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The characters of the Sherlock Holmes novels and short stories.

Characters from specific adaptations go on the pages below:

For a list of the actors and actresses who have appeared in Sherlock Holmes adaptations, see here.


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    Sherlock Holmes 
The most famous consulting detective working in London.
  • Abled in the Adaptation: While usually not considered a disability, Sherlock Holmes has a cocaine habit in the original books. Most adaptations do away with any drug references. The 21st century Setting Update Sherlock has Holmes as being on a nicotine patch as a Mythology Gag to both his drug addiction and his smoking habit. Elementary, which is also set in the 2010s, goes the full mile and has Joan start as Sherlock's sober companion in order to help him kick his heroin addiction. Miss Sherlock goes the other way - chocolate is her vice instead.
  • The Ace: In the eyes of Watson and Scotland Yard.
  • Always Someone Better: To Inspector Lestrade and, to an extent, the rest of Scotland Yard.
  • Amateur Sleuth: He bills himself as a "consulting detective" when he first explains his work to Watson, describing himself as the one other detectives come to with cases they can't crack. His only real requirement is that the case catch his interest, so he ends up taking clients from the public at least as often as he gets cases from the police.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: He's certainly very eccentric. The obsessiveness, antisocial personality and occasional strange or inappropriate behavior (often commented upon by other characters) are seen as autistic traits by some readers; while his tendency to alternate between energetic and lethargic or depressed moods might suggest some form of bipolar disorder.
  • Asexuality: Throughout his long career he shows absolutely no interest pursuing any physical or romantic relationships with anyone. Even his admiration for Irene Adler comes purely from her success at outmaneuvering him and not from any physical characteristics.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: The trope's Patron Saint. At least once in every single story Doyle wrote and every other story after that. Also, every copycat and fanfic with a halfway-decent mystery at least tries. Because he wouldn't be Sherlock Holmes without it.
  • Badass Bookworm: Holmes is both strong for his size and a capable pugilist. His opponents have remarked that he would have made an excellent prize fighter if he had not devoted himself to intellectual pursuits.
  • Badass Long Coat: When in London, his favoured coat is a Macfarlane cape-coat, which happens to be the city counterpart of the Inverness cape-coat, the one he’s depicted with when travelling the countryside. Both coats are explicitly cut to accommodate the moves of a hand-to-hand fighter/swordsman (an Inverness even doesn't have sleeves at all, only the pellegrina), which suits the singlestick-fighting Holmes quite well.
  • Berserk Button: Comparing him to a fictional detective.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: One of the originals.
    Watson: I don’t think you need alarm yourself, I have usually found that there was method in his madness.
    Inspector Forrester: Some folk might say there was madness in his method.
  • Cane Fu: Holmes is quite the singlestick player.
  • Caper Rationalization: He does this on multiple occasions. "A Scandal in Bohemia" revolves around retrieving a compromising photo their client is afraid might be used against him, "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton" has him retrieving letters from a blackmailer and failing to report or investigate his entirely justified murder, and in "the Bruce-Partington Plans" they break into a spy's apartment (admitting as much to the police officer with them, though he doesn't raise a fuss considering the diplomatic implications).
  • Catchphrase: "It is simplicity itself" and "You know my methods", as well as occasionally referring to an absorbing case as, "not entirely devoid of interest."
  • Celibate Eccentric Genius/Celibate Hero/Chaste Hero: Holmes dismisses love and women as distractions which would interfere with his ability to be a perfect reasoning machine. Sometimes he claims not to notice female attractiveness at all.
    • Then again in The Valley of Fear, Holmes does mention the possibility of seeing himself married one day so it's not as rigorously enforced in his later years.
  • Challenge Seeker: Only takes a case if it seems sufficiently interesting, and constantly bemoans the criminal classes' lack of ingenuity.
