In this third adventure, Miss Mary Sutherland, a woman with a substantial income, visits Sherlock Holmes to request his assistance regarding the mysterious disappearance of her fiancé, Hosmer Angel, from the carriage that was conveying him to their wedding. Holmes effortlessly deduces what has really happened from his residence on Baker Street, but chooses not to inform his client as he fears she will not believe him.
Sherlock Holmes and forensic science
Among the illustrations for this adventure, I am fond of the image of Sherlock Holmes in deep contemplation about the case in front of his chemistry table where he had been busy conducting experiments. This is only one of many instances in the canon (the original 56 short stories and four novels featuring Sherlock Holmes written by Arthur Conan Doyle) in which Sherlock Holmes conducts research or utilizes the methods of forensic science (or the application of scientific techniques and principles to the law) to help solve a case. For example, in addition to forensic chemistry, Holmes employs toxicology (drugs and poisons), ballistics (firearms), document examination (handwriting analysis), as well as the analysis of trace evidence (human and animal hair, fibres from clothing, pieces of glass), latent impressions (shoe and tire tracks), fingerprints, and bloodstain patterns. And interestingly, in ‘A Case of Identity’ the Great Detective uses typewriter identification (also now part of forensic document examination) to catch the wrongdoer, which is the earliest known reference of this type of analysis. In fact, the story which was published in 1891 appeared only 23 years after the first practical typewriter was invented and a couple of years before such a technique was employed in an actual police case!
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was also fond of the grotesque case of Jabez Wilson as he listed ‘The Red-Headed League’ as the second best Sherlock Holmes tale, when he was invited in 1927 by The Strand Magazine to name the twelve best stories he had written. Others on the list included: ‘The Adventure of the Speckled Band’ (#1), ‘The Adventure of the Dancing Men’ (#3) and ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’ (#5), the latter of which is the first story in the Sherlock Holmes Re-Imagined book series.
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