‘The Adventure Of The Norwood Builder’ by Arthur Conan Doyle

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. 

The selection:

“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.


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