Truths of Sherlock Holmes (Part 1)

Sherlock Holmes has taught me many things. For a start, that fictional source material is often better than the version of it you’ve seen on the telly; but also that some TV creators do understand the source material and do a brilliant job of recreating it for the small screen, as discussed in my previous post.

But there are other, more practical truths that travel writer Tim Richards and I have learned in decades of studying the great detective and his methods.

Here’s a dozen of them, with references to stories which you can read via this link to Project Gutenberg. No, really, it’s our pleasure.

  1. Never trust a colonel. Unless they own a racehorse. Then it’s okay to simply not like him. We don’t know how well this one applies to life, but we’re always wary when there’s a colonel in the offing.
    (See Silver Blaze, The Bruce-Partington Plans, The Empty House)
  2. If a family member has a secret past they won’t talk about (especially if they’re from America) – it will end in tears.  The basic rule for life being it’s best to be honest with those you love, especially if your secrets might bring them harm.
    (See The Dancing Men, The Five Orange Pips, The Yellow Face)
  3. If a stranger makes a job offer or a bid on your house/property that is far too good to be true – it is. What’s more, your life may be in danger. At the very least, they’re trying to steal something from the bank over the road. Time has not dimmed the truth that you should be very wary of something that seems too good to be true (especially if the offer is coming from an exiled Nigerian prince).
    (See The Three Gables, The Copper Beeches, The Red-Headed League)
  4. You can tell a lot about a person by their hat. Or by their accessories in general. It’s probably not as easy these days, but we remain fascinated by the idea that a person’s dress and accoutrements can tell you as much about them as the way they speak and what they say.
    (See especially The Blue Carbuncle for Holmes’ masterful study of a hat, culminating in the deduction that a man’s wife has ceased to love him)
  5. Never be too impressed by someone’s high station in life or their charming manners. “The most winning woman I ever knew was hanged for poisoning three little children for their insurance-money, and the most repellent man of my acquaintance is a philanthropist who has spent nearly a quarter of a million upon the London poor.” – Sherlock Holmes in The Sign of Four. Conan Doyle and Holmes both knew that while people love stereotypes, they get in the way of discovering the truth. Holmes was always disdainful of class in that sense.
    (See A Study in Scarlet, A Scandal in Bohemia, The Bruce-Partington Plans.)
  6. Brandy is a miracle cure-all. It’s astonishing how often Conan Doyle has brandy administered to someone who’s had a shock. But sometimes all you need is a good stiff drink and a minute to collect yourself, before you’re right to go again. We could do with a spot of it now.
    (See The Greek Interpreter, where brandy brings a man back from the brink of death by sulphur poisoning. Amazing stuff, brandy.)

For the remaining six truths (and a bonus 13th), click here to read the second part on Tim’s travel blog Aerohaveno.

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, iPhone apps, public speaking and other activities at

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    • naturallydotty
    • July 25th, 2012

    You two are at it again with your shouts to each other’s work.
    I am going to print these out and follow your references, because I can.

    • We’re a team, like Holmes and Watson! :)

        • naturallydotty
        • July 25th, 2012

        and now I want to quote from Castle…”Turner and Hooch…”

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