The Dying Detective – Hounds Summary

Ralph Edwards – Fri, 6 May 1994

  • Were there other tenants?
  • Was Holmes the untidy one (or was it really Watson)?
  • What other undesirable traits did Holmes have?
  • Were the payments really that princely?
  • Did Holmes truly stay bedridden all three days?
  • Why did Mrs. Hudson take so long reaching Watson?
  • Was “nor drink” true?
  • Do modern doctors look to treat symptoms?
  • Were Watson’s qualifications mediocre and his experiences limited?
  • Why did Sir James Saunders’ name not come up?
  • Does “going this instant” reflect a good bedside manner?
  • Why did Holmes have Watson summoned two hours early?
  • Were Beecher and Gordon criminals?
  • Is there more than a surface message in the coin and oyster ravings?
  • Wasn’t electricity (as opposed to gas) available at 221B yet?
  • Could sugar tongs be used to carry a box?
  • Wouldn’t it be dangerous to leave to seek help?
  • How did Holmes’ appearance come to change for the worse?
  • Why did Holmes hand over the key if avoiding contact?
  • How many ears did Watson have?
  • Is “must help me on with my coat” consistent with Holmes’ quick action in locking the door earlier?
  • Is a restaurant dinner suitable for the first meal after fasting for three days?

Chris Redmond – Fri, 18 Oct 1996

If this story were unknown to the Canon, and were published today as a pastiche, would it be admired, or would knowledgeable readers scorn it because its plot depends on putting Sherlock Holmes into an unfamiliar situation and taking liberties with his personal life?

Sonia Fetherston – Fri, 16 Jan 1998

Is there a doctor in the house? General practitioners with very limited experience and mediocre qualifications — like Watson’s — need not apply! This weekend we turn to the next story, The Adventure of the Dying Detective. A few questions and comments on my prescription pad:

  • “I have no doubt that the house might have been purchased at the price Holmes paid for his rooms during the years I was with him.” By estimating rent payments and the number of years Sherlock Holmes lived there, at what price might the house have been purchased?
  • Who are some of the celebrated criminals whose portraits Holmes kept on his bedroom wall?
  • About those microscopic bugs Culverton Smith kept…which were they? Are there now cures for the most deadly diseases of the Victorian/Edwardian years?
  • Victor Savage is already dead, and there isn’t anybody (like a Violet Westbury) to tell us about his personality and character. We really don’t know him. Does that make him less compelling than, say, Arthur Cadogan West?
  • Most grocery or pharmacy products mentioned in the canon, like tinned tongue, are not found in my own cupboards. In DYIN, however, there’s an item I use nearly every day, and you probably do, too, in one form or another. It’s good old Vaseline! Vaseline is the trade name for petroleum jelly or petrolatum. It’s virtually insoluble in water, with a melting point higher than the human body’s temperature, and almost no smell or taste — all of which make it a useful ingredient in a surprising number of lotions, cosmetics, medicines and other goods. It’s a great product. Pity poor Mrs. Hudson, though. To remove the inevitable Vaseline stains from Holmes’s sheets, Mrs. Hudson would need to go to her neighborhood chemist for a cleaning solvent — in those days probably something along the lines of carbon tetrachloride. Cleaning solvents used in Victorian and Edwardian times were often carcinogenic. Sadly, the “dying” detective’s landlady may have been slowly dying herself.

Steve Clarkson – Fri, 19 Mar 1999

Mrs. Hudson was distraught. Sherlock Holmes was dying, she told Watson. Three days earlier he had taken to his bed and had eaten nothing, drunk nothing, since that time. He was wasting away, she said, and it was possible that Watson might find him dead by the time he could get to Baker Street.

Watson hurried to Holmes’ bedside, of course — or at least as close to his bedside as Holmes would permit. Holmes told Watson that the problem was caused by a deadly disease, contagious by touch and invariably fatal, that he had contracted while pursuing an investigation among coolie laborers in London’s riverside dock area. When Holmes finally relented to Watson’s insistence that expert medical advice be sought, he sent the good Doctor to fetch, not one of the specialists Watson recommended, but rather an obscure Sumatran planter named Culverton Smith. He explained to Watson that Smith was personally familiar with this particular disease, and had researched it, thereby gaining the knowledge needed to reverse the course of the illness.

In a few minutes, the Mâitre de Chasse will loose the Hounds on the trail of a killer microbe which had found its way from Southeast Asia to the confines of 221B Baker Street. At the conclusion of the trail, they will find a case of murder, as well as the attempted murder of Sherlock Holmes.

Good old Watson! Dissimulation was not among his many attributes, and so on occasion, Holmes saw fit to deceive him, lest his honesty bring all Holmes’ efforts to naught. This is not the first case in which we see such deception; there was the long interval between FINA and EMPT when Holmes made sure that Watson thought him to be dead lest a kind impulse might cause Holmes’ escape from Reichenbach to become known. There was HOUN, in which Holmes preferred that Watson thought of him as being in London, and there is DYIN. “At four yards I could deceive you,” said Holmes. Whether there were four yards of free space in Holmes’ bedroom is a matter for conjecture, however.

Watson writes of Holmes’ “incredible untidiness,” which doubtless was a continuing trial to Mrs. Hudson. Yet I wonder what efforts she made to clean up after him? Picture her dilemma: A lodger who often remains in his rooms for days, sometimes weeks, on end, and who is prone to taking umbrage if disturbed for so menial a reason as housecleaning. If she deferred her tidying up until those times when Holmes was away from his quarters, she never knew at what moment he might return and demand a meal, or to be left alone. And how was the poor woman to know what to straighten up and what to let alone? Small wonder we seldom hear of Mrs. Hudson’s presence in 221B save to announce a visitor or to serve meals.

Remember that Watson was not a small person. “Middle size, strongly built” was how he was described in CHAS. Would there really be room for him behind the head of Holmes’ bed? Wouldn’t that have resulted in a rather peculiar placement of the bed in the room, thus arousing Smith’s suspicions? Smith might already have been a bit suspicious because Watson declined to accompany him from Lower Burke Street back to Baker Street, on the grounds that he “had another appointment.” Despite a desperately ill patient, he “had another appointment?”

There is no indication in the story that Smith’s nephew, Victor Savage, had been in circumstances where he might have contracted the lethal disease without “assistance.” No doubt Smith used some device, perhaps the same ivory box he sent to Holmes, to infect Savage. But shouldn’t the circumstances of Savage’s death have raised some suspicions among the authorities in light of the facts that (1) Smith stood to gain financially from Savage’s death, and (2) Savage died of a very rare – indeed, practically unknown — disease not seen before in London, but known to be epidemic in the part of the world from which Smith hailed?

When Inspector Morton arrested Culverton Smith, there was this sequence of sounds Watson heard from his sequestered position behind the bed: A rush; a scuffle; a clash of iron; a cry of pain; and then the click of handcuffs. What was the clash of iron?

Discover more about The Dying Detective and read the canon.