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Anthony Valentine as Baron Gruner and Abigail Cruttenden as Violet Merville in a screenshot from the 1991 Granada TV adaptation.

"The Adventure of the Illustrious Client" is a Sherlock Holmes short story by the British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It was first published in the November 9, 1924, issue of the Collier's Weekly magazine in the United States and in the February and March 1925 issues (in two parts) of the Strand Magazine in England. The story was later collected in The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes (1927). "The Adventure of the Illustrious Client" is the fiftieth of fifty-six short stories of the Sherlock Holmes Canon. Doyle himself considered it one of the best among his later Sherlock Holmes tales.[1]

In the story, Sir James Damery engages Sherlock Holmes' services on behalf of an anonymous client. The honorable client is concerned for Miss Violet de Merville, the beautiful daughter of an old friend, who has fallen in love with a charming but extremely dangerous man named Baron Gruner. Since Miss de Merville will not hear a word against Gruner, Holmes must uncover irrefutable evidence against the Baron in order to dissuade the lady from marrying him. It is not an easy task, for Gruner is both cunning and ruthless - and those who opposed him in the past (as the Baron reminds Holmes) have all "coincidentally" come to harm.

"The Adventure of the Illustrious Client" has been adapted for television and radio.

Plot

On September 3, 1902, Dr. Watson is enjoying a smoke with his friend Sherlock Holmes in the drying room at the Turkish bath when Holmes shows him a note from the Carlton Club. The note requests Holmes to receive Sir James Damery the following afternoon for consultation regarding a delicate and important matter. Holmes asks Watson to join him for the meeting.

Colonel Sir James Damery arrives at exactly the appointed time and displays all the diplomatic charm for which he is known. He courteously welcomes Dr. Watson's presence, saying his collaboration may be necessary because they are dealing with the most dangerous man in Europe, Baron Gruner. Holmes knows of Gruner, a notorious Austrian who was accused of killing his wife. Although he was acquitted of the charge, Holmes is certain that the Baron is a murderer. Colonel Damery says he has come not to revenge crime but to prevent one. He then reveals he is there on behalf of a client. When he refuses to name the client, Holmes declines the case. Colonel Damery insists on presenting the facts of the case, however, and Holmes agrees to listen.

Miss Violet de Merville, the beautiful and strong-willed daughter of a famous general, has fallen in love with the handsome and fascinating Baron Gruner. Gruner has told her about every scandal he has been involved in, but in such a way as to make himself appear an innocent martyr. She believes him, will not listen to anyone else, and intends to marry him next month. General de Merville has become a broken man over the matter and is incapable of dealing with the situation. Colonel Damery's client is an old friend of the General and it was he who suggested consulting Holmes. Colonel Damery asks Holmes not to pursue the identity of his honorable client. Holmes takes an interest in the case and agrees to his terms. Colonel Damery provides Holmes with Gruner's current address and describes him as a rich man with expensive tastes, a sportsman, and a collector of books and pictures. The Baron also collects Chinese pottery and is considered an expert on the subject.

That evening, Watson and Holmes dine together at a restaurant. Holmes says he has engaged Shinwell Johnson, an informant with connections to the underground. He also paid a visit to Gruner at his residence and found him affable, like a purring cat with his eyes on mice. Baron Gruner was not surprised to see Holmes and assumed General de Merville had engaged his services. Gruner coolly advised Holmes to stay away from an impossible case that will ruin his reputation. Holmes countered with the same advice, telling the Baron to stay away from the lady to keep his past from ruining him. Gruner chuckled and told Holmes that he had already warned and prepared the lady. Then, as Holmes was leaving, the Baron warned him that others who had inquired into his affairs previously had "coincidentally" and "unluckily" come to harm.

Returning to Baker Street, Holmes and Watson find Shinwell Johnson waiting with a young woman. Johnson introduces her as Miss Kitty Winter. Speaking with a fierce, intense hatred of Adelbert Gruner, she tells Holmes she is willing to see the lady and tell her how she was used by Gruner. She explains that she had loved Gruner and, fooled by his smooth lies, even overlooked a few murders. The only thing that shook her was a locked book he showed her once. It was a record he kept of women he "collected," containing photographs and information about those he had ruined. The book was kept in the pigeonhole of the old bureau in the inner study, past the larger outer study.

The following evening, Holmes tells Watson that he visited Miss Violet de Merville with Kitty Winter. The lady had been well-prepared by Baron Gruner and expecting Holmes to come malign her fiancé. Holmes' pleading had no effect on her aloof determination. Kitty Winter's fiery protests did not shake her icy composure. Holmes tells Watson he must plan his move but suspects the next move may belong to the Baron.

Two days later, Watson is shocked to see on a paper vendor's placard the terrible headline: "Murderous Attack upon Sherlock Holmes."[2] According to the newspaper, Holmes was assaulted by two men and seriously injured. Watson rushes to Baker Street. After speaking to the surgeon who stitched up Holmes, he enters the darkened room and sits down beside his injured friend. Holmes weakly mutters "It’s not as bad as it seems." Watson is ready to confront Gruner but Holmes says he has a plan and advises Watson to wait. Holmes wants Watson to exaggerate his injury to the press. He also asks him to tell Shinwell Johnson to get Kitty Winter away for safety.

For six days, the newspapers report Holmes at death's door. He is actually recovering quickly, and stitches are taken out on the seventh day. That evening, Watson reads in the papers that Baron Gruner will be sailing to the United States in three days to settle some business before the wedding. In response to the news, Holmes asks Watson to spend the next 24 hours studying Chinese pottery.

