… build a model of reasoning from the canon of Sherlock Holmes
We are going to read the canons of Sherlock Holmes in this Medium essay and we will put together the principles of Holmesian observation and investigation. Then we will analyse how these principles can help us to put together a plan of deduction and inference in our practical lives. Be that as it may, these are fiction but they carry elements of observation, deduction, and storytelling that can still enable many of us to get through the morass of lies and falsehoods and help us launch investigations into the “facts” that we get to experience everyday, and sensemaking.
We will cover the novels and the stories as they have been laid out in the Sherlock Holmes stories: chronologically but as narrated by Sir Conan Doyle through the eyes of John Watson. In the process, we will read the stories, summarise them, identify the core principles, build a model of Holmesian canon, and see how these can be applied to new situations. Sounds familiar? :-), let’s dive in!
Summary of the Holmesian canon
Sherlockian canon consists of 56 short stories and 4 novels.
- Novel 1. (STUD) Study in scarlet
Study in scarlet is about a family of father and daughter who were stranded in Utah desert and were rescued by a group of Mormons and were brought to Salt Lake city in the 1880s. The father and the daughter family lived among the Mormons and the father lived the life of a farmer there. The daughter loved someone she was forced to marry two senior members of the Mormon clan. The father died, and the lover wanted to take revenge. The two men, one of whom married the girl, fled US and came to live in London. The lover chased them over Europe and found them out in London as well. The lover worked as an assistant to a doctor in New York where he learned pharmacology and prepared pills that he carried with him with a plan to murder the people who shattered his life as he chased them. He came to London and worked as a cab driver in London, and murdered the first man in an empty house by poisoning, and left an insignia. He also found the second man and found out where the second man lived, and killed him by stabbing the man.
In the “Study in Scarlet”, we are first introduced to Sherlock Holmes. John Watson is a retired hurt surgeon who returned to England after a stint of war in Afghanistan where he was wounded by a Jezail bullet in his leg and was recovering. He was looking for an inexpensive accommodation and his junior in the Medical School introduced him to Sherlock Holmes who was then working in a chemical laboratory. Sherlock had encyclopaedic knowledge about crimes, chemical substances, poison and was a violin player, and was a master in deductive and inductive logic in solving crime. Sherlock and Watson liked each other and they decided to share a boarding place at 221B Baker Street.
In their first meeting, Sherlock surprises Watson as he tells him that Watson was a retired army surgeon from Afghanistan. When Watson asks Sherlock how he came to these conclusions, Sherlock tells him that it was his observations and his power of “analytical thinking”. By analytical thinking, Sherlock meant that he was able to read in facts and then deduce from the facts the antecedents that would have caused the facts. Sherlock Holmes’ canonical statement is, “When you have ruled out the impossible, that which remains, however improbable, must be the truth”.
In the “Study in Scarlet”, Sherlock Holmes is approached by the police department (the inspector Gregson and inspector Lestrade) that they have discovered a dead body in an empty house. Sherlock pays a visit to the house with Watson and uses his observational skills to identify marks of cabs and coaches on the road and marks of blood stains on the wall, and other details. On this basis, he identifies the physical appearance of the killer. Eventually, he employs a group of street urchins (whom he names “Baker Street Irregulars”) to spot a cabbie who was the culprit. He nabs the culprit and the story comes out.
2. Novel: Sign of Four
The second story is titled “The sign of four”. This is the story of a British Army officer named Jonathan Small who was stationed in India during the time of Sepoy Mutiny in 1857, who initially lost a leg that was replaced with a wooden splint (false leg) but who was employed to guard a fort in Agra. There he met with two Sikh soldiers who gave him information about a treasure chest of an Indian king. The treasure chest was in possession of a man named Achmet. Achment was murdered by the two Sikh soldiers and an accomplice and the body was hidden in the fort. However, this became known and the four culprits including the accomplice of Achment, the two Sikh soldiers, and Jonathan Small were arrested. Jonathan was then deported to Andamans as prisoner to serve life imprisonment. There he came in contact with two army officers (Major Sholto and Captain Morstan), and a native named Tonga (Tonga was about 4 feet in height and was a master of throwing poisoned arrows to kill people). He revealed about the treasure and its location in the Agra fort to Sholto and Morstan; it was agreed that Sholto would visit Agra fort to verify that the treasure chest was still there and the treasure would be divided in five parts (four parts among Small and the four prisoners), and fifth part between Sholto and Morstan. However, Sholto departed with the treasure chest all by himself. A few years later, Morstan departed for England and came to meet Sholto and wanted a share of the treasure. In heated argument, Morstan suffered heart attack and died on the spot. Sholto hid Morstan’s body and the treasure box in a secret location in his house — the Pondicherry lodge. Meanwhile, Jonathan Small befriended the Andaman native and escaped Andaman, came to Indian mainland and was able to return to England. He sought revenge on Sholto; he found the house of Sholto, befriended with Sholto’s Indian servant, and learned that Sholto was on his deathbed. He decided to pay a visit to Sholto in a bid to find out about the treasure. However, that night, Sholto died while revealing the secret to his two sons. Jonathan Small also paid a visit to Sholto’s house as he was dying, and Sholto was able to see Jonathan Small’s face and he was terrified. Major Sholto had two sons, one named Bartholomew (the elder son), and the other named Thaddeus Sholto. After Major Sholto died, the brothers fell out about their rightful ownership of the treasures. However, Thaddeus Sholto agreed to compensate the daughter of Major Morstan. Anyway, Jonathan Small and his accomplice, the Andaman Native, manages to enter the house of Major Sholto and retrieve the treasure chest. In the process, they met with Bartholomew Sholto and the Tonga kills Barthlolomew Sholto with his poisoned arrow, then the two of them escape, and aim to hire a launch and attempt to escape to Brazil on a ship docked in London. Eventually, Holmes leads a police pursuit on the Thames; Tonga is thrown overboard and the jewels in the treasure chest are scattered all over the water in the Thames, and Jonathan Small is arrested along with the treasure chest.
In t his novel, we get to meet Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson discussing the science of deduction. It is here that Sherlock came up with his axiom that, “After you rule out the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth” . We also get to meet Mary Morstan, the daughter of Captain Morstan who approached Sherlock Holmes (she was referred to Sherlock Holmes by her landlady). She told Sherlock Holmes of her attempt to meet her father Captain Morstan on the day he first arrived in London from India but found that the Captain was missing and she had never heard from him since. Meanwhile, six years after her father’s disappearance, she started getting a gift of pearls from a person named Thaddeus Sholto, and on the day of her consult with Sherlock Holmes, she told Sherlock and Watson that Thaddeus asked her to meet him at a London theatre and she was allowed to bring in two friends but no policeman. Sherlock and Watson accompany Miss Morstan to meet Thaddeus Sholto who then whisk them away to his house and tell them about why he sent the pearl every year to Mary Morstan. Then together they went to meet Bartholomew Sholto but find him dead with a poisoned arrow. There we meet police inspector Athelney Jones whom Sherlock helped earlier.
