Sherlock Holmes Unique Features

Examine some of the unique features that put the Sherlock Holmes short stories in a category by themselves.

Pardon our Construction zone

In this series, we will be pointing out some of the unique literary features that propelled Doyle's work to the top of detective literature. We are currently adding different features and showing how they are applied in different stories. Come on in and investigate, but we hope you will return when more clues are ready for your inspection.

Pre-Introductory Pronouncements

A unique feature of the Sherlock Holmes tales is the Pre-Introductory Pronouncements - a well-conceived element missed by most readers. This is a statement made by Watson or Holmes in the pre-introduction that intimates the ending of the story. Look for the subtle hint buried in the first paragraphs.

Sherlock Holmes Pre Introductory Prouncements

3 Different Types of Sherlock Holmes Openings

Doyle gifted his readers with three different types of openings in the sixty stories.

1. Watson's Dilemma

A common opening is a lengthy statement by Watson that boils down to something like this:

In choosing which case to write about, I have decided not to publish cases that are not ABC (adjective) but rather showcase Holme's XYZ abilities. This story I am about to tell does/does not do either ABC or XYZ. (my paraphrase)

The ABC and XYZ change slightly but usually represent something like the following: On face value, these meditative statements by Watson are the least interesting of Doyle's openings. But Reader be on guard, they are most likely to give the pre-introductory pronouncement that gives a hint to how the case may close.
For those of you with a bent for algebraic reasoning, Watson's Dilemmas and the subsequent plot can be boiled down to four possibilities: So now you can join the analysis-team whenever you come across Watson's Dilemma and determine which of the four possibile case-types this story entails.

2. Baker Street Scene

Ah, the classic opening: the camera zooms in on Holmes at his Baker Street flat, bent over a test tube, lounging on the sofa in his dressing gown, throwing down the newspaper in disgust. In addition to watching the master detective in his opening act, we also get to listen to a dialogue between the Watson/Holmes duo. Listen carefully before they are interupted by their next visitor for the nuggets of sarcastic wit dropped by Holmes may indeed be the answer to the client's puzzle.

3. Power Statement

These are my personal favorite starts to a Sherlockian tale. Who can ever forget such starters as "To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman." Or mayber even better: "Mrs Hudson, the landlady of Sherlock Holmes, was a long-suffering woman." Character descriptions riddled with humor, irony, and amateur psycho-analysis follow. Such opening statements and the sentences that follow provide rich fodder for the Sherlockian analyst.

Note: A few stories have more than one type of opening in the pre-introduction (the part prior to the arrival of the client and the introduction of the case.)

Action Plot Diagram

Doyle developed a basic plot structure that he used in his stories, and deviated from time to time to serve his literary purposes. The typical Sherlock Holmes action plot included these parts of the story:
  1. Pre-introduction - Watson describes Holmes or his case or methods
  2. Introduction - A visitor arrives at 221b Baker Street and explains his/her problem
  3. Rising Action - Holmes hits the field to investigate. He alludes to his theory but does not expound it.
  4. Climax - The solution is announced as the culprit and motivation are unmasked.
  5. Falling Action - Sherlock explains his reasoning to Watson and we learn what happens to all the parties.
  6. Denouement - Final details are explained, Holmes issues a philosophical or flippant remark as the case closes and he moves on.
See the link above to investigate these parts closer. Doyle adds variety by changing things up in many of his stories, while others follow that plan to perfection.

A Closer Look At Holmes

A flawed genuius. His black silhouette is recognized by every child, yet his colorful personality has been analyzed and cross-analyzed since his name first appeared in print.

To say that Holmes is a round character or complex personality does not begin to describe him. Almost every story in the canon provides at least one or two sentences that reveal the mosaic nature of Holmes.

You might enjoy reading direct quotes about Sherlock's personality from various stories.

Or you might want to read Character Analysis of Sherlock Holmes along with other biographical information.

Dr. Watson's Role

Of course Dr. Watson is the narrator of the Sherlock Holmes' short stories - his most obvious role and a very literary one. Movie producers, on the other hand, struggle to account for the presence of the super-sleuth's side kick.

Watson plays an essential role in the narrative which is not so obvious when reading a single short story. In the individual stories, in fact, he is basically a flat character. In the outer frame, however, Watson is a round, complex character. But it is from those individual stories we extract the points that paint this multiplex personality.

Read more about the many roles of Dr. Watson - both in Holmes' detective practice and in the story as a whole.

Fictitious Transparency

Doyle employs circular transparency in his narrative as Watson purports to publish Holmes' cases. These Watson-written stories are then folded into the Doyle-written story as an element rarely applied in literature.

The Watson-written stories add a certain depth to the narrative. For instance, many of the openings begin with Watson musing what case he should publish next and why. Watson's published accounts are sometimes a topic of dispute between he and Holmes in the pre-introductory phase of Doyle's stories as Holmes ridicules Watson's romantic story-telling.

As a reader, perhaps you have chuckled under your breath as Holmes reassures a new client that Watson's discretion can be trusted as much as his own, while Watson jots down notes for his next narrative.

Watson, as a biographer, meanwhile creates a new role for himself that is rarely explicitly explored. In introducing Sherlock to his writers, he is making Sherlock famous. So much for being nothing but an assistant: Sherlock owes his popularity with the public to Watson.

Let's look at three different groups of "readers":
  1. Watson's readers: those who read the tales in an unstated publication and admired their London detective
  2. Doyle's original readers: those who eaglerly awaited the next story published in The Strand Magazine
  3. The rest of us: most of us recognized Holmes prior to reading our first grade primers
Note that those first two groups were actually the same people. Dr. Doyle made his fortune, not by seeing patients, but by writing about Sherlock Holmes. And how did Dr. Watson make his money? Of course we never learn how much money Watson makes from his narratives. For that matter, we don't really know how much Sherlock made either.

But we can say that neither Sherlock, nor Watson, nor Doyle were hurting for cash once the stories gained in popularity. We might say that Doyle and Watson conspired together to create Sherlock. It is part of their fictitious transparency.

