Skip over navigation

The Red-Headed League

Arthur Conan Doyle

Important Quotations Explained

The Rise of the Detective Genre

How to Cite This SparkNote

1. “As a rule,” said Holmes, “the more bizarre a thing is the less mysterious it proves to be. It is your commonplace, featureless crimes which are really puzzling, just as a commonplace face is the most difficult to identify.”

Sherlock Holmes’s remark after hearing Jabez Wilson’s story highlights one of the central themes of the story: the connection between the bizarre and mundane. Holmes claims that what appears to be the strangest, most out-of-the-ordinary occurrence can actually be explained through simple means. The Red-Headed League and Jabez Wilson’s story, for example, prompt Watson and readers to expect a complicated explanation for such a confusing scenario. The truth, however, is far simpler, as Holmes reveals that John Clay concocted the whole Red-Headed League scheme to assist a common bank robbery. What’s more, Holmes declares that even though he can solve this seemingly bizarre case, the incomprehensible crimes are the ones that people see and hear about every day. In other words, Doyle suggests that although a great mind like Holmes’s can penetrate the rare bizarre cases, nothing seems to be able to explain the fact that we live in a world in which crime itself is, as Holmes says, “commonplace.”

2. Here I had heard what he had heard, I had seen what he had seen, and yet from his words it was evident that he saw clearly not only what had happened, but what was about to happen, while to me the whole business was still confused and grotesque.

In many of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Watson’s reactions mirror readers’ own thoughts. Watson, for example, comments at the story’s end that he has seen the same evidence Holmes has, and yet can’t quite solve the case as quickly or thoroughly as Holmes can. Although many contemporary readers have been just as confused as Watson, they take pleasure in watching Holmes unravel the case. Doyle therefore simultaneously pulls and pushes readers, compelling them to sharpen their intellect and help solve the mystery. On the other hand, Watson’s perpetual bewilderment allows readers the pleasure of merely watching Holmes’s astonishing powers of reasoning. This dual reaction, in which readers want to watch and actually be Holmes, is a large reason why Doyle’s stories have remained so popular for so long.

Follow Us