Baker Street Wiki
Baker Street Wiki
Red circle brock

"The Adventure of the Red Circle" is one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It was first published in The Strand Magazine in 1911 with illustrations by Henry Matthew Brock and is included in the anthology His Last Bow.


Mrs Warren, a landlady, comes to 221B Baker Street with some questions about her lodger. She has heard of Holmes from a friend. A youngish, heavily bearded man, who spoke good but accented English came to her and offered double her usual rent on the condition that he get the room on his own terms. He went out the first night that he was there, and came back after midnight when the rest of the household had gone to bed. Since then, neither Mrs Warren, her husband, nor their servant girl have seen him. The lodger insisted on having the Daily Gazette every morning, and sometimes requested other things. All requests were printed on a slip of paper left on a chair outside the room where meals were also left.

Mrs Warren has brought some spent matches and a cigarette end from her lodger, hoping that Holmes can read something from them. It is clear that the cigarette has been smoked without a holder, which is quite unusual for a man with whiskers. He also eats very little, and never receives visitors or messages.

After the landlady leaves, Holmes remarks to Dr Watson that it seems likely that the person in Mrs Warren’s house is not the bearded man who made the arrangements. The evidence lies not only in the cigarette, but in the fact that the lodger’s knowledge of English is not as good as the bearded man’s (he wrote MATCH as one of his requests, for instance, not MATCHES). His “return” on the first night was very late so that no-one would see him and he has taken great pains to ensure no-one has seen him since.

Holmes suspects that messages are being discreetly sent to the lodger, perhaps in the Daily Gazette’s agony column. Leafing through the newspaper's recent back editions, he finds them: “Will find some sure means of communication. Meanwhile, this column. G.” (only two days after the lodger’s arrival), “Am making successful arrangements. Patience and prudence. The clouds will pass. G.” (three days later), and “The path is clearing. If I find chance signal message remember code agreed–one A, two B, and so on. You will hear soon. G.” (yesterday). Holmes needs only wait one day for a very useful message: “High red house with white stone facings. Third floor. Second window left. After dusk. G.” Holmes decides that it is time to reconnoiter Mrs Warren’s neighborhood.

Just then, Mrs Warren arrives complaining that her husband was kidnapped that morning and taken by cab to Hampstead Heath where he was unceremoniously cast onto the roadway. He never got a clear look at his kidnappers or their cab. Holmes theorizes that the ruffians operating the cab had mistaken Mr Warren for the lodger, and dumped him after they realized their mistake. The distraught Mrs. Warren expresses her intention to evict the boarders for her own family's safety, but Holmes convinces her against doing so, not only because it could prevent Holmes from investigating the matter further, but also because the lodgers are apparently themselves in grave danger, and so forcing them out on the street would likely put them in even greater peril.

Holmes and Watson go to Mrs Warren’s house just before lunchtime, hoping to catch a glimpse of the lodger as he takes his lunch from the chair. Before going inside the residence, Holmes observes that the lodger’s window commands a good view down Howe Street, and at the other end is a rooming-house matching the description of the one mentioned in the agony column.

In Mrs Warren’s house, Holmes and Watson hide in a boxroom. By watching with a large mirror, they see the room's current lodger retrieve the lunch tray from the hall, and discover that this person is indeed not the bearded gentleman described by Mrs. Warren, but a comely young woman with dark hair and an olive complexion. They realize that she has been carefully printing (rather than writing in common longhand, which could indicate that a lady had scribed it) her requests to conceal her gender. It is equally clear that she and her bearded confederate, likely a lover or husband, are in some kind of danger and seeking refuge. From the lodger’s horror at suspecting a trick at lunchtime, and the exceptional precautions that have been taken to ensure secrecy, it must be a matter of life and death.

That evening, Holmes and Watson are on hand to see the lodger’s confederate’s lantern-signals, sent by a waving candle from an upstairs window of the rooming-house down the street. The first message says “Attenta, attenta, attenta”. It becomes clear to Holmes that the messages are in Italian ("Beware, beware, beware!"), and from the “-a” ending, that the message is meant for a woman. The signaler then flashes “Pericolo” (“Danger”) and then “Peri-”, when suddenly the candle disappears from the window.

