Plot Summary of The Adventure of the Empty House

Updated on April 7, 2018
Colin Quartermain profile image

Colin has been reading as long as he can remember, and the works of Conan Doyle were some of the early works that kept him reading.

Sherlock Holmes and the Empty House

The Adventure of the Empty House was the story that effectively resurrected Sherlock Holmes; and in it, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle brings back his most famous creation to investigate the seemingly impossible killing of the Honourable Ronald Adair.

Publication of The Adventure of the Empty House

The Adventure of the Empty House was published in the October 1903 edition of the Strand Magazine, virtually ten years after The Adventure of the Final Problem.

For much of the intervening period fans of Sherlock Holmes had had to make do with the previous stories reprinted as part of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes; although in 1901 Conan Doyle had written The Hound of the Baskervilles. The Hound of the Baskervilles though told of a case before the detective’s apparent demise.

The Adventure of the Empty House though was the return of the short stories to feature Sherlock Holmes, and would ultimately prove to be the 25th of 56 short stories. In February 1905, The Adventure of the Empty House would also feature within the compilation work, The Return of Sherlock Holmes.

Short Review of The Adventure of the Empty House

In 1893 Sherlock Holmes had never been more popular, but Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself was tired of the character, and so had effectively killed the detective off by having him fall in the Reichenbach Falls.

Over the next ten years though, the demand for Sherlock Holmes never waned, but when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle eventually gave in to the demands, he had to find a way to resurrect the character. The first new story was The Hound of the Baskervilles but this was told as if it was an earlier case of the detective, but in The Adventure of the Empty House, Conan Doyle had to find a away to explain the survival of Sherlock Holmes, but also give him a big case to solve; hence the death of Ronald Adair, a man shot inside a locked room.

In truth, the case isn’t really a locked room mystery, for the explanation of the death is ultimately a straightforward one.

The Adventure of the Empty House is not a story which enables the reader to solve the case alongside Sherlock Holmes, but is a story that explains all that has happened to the detective since Watson last saw him in Switzerland. In the fictional world of Sherlock Holmes, three years were said to have passed.

The Adventure of the Empty House is, like The Adventure of the Final Problem, a core part of any adaptation of the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. As such in recent years, The Empty Hearse episode of BBC’s Sherlock plays homage to the original tale, but a faithful adaptation was undertaken by Granada TV in 1986, with Jeremy Brett playing the detective.

Sherlock - The Return of Sherlock Holmes

The Return of Sherlock Holmes

Sidney Paget (1860-1908) PD-life-70
Sidney Paget (1860-1908) PD-life-70 | Source

Spoiler Alert - Plot Summary of The Adventure of the Empty House

The Adventure of the Empty House begins as if it was 1894, three years after the death of Sherlock Holmes. Watson narrates the story of the unsolved murder of the Honourable Ronald Adair.

Since the passing of his friend, Watson has continued to play close attention to the crimes reported in the daily newspapers, but has played close attention to the murder of Ronald Adair, for it is a problem that would have greatly interested Holmes.

Ronald Adair had travelled from Australia to England with his mother and sister, residing in England in Park Lane. The reason for the trip was to allow Mrs Adair to undergo an eye operation. During his stay in England, Ronald Adair had moved in the circles associated with his social standings, and had joined several notable clubs in London.

At these clubs, Adair was known to have played cards, but always for small sums, and was normally found partnered with Colonel Moran. The pair were currently on a long winning streak, and although on March 30, 1894 Adair had lost a small sum of money, it was a trivial sum, and Ronald Adair remained in high spirits.

That night, sometime between 22:00 and 23:20, Ronald Adair was shot in his rooms. There was no sound of the shot, and when entry into the room was forced, it was discovered that the room had been locked from the inside, but no gun was found. It was obviously not a case of suicide. One of the rooms’ windows was open, but there was no evidence of entry or exit through it.

In the rooms of Ronald Adair there were several small piles of money, and a list of the winnings and losses made by Adair in recent days.

Watson had considered the problem, but had not arrived at a plausible solution. One day was walking along Park Lane, passing by the murder scene, when he happened to bump into an elderly man who was obviously a bookseller or bibliophile. The bump caused the old man to drop his pile of books, something which caused the man to react angrily.

Watson is therefore very surprised, when some hours later, the old bibliophile turns up at his own study. The old man tries to apologise for his earlier anger, and even tried to sell Watson some rare books.

Watson’s attention is momentarily distracted, and when his eyes revert to the old man, he finds not an old bibliophile before him, but Sherlock Holmes. Watson promptly faints, but when he comes around, Holmes is able to explain his resurrection.

