The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes | Study Guide

Arthur Conan Doyle

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The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes | Plot Summary



The appeal of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories comes from their skillful blend of intelligence and entertainment. The stories challenge readers to hunt for clues and develop their own hypotheses as each narrative unfolds, but in the time between the crime and the resolution, readers come across all sorts of enchantingly drawn characters. The long friendship between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson is particularly remarkable and gives each story a sense of continuity. The men spend much time making witty banter, but their connection is heartfelt and offers readers an affirming antidote to the double-crossing that Holmes so frequently encounters in his investigations. In The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes each story is self-contained, although certain characters appear in more than one story.

A Scandal in Bohemia

This short story is told in three chapters and features the reunion of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson after a period of separation. The action revolves around the King of Bohemia. He is getting married, and he must recover compromising letters and a photo that are in the hands of an ex-lover, the enchanting opera singer Irene Adler. The intelligent and witty Adler, however, proves too elusive for the king and even for the great Holmes as she herself gets married and makes her escape with the photo—just in case she ever needs to use it in the future.

The Red-Headed League

A red-headed pawnbroker named Jabez Wilson is encouraged by his assistant, Vincent Spaulding, to join a secretive organization dedicated to honoring red-headed men. Wilson is chosen by the Red-Headed League to copy an encyclopedia by hand for four hours daily at a good rate of pay, with the stipulation that he not leave the office. After eight weeks, however, the office is closed suddenly, so Wilson comes to Sherlock Holmes to learn if he is the victim of a ruse. The organization turns out to be a sham concocted by Spaulding, who is actually a notorious criminal named John Clay. He needed Wilson to be away from the shop so he could build a tunnel from the basement to a nearby bank that he intended to rob.

A Case of Identity

A young woman named Mary Sutherland is tricked into keeping her inheritance under the control of her stepfather and mother in a cruel case of deception. Her controlling stepfather, James Windibank, disguises himself as a man named Hosmer Angel. Mary falls in love with this mysterious man and pledges to remain true to him no matter what. On the day they are supposed to be married, Angel disappears. When Sherlock Holmes figures out the scam, he doesn't have the heart to break it to the woman, but he threatens violence on Windibank and tells Dr. Holmes that he believes the man will soon turn to a life of crime.

The Boscombe Valley Mystery

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson travel to Herefordshire to help Scotland Yard Inspector Lestrade solve a case brought to Holmes by a young woman named Alice Turner. The father of the man she loves has been murdered at Boscombe Pool, and his son has been accused and jailed for the crime. After visiting the crime scene and talking to the young man in prison, James McCarthy, Holmes knows who the murderer is and gives the inspector a description of him without revealing the man's name. Holmes then invites the killer, John Turner (Alice's father), to his hotel and gets a signed confession from the man. It turns out that Turner and the murdered Charles McCarthy, who both came from Australia, had ties based on a terrible secret from the past. Turner had been a notorious criminal in Australia, and McCarthy has been blackmailing him for years to keep the information secret. When he pushed the blackmail beyond monetary demands to the demand that Alice marry James, Turner snapped. However, he is very ill and only has a few months to live, so Holmes does not turn him over to Scotland Yard. Instead, at James's trial he establishes reasonable doubt and James is then free to marry Alice.

The Five Orange Pips

In a case involving the Ku Klux Klan, Sherlock Holmes becomes incensed by the crimes that occur and seeks revenge for them on his own. The case is brought to him by a young man named John Openshaw, who believes his family is cursed and is afraid he will be the third generation of men to be killed, since he has recently received the same strange letter that his grandfather and father received just before their "accidental" deaths. Each letter is marked KKK and contains five orange pips (seeds or pits) with instructions to put papers from a chest also marked KKK and kept in the Openshaw house "on the sundial." Holmes figures out that the papers most desired by the Ku Klux Klan are a register of all member names. He warns John Openshaw to practice extreme caution, but the man nevertheless dies overnight in a drowning accident. Holmes traces the letters to the captain of a ship that is en route to Savannah, Georgia. He alerts authorities there to arrest James Calhoun upon arrival, but it becomes unnecessary when the ship sinks in a storm and all aboard perish.

The Man with the Twisted Lip

In a strange case that moves from an opium den in London, to Kent, and then back to London, Sherlock Holmes discovers a startling secret that does not actually involve a crime. A woman from Kent named Mrs. St. Clair is seeking her missing husband, Neville, who has been presumed dead but has just written her a letter that proves he is alive. A well-known beggar in London, Hugh Boone, has been accused of his murder. Holmes figures out Boone is actually Neville St. Clair in disguise. He has been secretly making his living by begging, since he earns much more money at that than he ever did as a journalist.

The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle

Set at Christmas time this case involves a countess, who is missing her huge blue diamond; a holiday goose; a battered hat; and Sherlock Holmes, who takes justice into his own hands. Holmes has been given a holiday goose and a hat by Commissionaire Peterson, who came by these items while breaking up a street scuffle and hopes the detective will return them to their rightful owner. Holmes keeps the hat but tells Peterson to cook the goose for holiday dinner before it spoils. In preparing the bird for cooking, Mrs. Peterson finds a big blue diamond in its throat, the precious Blue Carbuncle that the Countess of Morcar has reported missing from her hotel room. Following many clues, including the initials HB on the hat, Holmes determines the identity of the thief, a hotel employee named James Ryder. However, since the jewel is recovered, Holmes allows Ryder to flee, and without sufficient evidence to prove guilt another hotel employee wrongly accused of the theft is set free.

