Holmes aficionados know there’s more to life than Professor Moriarty. The Sherlock Holmes stories contained an astonishingly colourful cast of cads, crooks and show boaters (most frequently wayward colonels for some reason). Indeed Conan Doyle was often at his best when drawing pen sketches of his villains. It is of remarkable how he can conjure them into life with just a few deft strokes.
Here is a list nine memorable scoundrels from the original canon, plus a surprise at number ten from my own, new Sherlock Holmes novel: The Adventure of the Ruby Elephants. Beware of some spoiler alerts, however, as some of these are not revealed as the villains until the end of the stories. You have been warned!
- Irene Adler, A Scandal in Bohemia
To Sherlock Holmes, she is always the woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes, she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex.
‘What a woman – oh, what a woman!’ cried the King of Bohemia.
- Colonel Lysander Stark, The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb
I saw the lean figure of Colonel Lysander Stark rushing forward with a lantern in one hand, and a weapon like a butcher’s cleaver in the other.
- Charles Augustus Milverton, The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton
He was a man of fifty, with a large intellectual head, a round, plump, hairless face, a perpetual frozen smile and two keen, grey eyes, which gleamed brightly from behind broad, golden-rimmed glasses.
‘Mr Holmes, Mr Holmes,’ he said, turning the front of his coat and exhibiting the butt of a large revolver. I have been expecting you to do something original.’
- Professor Coram, The Adventure of the Golden Pinze-Nez
It was a gaunt, aquiline face which was turned towards us with piercing dark eyes, which lurked in deep hollows under overhung and tufted brows. His hair and beard were white, save that the latter was curiously stained with yellow around his mouth. A cigarette glowed amid the tangle of white hair. ‘Tobacco and my work – that is all that is left to me.’
- Baron Gruner, the Adventure of the Illustrious Client
The fellow is, as you may have heard, extraordinarily handsome, with a most fascinating manner, a gentle voice and that air of romance and mystery which mean so much to a woman. He is said to have the whole sex at his mercy and to have made ample use of the fact…The Baron has little waxed tips of hair under his nose, like the short antennae of an insect.
- Mr Culverton Smith, The Adventure of the Dying Detective
With a shrill cry of anger, a man rose from a reclining chair beside the fire. I saw a great yellow face, coarse grained and greasy, with a heavy double chin, and two sullen menacing grey eyes that glared at me from under tufted and sandy brows.
‘What is this?’ he cried in a high, screaming voice. ‘What is the meaning of this intrusion?’
- Colonel Sebastian Moran, The Adventure of the Empty House
It was a tremendously virile and yet sinister face which was turned towards us. The brow of a philosopher above and the jaw of a sensualist below, the man must have started with great capacities for good or for evil.
- Colonel James Moriarty, The Adventure of the Final Problem
He is extremely tall and thin, his forehead domes out in a white curve and his two eyes are deeply shrunken in his head. He is clean shaven, pale and ascetic-looking, retaining something of the professor in his features. ‘It is a dangerous habit to finger loaded firearms in the pocket of one’s dressing gown.’
- John Clay, The Adventure of the Red Headed League
‘John Clay, the murderer, thief, smasher and forger. He is a remarkable man, is young John Clay. His grandfather was a Royal Duke and he himself has been to Eton and Oxford. He’ll crack a crib in Scotland one week, and be raising money to build an orphanage in Cornwall the next. I’ve been on his track for years and have never set eyes on him yet.’
- The Archangels, The Adventure of the Ruby Elephants
I awoke in a room that was perfectly dark. The floor was cold, and the air was damp, like that of a cellar.
‘Stand up, Dr Watson,’ came a voice.
‘Who are you?’
‘My name is Michael.’ There was a light in the form of a single flame. I heard another voice.
‘I am Raphael,’ it announced and another torch was lit.
Then behind me, another:
‘Uriel.’ And at the fourth point of the compass:
‘I am Gabriel.’ I was at the centre of the four flames.
The four of them wore identical black frock coats, top hats and strange, round spectacles with darkened glass. At the far end of the room, they gathered themselves into a knot, with blades flashing at the end of their canes, their eyes gleaming like demons.
‘You are vampires, not angels,’ I cried.