This has always been one of my favourites, from its strange and bewildering opening mystery, to its rather dramatic conclusion. Who here wouldn’t join The Red-Headed League, and the easy pickings that went with it, if given the chance?
Holmes and Watson are visited by Jabez Wilson, a pawnbroker, who with the help of his new assistant Vincent Spaulding, has been inducted into The Red-Headed League. Employed by a Mr Duncan Ross and required to copy out the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and being paid a generous sum for the privilege, Wilson is alarmed when the League is suddenly dissolved. He investigates further and discovers that nothing is known of the mysterious Mr Ross. Declaring it a ‘three pipe problem,’ Holmes and Watson visit the pawnbrokers, meeting Spaulding and noting his dirty knees on his trousers. From there they uncover and foil a most daring bank robbery in action.
First published in The Strand Magazine, August 1891, of all the stories this one has always stuck with me. From the audacious idea through to the adventurous conclusion, The Red-Headed League has all the hallmarks of a classic Holmes and Watson adventure. What struck me here was the apparent greed of Wilson in that his source of easy income dries up. With most of the stories I recalled the person asking for help from Holmes they were accused of murder, distressed or in desperate times. Here Wilson is intrigued but more concerned with the loss of money, which Holmes indeeds corrects (or even lectures) him on.
Of course it turns out to be a far more serious case, one solved by a pair of dirty trousers and some tapping of pavement stones. Tomorrow Holmes and Watson investigate A Case of Identity…