Sherlock Holmes inspects the place with his lens and keen powers of observation, and finds out trapdoors in an attic in the roof of the room where Bartholomew was murdered. He also uncovers small footsteps and discovers the club and the arrowheads that the accomplice of the suspect. He then enlists the service of a dog and tracks down that the culprits must have escaped on a boat. He identifies the house of the boatman in whose launch that miscreants have escaped. The following day he disguises as a dock worker and identifies the launch and figures out the launch which the criminals will use to escape. He also enlists his “Baker Street Gang” group of street urchins to track the whereabouts of the launch. He alerts the police officer about the miscreants using a launch to escape and gets a police launch ready for hot pursuit. Guided by Sherlock Holmes the police pursue the criminals. Tonga is thrown overboard and dies, the treasures are lost as their key, the treasure box is saved, and Jonathan Small is captured. In the end, Dr Watson marries Mary Morstan and he moves out of 221B Baker Street but visits often.
3. Short Story collection: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
- A scandal in Bohemia
Here we get to read a different perspective. Here, a king of Bohemia (then Czech Repulic?) was in love with an American ballerina and actress, Irene Adler and exchanged a photograph. The king was about to get married and wanted the photograph back as he feared that Irene Adler might blackmail him. The king personally approached Sherlock Holmes to retrieve the photograph as all his efforts to retrieve the photo by searching Irene personally, and ransacking her house went in vain. Sherlock Holmes, in disguise, approaches the house of Irene Adler, and finds that Irene eventually married a lawyer of the inner temple of London. Sherlock and Watson approach the house of Irene Adler and tries to smoke out Irene Adler to show him the site of the photograph. The next day, when Sherlock tries to approach the house, he finds that Irene has left and she had left a letter for Sherlock that she used one of her servants to pry on Sherlock as well, and found out about his intentions. She took the photograph away but the king is confident that she will not blackmail him. Sherlock acknowledges the merit of Irene Adler and refers to her in future conversations as “the woman”.
In this story, we get to see that Dr Watson pays a visit to Sherlock’s house at 221B Baker Street and they discuss his method of deduction and observation. Here we get to read Sherlock’s second dictum to Dr Watson about not just seeing but observation. Sherlock asks Dr Watson whether he has seen the staircases leading to their room and Dr Watson answers in affirmative. Sherlock asks him how many stairs did he count to which Dr. Watson cannot give an answer. Sherlock tells him the count and talks about it’s not a matter of seeing but observation.
Are these deductive and inductive skills for real? There are both sides of the argument. Some behavioural scientists and psychologists contentd that it is unreal for anyone to rely on a fictional character to use tools to arrive at decisions in real life. Then there are issues around Holmesian fallacies. Others have raised and people have raised questions about the impossibility of what is impossible cause or the entire range of first identifying all that is impossible to identify causes. Some have even raised questions on the private life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his perceptions about fairies and other religious irrational practices. On the other hand, worldwide Holmesian and Sherlockian societies have spread since the first days of the stories. Others, such as Maria Konnikova, have written books on Sherlockian methods of thinking, and wrote series in Scientific American about how to use Holmesian methods of deduction and induction to arrive at solutions and indeed orient thinking.
2. A case of identity
A young woman is an heir to a large fortune from her father’s business. Her father died and her mother married another man. Her step-father does not want that the woman to be married to anyone, nor to be seen with any other person or leave the house or lead an independent life lest he loses the fortune. One time the girl and her mother were due to attend a party; the man disapproved this and left the house on the excuse to go to Paris for business. But this was a lie. He instead disguised himself and pretended to be a friend of the girl. Eventually, this led to a situation where the “lover” (actualy the stepfather in disguise) was about to marry the girl but abandoned her in the lat moment and was not to be found again.
We see the girl approach Sherlock distressed about the disappearance of the amour in the last minute and ditched her. Sherlock identifies that the boyfriend and the father are the same person on the basis of finding identical features in their typewritten letters and scripts. This was a case where Sherlock’s keen powers of observation helped to solve the case.
3. The red-headed league
A criminal decides to rob a bank in London and identifies that the bank is close to a barrack of houses in an impoverished part next to the business district. The barrack of houses included a pawnbroker’s shop that did not run too good a business. So this guy takes up a job at the pawnbroker’s shop and uses the basement of the shop to dig a tunnel to the bank’s chamber. In order to keep the owner of the bank away from the shop while he will continue to dig tunnels during the weekdays, he devises a plan. He notices that the owner of the pawnbroker shop has bright red hair. He devises a scheme with his accomplice to open a fake office and advertises something like a red-headed league and provides a job to the pawnbroker. When the tunnel is complete, the pawnbroker’s job is terminated. Holmes thwart their attemp to rob the bank through the tunnel, and get them arrested.
We see that the pawnbroker who was terminated come to Holmes and Watson for help. Holmes pays a visit to the pawnbroker’s home-cum-shop and notices a couple of things: the position of the basement by striking his stick on the pavement to notice if there is a hollow chamber beneath, and the marks on the knee of the trouser that the assistant wears. On this basis, he builds his analysis that there will be an attempt to rob the bank over the weekend. He builds his story on the basis of observation and his initial suspicion of the enthusiastic employee of the pawnbroker. Here his observation and analyses to build a story that helps to solve the case
4. The Boscombe Valley Mystery
Two Australians make money in Australia and they move to England. One of them buys farm in the Boscombe Valley and the other works in that farm. The richer farmer plots to murder the employee in his farm by hatching a plot where he calls the other person near a pool (Boscombe pool), and kills the man with a stone. Before the employee goes to meet with the murderer, he has a quarrel with his son (who was not expected to be at the site), but the police suspects the boy to be the man’s killer and arrests him. Sherlock uses his power of keen observation to identify the physiognomy of the killer and solves the mystery. The truth is established and the young man is freed.