Sherlock the Writer

We can't let Watson get all the credit as a published author; Sherlock himself had multiple professional articles written. He calls them monographs (writing on a single subject.)

Dating of Sherlock Tales

For those of you who think the date is merely a piece of demographic info, welcome to the tangled times of Sherlock tales! Each story possesses FOUR separate dates for starters:
  1. The date the event occurred (identified by month and year in MOST stories. Beware the contradictions!)
  2. The date which Watson wrote and published the story for his fictitious readers (sometimes stated in terms of length of time since the events transpired.)
  3. The original publication date of the story (usually in The Strand Magazine.)
  4. Publication date in book form, which occured when Doyle had published enough individual short stories to make a collection. It could have been the same year as the magazine publication, or as long as 9 years later.
There is a loose correlation between the first date (when the event occured) and the third date (when Doyle originally published) for the first 3 collections of short stories.

Contradictions in the Text

Ask any honest Sherlockian and they will tell you, the stories contain contradictions from time to time. Dates, names, even the location of Watson's injury. How can this happen with a detective who leaves every clue unexamined?

The Sherlockian Gamers (fans who spend considerable energy finding explanations so that the entire canon is a true history) will blame typographical errors, temporary lapses in memory, even additional wives for Dr. Watson in order to make everything work out perfectly.

I can offer to you a simpler explanation, though one that does not play the game of making a real history out of a fictitious character. The truth is that all writers have to go back and make changes in their story to make them fit. In Sherlock's case, Doyle published sixty stories as he wrote them. Unlike an author of a sixty chapter book, he could not go back and change the information in chapter one to make it fit with the information in chapter sixty. It was already published.

Actually, it was more than simply published. It was consumed by an expanding and adoring public in over forty languages. No corrections were possible. So Doyle just shrugged his shoulders and kept writing. If a few details didn't line up, he didn't seem to lose much sleep over it. Neither should we.

The Ending of the Story

In the majority of stories, the tale ends with a remark by Sherlock. Much of the time these are flippant remarks which stand in contrast to the austere and somber persona for which he is known.

But Doyle does throw in other types of endings.

For more fun, note how the ending ties (or doesn't tie) to the pre-introduction.

The Singular Use of the Word "Singular"

"Singular" appears to be Sherlock's single favorite word. Or perhaps it was Doyle's. It is used at least once (and in many cases, only once) in each story.

In The Adventure of the Six Napoleons singular was used six times. Coindicidence?

I don't know. But it is singular.

Irrelevant Intrusions

Sherlock often frustrates and amazes his clients and readers by throwing unexpected questions at them when they least expect it.

This irrelevancy occasionally leads those in the official force to doubt his professional ability, or even his sanity. But have no fear, he is way ahead of everybody in cracking the case.

But just WHAT could he be thinking? You have to wait until he is ready to give his own explanation to find out.

The Baker Street Treasure Hunt

At one point, I noticed that many of the stories contain a reference to interesting objects that Holmes keeps in his Baker Street apartment. Most stories contain one such reference to something found nowhere else. So just for fun, we have a Baker Street Object Hunt. See if you can find the object in your reading. Or better yet, are you such a dedicated fan of the series you can identify the objects with the stories? We will have a quiz here for you in a bit. So come back and join the Baker Street Treasure Hunt.

Unique Features in Individual Stories

Also under construction

The Adventure of the Norwood Builder

Opening: Baker Street Scene with Holmes complaining about boredom. (Don't worry - he won't be bored for long.)
Pronouncement: London has become a singularly unintersting place since the death of the late lamented Professor Moriarty.
Fulfillment: Contradiction of his original statement, it WAS a sensational case all the way around - and NOT connected to Moriarty.
Ending: Nonetheless, Sherlock trivializes the case. If ever you write an account, Watson, you can make rabbits serve your purpose.
Unusual Crime: The crime is highly unique - even for Doyle. There's no typical murder, theft, or organized crime family here. Faking one's own murder to frame the offspring of a former romance - definitely not typical - and possibly has never happened.

The Adventure of the Dancing Men

Opening: Baker Street Holme's Chemistry Experiment followed by Holmes/Watson conversation about South African securities.
Pronouncement: It is not really difficult to construct a series of inferences, each dependent upon its predecessor and each simple in itself. If, after doing so, one simply knocks out all the central inferences and presents one's audience with the starting-point and the conclusion, one mya produce a startling though possibly a meretricious effect.
Holmes then uses that series of inferences to show Watson how he knew he was not planning to invest in South African securities.
Fulfillment: Holmes uses a similar series of inferences as he impresses his audience how he deducted the events that transpired at the scene of the crime.
Ending: One of the saddest endings of the short stories. Nonetheless, Holmes is flippant in the last sentence.

The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist

Opening: Watson's dilemma - Holmes had many cases between 1894 and 1901 and Watson used his old-rule of chosing cases that derive their interest not so much from the brutality of the crime as from the ingenuity and dramatic quality of the solution. After that author's dilemma, we are treated to another chemistry experiment of Holmes.
Pronouncement: Hence, we should be looking for ingenuity and drama in this case.
Fulfillment: It was a strange case of attempting to trap an heiress in a marriage. Then one of the partners falls in love with her and tries to protect her - though he is the reason she became scared and seeks Holmes help. In other words, ingenuity and drama.
Ending: The happily-ever-after ending consists of wedded bless for the client and jail for the crooks.

The Adventure of the Priory School

Opening: A dramatic entrance of a client immediately after Watson writes that they often have dramatic entrances and exits.
Pronouncement: Not so much a pronouncement as a scene. When the school principal arrives through the door "so large, so pompous, and so dignified that he was the very embodiment of self-possession and solidity. And yet his first action, when the door had closed behind him, was to stagger against the table, whence he slipped down upon the floor."
Fulfillment: The proud but staggering principal is a forerunner of the closing scene with the proud Duke. Never shall I forget the Duke's appearance as he sprang up and clawed with his hands, like one who is sinking into an abyss. (Like the principal sinking to the floor.)
Ending: When you get parenting and marriage advice from Sherlock Holmes, you really have some family problems.

