The Adventure Of The Norwood Builder by Arthur Conan Doyle, 1903
The magic trick:
Personalizing the stakes by giving Sherlock an innocent man to defend
Doyle employs the Murder, She Wrote model in “The Norwood Builder.”
You know the one. The detective gets a personal plea from someone for assistance against a bogus charge. So now, not only are we looking to solve a murder, we are doing so to free an innocent soul. It’s a nice way to personalize the stakes a little bit. The case gets started and the early evidence only seems to confirm the charge. Perhaps our guy, we wonder, did do it?
Then the detective has a sudden realization, initially keeping it to himself so as to set up a dramatic reveal at the end. That is literally every single episode of Murder, She Wrote. It works every time, and it certainly works here in a classic Sherlock story. And that’s quite a trick on Doyle’s part.
“Yes, I am all that, Mr. Holmes; and, in addition, I am the most unfortunate man at this moment in London. For heaven’s sake, don’t abandon me, Mr. Holmes! If they come to arrest me before I have finished my story, make them give me time, so that I may tell you the whole truth. I could go to jail happy if I knew that you were working for me outside.”
“Arrest you!” said Holmes. “This is really most grati — most interesting. On what charge do you expect to be arrested?”
“Upon the charge of murdering Mr. Jonas Oldacre, of Lower Norwood.”
My companion’s expressive face showed a sympathy which was not, I am afraid, entirely unmixed with satisfaction.
“Dear me,” said he, “it was only this moment at breakfast that I was saying to my friend, Dr. Watson, that sensational cases had disappeared out of our papers.”
Our visitor stretched forward a quivering hand and picked up the DAILY TELEGRAPH, which still lay upon Holmes’s knee.
Subscribe to the Short Story Magic Tricks Monthly Newsletter to get the latest short story news, contests and fun.