Written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the Adventure of the Yellow Face was a short Sherlock Holmes story published in the February 1893 edition of the Strand Magazine. The Adventure of the Yellow Face is indeed one of the most memorable of Sherlock Holmes stories, not because of the complexity of the case but because it highlighted the fallibility of the detective.
A case was brought to Sherlock Holmes by Grant Munro, and in essence dealt with the deceptions undertaken by his wife Effie. On the face of it, it seems a case of domestic dispute, something which Holmes normally steered clear of, but Holmes allowed Munro to explain.
Grant Munro was Effie’s second husband, her first husband, John Hebron, and child had died of yellow fever in America. Effie on coming to England though had fallen deeply in love with Munro, and he with her. She had signed over her own personal wealth to her husband, and the two had lived happily together.
Now though Effie was deceiving her husband. First she had asked for one hundred pounds, and now she was secretly visiting a cottage that adjoined the Norbury property of Grant Munro. The cottage’s inhabitants were unknown, but a mysterious yellow face had been observed at the cottage windows.
Holmes comes up with a deduction revolving around blackmail, but it soon become apparent that the detective is wide of the mark.
Holmes had been seen to fail before, like in the case of the Five Orange Pips, but these failures had come about not because his deductions were wrong. In the Adventure of the Yellow Face, faced with the evidence presented to him Holmes had come up with the wrong conclusion. The fallibility though did not diminish the popularity of the detective and the Conan Doyle stories were still eagerly awaited upon.
Conan Doyle of course influenced many detective and mystery writers, and similarities between works can often be seen. Agatha Christie in one of her Poirot stories sees the Belgian detective ask Hastings to remind him of the “chocolate box” if he too was being arrogant; although for Poirot it is a reminder that is soon ignored.
It is difficult to judge how shocking the storyline might have been in the 1890’s. Arguably the thought of an interracial relationship and offspring of that relationship was probably more shocking in America than the United Kingdom, but even though the UK might have been more liberal in this sense than the United States, the UK had clearer social class differentials. Even today racial prejudices exist on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean and so it is not difficult to imagine the stigma that Effie might have felt.
After being published in the Strand Magazine, the Adventure of the Yellow Face was reprinted as part of the Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, and it is in this omnibus of Sherlock Holmes stories that the case can still be read today. Indeed the Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes is to be found in both paperback and electronic format.