Reichenbach - why Reichenbach?

Why did Arthur Conan Doyle choose the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland for Sherlock Holmes’s fateful clash with Professor Moriarty? Was it purely as a result of his personal visit there or were there other reasons?

If Conan Doyle had wanted Holmes truly and irrevocably dead he could easily have had him shot, stabbed or killed any other number of ways. However he chose to do it he could have had a detailed written description of the body of Holmes being found by Watson or others and the detective would have been truly dead.

If it had to be a waterfall, or some other form of aquatic death, why not take Holmes to Scotland where there are a few waterfalls of sufficient height, and lochs of sufficient depth, to “lose” Holmes?

I maintain that it was always Conan Doyle’s intention to keep alive the possibility of resurrecting Sherlock Holmes. He delivered a truly ambiguous scenario expressly for the purpose of allowing himself the resurrection option. He knew all too well the popularity of Holmes and the money he brought in. Conan Doyle was fiscally responsible to a fault in his early years and knew that he could not guarantee that his other writing would bring in the same kind of money.

Make no mistake, Holmes would have stayed dead if the money had been sufficient from Conan Doyle’s other work. However, the resurrection option had to be there in a kind of “in emergency - break glass” way. A “death” at a waterfall was probably the best way to have belief in the actual death be possible without a body being found.

By why abroad? It is true that Conan Doyle had visited the Falls and could therefore write about them with authority and this probably accounts for the location. An added bonus would have been that taking Holmes out of his London comfort zone and into a country where his contacts were less established had the effect of making him more vulnerable in the eyes of his readers and hence his death more believable.

For more information on Arthur Conan Doyle and his time at Undershaw please refer to my book, An Entirely New Country which is available through all good bookstores including Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Classic Specialities, and in all electronic formats including iTunes, Kobo, Nook and Kindle .

The Norwood Author is available from all good bookstores, in many formats worldwide including Waterstones UK, Amazon UK,  Amazon USA, Barnes and Noble, Amazon Kindle, iBooks for the iPad/iPhone, Kobo Books, Nook.

Close to Holmes is available from all good bookstores, in many formats worldwide including Amazon USABarnes and NobleAmazon UKWaterstones UKAmazon KindleKoboNook  and iBooks for the iPad/iPhone.

Eliminate the Impossible is available from all good bookstores, in many formats worldwide including Amazon USA, Barnes and Noble, Amazon UK, Waterstones UK, Amazon Kindle, Kobo, Nook and iBooks for the iPad/iPhone.


  1. That is an interesting theory and one that makes a lot of sense, especially from an author's point of view. I've always felt that Gillette's 1899 "Sherlock Holmes" had a lot to do with reviving the detective and Doyle's interest in him. The play was a huge success, rekindled public interest in the detective and, thanks to a co-writing credit, put money in Doyle's bank account. It may have helped him to decide to make his Dartmoor hound "creeper" into a Holmes novel. He set it before Holmes' death, but he may have realized that the dozen or so years between setting and writing allowed anachronisms to creep into the story. He may have even been aware of Frank Sidgwick's open letter to Dr. Watson in the Cambridge Review during the Hound's serialization in The Strand. By bringing Holmes back to life, the stories could be set closer to when they were written and be setting them post-Return, not have to worry about continuity errors (not that he cared all that much, but Doyle may have been a bit chagrined to realized he wrote Mary Watson out of existence in 1889, when according to "The Adventures" and "The Memoirs" Watson was very much married).

  2. I think ACD was more than happy to largely write Mary out of existence. He wanted his stories to be about the duo and I don't think he was really interested in spending much time on Watson's domestic life. We get that snippet at the beginning of The Man With The Twisted Lip but that's about it.

  3. You are no doubt right. Like "A Study in Scarlet", the "The Sign of Four" was meant to be a one-off and Doyle has Watson marry to end his partnership with Holmes and end writing of Holmes. "I fear that it may be the last investigation in which I shall have the chance of studying your methods. Miss Morstan has done me the honour to accept me as a husband in prospective." It was only after The Strand came into existence that Doyle realized he had two ready-made characters to fit into the magazine's format of self-contained stories (no serialized novels) but the characters themselves could be serialized. Doyle's planned six all take place after the marriage in a kind of rough chronological order. Two main themes in the stories of "The Captain of the Polestar" are love in its many forms and the sea. Love and how it affects us for good or ill seems to be one Doyle was interested in his entire writing career. He could have explored this aspect of John and Mary it he so choose, and he was a strong enough writer to make it work within the confines of a Holmes story once or maybe twice. Chris Redmond points out that "Sign" can be seen as a mystery with alternating chapters of a love story. I find that many times when Doyle mentions Watson's marriage he is contrasting the Doctor's "complete happiness, and the home-centred interests" to the loves of others: In "A Scandal in Bohemia", Watson and Mary against the King of Bohemia and his political betrothal to Clotilde Lothman von Saxe-Meningen, the King's dalliance to Irene Adler and Adler's love for Godfrey Norton; the contrast with the star-crossed James McCarthy and Miss Turner and McCathy's ill-conceived marriage to a barmaid in "The Boscombe Valley Mystery"; the Watson's homey domestic scene with Isa and Kate Whitney and the Neville St. Clairs in "The Man with the Twisted Lip"; Watson's upcoming marriage (which the reader knows will be happy) with Lord St. Simon and Hatty Doran and Hatty and Frank Moulton in "The Noble Bachelor"; the Watsons and Colonel and Nancy Barclay and Henry Wood in "The Crooked Man". After the return, Doyle still explored love themes in the Canon, but perhaps felt he didn't need Mary as a contrasting example of a happy marriage.