The Adventure Of Abbey Grange by Arthur Conan Doyle, 1904
The magic trick:
Allowing Sherlock to bypass the judicial system entirely at story’s end
One of the enduring qualities of Sherlock Holmes is his existence on the margins of society. He is not what you’d call a team player. He has no need for the police force’s help. He has no patience for their bungling. And quite often, as we see in “Abbey Grange,” he doesn’t even feel compelled to report the results of his detective work to them.
The end of “Abbey Grange” finds him acting as a one-man (well, Watson does contribute his opinion as well) courtroom. He decides that the guilty party is not morally responsible and offers freedom. It’s a golden move by a detective – you’re acting with supreme kindness but also rebellion against the system. Sherlock is a badass. And that’s quite a trick on Doyle’s part.
“…You are the prisoner. Watson, you are a British jury, and I never met a man who was more eminently fitted to represent one. I am the judge. Now, gentleman of the jury, you have heard the evidence. Do you find the prisoner guilty or not guilty?”
“Not guilty, my lord,” said I.
“Vox populi, vox Dei. You are acquitted. So long as the law does not find some other victim you are safe from me. Come back to this lady in a year, and may her future and yours justify us in the judgment which we have pronounced this night.”