The Adventure of the Dying Detective Quotes

Instructor: Catherine Smith

Catherine has taught History, Literature, and Latin at the university level and holds a PhD in Education.

In 'The Adventure of the Dying Detective' Sherlock Holmes pretends to be dying from a tropical disease in order to trick a murder into confessing his crime. This lesson looks at key quotes from the mystery.

Brief Plot Summary

'The Adventure of the Dying Detective', by Arthur Conan Doyle, begins with Mrs. Hudson visiting Watson to tell him that Holmes is quite sick. Watson visits Holmes, who tells him that he is dying from a rare Sumatran disease; Holmes then sends Watson to the home of Culverton Smith, who, according to Holmes, is an expert on the disease. Smith comes to meet with Holmes, and reveals that he killed his nephew with the same disease and is also responsible for poisoning Holmes himself. At this point, Holmes signals the police, who come in and arrest Smith, and he reveals that Watson had been hiding in the room the whole time so that he could be a witness to the confessions. Although Smith had attempted to poison Holmes, Holmes did not fall for the trap, and was only faking his illness to encourage a confession.

Hints Throughout the Story

As is typical in Sherlock Holmes mysteries, there are subtle hints throughout the story that the reader may or may not pick up on. Let's take a look at these hints in some quotations from the novel.

Sick in Bed

One of the earliest we get in this mystery is in Mrs. Hudson's description of Holmes to Watson:

''He took to his bed on Wednesday afternoon and has never moved since. For these three days neither food nor drink has passed his lips.''

Mrs. Watson offers this detail as evidence that Holmes is quite ill. It turns out at the end of the story, however, that Holmes deliberately went without food and water in order to convince everyone that he was quite ill. For anyone reading the mystery and wondering how he could look so sick if he weren't dying from this Sumatran disease, this piece of evidence provides a hint.

The Ivory Box

During Watson's conversation with Holmes, there is another moment where the reader might begin to wonder if there is more to the scene than meets the eye. While Watson is waiting until six o'clock, at which point Holmes will let him leave to fetch a doctor, he begins to look around Holmes's apartment. As he is looking around, Watson explains:

''In the midst of these was a small black and white ivory box with a sliding lid. It was a neat little thing, and I had stretched out my hand to examine it more closely when - It was a dreadful cry that he gave - a yell which might have been heard down the street.''

Holmes goes on to demand that Watson put down the box, claiming that he does not like people to touch his things. Watson, of course, always misinterprets these moments, and believes that Holmes is acting in such a strange way because he is delirious from the disease. The reader might wonder, though, if the box is a key to the mystery. In fact it is, and at the end of the story we learn that Smith had sent Holmes the box in an attempt to infect him with the disease. Since Holmes has figured this out, he does not want Watson to touch the box.

The Villain?

By the time Watson visits Culverton Smith, many readers will have started to wonder if this might be our villain.

''The man motioned me to a chair, and turned to resume his own. As he did so I caught a glimpse of his face in the mirror over the mantelpiece. I could have sworn that it was set in a malicious and abominable smile. Yet I persuaded myself that it must have been some nervous contraction which I had surprised, for he turned to me an instant later with genuine concern upon his features.''

Poor Watson; he never gets these things right. By this time, of course, most readers will realize that Watson's first impression was correct, and that Smith really did offer a malicious smile at the news that Holmes was dying. The mystery at this point is how Watson is forever failing to understand these clues!

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