Watson, accustomed to such unusual requests with no explanations from Holmes, drives straight to the London Library and takes home a large volume. With very little rest, he crams all the information he can. The next evening, he visits Holmes who is now out of bed and resting in his favorite armchair. Holmes takes out a beautiful delicate little saucer, a Ming dynasty eggshell pottery of the finest quality from the anonymous client's collection. Then he hands Watson a card bearing the name of "Dr. Hill Barton." He instructs Watson to visit Baron Gruner posing as Dr. Barton, a collector who has come into possession of a unique set of Ming china. Holmes then dictates a letter advising Gruner of Dr. Barton's intent to visit with a sample to discuss a possible sale.

That evening, Watson visits Baron Gruner at his beautiful residence. As Gruner examines the Ming plate in his large study, Watson studies him and finds him remarkably handsome, with languorous eyes and regular, pleasing features. The only feature that betrays the Baron's true nature is his thin-lipped cruel mouth. Baron Gruner finishes the examination and declares the piece "very fine." But he is puzzled as to where the doctor acquired it, since he knows of only one in England to match the piece. Watson brushes the comment aside, but the Baron questions whether he is the rightful owner. He then begins to ask questions to test the doctor's knowledge of Chinese pottery. Watson, in simulated anger, refuses to answer such offensive questions. But the Baron has figured out that the dying Holmes sent a spy. Eyes glaring and teeth bared in rage, Gruner springs to his feet. Watson braces for an attack. Just then the Baron's attention is caught by a noise from the back room.

Gruner rushes into the inner study. Watson follows him and sees Holmes standing beside an open window. Holmes quickly throws himself out the window into the bushes outside. Gruner howls and rushes to the window. At that moment, a woman's arm shoots out from the bush. The Baron cries out. Hands to his face, he rushes around the room then falls down. He rolls around on the carpet screaming in pain and begging for water. Watson grabs a carafe as servants rush in. He turns the man over and sees vitriol eating into his face. The face which a few minutes ago was so handsome is now terribly disfigured. Between the screams, the Baron cries out in rage, "It was that hell cat, Kitty Winter!" Watson tends to the injury until he is relieved by the Baron's family surgeon and a specialist.

Back at Baker Street, Watson finds Holmes in his chair looking pale and exhausted. Holmes listens with horror as Watson tells him what happened to Gruner. Afterwards Holmes takes out the book Kitty Winter spoke of, the Baron's diary. He explains that he recognized its value as soon as he learned of its existence. By exaggerating his injury, he made the Baron believe no precautions would be necessary. He was forced to act quickly before Gruner left for America, so he asked for Watson's help to keep the Baron's attention engaged. Knowing Watson could not fool Gruner for long, he brought Kitty Winter along to help locate the book, unaware of her intentions.

When Sir James Damery arrives, Holmes gives him the Baron's book and explains its significance. Colonel Damery gratefully carries away the volume and the Ming saucer. Watson also takes his leave and goes down to the street. As Colonel Damery rides away in a brougham, Watson sees the coat of arms on the door and gasps with surprise. He rushes back to Holmes' apartment in excitement to reveal the identity of the illustrious client. Holmes holds up his hand, however, and restrains Watson from naming the "loyal friend and a chivalrous gentleman."[3]

Thanks to the incriminating diary, the engagement between Baron Gruner and Miss de Merville is broken off. Kitty Winter is tried for the vitriol attack but, due to extenuating circumstances, receives the lowest possible sentence.

Adaptations

The first episode (after the pilot) of the BBC television Sherlock Holmes series starring Douglas Wilmer was an adaptation of "The Adventure of the Illustrious Client." The episode first aired in the United Kingdom on February 20,1965.

The story was also adapted for The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes Granada TV series starring Jeremy Brett. In the Granada version, which first aired on the ITV network on March 21, 1991, Kitty Winter is a former artists' model who bears scars on her neck and chest from vitriol burns she suffered at the hands of the Baron. In the end, she hops on the back of Watson's cab to get to Gruner's house in order to carry out her revenge.

The third season (2014-2015) of the American television series Elementary starring Jonny Lee Miller introduced Kitty Winter, Holmes' new protégée. In a story arc inspired by "The Adventure of the Illustrious Client," Kitty is revealed to have been a victim of a serial rapist and torturer. She eventually discovers the identity of her rapist - Del Gruner, an insurance company executive for whom Watson works. Kitty kidnaps Gruner before he can be arrested and, although Holmes talks her out of killing him, burns him badly with a corrosive chemical before fleeing the country and disappearing.

"The Adventure of the Illustrious Client" has been dramatized many times for various radio adaptations of the Sherlock Holmes series. The first version, an episode of the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes show starring Richard Gordon, was broadcast in America on February 23, 1931 by NBC. Other notable radio adaptations include those done for The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes series with Basil Rathbone (first broadcast on NBC on October 5, 1941) and for The BBC Presents: Sherlock Holmes series starring Clive Merrison (first aired on BBC Radio 4 on September 21, 1994).

Footnotes

  1. In 1927, the Strand Magazine asked their readers to select their favorite Sherlock Holmes short stories. They also asked Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to compile his own list of favorites. Doyle excluded the latest, uncollected stories from official consideration (The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes had not yet been published). However, he stated that he would have included "The Adventure of the Lion's Mane" and "The Adventure of the Illustrious Client" in the list if they had been available. Although Doyle felt "The Adventure of the Illustrious Client " was "not remarkable for plot," he considered it notable for having "a certain dramatic quality" and for moving "adequately in lofty circles."
  2. When "The Adventure of the Illustrious Client" was published in the Strand Magazine in 1925, it was cut into two parts. Part I, published in the February issue, ended with the sensational headline. In the March issue, Part II began with a brief synopsis of the first part.
  3. The implication is that the illustrious client was none other than King Edward VII (r.1901–1910) and Holmes had known it all along.

External links

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