Baker Street Wiki
Baker Street Wiki

"An Empty House" is a Sherlock Holmes short story by Lyndsay Faye. It was first published in Out of the Abyss, and later included in her collection The Whole Art of Detection: Lost Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes. Set between "The Adventure of the Final Problem" and "The Adventure of the Empty House", it follows Watson as he adjusts to life after the twin loss of his wife and his best friend.


Nearly three years after Holmes' apparent death at the Reichenbach Falls, Watson is faced with a new tragedy when his wife Mary succumbs to a prolonged illness and dies. He has difficulty coping with her loss, especially in Holmes's absence, but is comforted by the large turnout for her funeral. Among the guests is Inspector Lestrade, who tells Watson that he misses his presence at Scotland Yard. Though Lestrade is afraid to mention Holmes, Watson finds some comfort in reminiscences, and invites Lestrade to dinner.

At the dinner, the two discuss a case that occurred shortly before Holmes' fateful trip to Switzerland, which Watson is currently writing up as "The Adventure of the Abernetty Family". The five members of the family had died simultaneously and quite painfully at three different locations. Rumors of a curse had hovered over the family on account of the shady South American dealings of its patriarch, Ignatius. Holmes immediately dismisses this idea, though the servants' claim strange occurrences happened the family home for some time before the incident. However, the method of the killing remains obscure, as the symptoms of death matched no common drug.

Watson has tea with Mrs Hudson at café near 221B Baker Street, as he cannot bring himself to return to his old rooms. He mentions that Mycroft has kept them immaculately preserved since his brother's departure, paying the rent for the empty suite. Mrs Holmes expresses concern for Watson, after his recent choice to publish "The Final Problem" at Christmastime. She asks Watson why he wrote that he had never heard of Professor Moriarty; the question makes Watson uncomfortable, and he replies that it was best for the story that he didn't know.

In another excerpt from the Abernetty case, Watson scratches out a paragraph that shows Holmes felt Ignatius' murderer was justified, as his greed had caused the slaughter of countless Amazonian natives for no other reason than profit. Holmes notices a key clue; in the heat, a sprig of parsley has sunk into a stick of butter, a feat which ought to be impossible under normal circumstances.

Watson continues to see patients in an attempt to prop up his failing practice, but feels isolated and directionless. Lestrade offers him a medical position at the Yard, but Watson turns him down. He announces that he has decided to join the navy as a ship's surgeon. He plans to visit Baker Street one last time before leaving, and also expresses some interest in looking into the recent murder of Ronald Adair.

In the final excerpt from "The Adventure of the Abernetty Family", Holmes reveals that the family was poisoned by their South American cook using an Amazonian poison related to ricin. The oil had been mixed with butter, rendering it softer than normal. After eating a meal together, the family had metabolized the poison and died in agony. The cook expresses no remorse, announcing that she considers it her revenge on Ignatius Abernetty for the murder of her entire tribe. When Holmes denounces her, she questions if he had ever lost everything he loved. In another blacked-out section, Holmes relents when he admits he has not, and the cook tells him that until then he can never know what he would do to make himself feel whole again.

The story concludes with Watson overjoyed when Holmes reappears, alive, to resume his residence at Baker Street.