The Adventure of Silver Blaze
1892 illustration by Sidney Paget
|Author||Arthur Conan Doyle|
|Series||The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes|
|Preceded by||"The Adventure of the Copper Beeches"|
|Followed by||"The Adventure of the Cardboard Box"|
"Silver Blaze", one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of 12 in the cycle collected as The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. Doyle ranked "Silver Blaze" 13th in a list of his 19 favourite Sherlock Holmes stories.
One of the most popular Sherlock Holmes short stories, "Silver Blaze" focuses on the disappearance of the eponymous race horse (a famous winner) on the eve of an important race and on the apparent murder of its trainer. The tale is distinguished by its atmospheric Dartmoor setting and late-Victorian sporting milieu. It also features some of Conan Doyle's most effective plotting, hinging on the "curious incident of the dog in the night-time:"
- Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
- Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
- Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."
- Holmes: "That was the curious incident."
Sherlock Holmes and his friend Dr. Watson travel by train to Dartmoor to investigate a crime of disappearance of the great race horse Silver Blaze and the murder of the horse's trainer, John Straker. Holmes and Watson arrive at King's Pyland, from which Silver Blaze is missing. Fitzroy Simpson has come to Dartmoor (and specifically to King's Pyland) to gather information relating to his professional activities. However, to Holmes, from the outset, there seem to be a number of facts that do not fit the inspector's case against Simpson, damning as it looks. It seems odd, for instance, that he would lead the horse out on to the moor simply to injure or kill him. That could be done right in his stall. He could not have stolen the animal. What good would such a famous thoroughbred be to him? Why has an exhaustive search of the neighbourhood not turned up Silver Blaze? What has Simpson done with him?
Sherlock Holmes soon tracks down Silver Blaze, literally: his tracks (along with a man's) are clearly visible in the soil, albeit intermittently. Holmes also deduces why the police could not find the horse, despite having looked right at him. Holmes ensures Silver Blaze's safety, and turns his mind to other aspects of the case.
John Straker, Silver Blaze's late trainer, has been killed by a blow to the skull, assumed to have been administered by Simpson with his "Penang lawyer", a clublike walking stick. Simpson's cravat is also found in Straker's hand, and the latter's coat is found draped over a furze bush. A knife is found at the crime scene—a peculiarly delicate-looking one, with a small blade. Dr. Watson, from his medical experience, identifies it as a cataract knife used for the most delicate surgery - useful as it is for that purpose, it would be unsuitable as a weapon; in addition, Straker also seems to have stabbed himself in the hip with it.
One of the stable lads, Ned Hunter, was on guard duty the night of the crime, but he proves to have been drugged with powdered opium placed in his supper. No one else who ate the curried mutton made at the Strakers' house that evening suffered any ill effects, but Hunter was in a profound stupor well into the next day. Straker's pockets contained two interesting items: a tallow candle and a milliner's bill for (among other things) a 22-guinea dress, made out to one William Derbyshire. There is the curious incident with the dog, and a problem with the sheep kept at the stable: a shepherd tells Holmes that three of his animals have recently become suddenly lame.
Holmes's powers unravel the mystery, and lay bare what villainies there are to be exposed. He visits the milliner's shop in London and determines, using Straker's photograph, that Straker posed as Derbyshire. This establishes his motive: he had a mistress with expensive tastes, and tried to influence the race's outcome to earn himself a large sum of money. The curried mutton was a clue, also; only such a spicy dish could have masked the taste of powdered opium, and it was impossible for Simpson to arrange a highly seasoned meal that evening for his purposes. Therefore, someone in the household must have conceived the idea—namely, Straker himself.
The "curious incident of the dog in the night-time" is easily explained: the dog made no noise, because no stranger was there. As Holmes explains: "I had grasped the significance of the silence of the dog, for one true inference invariably suggests others.... Obviously the midnight visitor was someone whom the dog knew well. It was Straker who removed Silver Blaze from his stall and led him out on to the moor". Straker's purpose in doing this was to use the cataract knife to inflict a slight injury upon one of the horse's legs, rendering him temporarily lame in a way that would be undetectable on examination and thus likely put down to strain. He had thought to use Simpson's cravat (which the latter dropped when he was expelled from King's Pyland) as a sling to hold the horse's leg to cut it. But instead, Straker was killed when the horse, sensing that something was wrong, panicked and kicked the trainer in the head. The lame sheep had been used by Straker for practice.
Colonel Ross's main concern, of course, is getting his horse back safely. Holmes chooses not to tell Ross where his horse has been (although he has known all along) until after the Wessex Cup, which is won by Silver Blaze. At first the Colonel does not recognize his own horse, since the animal's distinguishing white markings have been covered with dye. The horse had been looked after by one of the Colonel's neighbours, Silas Brown, who had found him wandering the moor and hidden him in his barn. Holmes then explains the details of the case step-by-step to the satisfaction of the Colonel, Watson, and Inspector Gregory.
Gregory is one of the more competent police detectives Holmes works with in the course of his career. He conducts a thorough investigation of the crime before Holmes's arrival, and gathers all the evidence Holmes needs to solve the case. Holmes notes that Gregory is "an extremely good officer," and observes that the only quality he lacks is imagination—the ability to imagine what might have happened on a given occasion, and act on this intuition.
A short film adaptation was released in 1923 starring Eille Norwood in the role of Holmes and Hubert Willis cast as Dr Watson. This was part of the film series entitled The Last Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
"Silver Blaze" was dramatised for BBC Radio 4 in 1992 by Bert Coules as part of his complete radio adaptation of the canon, starring Clive Merrison as Holmes and Michael Williams as Watson, and featuring Jack May as Colonel Ross, Susan Sheridan as Mrs Straker, Brett Usher as Silas Brown, Terence Edmond as Inspector Gregory, and Petra Markham as Edith.
In The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, the characters briefly allude to the case at the beginning by mentioning a person poisoned with opium in mutton under garlic sauce (the traditional translation of "curried mutton" in the story, since curry was a relatively obscure spice in Russia at the time most translations were made).
In popular culture
The title of Mark Haddon's award-winning novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is taken from a remark made by Sherlock Holmes in "Silver Blaze". The protagonist of this novel, Christopher John Francis Boone, mentions Sherlock Holmes several times throughout the book.
In Elementary, season 2, episode 6 "An Unnatural Arrangement", the case is solved by Sherlock Holmes partly by realising that a dog had not barked in the night and thus an important accomplice was known by the dog, in an obvious[opinion] reference to Conan Doyle's Silver Blaze plot device. Additionally, the following episode, "The Marchioness", involved a race horse named Silver Blaze and the use of dye to disguise a horse, although the cases in the two episodes were otherwise unconnected.
- Trivia on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Favorite Sherlock Holmes Stories | Trivia Library
- This scene inspired The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a 2003 novel by Mark Haddon.
- In the Russian translation, the curry is replaced with garlic sauce, since curry was largely unknown to Russian-speaking public at the time. That part is briefly referenced in the Soviet Sherlock Holmes TV series, but no other part of the case is.
- "The Return of Sherlock Holmes" Silver Blaze (1988)[unreliable source?]
- Bert Coules. "The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes". The BBC complete audio Sherlock Holmes. Retrieved 12 December 2016.