Ingredients of a Good Detective Story

GoingNowhereGoingNowhere Global Moderator
edited January 2012 in Spurious Generalities
Righty Ho chaps, Im just looking through essays that I did in the past and uploading them on as CMS articles. This one I did for English Literature around the GCSE period, uploaded because it reached a reasonable standard of quality (turned out to be a B grade if I remember). Therefore, it is correct to that level :)

An investigation into the ingredients of a good detective story from the study of “Sherlock Holmes” short-stories by Conan Doyle

To produce this piece of course work I read ‘The Speckled Band’, ‘Scandal in Bohemia’, ‘Charles Augustus Milverton’ and ‘The illustrious Client’. These books were written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and were part of the Sherlock Homes series.

The Stories
With each story a crime has been committed, usually one that effects of a persons/s life greatly like ‘a scandal in Bohemia’, and these crimes usually have disastrous if Sherlock Holmes does not solve them like ‘Charles Augustus Milverton’, a master blackmailer intent on ruining his victims. These crimes are of the utmost importance, and rely on Sherlock Holmes to make life or death decisions. Behind these crimes is mostly a cold, ruthless, and violent villain, for example Baron Gruner in the Illustrious Client. Throughout these books we learn that Sherlock Homes has solved many cases, but these villains present to him a case that deserves to be mentioned. These villains are not well known, and they have all evaded the police. Then there is the victim, he/she turns to Sherlock Holmes as a last resort, and evokes sympathy from the reader, as in ‘Charles Augustus Milverton’. The victim is often in desperate need whose life depends on whether Sherlock Holmes solves the case or not. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has a good mix of male victims and female victims, so it always interesting each crime is often seen to be unsolvable, and all has been done to solve the case. They do not have much time to act, and the police have tried and failed. However, Sherlock Holmes does produce a systematic laying out of the events so that the reader has a chance to solve it, or get involved in it. Whenever he attempts to solve a case, he is portrayed as the expert, and does not seem to be concerned when he is advanced on by criminals. He is clever, considerate, even tempered, and keeps a cool attitude when faced with seemingly overwhelming obstacles. The solution to each story is satisfying as the criminal gets fair treatment and the readers are satisfied because of it.

The Detective
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is seen to have created the perfect detective, Sherlock Holmes. His character is a strong one, with no foreseeable weaknesses (except drugs!!) and ruthless determination, willing to even break the law to solve the cases (as in Charles Augustus Milverton). He cares not for money, but enjoys his cases, especially when there is an arch enemy or rival. His powers of observation are unmatched, and is frequently seen to be studying people closely and deducting there situation from there presentation. He is committed to helping those of desperate need and is morally upright from the start, even when breaking the law. In most cases however, he uses disguise. His disguise is so good that even Watson could not recognize him, and he uses his disguise to collect information.

Watson is the ideal companion for Sherlock Holmes. He is an intelligent man, and a doctor. He is courageous and does not hesitate to follow Holmes in any dangerous situation, nor does he fail to aid Holmes when it is appropriate for him to do so Example: In the illustrious client, Watson pretends to be an expert in Chinese Pottery and risks his life. Being a doctor, we see him to be a naturally compassionate and a caring man who does not hesitate to listen to peoples troubles and suggest remedies. He has the same uprightness that Holmes has, and never suggests to break the law unless Holmes suggests it first. He is kind and gentle at heart, but always ready to enter into any situation, when it requires force and determination.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Conan Doyle has written these stories in the most interesting and clever fashion. His characters are unique and interesting, designed to create imagination and fascinating individuals who have their own characteristics, from the love-sick Violet de Merville, the vindictive Milverton, to the dangerous Baron Grunner. These characters have such diverse personalities that it is always interesting, especially when Conan Doyle uses a person in distress as a key figure e.g. Count Von Kramm. Conan Doyle gives characters substance so that they matter just as much as the story line. How he brings out these characters is a different matter is mostly due to how he describes them. In every episode Watson seems to reveal something about Sherlock Holmes that we did not know before, and things that we did not know that he could do. Then there is the suspense, and the excitement, with the thrill of action. The chapters are loaded with suspense and atmosphere, with the plan of action being laid out in front of you, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle then initiates the sequence of events that turns the whole mystery around and creates events which, seemingly impossible before is now solved in one quick action. It is like when Homes breaks into the house of Charles Augustus Milverton, the whole plot of the story is set out before you, and then with one swift action Sherlock Holmes reclaims Charles’s manuscript and the whole situation is averted. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle mostly uses Watson as an observer, and a sidekick who plays no relevance to the actual storyline but is more of a helper, and who scripts Sherlock Holmes’s actions so that we may see what is going on.

By scripting the story through Watson’s eyes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle allows Watson to ask Sherlock Holmes how he comes up with his method of solving the mystery. Watson is clever, but Sherlock Holmes is so much more clever than him that Sir Arthur uses Watson to question him on every thing he does, but allowing the readers to try and solve the mystery first. Through Watson’s ignorance, we get to learn the reason behind Sherlock Holmes’s actions. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle matches his extraordinary characters with extraordinary animals, the snake for instance, or the cheetah. The unusual extend to exotic materials such as Chinese pottery, as well as his many famous disguises (When he pretends to be badly wounded in the illustrious client).Next we also come into the pace of the stories, and these tend to be short sentences, and fast paced action which lead the readers from one scene to the next. Sir Conan Doyle lets the reader contemplate each individual problem for a short period, and carries on the story, which makes the story more interesting.


This is a perfect example of how Victorian life is described in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories. It creates a picture of a rough place, with the social upper crust avoiding scandal and falling into helpless situations where they need the help of Sherlock Holmes. These stories have an appeal to the Victorian life style, which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle gives an accurate description of every day lives of the Victorians, and that is why they like the books so much, because if portrays realistically what they see around them. Realistic situations and images of Victorian life are not all Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has to offer, but mixes these things with wonderful animals from strange lands, ideas that work the imagination.

Out of the three books I read for this essay, I prefer Charles Augustus Milverton. This is because I feel that the story has a strong storyline, with a clever enemy who has done great evil on the lives of many individuals. He then meets a violent end at the hands of the woman whose life has been destroyed. The story is exciting and Watson is used well throughout the whole book.
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