Potted Sherlock’s top six Holmes head-scratchers

Arthur Conan Doyle wrote 60 Sherlock Holmes tales in total – four novels and 56 short stories. Dan and Jeff, with Lizzie Wort, cover all 60 in 70 minutes of Potted Sherlock, directed by Hanna Berrigan. Here are six of their favourites.

SherlockHolmesbooks2001. A Study in Scarlet (novel, 1887)
The story that started it all opens with Dr Watson returning from war in Afghanistan, meeting and moving in with Holmes. Over the course of a few days, two men are found dead in different locations with ‘rache’, the German word for revenge written on the wall. At the second crime scene, a small box with two pills has been found. Holmes tests the pills on a dog at Baker Street, and finds that one pill is harmless and one is deadly poison. The murderer is a cabbie named Jefferson Hope who has been stalking the two Mormon victims, after, years earlier in Utah, they had stolen his bride-to-be, who later died of a broken heart.


2. The Sign of the Four (novel, 1890)
Mary Morstan, who later marries Dr Watson, comes to Holmes ten years after the disappearance of her father, a British Indian Army captain. At the time, her father had telegraphed that he was returning home to England and asked to meet her at a London hotel, but he was never seen again. For the past six years, she has been sent a precious pearl annually. Holmes follows his leads to the sons of Major Sholto, Mary’s father’s best friend. Sholto and Morstan it seems had stolen treasure from India, but Morstan died of a heart attack before they could retrieve it from hiding, and Sholto was subsequently killed by a poison dart, with a note reading “The Sign of the Four” left by his body. One of Sholto’s sons then dies by the same means, and a one-legged man and his companion are tracked down. The murderer is Jonathan Small, who had been double-crossed by Sholto and Morstan and teamed up with three Sikhs to seek vengeance. His leg, by the way, was bitten off by a crocodile.


3. A Scandal in Bohemia (1891)
The only story featuring Irene Adler, the woman who outwits Sherlock Holmes. The King of Bohemia is due to marry a princess, but he’s worried about knowledge getting out about his impropriety with Adler five years earlier. He hires Holmes to retrieve personal correspondence and a photo of him with Adler that is hidden in her home. With the help of a disguise, a smoke bomb and a cry of fire, he discovers where Adler hides this most precious possession. But when Holmes, Watson and the King return the next day to confront her, Adler has fled. She recognized Holmes after all.


4. The Man with the Twisted Lip (1892)
Neville St Clair, a respectable country gentleman and opium addict, has disappeared. Dr Watson searches for him in an opium den, where he finds Holmes is already ‘under cover’. Mrs St Clair thinks she sees her husband through an upstairs window in the building, but the room is inhabited by a beggar well known to police, who is arrested when some of Mr St Clair’s belongings are found on the premises. All suspect that Mr St Clair has been murdered, but with the help of a sponge bath, Holmes reveals that the beggar is St Clair, who has been leading a double life for years and begging to pay off debts.


5. The Hound of the Baskervilles (novel, 1902)
Sir Charles Baskerville has died of a suspected heart attack at his Devonshire estate, and his Canadian next of kin Sir Henry Baskerville is frightened of collecting his inheritance because of an ancient myth that the family is cursed by a supernatural hound that roams the moors. Holmes sends Dr Watson to investigate in his stead, while – Watson later learns – he goes under cover in search of clues. In fact, the perpetrator is Baskerville Hall neighbour, Jack Stapleton, also in line to inherit, who has trained his ferocious pet dog. It terrified Sir Charles into his heart attack.


6. The Adventure of the Norwood Builder (1903)
Norwood builder Jonas Oldacre, a retired bachelor, is missing and presumed dead after signs of struggle in his home and a conflagration at his lumber yard. The police arrest young lawyer John McFarlane, who the previous night, had visited Oldacre and written out the old man’s new will, making him the sole heir. But Holmes’ suspicions are aroused when he learns that Oldacre was a jealous ex of McFarlane’s mother and that, prior to the crime, large cheques had been written to a Mr Cornelius. Holmes deduces that Mr Oldacre faked his own death, framed Mrs McFarlane’s son out of revenge and planned to escape under the new Cornelius alias.


Potted Sherlock is at Pleasance Courtyard, 30 July to 25 August 2014 at 14:50 (runs 1 hour 10 minutes).

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