5. The five orange pips
An Englishman who has worked in Florida and made money returns to England to settle. He has a brother and he is fond of his nephew, a young man, and allows him to look after the property and promises the inheritance of property to the young man. Meanwhile, the man receives a letter from Klu Klux Klan with five orange pips in it, the letter being sent from Pondicherry. The man is terrified of death, and eventually dies after a few weeks of receiving the letter. The death looks like he committed suicide although the young man knows that his uncle would not have committed suicide. His father now owns the property and he too receives a similar note from KKK, mailed from Dundee, and is killed in mysterious circumstances a few days later. The young man now owns the property and he too receives a similar letter with five orange pips and KKK sign, this time, mailed from London. In distress, he approaches Holmes. Holmes sends him away with the promise that he will unravel the mystery. Unfortunately the young man dies soon. Holmes realises that the place from where they sent the letter was linked to the death of the recipient. He identifies the person on the basis of his research on the identity of ships that were docked in the three ports (Pondicherry, Dundee, and London), and identifies the captain of the ship as the killer. He sends a similar letter to the ship’s captain but he learns that the ship has already sailed away. While Holmes cannot ‘nab’ the killer, we hear that the sailor died from a shipwreck. Here, we get to learn a couple of things: (1) Holmes telling Watson that a “reasoner” should be well-versed with facts and possess encyclopaedic knowledge about many things. Here we also learn about Holmes’ “attic” theory: that the mind is an attic, where we keep some facts and we keep the rest of them in notes that we can readily access. and (2) about Holmes ‘dictum’ that a reasoner must not only put together an explanation but also a prediction based on the reasoning and chain of reasoning to explain the facts
6. Man with the twisted lip
A newspaper reporter who was an amateur actor receives a brief to write a story on street beggars in London. In order to write the story, he puts on a disguise of a beggar and starts begging in the city near an opium den. He soon realises that begging helps him to earn more than his work as a reporter and turns into a beggar in disguise. Makes money, buys a house in the suburbia, has children. Every day, he begs during the day and leaves for home in the evening. One day, after begging, as he was dressing back and looked out of the window, he found that his wife was walking in the street and looked up at him. She was surprised and wanted to meet him, but he pretended he was abducted.
We get to see Holmes in disguise in the opium den when Watson comes to pick up one of his patients. Holmes wants to find out what happened to the man. Here we do not get a glimpse of his reasoning beyond the fact that he “thought over it” for a night before discovering the truth.
7. The blue carbuncle
A hotel employee conspires with the maid of a countess to steal her precious jewel and put the blame on a fellow employee, a plumber, who had a previous history of burglary. The plumber is arrested on charge of burglary but the police could not retrieve the jewel. Meanwhile, the hotel employee plans to hide the gemstone in the crop of a goose that was raised in her sister’s farm, plans to get the goose for his dinner; the plan did not work as the sister who raised the geese sold them to a butcher who then sold them to an inn-keeper, who sold them to a club, so the hotel employee never got to the jewel. The club member who got the goose with the gemstone in the crop was mugged on the way to his house by street urchins. A policeman wanted to rescue the gentleman, but on seeing the approaching policeman, he fled leaving the goose on the street and his hat. The policeman retrieved the man’s hat and the goose. They were unable to locate the gentleman’s place, so they decided to eat the bird on Christmas day. In the process, the policeman’s wife found the gemstone in the crop of the dead bird. The policeman is baffled and seeks Sherlock’s assistance and leaves the hat and the gemstone with him.
We get to see Sherlock Holmes and Watson at the point in the story where Watson is visiting Holmes and finds Holmes deep in thought. Holmes was investigating the man’s hat while the man is still unknown, and on seeing the hat, he deduces several things about the man: that he is intelligent, and has fallen into hard times, that he greases his hair in certain style, and so on. Then the policeman brings the gemstone to Holmes’ attention and the case as was reported in the newspapers. From these, Holmes’ puts an ad in the local newspaper about the hat and the goose. The owner of the hat comes to meet Holmes and Watson, and Holmes realises that the man is innocent, but that sets him on search of who might have possessed the goose in the first place. He goes to the inn, and is directed to the shop from where the inn keeper got the goose. Holmes’ observation and betting with the goose shop owner reveals the identity of the person who raised the goose in the first place, so we can guess that he and Watson would have followed that trail as well. Anyway, there in the shop, _accidentally_, Holmes zeroes on the hotel employee who came to inquire about the goose, and thus puts together the story. The element of Holmesian principles in this case was his powers of observation and then putting together a story from the facts as they were.
8. The speckled band
An English doctor in the countryside who practiced in India for several years and married an expatriate British woman and had two step-daughters, now retires in the countryside. The doctor has rough manners. The wife dies after returning to England leaving money for the step-daughters. The man maintains a large old mansion, and has connections with India, entertains gypsies who set up camps in his lawns, and has got a baboon and a cheetah from India. But otherwise he does not meet the locals and keeps to himself. He also does not allow the daughters to go out of the house and any proposal of the daughters getting married or going out of the house to live by themselves is shot down. One of the daughters recently got engaged and was about to get married, when she was found dead in her room. The coroner could not identify a cause of her death. A few days before she died, she confided with her sister that she heard “whistle” like sound in her room although she could not understand from where the sound originated. On the day of her death, she mentioned something of a speckled band but it was not clear to the sister. It turned out that the doctor kept a snake and trained the snake to bite the older daughter who died on the spot. The coroner missed the snake bite marks and thought that the girl died due to natural causes.
We get to see Holmes and Watson meeting the younger daughter of the man in their Baker Sreet flat, and the woman was upset. Holmes asked her to narrate the story and the circumstance of the death of her sister. Holmes and Watson then visit the countryside where the daughters and the father lived, and visited the manor. They investigated each room and in the process of investigation, Holmes noted the presence of a rope that looked like a bell cord and a ventilator that opened into another room instead of opening to outside. On this basis, Holmes reasoned that the death could be due to snake bite or a snake might be involved in the murder. Holmes and Watson hide in the room at night when they find that the doctor slid the snake through the ventilator. Holmes strikes the snake with a cane and the snake then moves back to the room, killing the doctor. A key lesson in this story was Holmes telling Watson that one should not reason from incomplete data, as he confesses that he initially suspected the gypsies when the woman first brought up the point of speckled bands, thinking of gypsy bands in the yard.
9. The engineer’s thumb
A couple of people were minting money illegally using a hydraulic machine in a remote countryside of England, not far from London. The machine broke down and they wanted to fix the machine but had to do it with utmost secrecy. They sought out a hydraulic engineer in London who was an orphan and a bachelor and ran a hydraulic engineering business but was not doing well. They paid him a huge sum of money on the oath of secrecy, and brought them to their factory/home in the countryside at night. The engineer first advised them on what needed to be repaired and then ventured to see what the machine was about by inspecting metallic bits on the floor of the giant machine that was like a room. The miscreants tried to trap the engineer in the machine itself to kill him. The engineer somehow escaped the machine and ran away. The miscreants chased him, and as he was escaping, they chopped off the engineer’s thumb.
The engineer reached Paddington station in London, and was taken to the chamber of Dr Watson by a railway guard. This is the point we get to see the engineer and Dr. Watson. Dr. Watson brought him to Sherlock Holmes. Holmes, Watson, a policeman, and the engineer then travel together to the place and find that a building is in flames. The engineer identifies the building as the one where he saw the machine. The story ends there. Unlike the other stories, we do not find any Holmesian wisdom.
10. Case of the noble bachelor
A British peer was travelling in California and met a young woman. The woman’s father prospected gold in America, struck it rich and then returned to England along with the daughter. While the woman was in America, she met with another prospector and got engaged and wanted to marry him. However as the man was not rich enough, he proposed that they married then while the woman would return to England and then he would join them. Thus married, the woman returned with her father to England. However, she learned that her ‘husband’ was attacked by a party of Apache Indians in America and most likely was killed. So, when the peer, Lord St Simon, proposed the woman to get married, she agreed to it. Then, on the day of the marriage, the woman saw her first ‘husband’ and realised he was alive, and more, he was in England. So, following her marriage, she, instead of meeting the guests for the breakfast, decided to elope with the man. She was missing, and this brought the British peer to Sherlock Holmes.
