The Doctor's Case

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"The Doctor's Case"
Author Stephen King
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Mystery short story
Published in The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1st release),
Nightmares & Dreamscapes
Publication type Anthology
Media type Print (Paperback)
Publication date 1987

"The Doctor's Case" is a short story by American author Stephen King, originally published in The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, a 1987 centennial collection, and reprinted in his collection Nightmares & Dreamscapes. An audio-book of stories from Nightmares & Dreamscapes was read by Tim Curry.

This story is King's foray into Sherlockiana, a non-canonical Sherlock Holmes story, using Arthur Conan Doyle's characters. Like his story Crouch End, inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, The Doctor's Case is an example of a pastiche.

Plot summary[edit]

Dr. Watson narrates a heretofore unreleased case in which he and Holmes are called by Inspector Lestrade on an unexpectedly rainy day to investigate the murder of a sadistic British lord named Hull in his study. Each member of his family - his wife and three sons - has reason to murder him; his wife had been hounded with constant abuse for the duration of their marriage; one son, an artistically-skilled (and bowlegged) youth, was the target of constant ire from his father for his unattractive appearance; another, the youngest, was the most intellectual and the most capable of maintaining his father's affairs, but was doomed to never receive more than a pittance, due to his placement in the family line. Furthermore, in spite of his treatment of them his family had stayed with him in the hopes that Hull would die and leave them with his considerable wealth; however, they had recently learnt that Hull had rewritten his will so that none of them received a thing, and that all his wealth would go to a boarding-house for stray cats. Despite having ample motives to kill him, his family have effectively given each other alibis, and the murder itself is effectively a locked room mystery; there's no place in the crime scene for anyone to hide without being seen, and all the doors and windows were locked by the lord himself.

Holmes is eager to solve this mystery; unfortunately, Lord Hull was a cat lover, possessing numerous cats, and as Holmes has a rather severe allergy to cats, he is not at his most efficient. Watson, however, has an insight that blows the case wide open; as the three discuss the case, Watson notices that a certain table in the locked room is casting odd shadows on the rug. He realizes that these shadows were catching his attention because no other structure in the study is casting shadows so strongly. When he goes to check the table, he discovers the illusion, and with the clever use of one of the many cats in the home, demonstrates that the table has been rigged. The bookshelf's lowest shelf is, in fact, a photorealistic painting. The murderer - the artist, Jory Hull - had perfectly rendered the bottom shelf, then pasted the results against the back table-legs. When his father announced the new will, Jory made into the study, crouched behind the table (assisted by his own dwarfed body in this case), and rushed out to stab his father when the moment was right. A cursory glance would not betray the illusion on a dark day, but on a sunny one, the lack of shadows being cast by the table-legs would have been noticeable. To help make the illusion perfect, Jory had prepared shadows out of black felt, and laid them down at roughly the place where shadows should be. Unfortunately, his barometer was a liar; as was observed in the story, he was "caught by shadows on a day when there should be none". Furthermore, Lord Hull had time to scream before he died, arousing the attention of his servants and making it impossible for Jory to either collect his paintings or frame the murder as a break-in gone wrong. Instead, Jory stole and burnt the new will, guaranteeing that he and his family would receive their inheritance.

As Watson explains his insights, he slowly comes to the realization that Jory Hull could not have executed the murder on his own and that, at the very least, everyone in the family knew of it and was lying for him. Holmes, who had already reached that conclusion while listening to Watson's narrative, gently chides him for his inability to understand the depths of human depravity. Watson also realizes that Holmes had understood everything not long from the beginning of Watson's story, yet deliberately kept his silence, letting Watson have his moment in the sun; rather than resenting his thunder being stolen, Holmes was genuinely impressed with the "deductive light" Watson demonstrated.

Holmes and Lestrade discuss the various sentences that the Hulls will receive if the case is brought before court; Jory Hull is guaranteed an execution, whilst the other two sons would be jailed for life and the wife jailed for some time in a women's prison. They eventually decide that the world is, perhaps, better off without Lord Hull in it, and thus conspire to conceal the truth of what has occurred; Holmes and Watson collect the painting and the shadows, while Lestrade unlocks one of the windows in the room; they leave, and inform the waiting police that Hull was murdered in an attempted break-in.

See also[edit]