Sherlockian Shorts – The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton

First published in 1904, The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton is the seventh story collected in The Return of Sherlock Holmes.

What’s It About?

Charles Augustus Milverton is a master blackmailer, holding secrets over many of the great and good of society. Holmes is employed to free one of his victims from his demands, but his first meeting with Milverton doesn’t go particularly well…

Is It A Mystery?

Absolutely not. No question at all about whodunit, what they did, anything at all, really.

Is It Any Good?

Yes – a really enjoyable read. It’s fascinating to see Holmes basically at a loss as to what to do and having to resort to an amazingly unsubtle plan – which doesn’t really work. It’s a shame that Milverton is dealt with by a deus ex machina as there’s enough potential here for a longer story.

Anything Else?

I can see why Steven Moffat has taken Milverton as the inspiration for the villain for the finale of Sherlock’s third series. Holmes as basically no way of touching him – at least with Moriarty, he could fight him. Holmes seems completely outclassed here.

Oh, and Milverton was based on a real blackmailer, Charles Augustus Howell, so I guess this was Doyle having a go at his memory (he’d been killed presumably by one of his victims). It’s be curious to know how many of Doyle’s readers would have known about him, given that he died twelve years previously.

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5 comments

  1. Though there is absolutely no mystery and there is a deus ex machina ending, I liked this story because it shows the human nature of Sherlock Holmes. He chooses natural justice over law.
    Sherlock Holmes is generally regarded as reserved and non-caring, but here he is deeply disturbed by the suffering and destruction of lives caused by the blackmailer. He restrains Watson from interfering and at great risk to himself and Watson, he takes time to perform a certain action so that no further suffering is caused.
    I liked the joke he plays with Lestrade regarding the description given by the later of one of the “criminals”.

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    • But Holmes is also particularly callous himself in seducing Milverton’s maidservant… He’s still has his weaknesses with regards dealing with other people appropriately.

      The joke with Lestrade is good, isn’t it.

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      • Yes, on rereading I find that Holmes is callous towards Milverton’s maidservant. I had forgotten about it.

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    • I gather that the TV version expanded the story into a film-length adventure. Might have to dig it out.

      It’s odd, before Sherlock decided to do Milverton, I’d never heard of this story at all – glad they decided to bring it to my attention.

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