The Adventure of Black Peter

Opening: Watson's Dilemma
Pronouncement: So unworldly was he - or so capricious - that he frequently refused his help to the powerful and wealthy where the problem made no appeal to his sympathies, while he would devote weeks of most intense application to the affairs of some humble client whose case presented those strange and dramatic qualities which appealed to his imagination and influenced his ingenuity.
Fulfillment: So how did this fare? Ending: Flippantly mentions he and Watson will be in Norway if they are wanted for the trial.

Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton

Opening: Watson's statement about lapsed time: he can now tell this story - but with "diffidence." (Diffidence = lack of confidence.)
Pronouncement: Our pronouncement in this story comes in way of descriptive figures of speech that come in triplets. (My, my but Milverton is almost as repulsive as Moriarty)
Do you feel a creeping, shrinking sensation, Watson, when you stand before the serpents in the Zoo,
and see the slithery, gliding, venomous creatures,
with their deadly eyes and wicked, flattened faces
Fulfillment: A contrast with Milverton
I saw the picture of a regal and stately lady in Court dress,
with a high diamond tiara upon her noble head.
I looked at that delicately curved nose, at the marked eyebrows, at the straight mouth, and the strong little chin beneath it.
Ending: Holmes' finger on his lips in the last sentence indicates silence and stands in contrast to Milverton's livelihood of releasing damaging info.

Adventure of the Six Napoleons

Opening: Visit from Inspector Lestrade
Pronouncement Lestrade: Although it is trivial, it is undoubtedly queer, and I know that you have a taste for all that is out of the common.
Fulfillment Holmes: ...features that make it absolutely original in the history of crime.
Singular use of Singular: We have noted that Doyle appears to use the word "singular" once (and usually only once) in every story. The story is exceptional in that he uses it precisely six times. Compare that to the title. And he ends with the fictitious reference (one of many such references in this story) to Conk-Singleton.
Closer look at Holmes For an instant he ceased to be a reasoning machine, and betrayed his human love for admiration and applause.
Last paragraph: As he turned away, it seemed to me that he was more more nearly moved by the softer human emotions than I had ever seen him. (In contrast to the hard plaster of the six Napoleon busts.)
Ending: Visit from Lestrade and offer to help him with cases in the future. Starts and ends with the same scene.

Adventure of The Three Students

Opening: Watson's Dilemma/New Setting
Pronouncement: to identify the college or the criminal would be injudicious and offensive.
Fulfillment: The guilty party becomes a government official. (Hence, we need to keep his identity protected and avoid scandal.)
Closer look at Holmes - Without his scrapbooks, his chemicals, and his homely untidiness he was an uncomfortable man. (As well as an awful choice of a roommate.)
Insulting Watson - He does this twice in this story; and both seem unnecessary and mean. Why DID Watson put up with it????
Unique Outcome - Holmes catches two guilty parties; but both convince Sherlock, Watson, and the reader that their good heartedness in making amends justifies covering up the crime.
Ending: An upbeat Sherlock rallies Watson for their return home, presumably to Baker Street, and breakfast. Meanwhile he ends with a nicely rounded out anti-thesis quoted on the line below.
Antithesis: For once, you have fallen low. Let us see, in the future, how high you can rise.
Lingering Questions: So whatever happens to the research on early English charters that Watson promised as the basis of a future story? And when will he kick Holmes in the shins for insulting him?

Adventure of the Golden Pince Nez

Gold Pince Nez Clipart

Opening: Watson's dilemma/A Scene at Baker Street
Pronouncement: None of them unites so many singular points of interest as the episode of Yoxley Old Pace which includes not only the lamentable death of young Willowby Smith (nothing like spelling out murder right up front), but also those subsequent developments which threw so curious a light upon the causes of the crime.
Inspector Hopkins: There's no motive, Mr. Holmes. Here's a man dead - there's no denying that - but, so far as I can see, no reason on earth why anyone should wish him harm."
Fulfillment: The cause of the crime was an accident. (Sigh of Relief) But, oh wait, the cause of the accident was merely the Russian Revolution, betrayal, 20 years in Siberia, and a Brotherhood seeking revenge.
Another Comparison: Sherlock was studying a 15th century abbey's manuscript. The deceased and professor were studying documents from the Coptic monasteries of Syria and Egypt.
Closer look at Holmes: Great witty come-backs from Holmes throughout showing a cavalier attitude. Ending: Upbeat, congratulating Inspector Hopkins, who did nothing, on successfully solving the case. Meanwhile, Holmes and Watson are heading to the Russian embassy - indicating his intent to keep the commission entrusted to him.
One more thing: The forces of nature are strong with this story.

Adventure of the Three Quarters

This story breaks with the usual pattern in a number of different ways.
Opening: First sentence - "We were accustomed to receive weird telegrams at Baker Street..." There you go, this story is going to consist of weird telegrams. Doesn't tell you much to guess what the outcome of the mystery though, does it. Meanwhile, don't you wish Watson would just publish an article about weird telegrams?
Fulfillment: It is hard to fulfill a pronouncement that doesn't exist. But you will find the opening article of telegrams, which are mentioned in most Sherlock stories, play a new role here. He reads messages backwards and tricks the telegraph lady into giving him secret information. Shame on him, but - of course- its all for a good cause. Well, maybe not this time.
Unusual Features: Besides starting a bit strangely AND not having an introductory pronouncement, this story has a few other oddities. Closer look at Holmes: Two interesting statements for those seeking more info on the inner life of the great detective: Ending: Holmes flippancy is, appropriately, gone and his manner as the story closes is quiet and kind. Thus the narrative that started somewhat humorously ends with the somber words, "we passed from the house of grief into the pale sunlight of the winter day."

