Legal Impossibility in Sherlock Holmes

By Kristopher A. Nelson
in April 2007

300 words / 2 min.
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It was in the spring of the year 1894 that all London was interested, and the fashionable world dismayed, by the murder of the Honourable Ronald Adair under most unusual and inexplicable circumstances…. For an instant he was rigid and motionless. Then his finger tightened on the trigger. There was a strange, loud whiz and […]


Note: this post is from 2007. Evaluate with care and in light of later events.

Sherlock Holmes in "The Adventure of the ...
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It was in the spring of the year 1894 that all London was interested, and the fashionable world dismayed, by the murder of the Honourable Ronald Adair under most unusual and inexplicable circumstances….

For an instant he was rigid and motionless. Then his finger tightened on the trigger. There was a strange, loud whiz and a long, silvery tinkle of broken glass. At that instant Holmes sprang like a tiger on to the marksman’s back and hurled him flat upon his face.

It was a wax-coloured model of my friend, so admirably done that it was a perfect facsimile. It stood on a small pedestal table with an old dressing-gown of Holmes’s so draped round it that the illusion from the street was absolutely perfect.

“You can trust us to look after that, Mr. Holmes,” said Lestrade, as the whole party moved towards the door. “Anything further to say?”

“Only to ask what charge you intend to prefer?”

“What charge, sir? Why, of course, the attempted murder of Mr. Sherlock Holmes.”

“Not so, Lestrade.”

Instead, Sherlock Holmes proposes Lestrade charge Colonel Moran with the murder of Ronald Adair. After all, according to old common law, the Colonel had not committed attempted murder of Holmes, since he had only shot a wax bust! This is the doctrine of “legal impossibility.”

See: The Return of Sherlock Holmes – “The Adventure of the Empty House”.