We get to meet Holmes and Dr. Watson pondering over the case. Lord St. Simon comes to meet them and narrate the story. Then we see Lestrade, the police officer, also comes and meets with Sherlock and tells him that he has discovered the wedding dress of the lady in the park. He also stated that he received reports of the lady’s sighting with another woman who was a friend of the Lord and who could have raised objections to the marriage and couuld hhave created troubles and was subsequently arrested following the disappearance of the lady. The police officer was perplexed and thought that the lady must have died by drowning in the lake. The officer also handed Holmes a chit where someone, presumably the lady who was the troublemaker, had written a note to the lady trying to decoy her out. However, instead of reading the chit itself, Holmes turned it over and found that it was written from a hotel. Eventually Holmes solved the mystery of the lady by inviting her and her first husband and also the British peer to his Baker street flat and arranging a supper. Holmes said he put it together from remembering similar cases in his ‘records’, and that the chit from the police officer helped him to pin point the ‘first husband’ and track him down.
Two elements in the story are instructive: (1) Holmes’ keen observation and paying attention to the minutiae; (2) Holmes’ keeping a diary or indexed notes on everything that he was able to dive in as needed.
11. Adventure of the Beryl Coronet
This is the story of a banker and his family who lives out of the city of London in an old villa with his niece, and son, and a retinue of servants and maid servants. This banker has a peer as his friend; this friend is a depraved dishonest man and makes friend with the banker’s son. The banker’s son is an unemployed young man who is also friends with this peer who lends him money and asks for repayment and harrases. On one occasion, a member of the British aristocracy approaches the banker and pawns a crown (coronet) studded with precious gems (beryls, 39 of them around the crown, hence beryl coronet) for fifty thousand pounds. The banker is concerned about the safety of the crown and keeps this in a chest close to his bed. That night, the coronet gets stolen and the banker finds that the son is holding the coronet and three corner gems are missing and part of the coronet is chipped. The banker accuses the son of stealing the coronet and hands over to the police. On seeing this, the niece faints and brought back to senses. The banker also approaches Sherlock Holmes to solve the case.
We get to see Sherlock intently listening to the story of the banker. Later, Sherlock and Watson travel to the villa of the banker. Sherlock takes a walk around the house in search of signs and is of the opinion that the banker’s son did not steal the coronet. Based on his astute observation of footsteps in the snow (as there was heavy snowfall when this case took place), and examination of the window sill, and interview with the niece, Sherlock solved the mystery. Meanwhile the banker visits Sherlock’s house the following day and announces that her niece has left the house leaving a letter. Sherlock then solves the case and shows the banker the gems.
It turned out that the depraved friend of the banker was the culprit, not his son. The depraved friend was friends with the banker’s son and the niece. He influenced the niece to steal the coronet and hand him over. The banker’s son watched this and tried to retrieve the crown. In the ensuing fight, the coronet got cracked and three stones went missing which the peer collected and ran away with. Eventually, he was able to convince the niece to go with him. However, Sherlock traced the peer and was able to retrieve the gems in lieu of paying him money for the cost of the gems. He reveals this to the banker and solves the mystery.
There are two key Sherlockian principles at play here. The first is his maxim that “when you rule out the impossible, whatever remains, however improable, must be the truth”. This was the case where he figured out that the banker would not fight with his son for the coronet, and the banker’s son loved the banker’s niece so he would not put a blame on the niece as the stealer of the gems, but then someone other than the son and the banker himself must be the culprit. He also figured that the maids or their paramours would not be involved; otherwise the son would reveal this to the father and would not take the blame. This way he established that it was the niece who stole the gems and therefore fainted when she realised that despite her stealing this and handing over to the culprit, the gems and the crown was still returned. Meanwhile, from the footprints in the snow, Sherlock figured out that there were two people involved in the fight to retrieve the gems, and one with a pair of shoes and heavy built man must have been there. That observation led him to investigate the rogue peer and this way he learned the rest of the story to solve the mystery.
12. The adventure of the copper beeches
A man who would lose money if his daughter were to marry, had locked up his daughter in his home so that the daughter would not be able to marry her boyfriend and thus move away from the house. However, the boyfriend refused to give up and kept a watch for the daughter. So the man hired a woman who looked exactly like his daughter, offers her a very high sum of money for trival work. The woman is surprised and contacts Sherlock and is uneasy about the job. Her uneasiness increases and she summons Holmes and Sherlock after working there for a few weeks, as she discovers a closed room and senses someone is locked up. Holmes and Watson rush to the Copper Beeches (the name of the house), and comes to the rescue of the woman. Meanwhile, the daughter has run away with her lover.
In this story, Sherlock remarks while travelling on a train when Watson comments on the idyllic life of countryside that life can be violent and vicious in these parts of the world. In the cities, Holmes argued, it’d be difficult to commit a crime and get away, while in the countryside, in loneliness and in isolation, vicious crimes could be commonplace.
3. Story collection: The memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
- The Silver blaze
This was a story of a race horse that was stolen from its stable and the trainer was murdered or found dead. The police initially laid the blame on a wayward person who came around to bribe the stable boys to learn more about the horse and thought that this man was the culprit to have stolen the horse and murdered the trainer.
Holmes and Watson travel to Dartmouth moor and examine the place. The stable had a dog in the kennel, and Holmes based his case on a number of connected facts: (1) the trainer had a cataract knife in possession that was found on his corpse and he had a gash on his thigh; (2) the horse was not to be found anywhere around the moor; (3) there was a dog in the stable that would have barked if it found a stranger entering the stable to steal the horse but it did not; (4) the stable boys had curried mutton for dinner laced with heavy doses of opium; (5) the trainer was in need of money. Holmes theory was that, the trainer laced the supper of the stable boys with opium, the man who came to inquire was incidental; as the dog did not bark when the horse was stolen, the horse would only possibly be taken out by the trainer himself. The trainer then tried to wound the horse by making a tendon cut in the hind legs but in the process, the horse kicked the trainer and he was mortally wounded, and further slashed the thigh. The horse was then taken up by a rival trainer to be locked up in their stable. Here, Sherlock Holmes talks about the fact that “the dog did not bark”, thus emphasising the importance of things that go missing or things that are absent in the process of investigations.
2. The yellow face
Watson comments that this story is one where Holmes was wrong in his logic and analysis but the crime got solved anyway. A woman lost her husband in America and she had a black daughter. She travelled to England and married another man. Meanwhile, she was in touch with her daughter and her carers in America and she asked them to come and settle in England. The husband got to know of some people having come and put up in a house close to their countryside home. The woman went to visit the girl. The girl used to peer through an upper storey room and used a mask that made her face yellow in colour. Holmes and his clients were both fooled. Although Holmes put together a story but that was wrong as Holmes thought that the woman’s American husband was trying to blackmail her but that was not the case. Holmes accepted the defeat and asked Watson to remind him of “Norfolk” every time Watson would find Holmes spinning his yarns too much.
