A Case of Identity is one of the few Sherlock Holmes stories that actually has a mystery that can be solved by thinking about its name.
So this is a mystery that you can actually figure out by yourself before Sherlock Holmes figures it out...
Not that I did, however. :-)
I completely ignored all the blatant clues mentioned in the story and gave a shout out when the twist came.
Apart from that twist which you can guess if you rack your brains, Holmes' deductions are also quite good.
There's no crime scene and there's not much of an investigation: Sherlock Holmes deduces everything - almost completely - on the basis of one interaction with his client!
(I think that's cool because I really like stories which do NOT have crime scenes and have lots of mental stuff going on instead. But that's just me. ;-))
Here are my ratings for the entire story!
The story begins when a young woman - Mary Sutherland rushes into Sherlock Holmes' apartment with a problem: her fiancee has abandoned her on her marriage day!
This man - called Hosmer Angel - apparently got into the carriage to take him to church and...just vanished from there.
The question is - why? Did he suffer from an extreme attack of "Oh my God, I am getting married!"? Or maybe something dangerous happened and someone's kidnapped him?
The way he just disappeared without even taking any of Mary's wealth makes the whole thing very mysterious.
Then there is Mary's stepfather who wasn't much in favour of her marriage: did he play any games here and harm Hosmer Angel?
At first glance - the mystery looks unsolvable. There's not even a crime scene to investigate.
But that's not how it seems to Holmes. In fact, when Mary leaves, Holmes says to Watson, "I found her more interesting than her little problem, which, by the way, is rather a trite one."
So how exactly has Holmes deduced the solution through this one meeting? That's the story.
As Mary Sutherland enters Holmes' apartment, Holmes says to Watson...
"Here we may take it that there is a love matter, but that the maiden is not so much angry as perplexed, or grieved."
She's not even entered yet! So, how do you know that Holmes?
And when she comes in, he says to her:
"Do you not find, that with your short sight it is a little trying to do so much typewriting?"
"Why did you come away to consult me in such a hurry?"
So there: Monseur Holmes deduces that Mary Sutherland is confused but not angry with someone she loves - that's true! He deduces that she does quite some typewriting and that she left her home in a hurry. That is true as well!
Of course Mary is taken aback.
Thanks to Joseph Friedrich and this site for the original image which I edited!
I would be taken aback if it happened to me and I'm sure you would too. (In fact, I'd be very, very conscious of myself if I were near the real Holmes - I mean, you'd never know what he had found out about you just by taking a peek!)
So yes, those nice sprinklings of Holmesian deductions right at the start in A Case of Identity, are definitely magical for me.
There are two typewriter deductions that are quite captivating in this story...
The first one's when Holmes deduces that his client - Mary Sutherland uses a typewriter frequently. Here's how he deduces that!
The second one is when Holmes actually identifies Mary's step-dad Mr Windibank as the culprit based on his typewriting.
Holmes tries to get a direct letter from Mr Windibank and compares that letter with the ones Mr Hosmer Angel had written to Mary.
He finds that in both cases...
So, there - Sherlock Holmes actually finds the culprit - by noting the similarities in Mr Hosmer Angel's letters and Mr Windibank's letter - all typewritten.
Yup, I think, that was some outstanding stuff there - because these were not handwritten letters.
Now Miss Mary Sutherland apparently makes a living by typewriting in the story.
When I read this, a simple question popped up in my head...
She says she earns two pence a sheet and often does twenty sheets a day.
How much money is that today? Was typewriting "a well paying skill" in those days?
According to Britain's National Archives, 2 pence in 1890 would mean half a pound today. Similarly, two pence x 20 sheets = 40 pence in those days would mean - around 10 pounds - today.
So this woman earned around 10 present day pounds a day - which honestly, isn't much. An average computer typist today would earn somewhere around 1500 pounds a month or so - which makes it 50 pounds a day.
A lot of money is mentioned by Miss Mary Sutherland in A Case of Identity...
When I read all those money details, I was puzzled. I mean: what does that money mean today? That was my question.
Mary says that she earns an income of £100 a year apart from her typewriting.
How much would this be today? Around £ 6000! Hmm...that's around $9800! Not bad.
Then, she also tells Sherlock Holmes about the plumbing business that her dad had owned. This business was sold by her step-dad Mr Windibank for ...£4700. Now again, that made me curious.
How much is £4700 today? Well, turns out its a whopping £282, 000 or $460,000! Quite a lot.
So well, that settles the money bit. :-)
Sherlock Holmes uses typewriting to figure out who the culprit is, in A Case of Identity. I mean he looks at one letter written by one guy, another letter written by another guy and says to himself: these look similar - they must be written by the same person!
My question is: is this really possible? I mean can you just take a good look at a typewritten document and say - "That's John!" or "That's Smita!"?
The answer is...yes. If you've got a new typewriter - it has no individuality. But every old typewriter does have its own unique way of typing.
There've been many cases solved using typewriter identification and the first one ever was solved in 1893. That's interesting because A Case of Identity appeared in 1891 - 2 years before typewriting evidence was ever used!
Kudos to Conan Doyle there for using it before it was ever used in reality.
By the way, here are two samples from different typewriters. Can you notice the differences?
Thanks to Wikipedia and Vikram Shah for the two documents!
A Case of Identity is all about disguise, isn't it? I mean, if you've read it (and you should have read it if you're reading this!), you know that Hosmer Angel - the guy who Mary Sutherland was dating - and James Windibank, her step father - are the same person.
Can this really happen?
I mean, can a step-father date you in disguise without you having any freakin' idea? Or - was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - not on target - and exaggerating things here?
I thought, I'd conduct a small "picture experiment". In the picture below, I've taken a clean shaven dude's picture. That's the guy on the left.
Now, all that I've done in the second picture on the right is this: I've add bushy side whiskers and I've added a moustache and tinted glasses. That's it.
I've changed exactly what Mr Windibank changes in A Case of Identity.
And yes: Great gadzooks (as Roald Dahl would put it)! The appearance has changed drastically!
I mean, you can hardly make out that the two men are the same!
So maybe...just maybe, you know, it is possible to disguise oneself as Mr Windibank did?
Well, so that's A Case of Identity, unravelled for you. If you haven't read the story yet, well, go ahead and read it here: