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Written by Timothy Sexton
The hero of the stories is the very model of private detective; the world’s first consulting detective, in fact. The return in the anthology’s title refers to a return from the grave. Or so readers were convinced to believe. Following a three year break from writing stories about Holmes after apparently having killed his creation off, public pressure forced Arthur Conan Doyle to literally resurrect Holmes from the grave. “The Empty House” reveals how Doyle managed to get around this admittedly significant creative hindrance.
Dr. John Watson
The ever-dependable chronicle of the adventures of Holmes and his faithful companion as always plays a big role in the in the investigation of these cases. Indeed, “The Empty House” is notable Watson’s description of his own decidedly non-military fainting spell at the sight of the return of the boon companion he thought dead for the past three years.
Col. Sebastian Moran
The man that Holmes was characterized as the second most dangerous in London attempts to complete the job that the world thought Professor Moriarty had accomplished, but actually did not: kill Sherlock Holmes. The weapon: a customized air gun. The location: the empty house across from 221B Baker Street. Watson gets to be the hero here by knocking Moran down before he complete his dastardly assignment.
One of the craftiest villains to square off against Holmes, Oldacre is so consumed by a lust for revenge that he is willing to destroy former loves, kill innocent people, fake his own death and escape detection by hiding in a cramped space behind a wall. A little deception on the part of Holmes manages to trick Oldacre out of his own deceit.
One of a number of admirably strong female characters that pop up in this collection is Elsie Patrick. (For the record, Oldacre’s housekeeper is pretty strong herself, but not in admirable way). Elsie is an American trying to escape her past association with members of a secret society who communicate through little stick figures that appear to be dancing.
The bicycling Miss Smith is another of Doyle’s memorable female characters that Sherlock helps after his return from the grave. She is prepared to take a proactive approach in assisting the detective and Watson assist with her peculiar predicament.
Charles Augustus Milverton
The master blackmailer who assumes he is above such mundane concerns as morality draws the ire of Holmes in a way that even Moriarty failed to do. Milverton is a uniquely idiosyncratic villain, not the least because he was based on a real life model who shared his first and middle name. He is also rather unique in the canon in that Watson and Holmes are present—although, unsurprisingly, disguised behind drapes—when he becomes the victim of his own crimes at the hands of a victim who refused to pay for his silence and whose husband died as a result. Not content with merely shooting Milverton to death, she takes the time to grind her shoe into the dead man’s face. Not for the first time, Holmes allows the perpetrator of a crime to go unpunished thanks to extenuating circumstances.
Most assuredly, one of the most fascinating female characters in this or any other Holmes story is the unintentional criminal, Anna Coram, who spends most of the story hidden away behind walls. Her resemblance to Jonas Oldacre ends there, however, as she is a Nihilist who spent time in a Siberian prison camp as a result of her estranged husband’s betrayal.
Capt. Jack Croker
The antithesis to Milverton, Jack Croker manages to do what very few characters have ever done in the stories of Sherlock Holmes: impress the detective with the depth of his character. Even Holmes is prepared to allow Croker to join the killer of Milverton as one of the lucky few he would see go free for committing righteous criminal acts, the seaman refuses. A deal is struck that if the police do figure things out and catch up to him within a year, Holmes will testify in his defense. If the police fail, he should consider himself free to come back and marry his love.
Lady Hilda Trelawney Hope
She may be known to the rest of London as the European Secretary’s wife, but to Holmes she is the true brains in that union. Lady Hilda is the last of the truly memorable female characters that dominate the cases that Sherlock returns from the grave to solve. In a tense battle of wills, Lady Hilda holds her own up until the last second before accepting the wisdom of Holmes’ solution to her predicament.
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