The Case of the Resurrected Detective: "The Empty House"

"An examination by experts leaves little doubt that a personal contest between the two men ended, as it could hardly fail to end in such a situation, in their reeling over, locked in each other's arms."

By 1893, Arthur Conan Doyle had written 24 stories and two novels about the great consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes, and his chronicler, John Watson. Conan Doyle's other works, while successful, did not approach the success of the Holmes stories. Conan Doyle had long been tempted to kill off his most famous character so that he, and the public, could focus on what he considered to be his most important work.

Once "The Final Problem" had been printed and sold to an unsuspecting public, Conan Doyle was shocked by the vehemence of the public reaction, which included threats and abusive letters. "You Brute!" one letter began. According to one possibly apocryphal story, a lady attacked him with her umbrella when she met him in the street; another picketed his house in protest. People wore black armbands as if a real celebrity had died. Apparently, Conan Doyle was the only one who took his famous detective less than seriously, and he had his reasons.

During the year that preceded the December death of Holmes, Conan Doyle's father had died, and his wife had been diagnosed with a particularly virulent form of tuberculosis, and was only expected to survive for a few months. "I have been much blamed for doing [Holmes] to death," Conan Doyle said in a speech, "but I hold that it was not murder, but justifiable homicide in self-defense, since, if I had not killed him, he would certainly have killed me." During a sojourn in the Swiss Alps with his wife at a sanatorium for tubercular patients, Conan Doyle determined upon the method of Holmes's death. As 1893 came to a close, Conan Doyle's wife Louise began the cure that would allow her to live for 13 more years, while Sherlock Holmes (apparently) died. "Killed Holmes," Conan Doyle wrote in his diary, and went on with his life.

Conan Doyle was finally inspired to write The Hound of the Baskervilles in 1901 and a series of Holmes stories for The Strand (beginning in 1903 with "The Empty House") by an offer he could not refuse: The Strand and the American magazine Colliers offered him more money than he had ever been offered for his writing before. Discovering Sherlock Holmes will begin with "The Empty House" when our next series starts in early 2007.

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