After faking his own death, Holmes reappears several years later to carry on his criminal investigations. Dr. John Watson joins him once more as his aide and biographer. Holmes often assists an up-and-coming Scotland Yard inspector named Hopkins in his cases. The book consists of 13 stand-alone short stories.
The Adventure of the Empty House
Watson expresses interest in the case of a young socialite, Ronal Adair, who has no apparent enemies and has recently been shot to death. He misses Holmes, who is thought to have died several years earlier at the hands of his archenemy, Moriarty. Holmes appears in disguise and reveals himself to his shocked partner. He tells Watson how he painstakingly faked his own death to rout out his enemies. Holmes determines a man who cheated Adair in a card game was the socialite’s killer.
The Adventure of the Norwood Builder
A young lawyer named McFarlane knows he’s about to be accused of murder when he approaches Holmes. A family acquaintance named Oldacre had recently asked his help in writing a will. Since Oldacre was a bachelor, he wanted to leave everything to McFarlane. The day after the will was drawn up, Oldacre was killed. Holmes fakes a fire in Oldacre’s house to prove the old man is still alive and hiding out. Oldacre had faked his death to get McFarlane imprisoned as revenge on McFarlane’s mother, who had spurned Oldacre’s love years earlier.
The Adventure of the Dancing Men
A man named Cubitt finds images of dancing stick figures scrawled in chalk on his shed door. His American wife, Elsie, who has refused to share her mysterious past, is distressed by the images. Cubitt asks Holmes to investigate, and Holmes discovers the dancing figures form a code. Before Holmes can intervene, Cubitt is shot to death, and Elsie attempts suicide with a gun. Holmes leaves a message using the code. It summons Abe Slaney, the criminal who killed Cubitt. Slaney admits he was in an American gang led by Elsie’s father and that he followed Elsie, his former girlfriend, to England to reclaim her.
The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist
Cyclist Violet Smith approaches Holmes after a mysterious man begins to follow her by bike each day. She tells Holmes after her father’s death that two men from his past tracked her down. One, Mr. Carruthers, became her employer and asked her to marry him. The other, Mr. Woodley, later kidnaps Violet and tries for force her to marry him. Carruthers shoots Woodley. He admits to Holmes he’s been following Violet by bike to keep her safe. Carruthers and Woodley had plotted to steal Violet’s money, but Carruthers couldn’t go through with the crime after falling in love with her.
The Adventure of the Priory School
Lord Saltire, the 10-year-old son of a prestigious duke, goes missing from his boarding school. A German professor, Heidegger, disappears at the same time, and his body is found in the woods. Holmes learns the duke’s illegitimate son, James, lured the boy away from the school. James was jealous of the younger boy’s claim to his father’s inheritance. When Heidegger tried to rescue the boy, James killed the professor.
The Adventure of Black Peter
Peter Carey, former sea captain, was a mean drunk and mistreated his family and crew members. When he’s killed with a harpoon, Hopkins asks for Holmes’ insight. Holmes disguises himself as a captain looking for harpooners. He captures one of the applicants, Patrick Cairns, and the man admits he was once Black Peter’s first mate. He had heard about Peter’s stock scheme and wanted in. He came to Peter’s studio, the two fought and Cairns killed Peter with the old captain’s harpoon.
The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton
Lady Eva Blackwell asks for Holmes’ help when a professional blackmailer named Milverton threatens to ruin her relationship. Holmes, in disguise, woos and gets engaged to one of Milverton’s maids to gain access to the house. He and Watson sneak in to steal Eva’s letter and other incriminating papers in Milverton’s safe. While Holmes and Watson are hiding in the study, one of Milverton’s former blackmail victims enters and shoots Milverton to death. Holmes burns Milverton’s letters in the fireplace as he and Watson escape.
The Adventure of the Six Napoleons
Holmes learns someone is breaking into various establishments and smashing busts of Napoleon. When a man is murdered, Holmes and Watson help Inspector Lestrade determine why someone is obsessed with these sculptures. Holmes visits the place where this lot of sculptures was created and learns who purchased them. He discovers a criminal hid a pearl in the wet plaster of one as he made a quick escape. After serving a year in jail for a different crime, the man had returned to find the pearl.
The Adventure of the Three Students
Soames, a professor of Greek at a prestigious university, is about to administer an exam. One student will receive a large scholarship. Soames finds papers scattered in his office, indicating someone may have stolen information to cheat on the exam. Holmes discovers Soames’ butler, Bannister, used to work for the father of a student named Gilchrist. Banister admits he covered for Gilchrist when he realized the young man had planned to cheat. Gilchrist apologizes and says he’s leaving the school to work in South Africa.
The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez
Willoughby Smith, assistant to the invalid Professor Coram, is killed. A pair of gold women’s glasses are found near the body. Holmes assists Hopkins and discovers the killer is Coram’s estranged wife, Anna. Coram and Anna were former Russian revolutionaries until Coram betrayed his co-conspirators, including his wife. Anna came to England to get papers from Coram that would show her friend Alexis should be freed from prison. Anna accidentally killed Smith when he caught her in the study. Anna poisons herself. Before dying, she asks Holmes to help free Alexis.
The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter
Well-known rugby player Godfrey Staunton is missing, and his teammate Cyril Overton approaches Holmes. Overton reports that Staunton was heir to his wealthy uncle’s fortune. Holmes traces a telegram Staunton received to a Dr. Armstrong, and he follows the doctor’s carriage. He finds the distraught Staunton with his recently dead wife. Dr. Armstrong had been caring for her through a severe illness. When Staunton learned she was dying, he had come at once. Staunton had kept his marriage to this lower-class woman a secret so his uncle wouldn’t disinherit him.
The Adventure of the Abbey Grange
Hopkins asks Holmes to help solve the murder of Sir Eustace Brackenstall, one of the wealthiest men in Kent. Brackenstall’s widow, Mary, and her life-long maid describe a gang of well-known thieves as the perpetrators. Holmes discovers that Brackenstall was an abusive drunk. He deduces that Mary, her maid and an officer they’d met on their voyage from Australia, Jack Crocker, had killed the man. This would free Mary from the abuse and allow her to be with Crocker.
The Adventure of the Second Stain
The prime minister and Trelawney Hope, the European Secretary, beg Holmes to help them find a missing document that could potentially start a war. Holmes learns Hope’s devoted wife, Hilda, was being blackmailed over an old, indiscreet note that could ruin her marriage. The blackmailer would return her letter if she would get him a specific document belonging to her husband. She didn’t know the nature of the document, and when she discovered its importance, she stole it back from the blackmailer. Holmes helps her put it back in her husband’s papers so he will think he simply misplaced it.