Arthur Conan Doyle: The Adventure of the Empty House

Annotated Sherlock HolmesThe Adventure of the Empty House
Arthur Conan Doyle
First published in the UK 1903, The Strand Magazine
This version included in Leslie S. Klinger’s The Complete Annotated Sherlock Holmes, 2004
ISBN: 9780393059168
34 pages

I moved my head to look at the cabinet behind me. When I turned again, Sherlock Holmes was standing smiling at me across my study table. I rose to my feet, stared at him for some seconds in utter amazement, and then it appears that I must have fainted for the first and the last time in my life.

The recent announcement of the third series of Sherlock included the names of the episodes – as before, thinly veiled references to the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories:

  • ‘The Empty Hearse’ (original version: ‘The Empty House’)
  • ‘The Sign of Three’ (‘The Sign of Four’)
  • ‘His Last Vow’ (‘His Last Bow’)

To get a flavour of the stories, I’m going to be reading all three before 1st January, using my copy of The Complete Annotated Sherlock Holmes. This massive two-volume book offers all the original stories with extensive notes based on a century of Sherlockian scholarship, all written from the standpoint that Holmes and Watson are real. It’s probably the greatest in-joke in literature.

So what’s ‘The Empty House’ all about?

It opens with Dr Watson investigating (in an amateur capacity) a celebrated crime. The Hon. Ronald Adair, second son of the Earl of Maynooth, is an easy-going and eminently wealthy aristocrat. He lives at 427 Park Lane with his elderly mother and sister. Adair has been found dead in a locked room, shot through the head with an explosive bullet. There has been no theft, and Adair has no known enemy. The only hints of trouble are his recent break-up with a Miss Edith Woodley, and an interest in gambling. However, the break-up was amicable and the gambling was well within his means.

Of course the murder is a side-show, as Watson points out:

‘The crime was of interest in itself, but that interest was as nothing to me compared to the inconceivable sequel, which afforded me the greatest shock and surprise of any event in my adventurous life.’

The main event, of course, is the return of Sherlock Holmes from the dead.

For Sherlock fans, it’s no surprise that the great detective is alive, but his escape from a fall from the top of St Bart’s Hospital is going to take some explaining.

For readers of the Strand Magazine in October 1903, Holmes had fallen to his death ten years previously, and his return came pretty much out of the blue. Maybe they fainted too.

Based on the story, what can we expect next month?

  • An incredible disguise. Holmes first appears as an elderly bookseller, who literally bumps into Watson outside Adair’s house. In his disguise, he manages to be a foot shorter than his true height.
  • Baritsu. The Annotated Holmes explains this peculiar martial art, properly known as bartitsu, as a mix of jiu jitsu and other stuff cobbled together by a Victorian enthusiast named  Edward William Barton-Wright.
  • An encounter with Colonel Sebastian Moran, the ‘second most dangerous man in London’.
  • Stories of Holmes’ holiday, including a sojourn in Tibet and a period researching coal-tar derivatives in France. Sounds fun.
  • A rapid return to the old Holmes-Watson dynamic. In ‘Empty House’, Watson displays no resentment (‘My dear chap, I’m overjoyed to see you. Sit down, and tell me how you came alive out of that dreadful chasm.‘) I suspect ‘The Empty Hearse’ will offer something more in the way of an emotional reaction…
  • And a clever trick designed to draw out an assassin.

Obviously, what we’ll get is a new story with just enough nods to the original to delight the fans.

See also:
The Bartitsu Society

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About pastoffences

Past Offences exists to review classic crime and mystery books, with ‘classic’ meaning books originally published before 1987.
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8 Responses to Arthur Conan Doyle: The Adventure of the Empty House

  1. Terrific post Rich and I am certainly looking forward to the return of the TV show. As for the annotations in your edition, it can work but I hate books that deal with fictional creations as if they were real (I remember one on Nero Wolfe that really grated).


    • westwoodrich says:

      I wouldn’t recommend it as a reading experience necessarily, but I like it as an exercise in – whatever it is. Fictional-non-fiction? Meta-faction? Futility?

      I also have a ‘biography’ of Holmes, but for me that doesn’t have the same appeal.


  2. Margot Kinberg says:

    Rich – Thanks for the look at the original. It’ll be really interesting to see how the television episodes go about it.


  3. FictionFan says:

    I can’t stand the TV show – give me the originals anyday! Poor old Watson – Holmes doesn’t really come out of this one looking good, does he?


  4. Pingback: Arthur Conan Doyle: His Last Bow | Past Offences

  5. TracyK says:

    I am looking forward to the third season also, although I will have to wait until it makes it to the US and comes out on DVD. But it is a good idea to read those stories first. I hate to admit the fact that I have read no Arthur Conan Doyle at all, although I intend to remedy that in 2014.


  6. Pingback: Arthur Conan Doyle: The Return of Sherlock Holmes | Past Offences Classic Crime Fiction

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