The Adventure of the Speckled Band

A very frightened young woman named Helen Stoner visits Sherlock Holmes, afraid for her life. She is about to be married but fears she will suffer the same fate as her twin sister who died mysteriously just before her own wedding. The death occurred at Stoke Moran, the mansion belonging to their stepfather Grimesby Roylott. He is a foul-tempered man who keeps exotic pets on the grounds of the crumbling mansion and receives quite a bit of money from Helen's mother's estate as long as Helen remains single. Helen tells Holmes of the circumstances surrounding her sister's death, including strange whistling sounds heard in her bedroom on the nights leading up to it and her remark while dying that it was "the speckled band." For the past few nights, Helen has been hearing whistling noises in her bedroom, the same room her twin sister once occupied. Holmes and Dr. Watson visit Stoke Moran, and after careful investigation Holmes determines that they should return to spend the night in Helen's room while she sleeps elsewhere. That night, shortly after Holmes beats on the walls of the room with his cane, a scream comes from Grimesby Roylott's neighboring room. He is found dead from the bite of an Indian swamp adder, a snake that he has been sending into Helen's room to kill her and calling back with a whistle as morning approaches.

The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb

Dr. Watson brings a young engineer named Victor Hatherley to Sherlock Holmes after treating him for the loss of a thumb, which was chopped off as Hatherley escaped a near-death experience. The previous night, Hatherley was taken to a location hidden from him to work on a hydraulic press that he can tell has been used to press metal. After Hatherley diagnoses the problem and tells the owner how to repair it, the owner and his partner try to kill him. The machine has been used to produce counterfeit coins, and they are afraid Hatherley will figure that out and turn them in. After asking a few questions, doing some research, and enlisting the help of Scotland Yard, Holmes is able to locate the mansion where the press is; the house has been set ablaze. However, the criminals are never caught.

The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor

In a case that turns out to be something of a love triangle, Sherlock Holmes is contacted by the esteemed Lord St. Simon to find his wife, who went missing at their wedding breakfast. Hatty Doran, whom St. Simon has just married, is an American millionaire's daughter, and the lord is in love both with her and with the money she brings to the marriage. However, that money is not to be his, as Holmes discovers Hatty is already married—to a man presumed dead who has just reappeared in her life.

The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet

A prominent banker named Alexander Holder approaches Sherlock Holmes with a sensitive case that could ruin his reputation and tear apart his family. As collateral for a very large loan, he has accepted a beryl coronet, a type of crown worn by nobles that is set with 39 precious gems. Thinking it is safer to keep it in his own home for the short duration of the loan, Holder locks the coronet in a bureau in his dressing room, telling only his son, Arthur, and his niece, Mary—both of whom live with him. That night he hears someone in his dressing room and rushes in to find Arthur holding the coronet, which is missing three of the stones. As Arthur swears his innocence, Mary enters the dressing room and faints upon seeing what is going on. Holder believes Arthur is guilty and has sold the stones to pay for his gambling habit. Mary, however, thinks the guilt lies with a new servant girl named Lucy Parr. Holmes solves the case overnight and goes to Holder's home the next morning for a check he can use to purchase the missing stones. When he learns that Mary is missing, he is not surprised and explains that she and the man she loves—a frequent visitor to the Holmes house—are the culprits. Arthur knew the two stole the crown, and in fact wrestled it away from the man, causing the stones to fall off in the street outside the house. But he protected Mary because he is deeply in love with her. Holmes then takes the check to buy the stones from a pawnbroker, keeping what is left over as his fee and declining Holder's request to try to find Mary.

The Adventure of the Copper Beeches

When young Violet Hunter first comes to Sherlock Holmes to seek his advice, she does not take it. She has been offered a high-paying job as a governess to the Rucastle family, who live on an estate called the Copper Beeches in Hampshire. The strange stipulations of the job are what cause her to wonder if she should accept the position, but although Holmes warns her of danger she does ultimately say yes. Holmes encourages her to contact him should the situation present problems. Sure enough, Violet sends him a late-night telegram two weeks later, and he and Dr. Watson rush to her aid.

Violet has been forced to cut her hair short and is often told to sit in a certain chair with her back to the window, wearing a blue dress given to her by her employers. Using a mirror, she has seen a young man on the grounds gazing at the window. She has also discovered a locked room where she is convinced someone lives. Holmes soon solves the mystery. The person locked in the room is Alice Rucastle, Mr. Rucastle's daughter by his first wife. The man gazing at the window is Alice's fiance, Mr. Fowler. The Rucastles are having Violet pose as Alice to back up the story they have told him that he is no longer welcome at Copper Beeches. Mr. Rucastle does not want her to marry because he will lose access to the fortune her mother left her. Just as Holmes reaches these conclusions, however, a servant at Copper Beeches has aided Alice in escaping to join her fiance, so the story has a happy ending.

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