Plot Summary of the Adventure of the Yellow Face

Updated on March 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.

Sherlock Holmes and the Yellow Face

The Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories of Sherlock Holmes are generally thought of in terms of complex cases that only the detective can solve. The Adventure of the Yellow Face though, is a case where there is no despicable crime, and is in fact a Conan Doyle story that shows the fallibility of Sherlock Holmes.

Publication of the Adventure of the Yellow Face

The Adventure of the Yellow Face is a short Sherlock Holmes story that was first published in the February 1893 edition of the Strand Magazine; being published the month after The Adventure of the Cardboard Box.

Later in 1893, The Adventure of the Yellow Face would be republished as part of The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, a book that has been regularly republished over the last 100 years.

A Short Review of the Adventure of the Yellow Face

In most of the previous Sherlock Holmes stories, the detective had always reached the right conclusion, even if, on occasion, he had been too late. The Adventure of the Yellow Face though, showed how Holmes’ deductions could be wrong.

The story shows how Holmes can deduce everything he needs to know about the owner of a left behind pipe, but provided with evidence from a client, even Holmes could arrive at the wrong conclusion.

There is no great complexity to The Adventure of the Yellow Face, and in the end the solution is quite simple; although the solution does provide insight into racial and social stigma in the Victorian era, something which has not totally disappeared even today.

The ending of the story has a “feel good feeling” to it, although The Adventure of the Yellow Face is a story from the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle canon that is often overlooked; it being one of the stories not adapted by Granada for their Sherlock Holmes series with Jeremy Brett.

The Adventure of the Yellow Face does provide a close link between the works of Conan Doyle and the works of Agatha Christie. Sherlock Holmes asks Watson to mention Norbury, whenever Holmes comes across as being too arrogant during a case, whilst Poirot would ask Hastings to remind him of the “chocolate box”. In the case of Poirot though, it was a reprimand that was soon ignored.

A Pipe to Examine

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

Spoiler Alert - Plot Summary of the Adventure of the Yellow Face

The Adventure of the Yellow Face sees Holmes and Dr Watson returning to 221B Baker Street after a five hour walk around London. Holmes has been bored due to a lack of interesting cases, and so Watson had convinced the detective to take a walk, but it seems that a potential client has visited in the meantime.

Holmes though, is only slightly perturbed, as the potential client has left behind a pipe, indicating that he should return shortly.

The pipe allows Holmes to make some deductions about the client. The man is of disturbed mind, as evidenced by the leaving of a prized pipe. The prized nature is shown by the fact that it has been repaired rather than replaced. The usage of the pipe also allows Holmes to deduce a left handed man, with teeth that were in excellent condition.

When the client arrives, Holmes is even able to announce his name, Grant Munro, as the client has left the brim of his hat exposed with the name tag showing.

Munro has visited Holmes as he is disturbed that his wife is hiding a great secret from him, and although Holmes doesn’t normally deal with domestic issues, the detective allows Munro to expand on the case.

Munro’s wife, Effie, had been previously married in America, to a lawyer by the name of John Hebron. Effie though had been left a widow when her husband and daughter had contracted yellow fever, and so Effie had come to England.

Six months after her arrival, her and Munro had met, and the pair had fallen very much in love with each other, and within a few weeks, the two were married. Effie and Munro were very in love.

Munro was relatively well off, his hops business doing relatively well, but Effie was also financially sound with a legacy from her deceased husband paying 7%. Effie though had insisted that her own money being signed over to her new husband.

In Norbury, Munro kept a summer house, and Effie and Munro would spend time there when his work allowed. Things seemed to be going well.

Then, two months, before Munro’s consultation with Holmes, Effie had asked her husband for 100 pounds, and also asked her husband not to ask what it was for. Munro had readily given his wife the money, after all, in essence, it was her money.

Shortly afterwards, Munro notices that the cottage next door to his Norbury property, and he goes to see if the new occupants require any help. Munro only sees a Scottish woman, who is quite abrupt with him, but then afterwards he also sees a strange yellow face at a window, though the face quickly disappears.

