The Story of the Lost Special

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"The Story of the Lost Special"
AuthorArthur Conan Doyle
SeriesSherlock Holmes (implied)
Publication date1898

"The Story of the Lost Special", sometimes abbreviated to "The Lost Special", is a short story by Arthur Conan Doyle first published as part of the Round the Fire series in The Strand Magazine of August 1898. It is implied to be a Sherlock Holmes story, though his name is not used. The story's narrative mode is third person, subjective, though the narrator is not identified.


This story concerns the baffling disappearance of a privately hired train (a special) on its journey from Liverpool to London on 3 June 1890; besides the train crew of driver, fireman, and train guard the only passengers are two South Americans. The train is confirmed to have passed Kenyon Junction but never have reached Barton Moss. The only clues are the dead body of the engineer found along the train tracks past Kenyon Junction and a letter from the United States that purports to come from the train guard. Authorities fail to discover any traces of the train. A letter to The Times by "an amateur reasoner of some celebrity at that date" is excerpted at one point:

"It is one of the elementary principles of practical reasoning, that when the impossible has been eliminated the residuum, HOWEVER IMPROBABLE, must contain the truth. It is certain that the train left Kenyon Junction. It is certain that it did not reach Barton Moss. It is in the highest degree unlikely, but still possible, that it may have taken one of the seven available side lines. It is obviously impossible for a train to run where there are no rails, and, therefore, we may reduce our improbables to the three open lines, namely the Carnstock Iron Works, the Big Ben, and the Perseverance. Is there a secret society of colliers, an English Camorra, which is capable of destroying both train and passengers? It is improbable, but it is not impossible. I confess that I am unable to suggest any other solution. I should certainly advise the company to direct all their energies towards the observation of those three lines, and of the workmen at the end of them. A careful supervision of the pawnbrokers' shops of the district might possibly bring some suggestive facts to light."

The proposition from "recognized authority upon such matters" meets with heated opposition, although the objectors fail to supply any conceivable alternative. Nevertheless, the responsible authorities do not act on the proposal and the public never shows any interest as a political scandal has already attracted their attention.

Eight years later, a criminal called Herbert de Lernac, scheduled for execution in Marseilles, confesses to the crime. Under his command, a conspiracy of men had temporarily re-attached the side track leading to the abandoned mine Heartsease just long enough for the train to go down to the mine, then pulled the tracks back up before they could be discovered. The objective of this crime was to eliminate the train's passenger, Monsieur Caratal; he carried incriminating documents and intended to present them in an 1890 trial in Paris. Doing so would have endangered several high-ranking officials, who hired Herbert to handle the matter. In his plot, Herbert used the services of an unnamed English ally, whom he describes as "one of the acutest brains in England" and as "a man with a considerable future before him" at the time of Herbert's confession in 1898. Herbert de Lernac also claims to have kept several incriminating papers which Caratal's bodyguard Eduardo Gomez threw out of a window of the train. He suppresses the names of his employers but threatens to reveal their names if he is not granted a pardon. The story does not reveal whether his blackmail succeeded in gaining him that pardon.

Adaptations and similar scenario story plots[edit]

  • The story was loosely adapted into the serial The Lost Special (1932) as a western.
  • An episode in the radio series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was titled "The Case of the Lost Special". Written by Edith Meiser, the episode aired on 18 November 1934. It incorporated elements of the short story "The Final Problem". When the copyright for the script was registered it was titled "The Lost Train".[1]
  • The 1941 crime film The Great Train Robbery uses essentially the same method for causing the disappearance of a train between stations as "The Lost Special." Conan Doyle's story is not credited as the film's source material.
  • The story was adapted as a 1943 episode of the radio program Suspense.
  • The story was adapted as an episode of the radio program Escape which aired February 12, 1949. While the episode includes several letters to the Times, the one sometimes attributed to Sherlock Holmes is not among them.
  • The Sherlock Holmes pastiche series Solar Pons by August Derleth treated the story as canon with its own version of the story, The Adventure of the Lost Locomotive (1951).
  • A very faithful adaptation was done in 1980 for Radio Mystery Theatre as "The Mysterious Rochdale Special".
  • A similar scenario of a missing hijacked train is in the 1981 Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt adventure novel Night Probe! set in the future of 1989 in which Pitt tries to recover a missing secret US-British Empire 1914 Treaty "giving" Canada to the United States.
  • An episode of the Imagination Theatre radio series The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was based on the story. The episode, titled "The Adventure of the Parisian Assassin", aired in 2011.[2]
  • The 2014 Sherlock episode "The Empty Hearse" features a car on the London Underground vanishing between two stations.
  • A similar scenario appears in the 2014 video game Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments. The correct solution is changed from the one in the story, but all the relevant elements remain.


  1. ^ Dickerson, Ian (2019). Sherlock Holmes and His Adventures on American Radio. BearManor Media. p. 61. ISBN 978-1629335087.
  2. ^ Wright, Stewart (30 April 2019). "The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Broadcast Log" (PDF). Old-Time Radio. Retrieved 21 March 2020.

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