Adventure of the Abbey Grange

Opening: An action-oriented opening at Baker Street with Watson being awaken by Sherlock due to a summons from Inspector Hopkins.
Pronouncement: This is one of the few stories without an Introductory Pronouncement. However, we can contrast to some small extent the request of the official police department and Holmes' decision to try the case himself.
Watson's Accounts: Sherlock: I must admit, Watson, that you have some power of selection which atones for much which I deplore in your narratives. Your fatal habit of looking at everything from the point of view of a story instead of as a scientifc exercise has ruined what might have been an instructive and even classical series of demonstrations. You slur over work of the utmost finesse and delicacy, in order to dwell upon sensational details which may excite, but cannot possibly instruct, the reader. This is the second time in the sixty-story series that Holmes has chided Watson for approaching the cases as a story and not as a lecture. And THIS time, Watson kicks back - at least a little.
Watson: Why don't you write them yourself? Yeah, Watson, THAT's telling him. Of course, Holmes had an answer.
Closer look at Holmes: "I will, my dear Watson, I will. At present I am, as you know, fairly busy, but I propose to devote my declining years to the composition of a textbook, which shall focus the whole art of detection to one volume." That would have been a best seller - except it was never written.
Words to Know: Vox populi, vox dei. The voice of the people, the voice of God. Sherlock, it would seems, knows Latin. Almost all educated people did back then.
Ending: And Holmes, after scolding Watson for his writing, makes him a complete jury of 12.

Adventure of the Second Stain

In spite of the bland name, this is one of Sherlock's most important cases. And Watson opens up with quite an annoucement.
Opening: In the first sentence Watson informs us that the last case (Abbey Grange above) was to have been his very last published account of Sherlock's cases. Watson overcame Sherlock's resistance, "It was only upon my representing to him that I had given a promise that (it) should be published when the times were ripe, and pointing out to him that it is only appropriate that this long series of episodes should culminate in the nmost important international case which he had been called upon to handle.
Readers' Reactions: Stop the headlines. Did Watson just tell us that he is going to stop writing cases? Is Doyle trying to get out of writing Sherlock stories again???
Pronouncement: In this case, the pronoucement is well into the inner narrative and not part of the Pre-Introduction. Should I bring it to a successful conclusion, it will certainly represent the crowning glory of my career.
Flashback: Didn't he say something like that when he was up against Moriarty in The Final Problem This sounds dangerously like Doyle is definitely thinking of shutting up shop.
Fulfillment: Sherlock stopped World War I in 1904. (Of course, a different world war did occur later in 1917. Holmes couldn't stick around and solve all of our problems forever.)
Holmes and Women: Now, Watson, the fair sex is your department...And yet the motives of women are so inscrutable...Their most trivial action may mean volumes, or their most extraordinary conduct may depend upon a hairpin or curling iron. (Obviously he didn't have to use hot curling irons.)
Closer look at Holmes: All the demonical force of the man masked behind that listless manner burst out in a paroxysm of energy.
Notable Scenes: How can you not love the thought of the Prime Minister and Secretary of State sitting on the paper-littered sittee. Better yet, when Holmes tells them he is too busy to deal with their affairs if they aren't going to tell them what the document is that they are missing.
Ending: While not exactly flippant, he ends with a triumphant "We also have our diplomatic secrets."

His Last Bow


The fourth set of Sherlock Holmes short stories was written and published individually from 1908 to 1917. They were collected and published as a volume in 1917 as "His Last Bow: Some Remininces of Sherlock Holmes."

Unique feature of this collection The entire collection of 8 stories bears the name of the final story: His Last Bow Therefore, when reading or writing about His Last Bow it is necessary to differentiate between the individual short story or the volume of 8 stories. These were intended to be the final collection of Sherlock Holmes short stories. (Hmmm, where did we hear THAT before?)

Watson's Preface to His Last Bow collection
A one paragraph preface alerts fans that the aging detective is retired, "somewhat crippled by occasional attacks of rheumatism" and living on a small farm. He had a brief but temporary return to practice in 1917 in which time he patriotically aided his government as the Great War loomed large. Watson took this opportunity to present to the public seven additional cases that he had in his portfolio from prior years.

H-41 The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge

A full description of these unique features can be found at Analysis of Adventure of Wisteria Lodge. It looks at these specific features: Dating issues, Opening: Baker Street Scene, Pronouncement and Theme: Grotesque, Fictitious Transparency, Watson's Role: Assistant and Burglar, Ending: Serious, Published in two monthly installments, Only inspector to earn Holmes' praise

Adventure of the Cardboard Box


Our analysis of The Adventure of the Cardboard Box shows these features: Opening:
  1. Watson's Dilemma - +ABC/-XYZ
  2. Scene in Baker Street flat: Holmes amazes Watson by showing him he could read his train of thought by watching his eyes.
Pronouncement and theme: Sensationalism/Misery

Sherlock the Writer: He has added two articles in Anthropological Journal about the distinctive features of each person's ear.

Ending: One of the most somber endings and philosophic of Holmes' statements concludes this tale.

Baker Street Treasure Hunt: A newly framed picture of General Gordon and an unframed picture of Henry Ward Beecher

Action Plot: Doyle found a unique place to situation his climax in this story.

Adventure of the Red Circle

  • First published by Doyle in The Strand: March 1911 Opening: Baker Street Scene (one of the very few stories with the client/visitor present in the first paragraph.)
    Pronouncement: (Why should Holmes take this case?) Fulfillment: Educational value Organized Crime:
    1. A Mormon cult: Study in Scarlet
    2. KKK Five pips
    3. Chicago Gang: Adventure of Dancing Men
    4. Masonic Group in California: Valley of Fear
    5. Red Circle - from Naples, Italy and USA

    Closer look at Holmes:
    • Mrs. Warren: But he would never cease talking of it - your kindness sir, and the way in which you brought light into the darkness."
    • Holmes leaned forward and laid his long, thin fingers upon the woman's shoulder. He had an almost hypnotic power of soothing when he wished.
    Baker Street Object Hunt: Gum brush
    Ending: somewhat flippany

