In which Holmes can’t disguise his astounding abilities.
The Man With The Twisted Lip is an unusual Holmes story. Rather than investigating a murder or robbery, this time there may not even have been a crime committed.
The story begins when a Mrs St Clair engages Sherlock Holmes to find her husband, a wealthy city worker who’s gone missing. She last saw him at the window of an opium den, where he seemed to be dragged backwards. After rushing up to find him, she burst into the room to find no-one but a disfigured beggar. On finding her husband’s clothes in the room, the police arrested the beggar but have since found no clues to Mr St Clair’s whereabouts.
A few days later, Mrs St Clair receives a letter from her husband assuring her that he is fine and well – forcing Holmes to rethink the direction of his investigation.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes collects some of the most memorable, colourful and surprising of the Holmes stories. Whether this is due to Conan Doyle’s fresher writing in the early days or simply because when I re-read my collection these come first, it’s too early to say. This is one, of a good number, that I can recall the entire mystery from the title alone.
As with all the Holmes stories, The Man With The Twisted Lip has been adapted many times over the years for tv and radio. Most directly, it was part of the 1980s Granada Jeremy Brett series, but also featured in Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century and the opening scene was used as part of the Sherlock episode His Last Vow.
Spoilers if you dig deeper into this next bit of trivia, but the story may have been inspired by the work of Arthur Pember. Pember wrote a series of articles for the New York Times in the 1870s, disguising himself as a range of identities, including as a beggar and circus performer, to research his articles.
One other small point of note, it’s in The Man With The Twisted Lip that Mary Watson refers to her husband as “James” rather than John. Some have theorised she’s using the English version of hi middle name “Hamish” but this was never confirmed by Conan Doyle.
Every time I read this story I enjoy it, despite knowing exactly what’s about to happen. Conan Doyle ranked the story as his 16th favourite from the series, one of many he chose from his first collection The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and it’s hard to disagree.