3. The Stockbroker’s clerk
A young stock broker’s clerk finds a decent job as an accountant at a firm in London. A few days before showing up for the job, a man meets him and offers him a surprisingly large amount of money and makes him a business manager of his firm in Birmingham. The young man travels to Birmingham only to find that there are no real offices, and a similar looking man as the person who offered him the job in the first place, appears to be his manager. The man sets him to copy and mark businesses that deal with crockeries in Paris and off they go. A week of unproductive work arouses his suspicion and he contacts Holmes and Watson. Holmes and Watson travel with this man and goes to the office under the guise that Holmes and Watson under pseudonames are after jobs as accountants. A strange encounter between the man and the duo occurs, at the end of which this man tries to flee and commit suicide. Holmes, Watson, and their client went after this man and saved him from suicide by hanging. It turns out that this man in Birmingham and his brother in London were part of a gang who wanted to rob the stock company. Holmes reasoned that one of the brothers in London procured the handwriting and signature of the clerk and used this to find a job with the Stock brokers: this is why he dissuaded the guy from writing to the Stock broking company in writing that he was resigning or not interested in the job offer. Then using the signature, and having gained an entry into the offices, he put a plan to rob the office. An alert police constable thwarted his effort and he got arrested. The police were on the lookout for his brother who was in Birmingham. This is why, scared, the man tried to commit suicide. Holmes and Watson set the clerk to call police while they guard the man and t his is how the story ends.
We get to see Holmes and Watson in a four wheeler carriage with this clerk who narrates the story. The point to note here is that, it is the “analytical skill” of Holmes moving from facts to set up theories that solves the mystery. So, to recap some of the principles:
- Note every aspect of the fact
- Set up a theory that can explain _every_ fact, otherwise it is not much of a theory
- Predict next steps and behaviours based on the theory
In a nutshell, this is also a principle of logical positivist ideals of generating knowledge and insights. Add to it the quality of developing an encyclopaedic knowledge about the phenomenon you are interested to study. These three qualities of fact gathering, theory formation, and prediction coupled with encyclopaedic knowledge is the basis of all of Holmes’ investigations.
How do you generate the theories? This is where Holmesian concepts of “analytical reasoning” comes in play. In this step, you take a list of facts and then put together not one, but a set of theories that can EXPLAIN every fact in that exact sequence.
4. Gloria Scott
In this story Holmes narrates to Watson stories from his life before he met Watson, or rather, his life before Watson met him. When he was a student in the university, he had a friend named Trevor. Trevor belonged to an aristocrat family and his father lived in a villa outside of the city. In one of the holidays, Trevor and Holmes visited their house in the country. In that house lived Trevor’s father, a JP (justice of peace), with his retinue of servants. In the university Holmes was renown for his skills of observation and theory building or analytical reasoning, and with these, he impressed Trevor’s old man. While they were holidaying in the house, a “seaman”, who seemed to be well-known to Trevor’s father, one day came to the house, and continued to live there. Holmes returned to London after some days spending time in the household.
One day Holmes received an urgent message from Trevor summoning him to come to the country-house. Trevor said that his father had suffered a brain stroke on receiving a letter from somewhere and was about to die. When Holmes reached the house and listened to Trevor, it turned out that this “guest” or friend of his father continued to stay in the house, and somehow became very powerful. One day there was an argument between Trevor and this man, Hudson, and as a result, Hudson, left the house in unhappy circumstances. A few days later, Trevor’s father received a mail that had cryptic message written in it. Upon reading the letter, the old man was upset and suffered a fit of stroke. He did not recover from it, but before he passed away, he wrote a letter for Trevor. Trevor read the letter to Holmes. Holmes deduced that Hudson wrote the letter. In that letter that he left for his son to read, his father narrated the story of his past life.
He said he lived with an assumed name, the initials of his real or earlier name was etched on his forearm as a a tattoo that Holmes noted and surprised him at the time. He was an accountant with a company and he was convicted of embezzlement of funds and was sentenced for deportation to Australia on a convict ship. In the convict ship, he met with another convict who claimed that he was a rich man and had ‘purchased’ several shipmates, including the chaplain of the ship. The inmates hatched a plot to take over the ship and murdered the armed guards, and took over the ship. A difference of opinion arose as to what to do with those people who did not present armed resistance to the inmates. Trevor’s father and a few others with thim him argued that their lives be spared, but the leader of the rebellion did not agree with them. Eventually, they agreed that Trevor’s father and a few others would leave the ship convict ship on a row boat. Accordingly, they left on a row boat. As they left, they saw the ship blow up after some time. When they went back to search the ship for wreckage, they found Hudson swimming in the ocean and they rescued him. Then the party found another ship sailing to Australia, and on that ship, reached Sydney. In Australia they asumed new identities and they built their lives there. Then Trevor’s father returned to England and settled as an established landed gentry. However, his criminal past did not leave him.
We do not get to see much of Holmes’ genius of deductive skills in this story, except for his prowess of reading cryptic letters and missives. we also get to see Holmes’ keen power of observation and analytical thinking.
5. The Musgrave ritual
Musgrave ritual is another story that happened before Sherlock met Watson. Here, again, Sherlock visits his friends’ house in the countryside. The friend belonged to the Musgraves, an aristocratic family in the country whose ancestors were related to King Charles. The story involves reading the annual Musgrave ritual, which was a cryptic tale that suggested the presence of something that would be passed on to someone else. In the story, the Junior Musgrave, Holmes’ friend, found that a long time butler of the house from his father’s era was poring over a family document with a map. He was outraged upon seeing the butler accessing their family treasure and fires the butler. The butler asks for a few days to stay, which he granted. A few days later the butler was missing, and a maid in the house was found hysterically laughing when she was told of this news. In the story, Holmes arrives at his friend’s house in the country, reads the mystery of the Musgrave ritual, and solves the mystery, and finds the missing butler who was found dead in a secret chamber that Holmes’ intelligence of reading cryptic messages uncover. It also turned out that the butler had identified riches and an ancient crown in the vault. Again, as in the previous story, there is not much of Sherlock Holmes’ deductive power, but his ability to read mysterious scripts and cryptic messages was the theme of the story.
6. The Reigate Puzzle
In this story, we see Holmes’ recovering from depression and ill-health and exhaustion after solving a crime in continental Europe and Dr Watson has taken Holmes to Reigate for rest and recovery. There, Holmes encounters a case of theft at a house and the following day, in a neighbouring house, and where the neighbours were in litigation with each other, a butler is killed. The owners of the house where the butler was killed claim that they saw the killer escape over a hedge although no boot marks or other evidence was present. A torn letter was found in the hand of the slain butler. Holmes investigated the case, pieced together the case by finding the remainder of the torn letter, and had shown that the culprits were none other than the master of the dead butler. They were also involved in theft of documents and paraphernalia from the neighbours with whom they were involved in a court case, and the butler knew this. This is why they decided to kill the butler but lie about the circumstances of his murder.
