The Adventure of the Red-Headed League
|"The Adventure of the Red-Headed League"|
|Author||Arthur Conan Doyle|
|Series||The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes|
|Set in||Oct 1890|
"The Adventure of the Red-Headed League" is one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It first appeared in The Strand Magazine in August 1891, with illustrations by Sidney Paget. Conan Doyle ranked "The Red-Headed League" second in his list of his twelve favourite Holmes stories. It is also the second of the twelve stories in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, which was published in 1892.
Jabez Wilson, a London pawnbroker, comes to consult Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson. While studying his client, both Holmes and Watson notice his red hair, which has a distinct flame-like hue. Wilson tells them that some weeks before his young assistant, Vincent Spaulding, urged him to respond to a newspaper want-ad offering work to only red-headed male applicants. The next morning, Wilson had waited in a long line of fellow red-headed men, was interviewed and was the only applicant hired, because none of the other applicants qualified; their red hair was either too dark or too bright, and did not match Wilson's unique flame color.
Wilson tells Holmes that his business has been struggling. Since his pawn shop did most of its business in the evenings, he was able to vacate his shop for short periods in the afternoon, receiving £4 a week for several weeks (equal to £380/week today); the work was obviously useless clerical work in a bare office, only performed for nominal compliance with a will, whereupon he was made to copy the Encyclopædia Britannica. Wilson learned much about the subjects starting with the "A" version and looked forward to getting into the "B" section. One morning, a sign on the locked office door inexplicably announced that "THE RED-HEADED LEAGUE IS DISSOLVED."
Wilson went to the landlord, who said that he had never heard of Duncan Ross, the person who managed the league office. The landlord did remember the tenant with scarlet hair and gives him a card which directs Wilson to an artificial knee company. Wilson ends the story with how frustrated he is losing the £4 a week.
Holmes and Watson laugh at Wilson because of the ridiculous situation, but Holmes assures him that by Monday they will solve the case. Wilson leaves after having given the detective a description of Spaulding; Holmes decides to go and see Spaulding, whom Holmes notices has dirty trouser knees. Holmes then taps on the pavement in front of the pawnbroker's shop. With the case solved, he calls Police Inspector Jones and Mr. Merryweather, a director of the bank located next door.
The four hide themselves in the bank vault and confront the thieves when they show up. They are John Clay, who has a long history of criminal activity already, and his helper Archie. Under the alias of Spaulding and Ross, they had contrived the 'Red-Headed League' rigmarole to keep Wilson out of his shop while they dug in the basement, in order to break into the bank vault next door. Although paying Jabez Wilson four pounds a week was expensive, it was a pittance compared to the ill-gotten thousands they were looking to steal from the bank.
Back at Baker Street, Holmes explains to Watson how he solved the case.
The dates given in the story do not match the characters' descriptions of time passing. The date that Wilson sees the advertisement is April 27, 1890 and he has been at work for 8 weeks and says "Just two months ago." Thus that happened by the end of June. However, the date on the door telling of the League being dissolved is that of October 9, 1890, six months after the ad was placed. The two previous dates are consistent and thus this October date is incorrect, if it has any meaning.
In other media
In Tom and Jerry Meet Sherlock Holmes, produced by Warner Brothers in 2010, Sherlock Holmes (voiced by Michael York) deduces the intent of jewel thieves and Professor Moriarty's role in it by referring to The Red Headed League case.
A reference to "The Red-Headed League" in Detective Conan episode 464.
- UK CPI inflation numbers based on data available from Gregory Clark (2014), "What Were the British Earnings and Prices Then? (New Series)" MeasuringWorth.
- Arthur Conan Doyle, "The Penguin Complete Sherlock Holmes" (penguin 1987) pp.178
- Dorothy L. Sayers, "The Dates in The Red-Headed League", reprinted in 17 Steps to 221B Baker Street (George Allen and Unwin, 1967) pp.57-67. Sayers' analysis is somewhat tongue-in-cheek In the Foreword to Unpopular Opinions, in which this essay also appeared, Sayers says that the "game of applying the methods of the Higher Criticism to the Sherlock Holmes canon... has become a hobby among a select set of jesters here and in America."
- IMDb - "Sherlock Holmes" The Red-Headed League (TV episode 1951)
- The Red-Headed League (1965) - IMDb