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 among 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:

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 mastermind 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. Herbert 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.


  • 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.
  • The story was loosely adapted into the serial The Lost Special (1932) as a western.
  • 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 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, and Sherlock Holmes is not, either explicitly or implicitly, consulted.
  • A very faithful adaptation was done in 1980 for Radio Mystery Theatre as "The Mysterious Rochdale Special".
  • The 1986 DC Comics limited series Watchmen includes possible references in theme of hiding a great secret of world significance, with a character named Jane Slater as acknowledgment.[citation needed]
  • 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.
  • The Sherlock episode "The Empty Hearse" features a car on the London Underground vanishing between two stations.


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