The Adventure of the Illustrious Client

The Adventure of the Illustrious Client

"The Adventure of the Illustrious Client", one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of 12 stories in the cycle collected as "The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes".

Plot summary

Sir James Damery comes to see Holmes and Watson about his illustrious client's problem (the client's identity is never revealed to the reader, although Holmes and Watson find out at the end of the story). It would seem that old General de Merville's young daughter Violet has fallen madly in love with the roguish Austrian Baron Adelbert Gruner, whom both Damery and Holmes are convinced is a murderer. The victim was his last wife, of whose murder he was acquitted owing to a legal technicality and a witness's untimely death. She met her end in the Splügen Pass.

Violet has a very strong will, and will not hear a word spoken against the Baron. He has even told her about his chequered past, but always spinning the tales to make himself appear the hapless victim.

Holmes also finds out from Damery that the Baron has expensive tastes, is a collector, and a recognized authority on Chinese pottery. This will prove to be useful information later.

Holmes's first step is to go and see Baron Adelbert Gruner himself, who is amused to see Holmes trying to "play a hand with no cards in it". The Baron makes it quite clear that he will not be moved, and claims that he has used post-hypnotic suggestion to condition Violet's mind to reject anything bad that might be said about him. The meeting ends with an implied threat: Baron Gruner tells the story of Le Brun, a French agent who was crippled for life after being beaten by thugs about a week after making similar inquiries into the Baron's personal business.

Holmes gets some help with his mission in the form of Shinwell Johnson, a former criminal who now acts as an informer for Holmes in London's underworld when tackling cases that will not be brought to court (Johnson's usefulness as an informant would be compromised if he was ever called upon to testify). Johnson rakes up Miss Kitty Winter, who was the Baron's last mistress, a woman now destroyed by the rascal. She is bent on revenge, and will do anything to help Holmes if it means laying the Baron low. Kitty tells Holmes that the Baron "collects women", and that he chronicles his conquests in a locked, leather-bound book, which the Baron once showed her when he had one night had a bit too much to drink. Holmes realizes that this book, written in Gruner's own hand, is the key to curing Violet de Merville of her sad devotion to the scoundrel who has such a firm grip on her heart. Kitty tells Holmes that this book is kept in the Baron's study.

First, Holmes goes to see Violet, bringing Kitty along with him. As might be expected, Violet is utterly proof against any of Holmes's words. She will not hear a word spoken against her fiancé. Kitty then chimes in, explaining exactly what the Baron is in her view, and what he has done to her. Kitty also makes it clear that Violet might well end up dead if she is foolish enough to marry Baron Gruner. Violet's reaction to Kitty is just as cold, and the meeting ends with Holmes narrowly averting a public scene involving the enraged Miss Kitty Winter.

Next, Holmes is attacked by two men, and the newspapers imply that he is near death. A shocked Watson goes to 221B Baker Street only to discover that Holmes's injuries have been exaggerated somewhat to give the impression that he will be out of action for quite a while, if not for good. There is no doubt that Baron Adelbert Gruner sent those men to attack Sherlock Holmes, and Holmes believes it wise to have Shinwell Johnson remove Miss Kitty Winter from the city for a while, as she may also be a target.

Several days later, despite grave reports in the press, Holmes is sufficiently recovered to be out of bed, and although perhaps not quite ready to go out about his business, he is nonetheless forced to do so by circumstances. It seems that the Baron is planning a trip to the United States just before the wedding, and will be leaving in three days. Holmes knows that Gruner will take his incriminating book along with him, never daring to leave it behind in his study. Action must be taken before then.

Holmes orders Watson to learn everything that he can about Chinese pottery in the next 24 hours. Although Watson cannot imagine why he must do this, he knows Holmes well enough to know that it is important to obey; Holmes never does anything without a good reason.

The next day, Holmes presents Watson with a fake business card styling him as "Dr. Hill Barton", and an actual piece of Ming pottery. He is to go to Baron Gruner's house and pose as a collector and connoisseur of Chinese pottery, and try to sell the pot. Again, Watson cannot quite imagine why, but he does as Holmes tells him. However, things quickly become alarming, as Watson cannot fool the Baron for very long. Gruner realizes who has sent Watson, and the climax follows immediately.

A noise interrupts what might have turned out to be Watson's murder, and the Baron rushes into his study just in time to see Holmes, his head still bandaged, jump out the window into the garden, the "lust book" in his hand. The Baron rushes to the window, and gets vitriol thrown in his face by Kitty Winter who has been hiding just outside.

Watson ministers to the Baron's injuries until his own doctor arrives.

The Baron is now hideously disfigured, and his book of conquests is now in Holmes's hands. It has the desired effect. When Violet sees the book, written in her fiancé's own handwriting, she finally is made to realize what a rogue he is. An announcement in "The Morning Post" says that the marriage between Baron Adelbert Gruner and Miss Violet de Merville is off.

The Granda TV Version with Jeremy Brett was faithful to the orginial-except it shows that Miss Winters revenge attempt on the Baron was because he had disfigured her neck and face with vitriol; also the Baron's book is shown with only photographs of a few women instead of the many he had ruined.


One odd thing about the story is its mention of the Splügen Pass. It seems a bit peculiar that a court in Prague, then in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, would try a case relating to a crime allegedly committed in a place outside the Empire; The Splügen Pass is on the border between Switzerland and Italy.

This Sherlock Holmes story is also unusual, although by no means unique, in that there is no actual mystery to solve. All is quite plain. Holmes is presented instead with the challenge of making a love-blinded woman see some common sense.

The story constitutes in some ways a repetition of and in others a counterpoint to "A Scandal in Bohemia". In both stories there is no mystery to solve, but rather an illustrious client requiring Holmes to himself break the law - i.e., commit burglary, with Watson acting as accessory - in order to obtain a crucial piece of evidence which can prevent a marriage.

One difference is that in the first case, it is Holmes' client who wants to get married and needs the impediment removed, and in the second the client is the one wants to use the evidence and prevent the marriage. Holmes of course satisfies both. Another difference is that, since Baron Gruner is an incomparably nastier character than Irene Adler, the second story has a grim atmosphere absent from the rather humorous first one. In both stories, the illustrious client's identity is initially unknown; in the first story, however, the client's identity is quickly revealed, whereas in the latter story, the client's identity is never explicitly revealed to the reader. However, there are strong hints that the client's identity is King Edward VII, due to: the correspondence of the year; the emphasis placed on the "illustriousness" of the client; the similarity of the ending to "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans" (in which Queen Victoria awards Holmes); the parallels throughout the story to "A Scandal in Bohemia" (in which Holmes's client is also a king); and the fact that Holmes is cleared of the charge of burglary at the end due the client being sufficiently illustrious that "the rigid British law becomes human and elastic".

In the early part of this story, Holmes, who is an accomplished violinist, makes reference to a real-life criminal, Charles Peace, who among other talents, was also a virtuoso, and who carried his burglary tools in a violin case.

External links

* [ Text of Story online]

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