Reading the story, once more, Holmesian principles of observation -> inference -> deduction is in play. Holmes made a careful observation of the letter and the patterns of the letter. He claimed that in the letter was a mix of elderly and younger handwriting patterns, and on this basis, he was able to infer that the two gentlemen were involved. Doyle makes no mention of the analysis of the forensic investigation of the slain butler, neither does Holmes reflect on the nature of the bullet injury on the body of the butler.
7. The crooked man
Two soldiers were stationed in India during the time of Sepoy mutiny in 1857. One of them, Henry, was a foot soldier, and the other, who will be later Colonel XXX was rising in the ranks. They both loved a woman. At one point, the soldiers were garrisoned in a fort surrounded by the rebels. XXX, who was the leader of the group, sends Henry to go through the enemy rank to inform another colonel who was advancing towards the fort to rescue them. Eventually, Henry falls in the hands of Indian rebels and mauled. In the enemy camps, he heard that XXX wilfully planned to send him out so that he would be out of his way. He ends up his life as a crooked bodied old man, and somehow survives as a conjuror with a mongoose for a pet. He makes just about enough money to travel back to England and finds his station at an army cantonment where he makes a living as a busker. XXX meanwhile, rises in ranks, and marries the woman of his love. Then they settle in England. They believed Henry was dead in India.
One day, the lady was returning from a church meeting with one of her friends, and accidentally met Henry on the way. She thought Henry was dead but Henry now tells her everything. She returns home, furious with rage having been betrayed by the cowardice of XXX. That evening, she has an argument with Colonel XXX, and while they were arguing, Henry enters the house. Seeing Henry, the Colonel dies on the spot by falling over and suffers a gash in the back of his head. The wife faints and is later incoherent.
We meet Sherlock Holmes late in the evening knocking on the door of Watson’s house. He invites Watson to travel with him to the army barracks and narrates the end of the tale where he is investigating how the Colonel died. The police suspects the Colonel’s wife, but Holmes is not convinced. He has identified footsteps of a third person who has taken away the keys from the door and entered and escaped the building through a window. He identifies that the man is accompanied by an animal from footsteps and marks on the curtain that the animal is able to scale. He has inferred that there was a tale that the friend of the dead colonel’s wife may know, and he meets the friend who accompanied the wife to the church and returned with her on the same carriage where the colonel’s wife dropped her. She tells Holmes of the crooked man. Holmes tracks down the crooked man, and wants him to confess. Hence Watson would be a witness and he invites Watson to come along with him.
Here’s another story where all three elements of Holmesian elements of crime detection is in full play: observation where Holmes discovers marks of the footprints, not only of the man, but also of the animal that accompanied the man; his inference, where he pieced together a theory of the cause of the death of the Colonel and his deduction: where he approached the woman who accompanied the wife of the colonel.
8. The resident patient
A group of four robbers robbed a bank and got arrested. One of them, call him Sutton, turned in the others and got out of jail; the rest three were sentenced to imprisonment. When they got out of jail, they were on the lookout for their mate who betrayed them. They eventually hunted them down to a house and killed him. This was the house of a doctor whom Sutton (now under an assumed name of Blessington) provided money to set up a practice, and then decided to reside in the same house as a patient.
We meet Sherlock and Watson where they meet this doctor. The doctor is a neurologist, and he narrates the story of his early days when he had a lean practice and a gentleman helped him to set up a practice. One day, two people came to see him in the pretext of a patient who had catalepsy (“absence seizure”) for which he was an expert.
9. The Greek Interpreter
This is the story where we get to meet Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock’s elder brother and his sibling with superior detection skills, albeit less energy to actively pursue criminals and miscreants. He transferred a case of a Greek interpreter to Sherlock. The interpreter reported visiting a house in secrecy and being kept in the dark and bullied as he visited the house. he found that a woman and her brother were pressured for signing some papers. Mycroft issued an advertisement in the newspaper looking for the whereabouts of the elder brother and Sherlock sent a wire to Athens from where the brother came. The following day, Sherlock, Watson, and two police officers set out for the house. Upon reaching the house they realise that the criminals have flown, but they were able to track down the brother and the Greek interpreter. Unfortunately the elder brother of the woman died but the life of the Greek interpreter was saved. The point of Sherlockian observe-infer-deduce here was mostly observation.
10. (NAVA) The naval treaty
A British peer had found employment for his nephew, Phelps, in the foreign office and trusted him with an important naval treaty document that, if this were to be leaked to the French government, would have important repercussions; this made such a document expensive, so if anyone would gain an access to this document, if they were to sell such document to a foreign government, would make money. The peer therefore instructed Phelps to maintain this document closely and with maximum security; he did so, and kept it in his office where he was copying it. One day, after the days’ work, late in the evening, he wanted to have a cup of coffee and ordered it from the staff who lived downstairs from his office; the passage to this staff office also led to another passageway to a side street. When he was in the office of the staff where he was asking for coffee, he heard a bell ring from his own office and hurried back; when he returned to the office, he found that the treaty document was gone. On the same day, he was planning to return to his country home with his would-be brother-in-law. However, they were not able to meet in time. As soon as he realised that the treaty was stolen, he became ill due to nervousness (“brain fever”), and launched a search for the treaty documents. He was not successful in finding the treaty documents, and with the help of a local doctor, he returned to his country home and was so ill that he had to pass several days there in bed. From there he sent mail to Dr. Watson if he could bring along Holmes to investigate. Holmes and Watson first visit their country home; there Holmes meets the future brother-in-law of Phelps and learns about the disappearance of the documents. Holmes also speaks with the British peer in London. Holmes and Watson travel to the countryside again to be by the side of Phelps. On that day, he tells them that someone attempted to enter his room; he was awake and the man, armed with a blade, eventually escaped. Holmes devises a plan and asks Phelps and Watson to travel with him to London. In the train station, however, he lets only Phelps and Watson travel back to London and he instead goes back surreptitiously to the Briarbrae (the house) and hides to observe what’s going on. He also asked the fiancee to stay back in the house and lock the room only at night. Holmes captures the culprit, the man’s brother-in-law red-handed. A scuffle ensues, Holmes is injured but he retrieves the document and brings it back to Phelps.
The three elements of observation, inference/theory building, and planning or deduction were in full play.