    Adventure of the Bruce Partington Plans

    H-42 - BRUC

    • Setting of the story: Monday Nov 18 to Friday Nov 22, 1895
    • Date recorded by Watson: At least 1897 per the last paragraph.
    • First published by Doyle in The Strand: Dec 1908
    Opening: Baker Street Scene (action and comedy combined) : parallel between Sherlock's calendar and crime
    • "The London criminal is certainly a dull fellow" proclaims the very bored Sherlock.
    • "Look out of this window, Watson. See how the figures loom up, are dimly seen, and then blend once more into the cloud-bank. The thief or murderer could roam London on such a day as the tiger does the jungle, unseen until he pounces, and then evident only to his victim."
    Fulfillment appears in the action phase of the story (instead of the ending as usual):
    • The criminal is not dull, but gives rise to one of Holmes' most significant cases.
    • The thick London fog follows the characters through the story.
    Singular use of the word singular: 4x (four days?) Baker Street Object Hunt: mouse-coloured dressing gown, Brandy and soda, emerald tie pin
    Ending: The last paragraph is an epilogue written a few years out with no indication of Holmes' mood or characteristic flippancy, but instead reflects a comic flippancy by Doyle throughout the story. Holmes received an emerald tie-pin, likely from the murdered man's fiance for clearing his honor. We do learn that, thankfully, Holmes did finish the Polyphonic Motets of Lassus. Good luck finding a copy in private circulation.

    Adventure of the Dying Detective

    H-44 DYIN

    • Setting of the story: November 1904 or 1890 (second year of Watson's marriage and foggy day in November)
    • First published by Doyle in The Strand: December 1913
    Opening: Power Statement: Mrs. Hudson, the landlady of Sherlock Holmes, was a long-suffering woman. Pre-Introductory Pronouncement:Stated: Sherlock Holmes was the very worst tenant in London. Unstated: He was the worst friend. Fulfillment: He actually trusted his friends knowledge. Still a cheap trick.

    Holmes and Women: ...he had a remarkable gentleness and courtesy in his dealings with women. He disliked and distrusted the sex, but he was always a chivalrous opponent.

    Mrs. Hudson Speaks!!!!: Watson's Role: In this story our dear Watson gets a new assignment: that of
    • go-fer the best of messengers.
    • The deferential partner
    • The medical man
    • Depth of Friendship revealed.
    • Trustworthy Companion
    • Trial (First time was The Crooked Man) Singular: 3x

      Baker Street Object Hunt:
      • pictures of celebrated criminals on the wall
      • sugar tongs
      • black and white ivory box with a sliding lid
      Ending: The hero rose from his death bed to be as flippant as usual.

      Adventure of the Devil's Foot


      • Setting of the story: March 1897 in Cornwall
      • Date recorded by Watson: 1910 after a telegram from Holmes suggesting he write it.
      • First published by Doyle in The Strand: December 1910
      Opening: Watson's Dilemma takes the first three paragraphs. This case stands alone in that Holmes suggests his old partner record this story. (The suggestion came by way of a telegram 13 years after the events took place; and after the Holmes/Watson Partnership had broken up.)

      Pronouncement: To his sombre and cynical spirit all popular applause was always abhorrent, and nothing amused him more at the end of a successful case than to hand over the actual exposure to some orthodox official, and to listen with a mocking smile to the general chorus of misplaced congratulation. Readers find many examples of Holmes giving credit to the offical force. Perhaps the best is in The Adventure of the Empty House when the police don't even know what crime the murderer committed. In this story, he does not do what Watson says in the pronouncement as you see in the line below.
      Fulfillment: In this story, Holmes does the opposite of the pronouncement. He does not give the police credit or even let them know. This is one of the few cases where he lets the criminal walk.

      Closer look at Holmes: Sherlockian analysts have some interesting quotes to ponder on the intriguing character.
      • Note the pronouncement three lines above about Sherlock's avoidance of praise or publicity.
      • He has never been known to write when a telegram would suffice.
      • It was then in the spring of the year 1897 that Holmes' iron constitution showed some symptoms of giving way in the face of constant hard work of a most exacting kind, aggravated, perhaps by occasional indiscretions of his own. He is likely referring to cocaine or tobacco use as the "indiscretion."
      • The state of his health was not a matter in which he himself took the faintest interest, for his mental detachment was absolute.
      • He sat coiled in his armchair, his haggard and ascetic face hardly visible above the blue swirl of his tobbaco smoke, his black brows drawn down, his forehead contracted, his eyes vacant and far away.
      • One realized the red-hot energy which underlay Holmes's phlegmatic (or very calm) exterior when one saw the sudden change which came over him from the moment that entered the fatal apartment. In an instant he was tense and alert, his eyes shining, his face set, his limbs quivering with eager activity. He was out on the lawn, in through the window, round the room, and up into the bedroom, for all the world like a dashing foxhound drawing a cover.
      • He relapsed at once into the half-humorous, half-cynical vein which was his habitual attitude to those about him.
      • There was a calm assurance of power in Holme's manner which could not be withstood.
      Holmes and Women: I have never loved, Watson, but if I did and if the woman I loved had met such an end, I might act even as our lawless lion-hunter has done. While his lack of trust in females was well-documented by Watson, this was one of only a few statements by Holmes that admitted he had never fallen in love. But both times Holmes leaves a slight opening in his words, almost as if he had not totally closed his mind to the thought of love and marriage at some time in the future. However, as a young man when Watson announced his first marriage Holmes stated he would never marry in order to maintain his precise judgment, a vow he ended up keeping as indicated by this statement by the aging bachelor.