During the struggle at the Reichenbach Falls only Professor Moriarty had fallen to his death, Holmes though, had instantly recognised the benefits if he also was believed dead. It would give him the opportunity to deal with other criminals who had threatened his life.

A Shock for Watson

Sidney Paget (1860 - 1908) PD-life-70
Sidney Paget (1860 - 1908) PD-life-70 | Source

Holmes therefore, rather than going back down to Meiringen, had clambered upwards. This had gone unnoticed by the returning Watson, but Holmes had been observed by one of Moriarty’s henchmen, who had been positioned above. This henchman had tried to kill Holmes, by throwing down a boulder, but had obviously failed, and had gone by the time Holmes had made it to the top of his climb.

Aside from the henchman, only Mycroft Holmes was aware of the survival of Sherlock Holmes, and whilst the law was allowed to deal with the remainder of Holmes’ enemies, the detective himself travelled the globe.

During the intervening three years, Holmes had travelled to Florence, onto Tibet, then the Middle East, Sudan and finally France; indeed, Holmes was on the verge of returning to London, when news reached him of the murder Ronald Adair.

Holmes then asks Watson to help with a potentially dangerous task, something that Watson of course immediately agrees to.

Holmes and Watson then, by means of some subterfuge, make their way to a vacant building, which Watson discovers is directly opposite 221B Baker Street. Watson is even more amazed when he sees the clear outline of Holmes silhouetted in the window. The silhouette is of course a waxwork positioned by Holmes earlier in the day.

Holmes knows that his rooms have been watched ever since he disappeared, for the henchman of Moriarty was well aware that Holmes was not dead. Now of course the last enemy of Holmes is aware that the detective has returned.

For many hours, Holmes and Watson watch their old rooms, but eventually the silence is broken, when they hear the entry of a man into the very room where the pair are hidden.

The window of the room is then opened, and a strange looked gun is put together. Then there is an almost inaudible sound of a shot being fired. At that very moment, Holmes and Watson leap into action, jumping on the shooter, with Watson laying the man out cold with the butt of his gun.

Holmes whistles for assistance, with the whistle bring forth uniformed policeman as well as Inspector Lestrade. Those gathered in the room, still have no idea who the shooter is, but then Holmes reveals him to be Colonel Sebastian Moran, one of the best shots that the British Army had ever produced, and the very man who had tried to kill Holmes above the Reichenbach falls.

Holmes explains to Lestrade that the charge against Moran is not to be one of the attempted murder of Sherlock Holmes, but the actual murder of the Honourable Ronald Adair; Moran having shot Adair through the open window. The evidence of the gun and bullets should be enough for a conviction; a conviction that Lestrade shall get all the credit for.

Holmes and Watson then make their way to the rooms at 221B Baker Street, where they find the waxwork head in pieces. When Watson takes a look in Holmes’ crime directory, he finds that there is an entry for Moran, an entry which reads “The Second most dangerous man in London”. Just as Moriarty before him though, the name of Moran had previously been unknown to Watson.

There is no clear evidence to why Colonel Moran had killed his card playing partner, but Holmes believes that Adair had found out that Moran was cheating. Adair was going to repay his winnings, but Moran could not afford to be discredited, and to be kicked out of the clubs, and so Moran had shot Ronald Adair through the open window.

With the last dangerous enemy now imprisoned, Holmes is once again free to solve the extraordinary crimes that London and England were bound to throw up.

A Mysterious Sniper

Sidney Paget (1860-1908)  PD-life-70
Sidney Paget (1860-1908) PD-life-70 | Source

The Adventure of the Empty House

  • Date of Events - 1894
  • Locations - London
  • Villain - Colonel Sebastian Moran

Questions & Answers

    Comments

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    • Colin Quartermain profile image
      Author

      Colin Quartermain 3 years ago

      Many thanks for commenting, I like the story but have always seen it as a way for Conan Doyle to explain the reappearance of Holmes rather than expect the reader to pay close attention to the case.

    • FatBoyThin profile image

      Colin Garrow 3 years ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      This is one of my favourite Sherlock Holmes stories, though I always thought Moran could do with a better reason for murder than the risk of becoming a social outcast (I realise that such things were considerably more meaningful in those days, but still...) Great Hub.

    • Colin Quartermain profile image
      Author

      Colin Quartermain 3 years ago

      Many thanks for commenting, and yes the Adventure of the Empty House is a good one from Conan Doyle.

    • Shivendra Tiwari profile image

      Shivendra Tiwari 3 years ago from New Delhi, India

      loved the mystery...good one...(Y)

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