A couple of months ago I realised that I would soon be reaching my 400th post. Thankfully this idea quickly came to mind, having been inspired by the Tuesday Night Bloggers theme that month: Costumes in Crime. Although the Sherlock Holmes stories are more remembered for Holmes’ feats of intellectual brilliance, there is also a surprising amount of disguises. Sometimes it is the great sleuth himself who dons the disguise, whilst at other times it is criminal or even the victim! Sometimes disguises are used as a means for solving a crime, whilst at other times the disguise is at the very heart of the criminals’ schemes. So to celebrate my 400th post I decided to share with you my favourite moments of disguise in the Holmes canon:
N. B. I’ve tried to avoid giving away too many spoilers but there are rather big spoilers in examples 2, 3 and 7 so if you haven’t read ‘A Case of Identity,’ ‘The Man with the Twisted Lip,’ or ‘The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax’ I would recommend skipping those parts of the post.
- A Scandal in Bohemia
There are quite a few moments of disguise in this first Holmes short story, beginning with Holmes’ client, the King of Bohemia. It doesn’t take Holmes long to rumble his identity though.
Although to be fair, despite Holmes’ own disguises being a bit more extensive, they too fail in cloaking his identity for long.
- A Case of Identity
Conversely in this story it is the guilty party who disguises his own identity to pull off a rather cruel deceit: playing with his step daughter’s affections in order to keep a hold of her money. Though the more cynical part of me wonders how possible this ruse is.
- The Man with the Twisted Lip
Whilst it was the cruelty of the deceit in the previous example which made it stick in my mind, it was comedy which made me remember Neville St Clair’s disguise in this story, with its more unusual backstory.
- The Adventure of the Stockbroker’s Clerk
When coming up with this list this was a story I had initially forgotten about. Though I think the disguised person in this story makes quite a few rooky errors when trying to be two different people. Again I feel the minimalist approach to disguise didn’t help them, contrasting with the in depth approach Neville St Clair takes.
- The Adventure of the Resident Patient
There are several assumed identities in this story, some requiring more acting and physical changes than others. They are also assumed for different reasons, in one case for self-preservation, whilst in another assumed identities/disguise enables the guilty to distract their victim.
- The Solitary Cyclist
Like with ‘The Man with the Twisted Lip’, the central moment of disguise, sticks in my mind due to the comedy it brings. The reader is mystified by the disguised figure cycling behind Violet Smith, but due to the disguise being so obvious it feels less threatening and more light hearted.
- The Disappearance of Lady Carfax
This example is a slightly unconventional one, but I felt that although involuntary, the victim is disguised. Firstly by being concealed in the bottom of the coffin, but also by the crooks using the dead body of another woman as a smokescreen against Holmes’ interference. This is also a disguise which if Holmes hadn’t intervened would have helped to dispose of the victim permanently.
- The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone
Doubles also play a part in the disguise element of this story and although not a very complex mystery, is one which is a great deal of fun.
- The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place
My final choice is another one which had initially slipped my mind but I felt disguise was an intrinsic part of the story and in this particular story we definitely see the dilemma guilty parties have when having to deal with the unexpected.