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The View from the East End (52)

By Inspector Hopkins

November 19 , 2006

The Character of Holmes – Part 3
Holmes-Style Justice

by Inspector Hopkins 

As I alluded to last time, there were a number of cases in which Sherlock Holmes “intervened”, or took justice into his own hands. In fact, by my count (referring to my Database), out of the sixty cases in the Canon, Sherlock Holmes intervened in twenty of them, or a full one-third of the time. That is a significant number of cases.

As I had also mentioned, there were a number of cases in which no crime took place. Exactly which cases they were may be a subject for some debate, but again, in my own opinion, I find that eight cases fall into this category. Not surprisingly, all eight of these cases are included in the set of twenty.

Of the remaining twelve cases in which a crime was committed and in which Holmes intervened, several of them had an element of “justifiable homicide”. Five cases containing this element immediately come to mind: BOSC, CHAS, VEIL, DEVI, and ABBE.  In all five cases, murder was committed. Holmes determined who the murderer was, but made a conscious decision not to turn the guilty party over to the police.

Why was this so?

Let us consider the case of the Abbe Grange.

Recall the basic elements of this case: we have the beautiful Lady Brackenstall married to the abusive Sir Eustace Brackenstall. One day the evil Sir Eustace is found dead on the floor, his skull bashed in with a fireplace poker. Lady B is found tied to a dining room chair with a length of bell rope. The maid blamed the crime on a trio of burglars.

Enter Sherlock Holmes, who investigated and determined that Lady B and the maid’s stories just didn’t add up. Climbing halfway up the living room wall, he found the bell rope had been neatly severed and not just pulled own. Bloodstains were found on the chair under Lady B, rather than on her dress where they should have been. Three wine glasses were set up to make it look as if three people were involved. In short, Holmes concluded that the entire crime scene had been staged.

Through some good old-fashioned and persistent detective work, he determined that Captain Jack Crocker was the culprit who did it in this whodunit. He confronted Crocker, listened to his story, and then let him walk away.

Why did Holmes let Crocker off the hook?

I think there were several elements that led Holmes to make the decision to take the law into his own hands. This case illustrates many of these elements, and reveals a lot about the character of our hero via his convictions:

First of all, Holmes had a sense of compassion and empathy for Lady Brackenstall. He was convinced that she was the victim of abuse. Being a Victorian gentleman, his senses of how women should be treated were insulted. He was able to put himself in the lady’s place and could relate to her predicament.

As we have already seen, Sherlock Holmes did not care much for the aristocracy. He would not have had much sympathy for Sir Eustace even if he had been a good husband. He was convinced that Sir Eustace was evil and abusive. As far as Holmes was concerned then, justice had already been done by the time he got to the crime scene.

Holmes was convinced that the crime scene was staged. He recognized that this was not a case of premeditated murder. He realized that neither Lady B nor her maid were strong enough to have literally bent a fireplace poker over Sir Eustace’s head. Thus the culprit had to be a man, in good physical shape, who came to their aid and defense. He was convinced that Lady B was covering up for this man and thus he had to be someone that she cared about.

He was convinced that Jack Crocker was honest. In fact he was impressed by his honesty. Crocker could have run off but he decided to stay and defend his woman.  Putting all these convictions together undoubtedly gave Holmes a sense of continuity and real justice: an evil entity was justly and permanently removed from society, an innocent lady was saved, and her life would continue with the honest man who loved her. Holmes realized that real justice would not be served if Crocker wound up swinging from a different kind of “bell rope”.


I also think that Holmes had a much deeper respect and empathy for romantic love than he would have liked to have let on.  We will take a closer look at that aspect of Holmes’s character next time.

Until then, and thanking you once again for your attention, I remain,

Yours faithfully,