A prized race horse was missing, and the trainer was found dead. As the scene was laid out, there was already an explanation brooding – someone stole the treasure (horse) and killed guard (trainer) while doing it. Thieves and robbers, it appeared all too familiar and standard, until it turned out not to be. The twist here was that the murder victim had been the criminal and the crime was a fatally botched one.
Often at a crime scene, the detective, and the readers along with him/her, assumes the crime was successfully executed. In other words, the criminal executed their planned actions and achieved their goals. Our task is to catch and impose justice upon them. But honestly, crime is difficult business. And one would assume that there would be some failures along the ways of successful ones. However, almost in all detective stories, the crimes are successful. Why this is the case I am not quite sure. Maybe it is because only a capable villain is worthy of our heroic and analytical detective. Otherwise why bother with the story at all.
But wouldn’t a good detective be able to correctly identify a crime gone wrong when he sees one? What made Sherlock suspicious about the victim in this story were the details. The drugged food, the curious incidence of the dog, the unfitting weapon he chose to “fight” with, etc. Sherlock changed his hypothesis and everything started fitted together. And the reveal that the bad guy was accidentally killed by the horse he intended to hurt gave the story a more satisfactory conclusion, albeit a little bit too much brutality.
Meticulous, detailed, and surprising. This is one of the best Sherlock short stories.