From A Detective's Notebook

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

From A Detective's Notebook (aka Adrian Mulliner's Greatest Triumph) is a short story written by P. G. Wodehouse published in Punch on 20 may 1959.

Wodehouse wrote this story for the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It is a short Sherlock Holmes pastiche wherein Adrian Mulliner (a nephew of Mr. Mulliner) discovers the "truth" about the great detective.

From A Detective's Notebook

We were sitting round the club fire, old General Malpus, Driscoll the QC, young Freddie ffinch-ffinch and myself, when Adrian Mulliner, the private investigator, gave a soft chuckle. This was, of course, in the smoking-room, where soft chuckling is permitted.

"I wonder," he said, "if it would interest you chaps to hear the story of what I always look upon as the greatest triumph of my career?"

We said No, it wouldn't, and he began.

"Looking back over my years as a detective, I recall many problems the solution of which made me modestly proud, but though all of them undoubtedly presented certain features of interest and tested my powers to the utmost, I can think of none of my feats of ratiocination which gave me more pleasure than the unmasking of the man Sherlock Holmes, now better known as the Fiend of Baker Street."

Here General Malpus looked at his watch, said "Bless my soul," and hurried out, no doubt to keep some appointment which had temporarily slipped his mind.

"I had at first so little to go on," Adrian Mulliner proceeded.

"But just as a brief sniff at a handkerchief or shoe will start one of Mr. Thurber's bloodhounds giving quick service, so is the merest suggestion of anything that I might call fishy enough to set me off on the trail, and what first aroused my suspicions of this sinister character was his peculiar financial position.

"Here we had a man who evidently was obliged to watch the pennies closely, for when we are introduced to him he is, according to Doctor Watson's friend Stamford, 'bemoaning himself because he could not find someone to go halves with him in some nice rooms which he had found and which were too much for his purse.' Watson offers himself as a fellow lodger, and they settle down in — I quote — 'a couple of comfortable bedrooms and a large sitting-room at 221B Baker Street.'

"Now I never lived in Baker Street at the turn of the century, but I knew old gentlemen who had done so, and they assured me that in those days you could get a bedroom and sitting-room and three meals a day for a pound a week. An extra bedroom no doubt made the thing come higher, but thirty shillings must have covered the rent, and there was never a question of a man as honest as Doctor Watson failing to come up with his fifteen each Saturday. It followed, then, that even allowing for expenditure in the way of Persian slippers, tobacco, disguises, revolver cartridges, cocaine and spare fiddle-strings, Holmes would have been getting by on a couple of pounds or so weekly. And with this modest state of life he appeared to be perfectly content. In a position where you or I would have spared no effort to add to our resources he simply did not bother about the financial side of his profession. Let us take a few instances at random and see what he made as a 'consulting detective'. Where are you going, Driscoll?"

"Out," said the Q.C., suiting action to the word.

Adrian Mulliner resumed his tale.

"In the early days of their association Watson speaks of being constantly bundled off into his bedroom because Holmes needed the sitting-room for interviewing callers. 'I have to use this room as a place of business,' he said, 'and these people are my clients.' And who were these clients? 'A grey-headed, seedy visitor, who was closely followed by a slipshod elderly woman,' and after these came 'a railway porter in his velveteen uniform.' Not much cash in that lot, and things did not noticeably improve later, for we find his services engaged by a stenographer, an average commonplace British tradesman, a commissionaire, a City clerk, a Greek interpreter, a landlady (You arranged an affair for a lodger of mine last year') and a Cambridge undergraduate.

"So far from making money as a consulting detective, he must have been a good deal out of pocket most of the time. In A Study in Scarlet Inspector Gregson says there has been a bad business during the night at 3 Lauriston Gardens off the Brixton Road and he would esteem it a great kindness if Holmes would favour him with his opinions. Off goes Holmes in a hansom from Baker Street to Brixton, a fare of several shillings, dispatches a long telegram (another two or three bob to the bad), summons 'half a dozen of the dirtiest and most ragged street Arabs that ever I clapped eyes on,' and gives each of them a shilling, and finally, calling on Police Constable Bunce, the officer who discovered the body, takes half a sovereign from his pocket and after 'playing with it pensively' presents it to the constable. The whole affair must have cost him considerably more than a week's rent at Baker Street, and no hope of getting it back from Inspector Gregson, for Gregson, according to Holmes himself, was one of the smartest of the Scotland Yarders:

"Inspector Gregson! Inspector Lestrade! These clients! I found myself thinking a good deal about them, and it was not long before the truth dawned upon me that they were merely cheap actors, hired to deceive Doctor Watson. For what would the ordinary private investigator have said to himself when starting out in business? He would have said 'Before I take on work for a client I must be sure that that client has the stuff. The daily sweetener and the little something down in advance are of the essence,' and would have had those landladies and those Greek interpreters out of that sitting-room before you could say 'blood-stain'. Yet Holmes, who could not afford a pound a week for lodgings, never bothered. Significant?"

On what seemed to me the somewhat shallow pretext that he had to see a man about a dog, Freddie ffinch-ffinch now excused himself and left the room.

"Later," Adrian Mulliner went on "the thing became absolutely farcical, for all pretence that he was engaged in a gainful occupation was dropped by himself and the clients. I quote Doctor Watson: 'He tossed a crumpled letter across to me. It was dated from Montague Place upon the preceding evening and ran thus:

DEAR MR. HOLMES - I am very anxious to consult you as to whether or not I should accept a situation which has been offered me as a governess. I shall call at half past ten to-morrow if I do not inconvenience you.
Yours faithfully,

"Now, the fee an investigator could expect from a governess, even one in full employment, could scarcely be more than a few shillings, yet when two weeks later Miss Hunter wired 'PLEASE BE AT THE BLACK SWAN HOTEL AT WINCHESTER AT MIDDAY TOMORROW', Holmes dropped everything and sprang into the 9.30 train."

Adrian Mulliner paused and chuckled softly.

"You see where all this is heading?"

I said No, I didn't. I was the only one there, and had to say something.

"Tut, tut, man! You know my methods. Apply them. Why is a man casual about money?"

"Because he has a lot of it."


"But you said Holmes hadn't."

"I said nothing of the sort. That was merely the illusion he was trying to create.


"Because he needed a front for his true activities. Sherlock Holmes had no need to worry about fees. He was pulling in the stuff in sackfulls from another source. Where is the big money? Where has it always been! In crime. Bags of it, and no income tax. If you want to salt away a few million for a rainy day you don't spring into 9.30 trains to go and see governesses, you become a master criminal, sitting like a spider in the centre of its web and egging your corps of assistants on to steal jewels and naval treaties."

"You mean..."

"Exactly. He was Professor Moriarty."

"What was that name again?"

"Professor Moriarty."

"The bird with the reptilian head?"

"That's right."

"But Holmes hadn't a reptilian head."

"Nor had Moriarty."

"Holmes said he had."

"And to whom? To Watson. So as to get the description given publicity. Watson never saw Moriarty. All he knew about him was what Holmes told him. Well, that's the story, old man."

"The whole story?"


"There isn't any more."


I chuckled softly.