      Watson's Role: In addition to his never-ending role of biographer, Watson has a few other roles in this tale.
      • Companion - not just an assistant, here he shares one of the few holidays Holmes took in three plus decades. Of course, he was busy much of the time trying to keep Holmes from being busy.
      • Experimental Guinea Pig - a new role for Watson in his career. Holmes subjects the willing Watson to the same experiment which he applies to himself. For a chemist and a doctor this was extremely fool-hardy and adolescent behavior.
      • Rescuer - It was Watson who saved Holmes from the childish experiment mentioned above. His own horror was over-shadowed by seeing "Holmes face, white, rigid, and drawn with horror." Hurray for you, Watson!
      • A closer look at this scene. It was this event which prompted a heart-felt apology for the seldom-apologetic celebrity:
        • Upon my word Wason! I owe you both my thanks and an apology. It was an unjustifiable experiment even for one's self, and doubly so for a friend. I am really very sorry.
        • "You know" I answered with some emotion, for I had never seen so much of Holmes' heart before, "that it is my greatest joy and privilege to help you."
        • Good to know that a near-death experience that he brought upon himself and his friend brought a little clarity to Holmes.
      Baker Street Object Hunt: "a consignment of books on philology" (the study of language) were brought to their rented cottage.

      Sherlock The Author: He was working on the thesis that the ancient Cornish language...was akin to the Chaldean, and had been largely derived from the Phoenician traders in tin. (It would be curious to know if this theory had ever been postulated by anyone else, or just something ridiculous Doyle conjectured.) But alas, the "Cornish Horror" as this case was known interupted that historical masterpiece we will never read.

      Singular Use of the Word Singular: It is used three times here, instead of the customary single-use-per story.

      Ending: He lets Dr. Sterndale go free. He did this in a number of stories (Blue Carbuncle, Abbey Grange.) After dusting his hands of the matter he states (again, a bit flippantly) And now, my dear Watson, I think we may dismiss the matter from our mind and go back with a clear conscience to the study of those Chaldean roots which are surely to be traced in the Cornish branch of the great Celtic speech.

      His Last Bow: An Epilogue of Sherlock Holmes


      • Setting of the story: August 2, 1914
      • First published by Doyle in The Strand: Sept 1917
      Confusion About the Title: His Last Bow is both a Sherlock Holmes short story (#48) AND the title of the 8-story volume in which it was published.
      • The short story: His Last Bow: An Epilogue of Sherlock Holmes published September 1917.
      • The collection of 8 stories: His Last Bow: Some Reminiscences of Sherlock Holmes published October 1917 which includes the following
        1. A one paragraph preface that states the aging Sherlock Holmes has retired to a bee-keeping farm in Sussex
        2. 7 stories written by Dr. Watson that have lain long in my portfolio were included. These were also short stories published in The Strand between 1908 and 1917.
        3. The short story His Last Bow as the final story.
      Action Plot: This story stands unique in the Sherlock Canon.
      • It does not have the characteristic pre-introduction.
      • It is not written in the first person by Dr. Watson. Only 4 stories of the 60 in the canon are not by Watson.
      • This event is Sherlock's last case. Stories published afterwards were about events that took place before this.
      • NOTE: A detailed breakdown of the plot is provided below to assist first-time readers in capturing many of the nuances of the dialogue.
      Opening: Two Germans meet in rural England; the spy Van Bork and the secretary of the legation Baron Von Herling. It is the opening of a spy story and not a detective story. It's opening, like other features, is unique in all of the canon.

      Pronouncement: Von Bork mocks the British people. They are not very hard to deceive. A more docile, simple folk could not be imagined.
      Fulfillment: Von Bork was outsmarted and learned they weren't so docile and simple afterall. The English man is a patient creature, but at present his temper is a little inflamed and it would be as well not to try him too far.

      Theme: A major theme in this story is Patriotism. It's closing scene marks Sherlock's patriotic prediction that though the brutal war will come to England "a cleaner, better, stronger land will lie in the sunshine when the storm has cleared."

      A second theme of this story is friendship. In fact, the entire series of 60 Sherlock Holmes short stories centers around the friendship between Holmes and Watson. But in this story, readers watched as the sunset on both the prestigious career and the decades-long friendship.

      Sherlock The Author: One of the only books written by Sherlock made it into published hardback form:The Practical Handbook of Bee Culture.

      Singular Use of the Word Singular: I believe this is the only story where the word "singular" is not used.

      The Most Terrible August in the History of the World: August 3, 1914 (the next day after this story) Germany declared war on France. The Battle of Tannenberg occured August 23-30, 1914 - a mere three weeks after this story. It was a decisive German victory against the Russians and showed their superior military strategy. A frightening month to be sure.

      Baker Street Object Hunt: The object scavenger hunt is over as Sherlock moved out of the his famed flat several years ago. But we do have an object for our scavengers that appears in no other story: a car! Gone is the hansom cab and the dog cart, the acclaimed pair arrive in the latest style. The change from horse and cobblestone to a car on a paved road marks a significant alteration in the story's setting.

      Watson's Role: With the car comes a final role for Sherlock's favorite assistant; Watson was the chauffer.

      It was a dramatic change in scenes: from Altamont approaching with the book to Sherlock drinking wine with Watson. At no other time does the canon have such a forceful break in scenery: but it is to good effect. Once readers gets over the initial jolt, they have the pleasure of seeing their favorite detective duo in discussion again as Sherlock shifts through papers and interprets their significance to Watson.

      But then another jolt. Holmes stops his search to ask, "I've hardly seen you in the light yet. How have the years used you? You look the same blithe boy as ever." This is NOT a new look at the old partnership in action, but a reunion after a long absence.

      This final scene in Sherlock's career is touching as he dictates, "Stand with me upon the terrace, for it may be the last quiet talk we shall ever have. We grasp that this is the end of an era, of a dynasty. It is akin to Robin Hood and Little John's reunion in Sherwood Forest; longing for the good old days of youth that can not be rekindled.

      Holmes and Watson did not die in action, they aged and went their separate ways. But their friendship lasted. Indeed, the canon is the story of this friendship as the impassive Holmes declares, Good old Watson!. You are the one fixed point in a changing age." The sun sets on a sentimental scene.

      Ending: We have traced the role of the short stories' endings. While this story stands alone in the canon, it's ending is typical of Holmes. The series does not close with the stoic Holmes, the caustic Holmes, or the logical Holmes. It is the flippant Holmes who announces, Start her up, Watson, for it's time that we were on our way. I have a check for five hundred pounds which should be cashed early, for the drawer is quite capable of stopping it if he can."

