I am reasonably certain this story is recreated in the Sherlock Holmes video game, Crimes and Punishment and it’s a good one for it. This is another example of Holmes operating outside the law. But as much as I have people in my own life who would argue that he’s in the wrong, it’s a quality I love about Holmes. I’ve often wondered why some laws are even followed. Let me quickly qualify that: I made a right turn at a red light on a corner where it’s allowed, but I did it from “the shoulder” and was pulled over and ticketed. We treated the white line like a demon treats a chalk circle, when in reality, I was helping reduce traffic the way I made the turn. I questioned the logic of how a white line cost me money and really started pondering the value of some laws. So when Holmes decides to be judge and jury himself, acknowledging that the law often works only in harsh black and white, I have to say I respect the character immensely.
Anyway, let’s dive into the story to see what we think of Holmes’s methods.
A young woman, Lady Mary Brackenstall, is found beaten and bound in her home. At her feet is the murdered corpse of her husband, having been beaten to death with a fireplace poker. Holmes and Watson come to investigate and learn from the wife that it was a local trio of ruffians who killed her husband and gagged her. Before leaving, these ruffians each drank some of the nearby port wine. The case seems well and truly in hand so our intrepid investigators leave. But on the train home, something stands out to Holmes. There is an issue with the drinking glasses.
We have to reverse the order to get to understand the crime. The mistake was in pouring the contents of 2 glasses into a 3rd to make it look like there were three people present. This is done to make Mary’s testimony look legit: she tells Holmes that the infamous Randall gang was responsible. In fact, Holmes figures it out before asking Mary to confirm it, but she refuses to change her story. So Holmes lures the real criminal to 221b for a meeting.
Mary’s husband was a drunk and often turned to violence with his wife. She had met another man, a sailor named Croker, who treats her well. He comes to see her before he ships out, but her husband finds them talking in the dining room and viciously attacks them both, laying Mary out with one swift hit to the face. He then gives Croker a good thrashing too until Croker gets his hands on a poker and takes the raging drunkard down with a single blow to the head. It is truly a case of self-defense.
Holmes: “Come Watson. Come. The Game is afoot!”
Holmes offers Croker a chance to escape, (“I’d rather play tricks with the law…”) but Croker won’t leave knowing that now that the truth is out, his love, Mary, will be tried for obstruction of justice and abetting a felon. This proves to be a test: Holmes wants to see if Croker is the man he believes him to be and he “rings true every time”. Holmes convenes a mock hearing with Watson as Jury and they acquit Croker of his crime. As the police will never find the truth, the two are allowed to go on their merry way.
This episode also offers a hint of something that comes far later in the canon. Watson asks Holmes why he does not write his adventures himself. Holmes tells Watson that he will one day. Wonder if that will translate to the televised episode?
Innocent! And that’s exactly the right call. But once again I have to laugh. Watson publishes these cases. They are referred to frequently in the canon by people who know of Holmes by his published reputation! So is Watson creating a lot more havoc than he realizes? Anyone who ever saw The Watchmen (or read the seminal graphic novel by Alan Moore) might be reminded of Rorschach who was so determined to get the truth published, that he may have made the death of millions count for nothing. Sometimes, the truth is both dangerous and risky… a lot like the law in general, one may think! ML
I have sometimes wondered if in-universe when publishing his memoirs of Holmes’ investigations Watson changes the names of the people and some other basic facts in order to prevent any sort of problems for those who were involved in these types of cases.
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That’s a thought indeed. Certainly for a reminder of how most sophisticated the mystery genre can be for British sleuths like Holmes and Watson.
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