The Great British Sherlock Read Off – A Scandal In Bohemia and The Red Headed League

Sherlock Challenge


As I’m heading into the Holmes short stories, I thought that it would be better to combine posts rather than doing an update for each story.  So, for this update I am focussing on the first two stories from “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” collection, “A Scandal In Bohemia” and “The Red-Headed League”.



People who are viewers of “Sherlock” will know that the contemporary parallel to this particular story is “A Scandal In Belgravia” and Sherlock’s opponent is, of course, the only woman to best him in “The Woman”, Irene Adler.

Unlike the “Sherlock” version of the story, Watson is happily married to Mary by the time the time Holmes encounters Irene Adler and has been living away from Sherlock, as in the television story “His Last Vow”.  In fact, fans of “Sherlock” will recognise some of the dialogue from “Vow” in this story, specifically the dialogue regarding the fact that Watson has settled into married life from the evidence of him putting on weight.

You can sense that this is still early days for the Holmes mythos because, yet again, Holmes gives Watson another lesson in observation and deduction with John as the example – the third time in three stories – as though Conan Doyle was still trying to drive home Sherlock’s powers of detection.

Given that this is a shorter story than “A Study In Scarlet” or “The Sign Of Four”, this story is particularly Sherlock heavy.  It starts with Watson relaying the fact that Sherlock doesn’t see women in the romantic sense, which given the fact that Irene bests Holmes in this story lends the story a tinge of the romantic.

As in “Belgravia”, this story hinges around the fact that Irene is seeking to blackmail a notable royal, in this case the King of Bohemia, due to an indiscretion when he was the Crown Prince.  Holmes is entrusted to be the agent to recover the evidence.

The narrative is very pacey, in comparison to the first two stories (it took me a couple of hours to read), which is fitting as Holmes’s adventures were being chronicled in newspapers and the character of Holmes and Watson are consistent with how they are portrayed in “Scarlet” and “Sign” – Holmes as the cold, calculating investigator and Watson as his chronicler – as intelligent and ready to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with his comrade in arms, but always half a step behind due to his view of the world in comparison to Sherlock.

The King of Bohemia is very much seen as just a client in this case, as opposed to Mary Morstan, who is very much somebody who accompanies Holmes and Watson in their previous adventure.

The character of Irene Adler is an interesting one as she seems to have been retconned through the passage of time.  If you’ve seen the Downey Jr. “Sherlock Holmes” films, Adler has become a career criminal, of sorts, whilst the “Sherlock” version is a dominatrix who deals with obtaining classified information and working as an agent of Jim Moriarty.

In the book, Irene is a totally different kettle of fish – she’s an opera singer, actor and “adventuress”.  Her driving motivation a sense of injustice, as in the cases of Holmes’s two previous adversaries, and is described at the end of the story.

Another interesting thing is that, unlike the adversaries from the first two stories, you hardly see a great deal of “The Woman” herself.  A lot of what is described of her is through conversation, observation and by a significant letter.  In fact, we only see her interact with Holmes twice in the story and briefly so.

The fact that her appearances are so fleeting, the fact that she beats Holmes, plus the fact that there is no case of murder in this story, are really what gives “Scandal” it’s romantic touchstone, even though Holmes himself would not see it so.

Unlike the previous two stories, it’s not essential to have seen the “Sherlock”, in fact, it may be helpful to try to put aside Lara Pulver’s fantastic portrayal as the modern day Adler when reading this story as the two versions motives are poles apart, even though her actions aren’t.



For fans of “Sherlock” and who haven’t read the books before, this is a story that you may not be familiar with.

Basically, the story involves a pawnbroker by the name of Jabez Wilson who consults Holmes on a case where he has felt that he has been on the receiving end of a practical joke.  Wilson, a man with red hair, answered an advertisement for a job with a beneficiary trust called “The League of Red-Headed Men”.  His job, to copy all of the entries in the Encyclopedia Brittanica.

There are conditions to his job, however. He must work there between 10 am and 2 pm, he must not leave his place of employment and he cannot take a day’s absence or he will forfeit his role with the League.

However, after two months service with the League, Wilson finds on attending work that the League has been dissolved and that nobody has heard of the League’s administrator, Mr Duncan Ross.

I do have a familiarity with this story through the first series of the Sherlock Holmes stories as transmitted by Granada Television.

The story, like “A Scandal In Bohemia” is a short one and therefore means that the narrative is fast-paced, but manages to be full of detail, partly down to the exposition that the character of Jabez Wilson provides at the start of the story and partly because, unlike the previous three Holmes stories that I’ve read, there are no establishing demonstrations of Holmes’s powers of detection, apart from his ascertaining and linking up clues as to Wilson’s past.

With readers now becoming more familiar with the partnership of Holmes and Watson, there is also less need to describe specifics about Holmes’s methods of detection in this story, with the clues coming in a “blink and you’ll miss them fashion”, something that to this day appears in many a detective or procedural television programme, book or film.

One area of interest in this particular story is Watson’s observations of Holmes himself – in particular, the two sides to Holmes’s character.  On the one hand, he is a man who is in his chosen vocation for the thrill of the hunt, whilst on the other, he is an admirer of the calm atmosphere of the musical arts – whilst dispelling the popular myth that Holmes was poor at playing the violin as he describes Holmes as being both a competent violinist and a composer.  (A trait that “Sherlock” fans will certainly recognise from the episode “The Sign Of Three”).

The story itself is a straight-forward procedural story with a beginning – Jabez’s story flowing swiftly into Holmes and Watson’s investigation and the final act of their apprehending the suspects.  It’s also a less emotionally led story than what I have read before, certainly less so than “A Scandal In Bohemia” or “The Sign Of Four” which attempts to shine some light on the emotional character of Sherlock and John.  In fact, this is a much lighter, in fact slightly comedic, story in comparison to the previous three.

For fans of the televised “Sherlock Holmes” version of this story, there is a major change between the original work and the TV version in the fact of who actually masterminds this plot.  No doubt due to the fact that even in the 1980′s we were being treated to a minimal story arc which culminated at the end of the first series of Granada’s adventures for the Brett incarnation of the role.

In summing up, a pleasant read and a story that can be read with ease in a couple of hours.



For those of you following this challenge, the next story that I’ll be reading will be the short story “A Case Of Identity”.


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