The original Reichenbach Fall

With a new series of Sherlock not too far away we know we will soon be learning how Sherlock survived.

Therefore it seemed a good time to look at how the canonical Holmes survived his clash with Moriarty as described in The Empty House.

Some people have wondered why Colonel Sebastian Moran chose to menace Sherlock Holmes with an air gun in England then rocks in Switzerland and then back to an air gun once Holmes returned to London.

In The Final Problem we learn that Holmes is aware that such a weapon is being trained upon him:

"Yes, I have been using myself up rather too freely," he remarked, in answer to my look rather than to my words; "I have been a little pressed of late. Have you any objection to my closing your shutters?"
The only light in the room came from the lamp upon the table at which I had been reading. Holmes edged his way round the wall and flinging the shutters together, he bolted them securely.
"You are afraid of something?" I asked.
"Well, I am."
"Of what?"
"Of air-guns."

We also know that Holmes later, in The Empty House, sets up a wax bust of himself for Moran to shoot at with the same air-gun.

So far so good.

Yet when, in the same story, Holmes is describing his escape to Watson he says the following:
had imagined that I had reached the end of my adventures, but a very unexpected occurrence showed me that there were surprises still in store for me. A huge rock, falling from above, boomed past me, struck the path, and bounded over into the chasm. For an instant I thought that it was an accident; but a moment later, looking up, I saw a man's head against the darkening sky, and another stone struck the very ledge upon which I was stretched, within a foot of my head. Of course, the meaning of this was obvious. Moriarty had not been alone. A confederate -- and even that one glance had told me how dangerous a man that confederate was -- had kept guard while the Professor had attacked me. From a distance, unseen by me, he had been a witness of his friend's death and of my escape. He had waited, and then, making his way round to the top of the cliff, he had endeavoured to succeed where his comrade had failed.

So why does Moran switch to rocks?

There are two explanations for this in my opinion. It comes down to angles and how the resultant death is to look.

Firstly we have to take note of Holmes’s observation that Moran had made his way round to the top of the cliff. In other words Moran had deliberately chosen this position, he was not there already. 

If you are directly above your target using a rifle is rather difficult. If standing you would have lean over the cliff edge which would put you at risk of losing your balance  Laying down would reduce that risk but it would not be much easier to take the shot - with the additional risk that the loss of the weapon is possible.

Bad sketches (C) Alistair Duncan

On the other hand, rocks can just be rolled over the edge, will drop straight down and, if successful, the death will look like the result of natural rock fall rather than deliberate murder.

Will it pass folks?
Written by Alistair Duncan
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  1. In the 'original' Russian series Moran uses a rifle at Reichenbach and Holmes gets indeed shot (in the hand, not the head). The rocks make an appearance there as well though, namely when Holmes and Watson are exploring the area a day or two before Reichenbach happens.

  2. both interpretations are possible sir! but, maybe, the last one is more likely near the truth: Moran, being and expert hunter, knows well how to choose the perfect location to wait for his prey. It could be that the late "idea of a natural death" is an instruction given by the Professor just before the last battle with Holmes. =)