Reading Sherlock Holmes – The Naval Treaty

Re-reading the original Sherlock Holmes stories. The Naval Treaty is a fan favorite. Also it’s the longest of the short stories, so have a coffee first.

Facts of the case: Watson is contacted by a childhood friend, who has recently lost his government job and become ill, both under mysterious circumstances. Holmes investigates, learning about a stolen naval treaty that several rival nations want to get their hands on.


Great detective: This story begins with the famous scene in which Holmes conducts a chemistry experiment, saying, “If this paper remains blue, all is well. If it turns red, it means a man’s life.” It’s ambiguous as to whether Holmes is merely being colorful, or if there’s some patient on the verge of death somewhere.

Good doctor: Watson’s childhood friend, Phelps, is the same age as Watson, but was several grades ahead of him due to his genius. I guess this makes him a proto-Holmes.

Who’s at the door: Mrs. Hudson makes her long-overdue reappearance. Holmes describes her as “like a Scotchwoman,” and he devours her breakfast with animal-like gusto. There’s also mention of a pageboy who delivers Holmes’ mail each morning.


Action hero: Holmes stakes out the crime scene all night, and then confronts the thief in an awesome knife fight. The thief cuts Holmes’ knuckles (ouch) and escapes, but Holmes gets the treaty and gives the thief’s name to the cops.

Yes this is canon: Holmes shows his philosophic side while on a train ride, pondering the combined beauty and dourness of London when describes the buildings being like lighthouses in a sea of lead. Later, Holmes is a practical joker, returning the stolen treaty to Phelps on Phelps’ breakfast tray. I guess he just wanted to see the look on Phelps’ face.

Sherlock Holmes, Dr John Watson and client Percy Phelps in Sidney Paget's illustration for The Naval Treaty

Indubitably: Because the story is long (originally published as a two-parter), there’s a lot of breathing room, which means a lot of the small character moments that Holmes and Watson such beloved characters. It also gets our heroes out and about in the city, interacting with a bunch of different characters, and with high-stakes political intrigue as the backdrop.

Next week: Have a nice fall.


Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app. cine-high_v3

About Mac McEntire

Author of CINE HIGH.
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