood by Sidney Paget

Above are original sketches of Henry Wood by Sidney Paget as appeared in The Strand Magazine in 1893.

Mr. Wood began his military career as a strong and good looking man with a promising future and a possible bride.

However, he first appears to us as a broken and twisted man with little time left on this earth.

It is his own narrative of his life that solves the missing the piece in this puzzle. He has - quite literally - the missing key (which is a apt symbol in this story.)

A Look At Colonel James Barclay

He was a killer who seemed to get away with his crime; but his crime came back to haunt him. But how bad of a man was James Barclay?

The inference in the story is that Barclay’s depressed and gloomy moods over-took him because he felt remorse for his deed. Would a truly evil person become depressed for 30 years for that?

Wood reported seeing death written on Barclay’s face and it was reported that his faced was contorted with horror even after death.

What do you think killed Barclay?

Sherlock's Silence

Sherlock chose not to report the events he learned from Henry Wood and to not tarnish the colonel’s reputation in the process. Was that the right decision? Here are some things to consider.

Point Of View

Examine the point of view and perspective of Sherlock Holmes in the Adventure of the Crooked Man.

We had noted previously that the Sherlock Holme's short stories are written in 1st person secondary: which means that Watson is the narrator but not the main character. This is a literary tool of the author that allows us to watch Sherlock but not know what he is thinking until the end of the story when the solution is revealed.

In The Adventure of the Crooked Man Doyle applies a different technique. Notice the eyeballs above: they represent what the reader sees. With first person secondary we are watching the main character.

But in this tale, Sherlock narrates to Watson much of his investigation (5/6th of it, to be exact.) This is different from other stories where the reader and Watson observe Holmes. We now hear Sherlock and know what he is thinking (rather than watching him and be kept in the dark about his thoughts.) In the bottom diagram, you see the intersection of the blue (what the main character sees) and the yellow (what the secondary character sees.) Holmes' narration of his investigation is the green section.

We saw a small amount of this in Silver Blaze when Holmes took the role usually reserved for the client in the introduction: that of introducing the case by laying out the details. In that case, he obtained the details in the newspaper and Watson (and readers) are enlightened as Holmes recites the facts.

But now he has taken it to an entirely new level. Holmes has completed 5/6th of his investigation. Before he ever knocked on Watson's door late in the evening he had already:
  1. Interviewed the officers in the regiment
  2. Interviewed the Barclays' servants
  3. Examined the room where the death occured AND looked at the body
  4. Inteviewed Miss Morrison (Mrs. Barclay's companion)
  5. Interviewed Henry Wood's landlady

Change in Plot Structure

One would be tempted to ask, "Why even bother including Watson (and we the readers) at this late stage in the investigation?"

The answer, as revealed above, is that Watson is the witness. That suffices for the story-line. From a literary point of view, Watson's limited role is a method of controlling the narration.

This entire story is one of narration. First Sherlock narrates the introduction to the case and the first five parts of his six-part investigation. Then the reader has a few paragraphs of action before embarking on a new narrated account: this time by Henry Wood. After the solution to the case is presented in Wood's climactic tale, we get a few lines of action in the denouement. This does not follow the typical action Sherlock Holmes-AC Doyle format.

Type of Detective Story

What sub-genre does "The Adventure of the Crooked Man" belong to?

It has these features: In the unit study we also discuss the features of fair-play detective stories and bumbing constable detective stories. This tale shares some of those features but could not be classified in those categories.

Literary Features

This story includes some of the literary features studied earlier in Sherlock Holmes: The Unit Study.

Introductory Deductions

In the first few paragraphs, Sherlock uses all of these introductory deductions on Watson, who is usually the observer - not the subject - of Sherlock's observation.

Pun: The Crooked Man

The term “crooked man” is a pun in this story. A pun is a play on words using synonyms.

Which form of "crooked" is worse?


Doyle sometimes packs his writing with figures of speech. Here is a simile in this story:

There were ten thousand rebels round us, and they were as keen as a set of terriers round a rat-cage.

It is notable that Wood used this analogy since he is both a military man AND an animal performer and conjurer (or trickster, magician.)

Symbolism: The Missing Key

A symbol is an object that represents an abstract idea. In this story the missing key is a symbol. Keys are frequent objects in detective stories.

So what does the key represent? In this story the missing key is the missing piece of the puzzle. Not accidentally, Sherlock is looking for that piece of the puzzle at the Introduction of the tale:
I hold in this hand several threads of one of the strangest cases which ever perplexed a man’s brain, and yet I lack the one or two (details) which are needful to complete my theory. But I’ll have them Watson, I’ll have them!

Background Information

The Baker Street Boys

The "Baker Street Boys" are a new group of characters, albeit minor characters, introduced very briefly.

The Baker Street Boys

When Watson asked Holmes how he would know when Henry Wood would be at his lodgings, Holmes responded:

You may be sure that I took some precautions. I have one of my Baker Street boys mounting guard over him who would stick to him like a burr, go where he might.

As Holme’s success spread, he was able to hire additional help. These were the “Baker Street” boys, who were apparently young kids from poorer families who earned money by standing guard and/or following suspects. In this case, he identifies this particular boy as “Simpson” and states he is “a small street Arab.” Holme's pat on the head while responding “Good, Simpson!” to the boy’s report could be seen as patronizing.

In the later years, Holmes actually had an adult assistant or two. But he always prefered his good buddy Watson the most.


The mongoose is a small, thin, agile mammal that looks a bit like a cute weasle. They are famous for their ability to kill poisonous snakes: particularly cobras and black mambas. They are trainable and have been made pets in some areas of the world, though outlawed in many others (including the United States.) A downside of an imported mongoose population is it kills many of the desired animals in an ecosystem.

They have been used for centuries by snake charmers and other performers. Many now consider such usage of the animal as unethical.

Watch the two minute internet video Mongoose vs Cobra by National Geographic.

Crooked Man Vocabulary

These words (and definitions) are in Sherlock Holmes: The Unit Study for The Crooked Man.

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