      Breakdown of the Action Plot: We have described the action point-by-point to assist students who may miss some of the story's details.
      1. Introduction
      2. - (Two Germans meet at an English country home where one resides.)
        • Van Bork is a famous German who serves the Kaiser and has been living for four years at the house which serves as the setting of this story.
        • The secretary Baron Von Herlin is visiting Von Bork and predicts that Van Bork will be highly congratulated for his successful spy work he has done.
        • They discuss the British and their preparedness for war.
          • Von Bork makes fun of British simplicity and their customary forms.
          • Baron Von Herlin contradicts him with an explanation of a prior incident. He had attended a week-end diplomatic gathering in England where "the conversation was amazingly indiscreet. The baron passed the information to his chancellor in Berlin who then transmitted a remark to his British counterparts which showed that he was aware of what had been said. The incident was traced by the British to Baron Von Herlin who was surprised at how harsh the British reaction was to him because they traced the remark back to him.
          • In contrast to Baron Von Herlin, Van Bork is viewed as a carefree sportsman, hard-drinker, and generally easy-to-get along with fellow.
        • Meanwhile, the good-old Von Bork is leading a major-spy operation against the British. And all theh time this quiet country house of yours is the centre of half the mischief in England, and the sporting squire the most astute secret-seervice man in Europe. Genius, my dear Von Bork - genius
        • Von Bork takes Baron Von Herlin into his house to show him the result of his four year mission.
        • Von Bork's wife and household already have left England with part of his work. Von Bork will be leaving soon with the most important papers under the protection of the German embassy.
        • They do not believe England is ready for the coming war.
          • England has no formal treaty with France and perhaps won't interfere when Germany invades France. (Note: they did. But this is a story before that time.)
          • England may not react when they invade Belgium.
          • England should have figured out Germany's plans when they began a fifty million dollar special war tax, but they ignored it.
          • Von Bork and other diplomats smooth things over when anyone in England starts asking too many questions.
          • England has not made the basic preparations for war - munitions, explosions, defense along the coast.
          • Germany has kept England stirred up with an Irish civil unrest.
          • They conclude: "I should think they were wiser to fight with their allies than without them, but that is their affair.
        • Von Bork shows Von Herlin the safe with all the documents he has gathered about British defenses. Von Herlin claps.
        • Von Bork points to one space "Naval Signals" and explains that the current dossier is out-dated as England became alarmed and changed all their signals. When Von Bork gets the new signals, he will leave England.
        • An informant named Altamont is coming tonight to deliver the new signals to Von Bork. We learn this about Altamont.
          • He is an Irish-American who despises England.
          • He also speaks deplorable English.
          • He poses as a motor-expert and calls the signals he is delivering tonight 'spark plugs.'
          • Altamont is getting paid 500 pounds plus his regular salary for this job.
          • While Baron Von Herlin resents the money greedy traitors demand, Von Bork states that Altamont is very good and worth the money.
          • Altamont has fine taste in wine.
          • He is a touchy fellow and needs humoring in small things. I have to study him, I assure you.
        • Baron Von Herlin can no longer wait for the spy Altamont because "things are moving at Carlton Terrace" or the German embassy in London.
        • Prophetic words as he leaves: Those are the lights of Harwich. How still and peaceful it all seems. There may be other lights within the week, and the English coast a less tranquil place! The heavens, too, may not be quite so peaceful if all that the good Zeppelin (a German who invented the Zeppelin airship) promises us comes true.
        • Baron Von Herlin notes the housekeeper Martha, the only one still in the house besides Von Bork. He compares the older woman to sleeping England. He drives away.
      3. Rising Action
      4. : (Begins with the departure of Baron Von Herlin and ends with Holmes' revelation.)
        • Von Bork continues packing his valise with papers in preparation for his departure.
        • Altamont arrives, his chauffer stays in the car.
        • Altamont shows a brown-paper wrapped package which he says contains the updated naval signals.
        • They discuss Von Bork's safe. He explains it has a double lock and gives the code (August 1914.)
        • Von Bork says he is departing the next day. Altamont asks Von Bork to help him leave the country too.
        • Altamont tells Von Bork that his fifth informer was just caught; intellegience that was news to Von Bork.
        • Altamont fears he will be the next to be caught since his landlady report people have been inquring at his residence.
        • Altamont implies that either Von Bork is betraying his own men or has an informer in his midst, which angers the German.
        • Von Bork controls his anger and tells Altamont he is wise to go to Holland immediately, then to New York before the week is over.
        • Von Bork asks Altamont for the package of signals he has brought him.
        • Altamont refused to turn over his package until Von Bork wrote a check for 500 pounds, which he did, but refused to hand it to Altamont until he had the package.
        • Von Bork opens the package and sees a book entitled Practical Handbook of Bee Culture
        • The next moment he was gripped by the back of his neck by a grasp of iron and chloroformed.
        • There is an instantaneous change of scenery. Sherlock Holmes is drinking wine with Dr. Watson, our chauffer.
        • They remark on the fine wine, which is from Josef Franz's Schoenbrunn Palace.
        • Von Bork is unconcious from the chloroform; and Holmes/Altamont continue packing his papers.
        • Martha comes down. She is employed by Holmes and gave him the signal the coast was clear when she put out the light.
        • Martha had addresses to letters Von Bork posted that day. Holmes makes plans to meet her at Claridge Hotel in London the next day.
        • Holmes explains to Watson that for the last two years he has been on this assignment with Von Bork.
        • He informs him that he has passed false intelligence to Von Bork.
        • Holmes had just telegramed Watson for his assistance that day. They had not seen each other for several years.
        • Watson and Holmes discuss Holmes retired life as a hermit bee-keeper on the South Downs.
        • The Practical Handbook of Bee Culture was the work of Sherlock's retired years.
        • Holmes explains he has been on this case for the last two years at the request of the Premier and the Foreign Minister.
        • Holmes started in Chicago where he joined a secret Irish society and made his way into the confidence of Von Bork.
        • It was Holmes that had the other five informers apprehended.
        • Von Bork awakens and curses.
        • Holmes continues surveying and packing papers. He finds evidence of a British paymaster he will have jailed.
        • Von Bork calls him a double traiter. Holmes states he wasn't a double traitor as Altamont never existed.
      5. Climax
      6. : The revelation
        • At the climax Sherlock reveals his real name to Von Bork.
        • Holmes is known to Von Bork as he had saved his uncle from murder.
        • Von Bork realizes Holmes has passed him false information which will ruin him.
        • It is certainly a little untrustworthy Holmes replies about the intelligence.
        • Holmes compares national spies to sportsmen: You are a sportsman and you will bear me no ill-will when you realize that you, who have outwitted so many other people, have at last been outwitted yourself. After all, you have done your best for your country, and I have done my best for mine, and what could be more natural?
      7. Falling Action: Von Bork taken away
        • Holmes and Watson escort the bound Von Bork to their car.
        • Von Bork remains defiant.
        • Holmes remains confident in his dealing with Von Bork.
        • Von Bork threatens to yell when going through the village of Harwich that he has been kidnapped.
        • Holmes' response: The English man is a patient creature, but at present his temper is a litle inflamed, and it would be as well not to try him too far. (After Holmes suggests the villagers would hang Von Bork and name the village inn "The Dangling Prussian."
        • Before driving away, Holmes asks Watson to talk for a few minutes as it "may be the last quiet talk that we shall ever have."
      8. Denouement: Famous lines mark Holmes' assessment of the coming war (and Doyle's encouragement to his fellow citizens during it.)
    Altamont's Slang: Von Bork's description of the speech of the Irish-American Altamont: If you heard him talk you would not doubt it. Sometimes I assure you I can hardly understand him. He seems to have declared war on the King's Enlgish as well as on the English king.
    So what expressions did this Altamont use:
    • deliver the goods
    • give me the glad-hand tonight, mister
    • I'm bringing home the bacon at last
    • a copy, mind you, not the original
    • It's the real goods.
    • and you can lay to that.
    • Why a Yankee-crook would be into that with a can opener (refering to Von Bork's safe)
    • If I'd known that any letter of mine was goin' to lie loose in a thing like that I'd been a mug to write you at all. (mug = fool)
    • Search me
    • My, but that was smart. You had it down to a fine thing.
    • I'm not stayin in this gol-darned country
    • in a week or so, from what I see, John Bull will be on his hind legs and fair ramping. (John Bull was the personification of England; similar to Uncle Sam and USA.)
    • Well, so saw Jack James an American citizen, but he's doing time in Portland all the same. It cuts no ice with a British copper to tell him your'e an American citizen. (Jack James was a fictitious American citizen who was in the British Portland prison, apparently for selling secrets to Von Bork as Altamont is doing.)
    • By the way, mister, talking of Jack James, it seems to me you don't do much to cover your men.
    • ain't you?
    • James was a bonehead - I give you that.
    • Well, he went a bit woozy towards the end. It's enough to make a man bughouse
    • You go off and he, poor devil, will have to stand the racket
    • Steiner is the fifth man you've lost since I signed on with you and I know the name of the sixth if I don't get a move on. (Altamont is saying he will be the sixth spy in jail if he doesn't leave soon.)
    • It's me for little Holland the sooner the better.
    • What about the dough? The boodle. The reward.
    • It would have been nitsky for you and me
    • It isn't likely I'd give it up without getting my wad
    Later that evening in his conversation with Watson, Sherlock chortles that "my well of English seems to be permanently defiled." This reflects Doyle's portray of America as a semi-barbarious place. (This is one of six stories where he has secret gangs from America.)