  • Character Development: If you pay attention, you'll notice that he becomes considerably less aloof and standoffish as the series goes on, and gradually becomes more open to a life outside detective work as he gains a greater appreciation for his friendship with Watson. Case in point: in A Study in Scarlet, Watson notes that he makes a point of avoiding any academic subject that won't aid him in his detective work, meaning that he knows absolutely nothing about literature or philosophy—but he later quotes Goethe in The Sign of the Four and Shakespeare in "The Adventure of the Abbey Grange". note  And in The Sign of Four, he explicitly says that Watson is his only friend, but later addresses his farewell note in "The Final Problem" to his "friends" (note the plural) who might be saddened by his departure. Interestingly, in the post-hiatus stories, he seems to have Took a Level in Jerkass again, as he's becomes a good deal more deceptive and manipulative than before. The readers of the time picked up on this, most notably a Cornish boatman who once told Doyle that "When Mr. Holmes had that fall he may not have been killed, but he was certainly injured, for he was never the same afterwards."
  • The Chessmaster: Holmes becomes this sometime in the middle of each story, except in "A Scandal in Bohemia", when he was beaten at his own game by a woman, Irene Adler.
  • Clothes Make the Legend: Even though neither the deerstalker or cape were actually featured prominently in the stories and only ever appeared once in Sidney Paget's illustrations, it's hard to imagine Holmes without them. Some adaptations missed the fact that the Deerstalker hat and the Inverness coat were both country wear, something that a respectable gentleman would never wear in the city. Others correctly had Holmes wearing a Top hat or a Homburg (in stories set later in his career) when about town with a Frock coat or Greatcoat.
  • Cultured Badass: Intelligent, erudite and musically inclined and a skilled pugilist and martial artist.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Especially toward the hapless Scotland Yard inspectors whose perception is so inferior to his own.
  • Distinguished Gentleman's Pipe: Not as commonly depicted the curved "calabash" stylenote , Holmes would have used a less ostentatious straight or slightly curved stem pipe with a small bowl.
  • Doing It for the Art (In-Universe): Holmes' approach to his detective work.
  • Dreadful Musician: Subverted. Holmes is actually a decent-to-good violinist when he can be persuaded to play the violin rather than just play with it. Most of the time, however, he just scrapes the strings with the bow to give his hands something to do while his mind works, and doesn't notice people's reaction to the noise.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: The end of "Final Problem" was intended to be Holmes' last bow. Fans were not pleased.
  • Forgets to Eat: Or refuses to because it would interfere with his mental concentration.
  • Functional Addict: He uses cocaine in the early stories, though he eventually kicks the habit.
  • Genius Bruiser: Donwplayed. While Holmes is described as having above-average strength, he is not considered exceptionally imposing. Despite this, he is a talented boxer and martial artist ontop of his extraoridnary intellect.
  • Genius Slob: Watson recounts that Holmes normally leaves everything but his mind untidy. Even though he is immaculately groomed he still writes on his shirt cuffs.
  • Gentleman and a Scholar: In A Study in Scarlet he is described as a bit of a Ditzy Genius (he for instance appears unaware that the Earth revolves around the Sun and has not heard of Thomas Carlyle), but soon evolves into an example of this. Will frequently have a very apropos literary quote ready (often in the original language), be it from Flaubert, Goethe or Hafiz.
  • Good Is Not Nice: He's on the side of justice and the down-trodden, and he can be a perfect gentleman to his clients but he's also an Insufferable Genius of the highest order.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: It's even lampshaded by a character in The Sign of the Four that Holmes would have had quite a career in the ring.
  • Gray Eyes: The only way (besides height) to distinguish that he and Mycroft are brothers.
  • Great Detective: The great detective. He may not have been the first of his kind, but he set the standard for every single detective to come.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: With Watson.
  • Higher Understanding Through Drugs: Inverted, in that he only takes cocaine when he's bored. Played straight with tobacco, however.
