British Literature

Sherlock Holmes the Dying Detective



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“The Adventure of the Dying Detective” is a short Sherlock Holmes story in the collection “His Last Bow” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Doyle wrote fifty-six short Sherlock Holmes stories in total and four full length novels featuring the popular detective. The story is narrated by the character of Dr. John Watson.

At the outset of the story Mrs Hudson, landlady to Sherlock Holmes, comes to visit Doctor Watson and tells him that Holmes is dying. Watson goes to Baker Street with Mrs Hudson and on the way she informs him that Holmes has been working on a case in Rotherhithe and believes he contracted his illness there. For the three previous days he has taken neither food nor water. Holmes would not allow Mrs Hudson to get a doctor but that morning he had finally relented and told her to get Watson.

Watson is horrified at the wasted appearance of his friend who seems to be dying from an intense fever. Holmes insists that Watson keeps his distance for fear of infecting him and forbids him from going for help until two hours have passed. Holmes tells Watson that he wishes him to go and request help from a specific specialist, Mr. Culverton Smith.

Holmes explains that Culverton Smith owns a plantation in Sumatra. An outbreak of the disease Holmes believes he has occurred there, giving Smith some expertise in the pathology.

Smith is not well disposed towards Holmes because the detective suspected him of being concerned in the death of his nephew Victor Savage. Holmes urges Watson to plead with Smith until he agrees to come. Holmes also says that Watson must not come back with Culverton Smith but should excuse himself and return straight away to Baker Street.

Watson does as he is asked and when he returns to Baker Street he is surprised that all traces of delirium have left his friend. Holmes then baffles Watson by insisting that he hide behind the bed rather than let Culverton Smith know he is present.

Smith arrives and Watson overhears him confess the murder of Victor Savage. Smith purposefully infected his nephew with the deadly Sumatran fever. Smith also tells Holmes that he sent him an unusual box by post. Smith had rigged the box in order to infect Holmes with the disease via a spring within it.

Holmes asks Culverton Smith to turn up the gas and moments later Inspector Morton enters the room to arrest Smith. Turning up the gas was the pre arranged signal between the Inspector and Holmes. Holmes explains to Watson that he does not have the Sumatran fever but he had fasted from both food and water for three days in order to add realism to his pretence of sickness. Holmes had then used some make-up in order to convince Mrs Hudson so that she in turn would convince Watson. Watson would perhaps have otherwise been unconvincing in his appeal to Smith.

Holmes received the deadly box from Smith but had observed that it was rigged with a sharp pin. Not only did Holmes avoid being assassinated by Smith but he managed to gather proof that the man was responsible for the death of his nephew Victor Savage.  

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