Plot Summary of The Man with the Twisted Lip

Updated on February 24, 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.

By the end of 1891 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was on his sixth short story about Sherlock Holmes, with the sixth being The Man with the Twisted Lip. The preceding story, The Five Orange Pips, had dealt with something innocuous that turned out to be a crime, but The Man with the Twisted Lip deals with something that looks like a crime but turns out to be something else.


The Man with the Twisted Lip was first published in the Strand Magazine in December 1891; and as well as being the sixth short story it is also the eighth story in the original canon of Sherlock Holmes.

The following year, The Man with the Twisted Lip would appear as part of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, the compilation work of the 12 short stories that had by then been written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

A Short Review

The Man with the Twisted Lip is a short story that deals with the abduction, and presumed murder, of the rich investor, Neville St Clair. The abduction had been observed by Neville St Clair’s wife, and although the police had arrested a suspect, the beggar, Hugh Boone, Sherlock Holmes had been retained to uncover all of the events.

This short story is one with many twists and turns, and sees Holmes and Dr Watson, travelling from an opium den in London, down to Kent, and back to London again.

Arguably, the tale of The Man with the Twisted Lip tells the reader more about the character of Dr Watson, than it does of Sherlock Holmes. The detecting prowess of Holmes has already been well established by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle before hand, as had the lengths the detective would go to in support of his client. In the story of The Man with the Twisted Lip we find though, the lengths that Watson would go to for his friends, and not just for Holmes; Watson willingly goes into the dangerous opium den, at the start of the story, to find Isa Whitney.

The CBS television series Elementary has used The Man with the Twisted Lip as a title for one of its episodes, although the plot of the episode bears no similarity with the original story.

In August 1986 though, Granada Television did make an episode, starring Jeremy Brett, which keeps faithfully to the original story. The Granada episode of The Man with the Twisted Lip appears in the third series, The Return of Sherlock Holmes, so is not in the same order as the original canon.

Mrs St Clair looking for her husband

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

Spoiler Alert - Plot Summary

The Man with the Twisted Lip commences in the household of Dr Watson, when one of Mary’s friends, Kate Whitney, asks Dr Watson to help find her husband, Isa Whitney, who has been missing for two days. Kate Whitney is afraid that her husband is at a notorious opium den partaking of the drug. The good doctor of course willingly takes up the quest.

Dr Watson soon locates Isa Whitney in the “Bar of Gold”, and quickly has Isa packed off in a cab back to his wife. It soon becomes apparent that Isa Whitney is not the only person Watson knows in the opium den, as Sherlock Holmes reveals himself to the doctor. Holmes though is not there to partake of opium, but is rather trying to uncover what has happened to Neville St Clair.

Holmes and Watson travel together down to the St Clair residence in Lee, Kent; and on the journey Holmes explains to Watson the case that had been brought to the detective by Mrs St Clair.

Neville St Clair is an apparently wealthy man who had made his home in Lee, but still travelled daily back to London to deal with his business interests. On one particular day Neville St Clair had departed early for London, and shortly afterwards Mrs St Clair had received a telegram that also saw her travelling into the capital.

In London, Mrs St Clair had found herself walking down Swandom Lane, the same road where the Bar of Gold is to be found, and at that point had seen her husband’s face at open window above her. No sooner had she seen her husband though, than the face had disappeared, almost as if it had been forcibly wrenched back, to prevent Neville St Clair from looking out.

Mrs St Clair had tried to enter the building where she had seen her husband, but the buildings owner had blocked her path; entry only occurred when a couple of patrolling policemen aided her.

There is no sign of Neville St Clair though, and the only person found upstairs is a beggar, Hugh Boone. The policemen of course think that Mrs St Clair has been mistaken, but the discovery of children’s bricks, a present that Neville St Clair was going to buy for his children, soon has a more thorough search being undertaken.

The second search uncovers some of Neville St Clair’s clothes, and some blood is also found on a window sill overlooking the river. Hugh Boone is arrested on suspicion of murder, although the beggar claims the blood on the window sill comes from a cut on his finger. Subsequently though, Neville St Clair’s coat washes up form the river, and in its pockets is a large amount of small change; just the sort of change a beggar might have collected.

On the face of it, it seems apparent that Hugh Boone has done away with Neville St Clair for some unknown reason, and so Holmes is on his way to tell Mrs St Clair that her husband had been killed on the day that he had disappeared.

Hugh Boone

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

A spanner is thrown into the works though, when Mrs St Clair reveals that she had just received a letter from her husband, with signet ring enclosed. Now it seems that Neville St Clair is very much alive.

Faced with this new evidence, Holmes and Watson both return to Baker Street, and taking up a pipe of shag, Holmes sits down to ponder the problem. This thinking time does the trick, and half way through the night Holmes wakes Watson, and the pair make their way to Bow Street, where Hugh Boone is incarcerated.

Inspector Bradstreet takes Holmes and Watson down to the cells, but rather than question Boone, Holmes takes up a wet sponge, and washes the face of the beggar, soon though Hugh Boone is revealed to be Neville St Clair.

The dramatic uncovering soon sees Neville St Clair explaining the whole situation. Several years earlier, Neville St Clair had been a journalist, and one of his stories saw him posing as a beggar to find out just how much could be earned. The results had been surprising, and indeed, Neville St Clair had taken a leave of absence from the newspaper to beg, in order that a debt could be cleared.

Of course, Neville St Clair soon got around to thinking how much better off he would be as a beggar, rather than a journalist. Indeed, despite fines and hired rooms in Swandom Lane, he was making far more than he ever could as a journalist.

On the day when Mrs St Clair had spotted him, Neville St Clair had just finished begging for the day; but in order to avoid detection, he had quickly transformed himself back into the well-known beggar Hugh Boone.

No crime has been committed, but Hugh Boone had been a problem for the police for many years, so in order to avoid scandal, Neville St Clair promises that his days of begging are now behind him.


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

The Man with the Twisted Lip

  • Date of Events - 1889
  • Client - Mrs St Clair
  • Locations - London and Lee, Kent


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