11. (FINA) The adventure of the final problem
We get to meet Professor Moriarty for the first time here. Holmes visits Watson’s house while Watson’s wife was away and tells him about the wily math professor turned army coach turned rogue villain Moriarty. Moriarty devises crimes all around Europe and the UK, but he himself remains out of reach. Holmes has devised a plan to capture Moriarty and reveal and bust his gang. Moriarty is equal in his skills with Holmes; pays Holmes a visit and threatens to destroy him and apparently makes several attempts to kill Holmes. Holmes has decided that he will leave for the continent and travel to Switzerland and will take Watson with him. Holmes knows that Moriarty will trail him. Holmes and Watson travel evading Moriarty from England to the continent and manage to go as far as Reichenbach Falls; Moriarty catches up with them. Moriarty sends a letter to Watson through an emissary about seeing an English patient; Watson cannot refuse and leaves Holmes at the Falls. When he reaches the village of the Falls village, he realises that the letter was a fake one; he immediately travels to the site of Reichenbach Falls, but realises that Moriarty had already reached there and there was a fight between Holmes and Moriarty. He could not find any signs of Holmes and assumes that Holmes is dead.
Novel 2. (HOUN) Hound of the Baskervilles
This novel has several elements of Sherlockian investigation and the observation-inference-deduction strategies that Sherlock used for his investigations. A famiily folklore is the centrepiece of the story: the Baskerville family is an old family in England where the lore goes that they had a “black sheep” in the family who was a wicked man revelling in women. One night, he forcefully abducted a woman from a nearby farm and was in the intention of having fun with her, when she escaped the house. Hugo Baskerville and his fellow revellers went after the woman in her search to get her back. In the process, they were apparently killed by a “ghost hound” that roamed in the moor. The moor itself has several tracts of water where animals and people are known to be “submerged” and there are little islands.
Several centuries passed, and now the property was in the hands of Charles Baskerville, who was a descendant of the Baskerville family and he returned from overseas with money to set up and repair the house. Dartmoor, where this story was set was a small village with a few families known to each other. One of these families was XXX, who was a lepidopterist living with apparently his “sister” and was an old schoolmaster who came to settle in this part of the world. There was a country doctor, Dr. Mortimer, who was well-known in the village. The baskerville villa had a butler and his wife, who lived there for generations.
In the story, Charles Baskervilles was afraid of the “ghost hound” and used to avoid walking into the “moor”, but one night he went out of his way and was found dead. Following his death, they approached Henry Baskerville, an inheritor fo the property, who was a farmer in Canada, to return to England and live in the property. Dr Mortimer, the country doctor, went to receive Henry Baskerville and decided to approach Sherlock Holmes to ask what should he do with Henry Baskerville. He feared that he was being followed. Sherlock confirmed this and agrees to meet Henry and Mortimer in his 221B Baker street. There Henry reveals that after he returned to the country, he purchased a pair of shoes, and one of the pair of the shoes was missing from his room. He was furious about it and complained to the hotel management. The shoe was found the next day, but another of his old pair of shoes, a black coloured shoe, was missing now. Henry was flummoxed at this. Meanwhile, Sherlock and Watson realise that they were being followed around. Sherlock sends Watson, Henry, and Mortimer to Dartmoor and states that he would like to be in London investigating this. But in disguise, he left for Dartmoor as well.
In Dartmoor, Watson learns that a fugitive prisoner is on the loose and must be hiding around. He also gets to meet XXX, the lapideptorist and his “sister”. Apparently, the sister tries to dissuade Watson whom she mistakes for Henry Baskerville and asks to leave as soon as he can. Eventually, Watson finds that XXX’s sister is drawn towards Henry and they develop quite a friendship. Watson also learns that other than the prisoner there is another person around the moor, and realises that he was none other than Sherlock himself. Sherlock was investigating the case while being in Dartmoor.
Eventually, Sherlock solves the mystery by investigating XXX from the schoolmasters’ register and figures out that XXX is a descendant of the Baskerville family as well; that XXX’s apparent sister is his “wife”; XXX keeps a hound that he has painted with fluorescent colours and that was the animal that the local farmers have occasionally reported. Sherlock anticipated that XXX would attempt to murder and take control of the Baskerville house. Watson, and he eventually helps to foil the attempt of XXX to kill Henry Baskerville by letting out the dog on Henry following a dinner invitation and gets XXX arrested.
To the observation-inference-deduction we add a fourth element of Sherlockian investigation pattern that is relevant for any investigation: that of prediction and further observation by creating experimental scenarios. For example, here, Holmes frames things like this:
- Fact: a freshly bought shoe is stolen first then returned and an old shoe of Henry Baskerville is stolen, leads to
- Inference: There is a real dog or a hound after all that is linked somehow to the death of Charles Baskerville
- Deduction: Someone, whoever is the owner of the dog will use the dog to attack Henry as well
- Fact: XXX’s facial features match that of Hugo Baskerville
- Inference: XXX is probably a descendant of the Baskerville family
- Deduction: XXX has a motive to own the property
- Fact: XXX as a schoolmaster had a suspicious past and has moved from elsewhere to here with his wife
- Inference: XXX’s “sister” is not his sister, but wife; XXX is not a clean person and therefore has a propensity of crime; XXX owns the dog
- Deduction: If XXX is the criminal, then he will try to kill Henry using the dog
This last deduction led Sherlock to lay the trap to test whether his theory was correct by developing a predictive model of how XXX might attemtp to kill Henry and he would test it with observing XXX’s behaviour by first letting everyone know he and Watson were leaving the village but not actually doing so, and returning in the evening to keep a watch over XXX’s house when Henry was invited and thus solve the crime.
Return of Sherlock Holmes
- (EMPT) The adventure of the empty house
In this story Watson tells us that he was heartbroken after the death of Sherlock Holmes and eventually in two year’s time, his wife, Mary Marston Watson also died. He was maintaining his medical practice and was dabbling in solving crimes but not much successful although he used the methods of Sherlock.
Meanwhile, there is this story of a card player aristocrat named Adair in London who lived with his mother and sister; they were affluent rich family who were expatriates in Australia and recently returned to London. The story has it that he was found dead in his part of the house where they lived. He was shot through the head: at the time of his death, he was laying out a set of cards and notes on his table counting money. The money was not stolen, the door of the room was locked from inside, and the window of his second floor was open. The police thought that he committed suicide but there was suspicion that it might not be so. Watson was interested in the crime and made some investigations but he was unable to solve it. In the story, he meets with an old man with books accidentally on the street; one evening, he finds the old man enter his room and eventually, the old man turns himself to none other than Sherlock Holmes.
Sherlock tells him about his escape after the death of Moriarty in Reichenbach Falls, and his eventual travel through Tibet and Asia back to London. He was back in his old apartment at 221B Baker Street. After this we get to see that Watson and Holmes plan to reunite; Watson sells his practice and now teams up with Sherlock as well.