    As an American, I won't take Doyle's assessment toooooo personally. However, it may be noted that both America and England (and that time and today) have their upper and lower classes with differences in speech pattern. It isn't quite fair to compare the elite British Sherlock - raised as a country squire - with an American gang member and then compare their differences in speech to their country of origin. But enough excuses. Altamont was a cool dude and Sherlock played the role well before vanishing him forever.

    Learn For Your Life Homeschool Owl

    The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

    The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb

    Opening: Watson's dilemma (Which case to write about)
    Pre-Introduction Pronouncement: Of these the later (Warburton's Madness) may have afforded a finer field for an acute and orignal observer, but the other (Engineer's Thumb) was so strange in its inception and so dramatic in its details that it is may be the more worthy of being placed upon record, even if it gave my friend fewer openings for those deductive methods of reasoning by which he achieved such remarkable results.
    Fulfillment:Here's the triple fulfillment of that pronoucement:
    • Strange in its inception: A hysterical-man whose thumb has been cut off wakes him up. (check)
    • Dramatic Details: Strange mission. Attempted Murder. (check)
    • Fewer openings for Holme's deductive methods: Critics complain Holmes had no viable role in the outcome. (check)
    Ending: Holmes laughs at the injured man who barely escaped murder since it will undoubtedly make him a better conversationalist.

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    Adventure of the Speckled Band Speckled Band
    Analyze the compelling mystery of the dangerous whistle in the night in this famous who-dunn-it.
    Silver Blaze
    Uncover the who, the where, and the why of a murdered man and missing horse.
    The Red Headed League Red Headed League
    Evaluate how Doyle turned a silly-looking prank into a serious international crime.
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    Assess if this strange tale is one of Doyle's best - or worst - stories.
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    Crooked Man
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    in Bohemia
    Scandal in Bohemia
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    Investigate the form and outcome of one of Sherlock's saddest cases.
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    Final Problem
    An evaluation of Doyle's daring decision and the outcry that followed.
    More About Sherlock Consulting Detective
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    More About Dr. Watson Dr Watson and Sherlock Holmes
    There was more to Dr. Watson's life than the readers understood at first.
    Super Hero Prototypes Holmes and Watson: Superheroes prototypes
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    See how Doyle's unique action plot made Sherlock stories a permanent feature in the halls of classic lit.
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    Sherlock Holmes best actors
    If you want to watch, find who portrayed him the best.
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