The Adventure of the Crooked Man: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Della McGuire

Della has been teaching secondary and adult education for over 20 years. She holds a BS in Sociology, MEd in Reading, and is ABD on the MComm in Storytelling.

In this lesson, we will summarize and analyze 'The Adventure of the Crooked Man' by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This is a Holmes and Watson story that has the duo looking into the mysterious death of Colonel Barclay.

The Canon of Sherlock Holmes

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories about the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson follow a particular pattern. They start with Holmes inviting Watson in on a mystery, complaining of boredom, and demonstrating his deductive prowess. The pair investigate the mystery, and the story culminates in chasing and capturing the guilty culprit. Watson then resolves the story with a discussion with Holmes to go over his reasoning. For the most part, 'The Adventure of the Crooked Man' follows this pattern. The key difference is that, in this story, Watson and Holmes seek to prove someone innocent rather than guilty.


'The Adventure of the Crooked Man' begins with Holmes coming by Watson's house a bit late at night. He tells Watson about a case he is investigating. He is missing key information to solve the case and hopes discussing it with Watson will help.

Colonel Barclay had risen up through the ranks from a basic infantryman to the leader of a squadron. He and his wife enjoyed the power and popularity stemming from such a position. Their standing in the community made the case all the more shocking when Barclay was found dead and Mrs. Barclay was the only one present. She was suspected of murdering him because they had been arguing when he died.

Holmes seeks to prove her innocence because he thinks there is more to the story. He and Watson go to the town to investigate. They learn that the argument between the Colonel and Mrs. Barclay, and the Colonel's subsequent death, took place in a locked room, the key to which had gone missing. They also learn from the house staff that the name 'David' was overheard during the argument, though no one knew anyone by that name. The Colonel appeared to have died of a blow to the head, and because Mrs. Barclay was too stunned by what happened to explain or defend herself, she was going to be charged with murdering her husband.

In the investigation, they discover that, prior to the Colonel's death, Mrs. Barclay had seen a man named Henry Wood while doing charity work with her friend, Miss Morrison. Henry Wood and Mrs. Barclay had a short conversation, and Miss Morrison said that it seemed to upset Mrs. Barclay very much. Mrs. Barclay swore Morrison to secrecy and went home to confront her husband.

Turns out, Henry Wood was Mrs. Barclay's first love, but her husband, the Colonel, had sent him on a suicide mission so that he could marry her himself. Holmes and Watson then find Mr. Wood and discover what really happened: Barclay died of fright upon seeing that Mr. Wood had survived. They conclude that he must have felt like he had seen a ghost and dropped dead of fear and guilt, hitting his head on the way down.


'The Adventure of the Crooked Man' offers several points of analysis based on the elements of a story. We will look at a few of these story elements to see how they work to shape the tale.


The characters in the story are interesting in that there are two 'crooked' men: the man who looks crooked because of his body deformities (Henry Wood,) and the presumably honorable Colonel Barclay, who is actually morally crooked. Barclay is considered a man of high social and professional status, but he commits a terrible act. Wood is of low social status and is more morally upright than Barclay when he confesses to his role in the events at the risk of arrest in order to save Mrs. Barclay.


Of course the setting plays a significant role in the story because the scene of the crime is a locked room where only Mrs. Barclay was present, indicating she may be the culprit. These kinds of locked room mysteries are popular in Doyle's work.

The story takes place during a time when women were not likely to remain unmarried, so the time period also impacts the story. In a more modern setting, Mrs. Barclay might not necessarily have needed to marry someone at all after her betrothed (Mr. Wood) was presumably killed.

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