  • Iconic Outfit: Holmes is so closely associated with the specific ensemble of a deerstalker hat, Inverness cape, and Calabash pipe that they've become a shorthand for the Great Detective trope as a whole. Ironically, only a handful of the illustrations for the original stories actually depict him wearing the hat and cape, and the pipe is believed to have been introduced in the stage plays.
  • The Insomniac: Finds it hard to sleep when he's fixated on a problem. Also enjoys playing the violin or doing chemical experiments in the middle of the night, driving his landlady crazy.
  • Insufferable Genius: Dear, god Yes. He even justifies it in "The Greek Interpreter" by saying since he's a logician he must see things exactly as they are, so to underplay his brain powers would be a departure from the truth. Although it's also played with, since he also follows the opposite logical conclusion that overplaying his powers is equally fallacious. He does at several times point out that his Awesomeness by Analysis isn't a special superpower like Watson and others sometimes make it out to be, and that anyone could reach the deductions he makes if they just used their eyes and brains more.
  • Intelligence Equals Isolation: Without something to engage him, Holmes turns in on himself or resorts to cocaine.
  • Invincible Hero: Surprisingly averted in "A Scandal in Bohemia" and "Thor Bridge", while in "Five Orange Pips", Holmes mentions that he has been defeated four times.
  • It Runs in the Family: According to Holmes himself, his observation and detective skills are hereditary, as he and his brother both possess them.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Can be a bit of an arrogant asshole — especially to rival detectives and his poor sidekick — but has an occasionally-revealed softer side. He often shows protectiveness toward his clients, especially the female ones; and his affection for Watson is demonstrated in stories like "The Three Garridebs".
  • Loves Secrecy: Likes to keep most of his conclusions secret up until The Reveal; this trait was passed on to many other fictional detectives.
  • Master Actor: Watson once notes that he could have done very well on the stage had he not decided to become a detective.
  • Master of Disguise: Not even Watson can identify Holmes when he's assumed another identity.
  • Mysterious Past: At least partially fits this trope, given that Watson comments more than once in the stories about how he knows virtually nothing of Holmes's past. All that is eventually revealed is that he's distantly related to a bunch of French painters, he attended university somewhere, he's descended from country squires, and he has an older brother who's even cleverer than he is.
  • Never Found the Body: At the end of "The Final Problem", with good reason.
  • Nice Hat: As a 19th century gentleman, Holmes owns an assortment of these, ranging from a bowler over a top hat to finally the famous deerstalker. While the latter is never mentioned by name in the books (the illustrator of the Strand Magazine, Sidney Paget was the one to choose it), it is also the only period hat that fits the description in "The Adventure of Silver Blaze," "[an] ear-flapped travelling cap", and in "The Boscombe Valley Mystery", a "close-fitting cloth cap". The only time fashion-conscious Holmes is depicted with the deerstalker while being in the city is in "The Empty House", which is extremely unusual for Paget. And finally, he dons a Homburg hat in "His Last Bow", which hints at the changes in times and fashion.
  • Non-Idle Rich: Holmes says that his ancestors were country squires, and he still managed to pay the bills while trying to establish himself as a detective. It's later said that he could have purchased 221B Baker Street outright from Mrs. Hudson. After The Great Hiatus, he also bought out Watson's old practice as an inducement for his old friend to move back in with him.
  • Not So Stoic: Has a moment of this in "The Man With the Twisted Lip" that concludes with a Big "WHAT?!". Other moments are sprinkled sparingly throughout the stories. One of the more famous among the fanbase (particularly Holmes/Watson fans) is Holmes's reaction to Watson being shot in "The Three Garridebs".
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Holmes will sometimes use this to his advantage when interrogating a suspect.
  • Private Detective: Or to use Holmes' precise words, "Consulting Detective".
  • The Quiet One: Whenever someone relates to him a case, Holmes is reservedly quiet (signifying that his calculating mind is in action) and after the client(s) leave, Watson notes that Holmes will normally sit for a few hours in his armchair and go over the case.
