A Case of Identity

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"A Case of Identity"
Holmes welcoming Miss Mary, 1891 illustration by Sidney Paget
Author Arthur Conan Doyle
Series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Publication date 1891

"A Case of Identity" is one of the 56 short Sherlock Holmes stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and is the third story in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

Plot summary[edit]

The story revolves around the case of Miss Mary Sutherland, a woman with a substantial income from the interest on a fund set up for her. She is engaged to a quiet Londoner who has recently disappeared. Sherlock Holmes's detective powers are barely challenged as this turns out to be quite an elementary case for him, much as it puzzles Watson.

The fiancé, Mr. Hosmer Angel, is a peculiar character, rather quiet, and rather secretive about his life. Miss Sutherland only knows that he works in an office in Leadenhall Street, but nothing more specific than that. All his letters to her are typewritten, even the signature, and he insists that she write back to him through the local Post Office.

The climax of the sad liaison comes when Mr. Angel abandons Miss Sutherland at the altar on their wedding day.

Holmes, noting all these things, Hosmer Angel's description, and the fact that he only seems to meet with Miss Sutherland while her disapproving youngish stepfather, James Windibank, is out of the country on business, reaches a conclusion quite quickly. A typewritten letter confirms his belief beyond doubt. Only one person could have gained by this: Mr. James Windibank. Holmes deduces "Angel" had "disappeared" by simply going out the other side of a four-wheeler cab.

After solving the mystery, Holmes chooses not to tell his client the solution, since "If I tell her she will not believe me. You may remember the old Persian saying, 'There is danger for him who taketh the tiger cub, and danger also for whoso snatches a delusion from a woman.' There is as much sense in Hafiz as in Horace, and as much knowledge of the world." In this, however, he can be accused of not fulfilling his professional duty for which he was paid – namely, to investigate the matter to which she set him, provide her with the results and let her decide what to do with them. Holmes does advise his client to forget "Mr. Angel"; Miss Sutherland refuses to take Holmes' advice and vows to remain faithful to "Angel" until he reappears – for at least ten years.

Holmes predicts Windibank will continue a career in crime and end up on the gallows.


This story was the basis for the third Holmes adventure (filmed in 1921) in the silent film series starring Eille Norwood.[1]

In 2001, this was the basis for the ninth episode of the second season of the animated television series Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century.[2]

This story was adapted for the radio at least three times: starring Tom Conway and Nigel Bruce in 1948; starring John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson in 1954; and, in adapting all Holmes stories written by Conan Doyle, Clive Merrison and Michael Williams starred in a production scripted by Bert Coules.[3]

In 2014, it is seen in "The Empty Hearse", from the BBC television series Sherlock, as one of the cases Sherlock works on with Molly Hooper assisting him.

In the fourth episode of the 2014 Japanese puppetry series Sherlock Holmes, Mary Sutherland is a female pupil of Beeton School. She is in love with the senior Hosmer Angel who suddenly disappears in a cave at the back of the school. Holmes, a pupil who lives in room 221B of Baker Dormitory, suspects that Angel and Windibank, one of the childhood friends of Sutherland, are the same person and he and Watson find out that there is no pupil called Hosmer Angel in the school. Holmes appreciates Watson for consoling the broken-hearted Sutherland. Watson tells Holmes, who criticises novels as in the original story, that he is wrong to do so because various things can be learned from novels including how to understand the female mind.[4]

Colin Dexter, known for writing the Inspector Morse novels, wrote a short story based on this called "A Case of Mis-Identity", in which Holmes's brother Mycroft is involved in the case's deduction; in this story, Holmes's theory about the 'Hosmer Angel' character is the same, while Mycroft deduces that 'Hosmer Angel' is a fiction created by the mother and daughter to eliminate the step-father, only for Watson to reveal that 'Hosmer Angel' is actually a real person who was attacked and robbed on the way to his wedding, hospitalized, and eventually treated by Watson, who used his own detective skills to verify the man's identity.[5]


  1. ^ A Case of Identity (1921). IMDB.com
  2. ^ Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century (TV series 1999–2001). A Case of Identity. IMDB.com
  3. ^ Sherlock Holmes on Radio. Worlds-best-detective-crime-and-murder-mystery-books.com. Retrieved on 2011-07-10.
  4. ^ Shinjiro Okazaki and Kenichi Fujita (ed.), "シャーロックホームズ冒険ファンブック Shārokku Hōmuzu Boken Fan Bukku", Tokyo: Shogakukan, 2014, pp.40-42 and pp.78-79. (Guidebook to the show)
  5. ^ Colin Dexter, Morse's Greatest Mystery and Other Stories, Chicago: Ballantine Books, 1996, pp.168-169.

External links[edit]