Realizing that the signaler has been interrupted, Holmes and Watson rush to the house and are surprised to meet Inspector Gregson and a Pinkerton detective from the United States named Leverton (described by Holmes as "the hero of the Long Island cave mystery"). They are lying in wait for Giuseppe Gorgiano, a vicious killer of whose infamy Holmes is well aware, and who had been seen entering the rooming-house a while earlier. The house has only one door, and so the detectives know that Gorgiano is still inside. From their vantage-point, Gregson and Leverton had been unaware of the silently-signaled messages from the window high above them. Gregson says that three men have come out of the house, but none was Gorgiano, who is a giant. One, however, matched the description of the bearded man who had made the boarding-arrangements at Mrs Warren’s.

Going into the house and to the room where the signalling came from, Holmes, Watson, Gregson, and Leverton discover a grisly scene. The giant Gorgiano has been stabbed to death, apparently in a fight. The bearded man is undoubtedly the killer. The lady's arriving at the door to the room shortly afterward is a surprise to everyone but Holmes, who had impersonated the lady's confederate by picking up and re-lighting the same candle that her confederate had used, and signalling in Italian for her to come. The investigators are rather taken aback by the woman's obvious joy at this ghastly sight.

Her name is Emilia Lucca, and her confederate is Gennaro, her husband. She confirms that the Luccas were seeking refuge from the murderous Gorgiano, who was out to kill Gennaro for betraying the Red Circle, a secret criminal organization that Gennaro had rashly gotten himself involved in as a troubled younger man, although he himself had apparently never actually participated in the gang's criminal actions. Eventually seeing the folly of his wayward choices, Gennaro married Emilia and then made secret plans to leave the gang. He and his wife fled Italy and went to New York City to escape the Red Circle, but Gorgiano, another member, discovered Gennaro there, and vengefully contrived to oblige Gennaro to murder a good friend, a man who had gotten Gennaro started in comfortably-successful business in the USA.

The noble-hearted Gennaro had no intention of doing such a thing, of course, and instead risked his own safety to warn his friend of the Red Circle’s orders. The local police were also informed. The Luccas then fled to England, where Gorgiano tracked Gennaro down, intending to kill him and abduct the lovely Emilia, to whom he had developed a lustful attraction. Gorgiano died in the ensuing fight, however.

Gregson feels compelled to take Emilia down to the police station to be held for further questioning, and the same fate probably awaits Gennaro, but as his actions had clearly been only in self-defense, it seems likely that no charges will be filed.


  • A radio adaptation starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce (titled "Mrs. Warren's Lodger") aired on December 7, 1941, the day of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The East Coast broadcast was interrupted by a radio announcement that President Franklin D. Roosevelt would be addressing the nation at noon the following day.
  • The 1945 film Pursuit to Algiers sources some of its characters from this story.
  • The 1994 Granada TV series adaptation (entitled merely "The Red Circle") makes several key modifications to the short story: The episode introduces a new character (Enrico Formani, an Italian expatriate who is murdered by Gorgiano, possibly indirectly as a result of Watson blowing Formani's cover); Inspector Gregson is replaced with Inspector Hawkins; Gorgiano makes an attempt to infiltrate the Warrens' house and kidnap Emilia and is chased away by Leverton; Emilia notices Holmes and Watson in the boxroom and realizes she's been seen and quickly locks her door. With coaxing and explanations by Holmes, the frightened woman hesitantly unlocks the door, and he enters Emilia's room and speaks with her, hearing the story of how she and her husband ended up involved with the Red Circle; Emilia arrives at the scene of the fight between Gorgiano and Gennaro before Holmes and his party do.


  • This is the last appearance of Inspector Tobias Gregson in Doyle's work. Explanations for this have been a matter of debate for readers. Although Gregson's meeting with Holmes is coincidental, he is swift to grasp the implications of getting his help and claims to have been grateful for his work with the Yard in the past.
  • The Pinkerton detective Leverton is called "the hero of the Long Island cave mystery" by Holmes. But there is no explanation of what the Long Island cave mystery entailed. This is considered by some to be one of untold cases of the Holmesian canon, though it doesn't seem to have involved Holmes. This mystery seems paradoxical because there are no real caves on Long Island, New York. There are caves, however, on Long Island, in the Bahamas. This connection seems unlikely, however, as the Pinkerton Agency's activities were mostly limited to large American cities like New York and Chicago, not tropical locales.
  • Howe Street is a creation of Conan Doyle, overlooking Orme Street, which is commonly known as Great Ormond Street located in Central London, northeast from the British Museum. Watson describes Orme as a "narrow thoroughfare" and Howe in possession of "more pretentious houses."