Holmes takes Watson to an empty house in the backyard of Baker Street. The house is empty and dark. There they go to a part of the house from where they can keep a watch over the 221 B Baker Street flat. Watson is surprised to find a shadow that looks exactly like Holmes sitting in the Baker Street flat. Holmes explains that this is a shadow projected on the window of a wax replica as Holmes feared for his life from the accomplices of Moriarty who was trailing him in England and was after him to kill him. Soon after, a killer enters the building and positions a special kind of shooting gun in an attempt to shoot Sherlock from this distance. As he is about to pull the trigger, Holmes jumps on the man, summons the police, and the man is arrested. Holmes brings the charge of killing Adair with this gun on this man, and explains about the gun, the attempt to kill him and Adair and the motivation. This killer was a partner of Adair in his game of cards, and was cheating. Adair realised this and was about to distance himself from this man. For the killer, this would mean a significant loss in income, so he hatches a plan to murder Adair in revenge. He uses this special gun that Moriarty devised and got built by a german mechanic. The killer was an accomplice of Moriarty and hence wanted to avenge the death of his master by killing Holmes who he knew was alive and was in London. Beyond Holmes’ usual suspicion and agile investigation, there is not much to be gained by way of Holmesian insight in terms of observation-inference-deduction-prediction in this particular story.
2. (NORW) The adventure of the Norwood builder
A builder devised a plan to send his money elsewhere and hide himself in his own house for sometime, then feign his own murder by burning and escape from the house and rebuild a new identify for himself. He invites a young lawyer, whose mother he courted in the past but never got married; writes his property in the name of the lawyer; then when the lawyer leaves the house late at night accidentally leaving his stick in his house, he drags an animal into a pile of dry logs in his log cabin, puts a few of his shirts and buttons there, and sets the pile to fire, killing the animal in the process and the charred remains. He meanwhile hides in his own house in a secret chamber he has created in the walls. The police suspect the young lawyer as his killer and is on the hunt.
We get to see Holmes and Watson meeting with this harrowed young lawyer who narrates this tale to them, asking them to save him. Holmes trusts the story of the lawyer. Meanwhile, the police arrive at Holmes’ flat and arrest this young man. Holmes asks time out from the police and investigates himself. He first visits Blackheath, and meets the parents of the lawyer to find out more of his past. Then he visits Norwood and investigates the house carefully; he observes that one part of the house-wall is shorter in size than the other; this was unexpected given the nature of the building and he suspects presence of a secret chamber behind the wall. After he returns, the police officer calls on him to tell him that they have fresh incriminating evidence against the lawyer as the police has discovered fresh thumprints on the wall of the Norwood home. This convinces Holmes that he has identified the story. Holmes and Watson return to Norwood with the police officer. Holmes asks for two sturdy police officers who can yell well and asks for a pile of hay which he then soaks with water and sets fire. As the smoke rises, Holmes and the two police officers shout fire. Soon enough, the Norwood builder, Jonas Oldacre, emerges from his hideout and Holmes presents the criminal to the police, thus relieving the lawyer from crime.
3. (DANC) The adventure of the dancing men
Here we see Holmes that cryptologist, where he solves a crime by reading a set of cryptic messages. It turns out that a woman settles in England and marries an aristocrat. The aristocrat approaches Holmes carrying with him a card or a torn piece of paper carrying cryptic messages where a series of dancing stick figures appear. Apparently, his wife is disproportionately scared by the appearance of these dancing stick figures initially on his window panes and then on pieces of paper. The man has married the woman out of love and has decided not to ask anything of her past, hence he does not know why. However, the story goes that the woman, her father (who died and is not part of the story anymore as he died in America) and another person were part of a secret society where they communicated using these stick figures. This man (Abe Slaney) was a friend of the woman’s father, and was a notorious criminal, and wanted to meet her. The woman was afraid of her past. The husband was suspicious that this unknown caller was about to cause harm. One day the man arrived at the house and tried to snatch the woman by tugging at her through the open window. The husband entered the room at that instant and shot at the man, the man shot back as well. The husband died and the woman tried to commit suicide unsuccessfully, and in the process injured herself and lost consciousness. The man asbsconded.
Holmes was able to read the papers and the crypts and was able to use the same cryptography to send a message Slaney to arrive at the house immediately. Slaney thought that the crypted letter was written by the woman, and arrived at the scene when he was arrested. The Holmesian skills of reading cryptographic letters, and his keen observation that there was a third person involved in the shooting when the police thought that the woman was the killer of the man helped to solve the crime.
4. (SOLI) The adventure of the solitary cyclist
In this story, a man went from England to South Africa in search of fortune leaving his wife and daughter in the country. The daughter and the wife did not hear from him in while and he died in South Africa. The family was a poor family and was in need of money. Three men formed a syndicate, two of them knew the South Africa expat, and found that the man was about to die. He left his property for his daugher and wanted these two men to convey the message to his daugher. The three men, one of whom was a defrocked clergyman, hatched a plan: one of them would marry the woman, and get the money on her behalf, and then would divide the money among themselves. The defrocked clergy would facilitate the marriage. They decided that if necessary, they would abduct the woman and get her forcefully married.
We see that the woman come to 221B Baker Street and appeals to Holmes to save her. She told them that she received a note from two people about her father’s last wish for her that she was to inherit money from her father; she visited them in London where she did not like one of the two men, but the other (Bob Carruthers) she thought was genial. Bob offered her a job at his country house to teach his daugher music. Soon after the woman started the job, she found that on her way back biking to a train station every weekend to her mother’s place in London, she found someone trailing her. She was unable to find exactly the person, but this was a nervous experience for her and she wanted Holmes to find it out. Holmes sends Watson to find out the identity of the person, but Watson does not make much of it. Eventually, Holmes and Watson travel to the countryside and solve the mystery.
Holmesian principles from the canon
In summary, here are the Holmesian principles from the canon
- Analytical thinking. — Start with facts and put together a string of explanations from the facts that should explain all the facts at hand
- Rule of rule out. — “When you rule out the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth” (dictum of deduction)
- Mindful observation. — Observation or involvement with the object of attention is more important than mere “seeing”. For example, noticing a set of stairs is not sufficient, one must be able to count the stairs and notice their characteristics.
- Prediction. — Observe, reason, form a theory, then predict what’s going to come next. Very much like the inductive-deductive logic we use in our research today: study the facts, develop a theory (or a model), predict what will happen, collect more data, and then test. Need therefore several theories to be tested till one of them is correct (refer to “rule of rule out”)
- Encyclopaedic knowledge. — Learn about a range of topics and subjects
- Brain attic. — Keep “an attic” in the brain to hold that which is necessary, everything else in the form of notebooks; tempering encyclopaedic knowledge with
- Note-taking and indexing. — All facts and cases are indexed and noted and filed.
- Completeness of data. — Holmes warned about setting up stories and theories on the basis of incomplete data. One should always go for complete data before theories. In the Copper Beeches, he says, “Data, data, data, give me data. I cannot make bricks without clay”. The metaphor of clay is important here as clay or something to model with. Here, theories and models are the basis of his further investigation.
- “The dog that did not bark”. — Look for negative signs as well.
The model according to the Holmesian canon
(To be developed further …)
Related works and references
Maria Konnikova’s book