Plot Summary of the Adventure of the Crooked Man

Updated on April 26, 2018
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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 Crooked Man

The Adventure of the Crooked Man is a short Sherlock Holmes story penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The case starts off with all the hallmarks of a crime committed within a locked room, but develops into a case where no crime has been committed. Holmes though uncovers a solution that differs greatly from the official one.

Publication of the Adventure of the Crooked Man

The Adventure of the Crooked Man was written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for the July 1893 edition of the Strand Magazine. As such, The Adventure of the Crooked Man is the twentieth short Sherlock Holmes story to be written by Conan Doyle, coming after The Adventure of the Reigate Squire; with all short Sherlock Holmes stories first published in the Strand.

Later in 1893, The Adventure of the Crooked Man would be republished as part of the omnibus, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.

A Short Review of the Adventure of the Crooked Man

At the outset the case present to Sherlock Holmes in The Adventure of the Crooked Man seems a straightforward one, with Nancy Barclay killing her husband in a locked room following a heated argument. The police though, seem disinterested in the missing key or the strange animal footprints inside the room, factors which Holmes sees as vital.

The story therefore develops from a supposedly impossible crime into a narrative of why events have unfolded as they did. Part of the narrative deals, eventually, with the Indian Mutiny, a topic already touched upon by Conan Doyle in The Sign of Four.

The fact that there is no crime in The Adventure of the Crooked Man doesn’t detract from the story, for the case shows how Holmes observes whilst the police force simply sees.

The Adventure of the Crooked Man was also the fifth story adapted by Granada TV for British television; and the episode would be broadcast on the 22nd May 1984, with Jeremy Brett, of course, starring as Sherlock Holmes. The Granada TV adaptation, as with most of their stories, stayed true to the original Conan Doyle story line.

Holmes Visits Watson

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

Spoiler Alert - Plot Summary of the Adventure of the Crooked Man

The Adventure of the Crooked Man commences with Sherlock Holmes away from his Baker Street rooms; with the detective visiting the home and practice of Dr Watson. Holmes though is not visiting for purely social reasons, for he is about to ask Watson to accompany him down to Aldershot the next day. Aldershot is a Hampshire town with a long association with the British Army.

Holmes himself had already been down to Aldershot, having been asked to consult on a case by Major Murphy, the temporary commander of the Royal Munsters. The temporary promotion had occurred due to the death of the previous commander, Colonel James Barclay; the death was believed to be a case of murder, with the prime suspect being Nancy Barclay, Colonel Barclay’s wife of 30 years.

Sitting down to smoke pipes with Watson, Holmes sets out the details that had been established so far.

James Barclay had risen through the ranks of the British Army, starting off as private and eventually becoming Colonel of the regiment. Such progression was unusual, although the actions of Barclay during the Indian Mutiny would seem to have merited the promotion. One problem with such progression was the social problems that it caused, but Barclay had married Nancy, the daughter of the regiment’s old colour sergeant, and the pair had established themselves socially as well as professionally. The Barclays indeed were well thought of within the regiment, and the belief was that the pair were devoted to each other.

On the night when James Barclay had died, Nancy, and one of her neighbours, Miss Morrison, had been in Aldershot on church business. Upon her return, Nancy had got into a huge argument with her husband, with the sound of the argument resonating around the household. The servants had heard Nancy call James David at one point, and she had also called him a coward.

The noise from the room, and then a sudden silence, had seen the coachman try to gain access to the room, but the door was locked, and the door could not be broken down. Eventually, the servants realized that easier access could be gained to the room from the garden.

When the servants did gain access to the room, they found James Barclay dead on the floor in a pool of his own blood, and Nancy was lying nearby having fainted.

An unusual club stock was found in the room, a weapon that could not be identified as one of Colonel Barclay’s, and the belief therefore, was that Nancy had used it as a weapon on her husband.

There was something unusual about the room though, for although the main door was locked, the key to it could not be found.

The Locked Room

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

So Holmes had been called in, and the detective had made a thorough examination of the room. Holmes had found clues that the police had missed, for their was evidence of a third party in the room, prior to the arrival of the servants, as well as signs that a strange animal had also been in the room.

Holmes knew something must have happened to cause such a large argument between the devoted couple, and so the detective had then turned his attention to Miss Morrison.

Miss Morrison had a story to tell about her and Nancy’s visit to Aldershot town centre, but Nancy had sworn her to secrecy. Holmes though, had convinced her to break her promise, with Nancy facing a possible murder charge.

Holmes finds out that Nancy had bumped into a man she had known. The man, crippled with a deformed back, had called her Nancy, and she had called him Henry, and the pair had subsequently had a conversation together for several minutes. Miss Morrison though, had not got close enough to hear the gist of that conversation.

Even before coming to Watson it was obvious that Holmes had already solved the case, and the detective was simply asking Watson to act as a witness to one final interview. Watson of course readily agrees to accompany Holmes to Aldershot, and his practice is then left in the hands of Dr Jackson.

When Holmes and Watson arrive in Aldershot, they seek out Henry Wood, the crooked man. Their search is helped as Holmes had already got one of his Baker Street Irregulars dogging the man’s footsteps. Holmes confronts Woods, and demands the truth from the man, and Henry Wood readily comes clean when he hears that Nancy Barclay might face a murder charge.

It seems that Henry Wood was once a corporal in the Royal Munsters, and had served with James Barclay in India. At the time, Nancy Devoy, as she was then, had been in love with Henry Wood, although Nancy’s father preferred the ambitious Sergeant Barclay over Wood.

During the Indian Mutiny the Munsters became surrounded by rebels, and Henry Wood had volunteered to try to find the relief column. Soon after leaving Bhurtee, Wood was captured by the rebels, and it soon became apparent that he had been betrayed by Barclay; Wood’s absence would leave the way free for Barclay to marry Nancy. During the period of captivity with the rebels, Wood had been severely tortured, causing the deformity in his back.

After several years Wood had managed to escape from the rebels, and had settled down to life in India, supporting himself by learning conjuring tricks. Wood though had yearned for England, and making passage home, Wood had gravitated to Aldershot, where fellow soldiers could be found. Quite by accident, the paths of Wood and Nancy Barclay had crossed, and the pair had immediately recognised each other.

Nancy and Henry Wood had parted company, but Wood had followed Nancy home, and had therefore seen the heated argument between husband and wife. Seeking to intervene Wood rushes in, but at the sight of him, James Barclay collapse, and is apparently dead before he hits the floor. Nancy then faints.

Wood quickly exits the room, afraid to reveal himself, but in his haste he takes the key to the door with him, and also leaves his stick behind.

The reason why Wood doesn’t want to reveal himself is because the old soldier wants his comrades to remember him as a handsome, brave soldier killed in heroic action, rather than as an old, crippled man.

Holmes believes Wood, but advises the “crooked man” that he may have to reveal his story if Nancy is ever brought to trial; and Wood accepts this condition.

After leaving Wood, Holmes and Watson encounter Major Murphy, and it seems that Nancy, and therefore Henry Wood is in the clear, Colonel Barclay died of apoplexy.

The final mystery of why Nancy called James Barclay as David is explained by Holmes as Nancy referring to the Old Testament story of David and Uriah; and so Sherlock Holmes has brought another case to a successful completion.

Meeting Henry Wood

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

The Adventure of the Crooked Man

  • Date of Events - 1888
  • Client - Major Murphy
  • Locations - Aldershot

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