The Blue Carbuncle by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is one of the fifty six short stories featuring the adventures of Sherlock Holmes. The story follows the mystery of the Blue Carbuncle, a precious gem previously stolen from the Countess of Morcar, and later discovered in the neck of a Goose. The mystery proves irresistible for Holmes who sets off around London in an attempt to discover exactly how this precious gem found its way into a Gooses gullet. Rather than provide a complete synopsis of the story, the following paper is concerned with the ending of the story; specifically, whether or not Holmes makes the correct choice in releasing the perpetrator and what this says about Holmes’ relationship to truth and morality (in this story at least).
As the story unfolds, Holmes and Watson discover the perpetrators of the theft are two individuals named James Ryder and Catherine Cusack. After the theft of the Blue Carbuncle, in a panic Ryder places the gem into the gullet of goose which has been promised to him by his sister. Confusing his goose with another, Ryder looses the precious gem and subsequently frames a fellow named Horner who has a previous conviction for theft. After discovering the truth behind the mystery of the Carbuncle, the question is why Holmes was lenient on Ryder and let him free?
In the closing passage of the story Holmes remarks that:
I am not retained by the police to supply their deficiencies. If Horner were in danger it would be another thing; but this fellow will not appear against him, and the case must collapse. I suppose that I am commuting a felony, but it is just possible that I am saving a soul (Doyle)
Thus the rationale behind Holmes decision is based on the fact that Ryder was less of a hardened criminal and more of an opportunist, who got in ‘too deep’ before he knew it. Additionally, Ryder mentions earlier that he will leave the country, thus the case against Horner will collapse. It is also interesting that Holmes mentions he is not ‘retained by the police’.
Indeed, the character of Holmes often makes ethical judgments which can be seen to be in conflict with a strict interpretation of the law. Furthermore Holmes notes that: “Chance has put in our way a most singular and whimsical problem, and its solution is its own reward.” (Doyle). This reinforces the fact that for Holmes, investigations and mysteries are not motivated by a desire to uphold the law, but a desire for the mystery itself.
A further reason Holmes provides for releasing Ryder is that: “This fellow will not go wrong again; he is too terribly frightened. Send him to jail now, and you make him a jail-bird for life.” (Doyle). This is an interesting argument as it is based on the probable consequence of sending Ryder to jail. In this respect Holmes is basing his morality on the best possible outcome rather than the strict application of the Law. As Holmes considers Ryder a man who is a victim of his own circumstances, sending him to prison after he has demonstrated his fear would not improve his character nor help any party concerned.
In conclusion, the decision by Holmes to not pursue a conviction demonstrates the characters relation to ethics and morality. Just because Holmes does not pursue a conviction of Ryder, this does not necessarily indicate he is acting immorally. After all, the law does not by any means have the monopoly on morality.