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The Adventure of the Dying Detective Story Summary

The Adventure of the Dying Detective Story Summary
Coming up next: The Adventure of the Dying Detective: Themes & Analysis

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  • 0:04 Setting the Stage
  • 1:42 Mr. Culverton Smith
  • 2:47 Back at Holmes' Apartment
  • 3:47 Final Explanations
  • 4:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Catherine Smith

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

'The Adventure of the Dying Detective' concerns a seemingly very sick Sherlock Holmes and a related murder that had occurred previously, involving the same disease. This lesson provides a summary of the mystery.

Setting the Stage

The Adventure of the Dying Detective opens with a description of the relationship between Holmes and Mrs. Hudson, his long-suffering landlady. After describing Mrs. Hudson's patience with all of Holmes's strange habits, and her general love and admiration for him, Watson, our narrator, goes on to explain that Mrs. Hudson came to him one day in a panic because she was convinced that Holmes, our detective, was dying.

As Watson accompanies Mrs. Hudson back to Holmes's flat, Mrs. Hudson explains that she knows little of what brought about Holmes's illness, except that he's been working on a case at Rotherhithe, in an alley near a river. As far as she knows, he came home sick three days ago and since then has had no food or water.

Watson is shocked at the sight of Holmes, who does indeed appear to be very ill. Holmes tells Watson that he has a 'coolie disease from Sumatra,' which is both deadly and contagious. Watson attempts to examine Holmes, but Holmes tells him that he would rather have a more qualified doctor, which hurts Watson's feelings. Nonetheless, Watson offers to fetch a doctor who is an expert on this type of disease and who's visiting London at the moment.

When he attempts to leave to get the doctor, though, Holmes leaps up and stops him from going. Holmes offers Watson the strange condition of waiting just two hours, until six o'clock, at which point he will be allowed to leave to get the doctor. After waiting patiently for a time, Watson becomes bored, takes a stroll around Holmes's apartment, and picks up a small ivory box. As he prepares to look at it more closely, Holmes leaps up again and insists that Watson put it down at once, claiming that he dislikes having his things touched.

Mr. Culverton Smith

Finally, Holmes tells Watson that he may leave, but to fetch a Mr. Culverton Smith, a planter, rather than the doctor suggested by Watson. Holmes explains that Mr. Smith is presently visiting London from Sumatra, and is an expert on the disease that Holmes is suffering from. Holmes instructs Watson to explain to Mr. Smith exactly how sick he is and to plead with him to help. Apparently Mr. Smith bears Holmes some ill will for some incident involving his nephew, who died recently. Lastly, Holmes instructs Watson to return before Mr. Smith rather than entering at the same time.

Watson goes to the home of Mr. Smith and asks to see him. He overhears the butler asking Mr. Smith if he can come in, and Mr. Smith asking to be left alone. Watson bursts in and pleads with Mr. Smith to please visit Holmes, explaining what dire shape Holmes is in. Watson believes he sees Mr. Smith smile at the bad news about Holmes. Smith agrees to visit Holmes, and Watson, following the orders of Holmes, gets to the apartment first, unknown to Smith.

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