Munro discovers that his wife has secretly visited the cottage, and one day he follows her. Munro is about to enter the cottage, when his wife implores him not to. Effie promises that she will never return to the cottage, but it is a promise quickly broken.

Discovering the deceit, Munro breaks in to the cottage, to find out about the occupants and the yellow face that appears at the window. When he gets into the cottage though, Munro finds it empty, although he does find a picture of his wife on the cottage’s mantelpiece.

A New Neighbour for Grant Munro

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

At his wits end, Munro had then decided to consult with Sherlock Holmes.

After listening to the problem, Holmes simply advises Munro to return home and find whether the cottage is now occupied again.

After Munro has left, Holmes then confides in Watson as to the deduction he has made. Holmes believes that the cottage has been occupied by Effie’s first husband, who has perhaps been deformed in some way by the yellow fever, and is now blackmailing Effie into silence.

It is a theory that Holmes is still working on, when Munro sends a message to Holmes, asking him to come down to Norbury. Munro has decided to enter the cottage once again, and has decided to have Holmes and Watson as witnesses.

At Norbury, Munro, Holmes and Watson do gain entry to the cottage, despite the pleadings of Effie Munro.

The cottage though, is not occupied by John Hebron, but by Lucy, Effie’s daughter.

It turns out the John Hebron was a black American, and therefore Lucy was of mixed parentage. When John Hebron had died, Lucy had been too sick to travel, and so Effie had left her behind in America in the care of her Scottish nurse. Effie though, had used the 100 pounds, to bring the pair over to England, when Lucy was well enough to travel.

Effie though was worried about Munro’s reaction to finding out about Lucy, and had therefore hidden her away, even making Lucy wear a mask to cover her facial features.

Holmes’ deductions have therefore proven to be incorrect, but so were Effie’s belief’s about her new husband. For Munro proves to be a “better” man than Effie thought, for Munro is very much in love with his wife, and picks up his new stepdaughter in his arms, and walks hand-in-hand with his wife, back to their home.

Holmes and Watson discretely return to London, and recognising his own failures in the case, Holmes asks Watson to say the word “Norbury”, whenever Holmes appears too arrogant during a case.

Another Case Solved

Sidney Paget PD-life-70
Sidney Paget PD-life-70 | Source

The Adventure of the Yellow Face

  • Date of Events - 1888
  • Client - Grant Munro
  • Locations - Norbury

Questions & Answers

  • In what way did the face at the window appear inhuman in "The Adventures of the Yellow Face"?

    Grant Munro describes the face he saw at the window as "unnatural and inhuman" - and goes on to say it was "set and rigid."

    Some confusion occurs though when reading British vs. American versions of the tale, for, in the British version, Munro described it as "livid dead yellow" (hence the story title," while American versions call it "livid chalky white."

    The inhuman nature of the face is of course eventually revealed as being due to a mask being observed over the face of Effie's child.

  • What could Sherlock Holmes tell about the man from his pipe?

    For Holmes, a pipe can provide great insight into the smoker. In the case of the Adventure of the Yellow Face, the pipe, though relatively cheap, would have required expensive repairs.

    Moreover, the pipe displays physical characteristics of the man, in the manner it has been used. From that Holmes deduces that the man is left-handed and muscular. The expensive brand of tobacco smoked in the pipe shows that the man has money to spare.

  • Does "The Adventure of the Yellow Face" end when Grant Munro walks back to his house carrying his stepdaughter with his wife?

    Ultimately, when Munro departs with his wife, and his wife's daughter, the case of the Adventure of the Yellow Face has come to an end.

    There is one additional part for Holmes and Watson, though. Holmes, in recognising his own faults in dealing with the case, tells Watson to say the word "Norbury" if Watson sees Holmes becoming overconfident.

  • Who was the other woman in "The Adventures of Yellow Face"?

    In the Adventure of the Yellow Face, the other woman is a character encountered by Grant Munro when he attempts to find out about the new occupants of the neighbor's cottage.

    Munro is attempting to find out about the yellow face he had observed, but the woman is abrupt with Munro, and comes across as harsh and forbidding, and Munro can't get passed her.

    Of course, ultimately this woman is the nurse or childminder of Effie Munro's daughter.

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