  • Reckless Gun Usage: During his first meeting with Moriarty in "The Final Problem", he is fingering the trigger of a gun inside his pocket. Moriarty points out the danger of this and remarks that he expected Holmes to be smarter than that. And then there's the fact that he shot a patriotic insignia into the living room wall with bullet-marks.
  • Rich Boredom: Holmes dreads this more than anything else. He openly admits that one of the reasons he pursues detective work is because he's attracted to the danger. When he has no case on hand, Holmes can be quite insufferable, and he uses cocaine to keep his mind stimulated. This becomes less of an issue over the years as Holmes' fame spreads and more and more people seek his help, and Watson persuades him to abandon the needle.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Since he's not a police detective, things like warrants don't worry him. He's also willing to turn a blind eye to the occasional criminal if he's suitably convinced that they had valid reasons for what they did and/or that it wouldn't be just to submit them to the harsh mercies of the criminal justice system for what they did. As he states in "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle", "I am not retained by the police to supply their deficiencies."
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: He's helped the police enough, and done countless services to the Government and the Royal Family (he was even offered - and declined - a knighthood) that the few times someone does complain about him breaking into their house he doesn't have to worry.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Holmes is a Victorian gentleman and dresses as such.
  • Sherlock Scan: Holmes' trademark. He can tell a lifetime's worth of information about a person by just looking them over for a few moments which, of course, normally leaves everyone else in the room baffled.
  • The Spock: Holmes is quite adamant that emotion has no place in his line of work, only science, empiricism, and logic.
  • Stronger Than They Look: In The Adventure of the Speckled Band, a murder suspect barges into Holmes and Watsons flat to confront them about being hired to investigate him, and tries to intimidate them by taking one of their fire pokers and bending it out of shape. When the man leaves, Holmes quietly picks it up and straightens it right back into shape, to the astonishment of Watson, with Holmes himself not cowed at all and really more upset that the man dared to compare him to the fops at Scotland Yard.
  • To Be Lawful or Good: Several stories place Holmes, who (while hardly being a paladin) generally respects and upholds the law, in a position where he is forced to either let a sympathetic guilty party be punished or look the other way and let them go, thus ensuring that justice is never served. Alternatively, he might have to break the law in order to ensure a deserving guilty party is punished (usually by burgling their house in order to find evidence). Generally, he picks the 'good' option, although in the former examples he does usually make a point of ensuring that the evidence is still available to the police for them to draw the correct conclusions (they rarely do) and will make a point of informing the guilty party that if an innocent person should find themselves facing punishment for the guilty person's crime, then all deals are off.
  • Workaholic: Detective work is his true addiction. When he's on a case, he goes for days without sleep and occasionally works himself to the point of a nervous collapse. When he doesn't have a case, he becomes morose and requires "artificial stimulants" to keep boredom at bay.

    Dr. John H. Watson 
A former army doctor and veteran of the Second Afghan War. Holmes' trusted companion, roommate, and chronicler.
  • Author Avatar: For Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself.
  • Combat Medic: Watson has helped Holmes subdue more than one physically strong criminal. His medical knowledge also saves the lives of the title characters in "The Adventure Of The Greek Interpreter" and "The Disappearance Of Lady Frances Carfax".
  • A Day in the Limelight: Some fans consider "The Hound of the Baskervilles" to be this for Watson, as Holmes is "offstage" for six of the novel's fifteen chapters.
  • Deuteragonist: One of the finest examples in English-language fiction. Holmes himself admits that he would be lost without Watson, and Watson's assistance, whether through his medical talents or his doing legwork for Holmes, repeatedly shows its value.
  • Flanderization: Over time, incarnations of Watson made him obese and rather bumbling, despite the fact that Watson is portrayed in the stories as of around Holmes' build and extremely intellectual (he is a bit slow compared to Holmes, but virtually everyone is as well, and he is consistently depicted leagues ahead of most everyone else in the regular cast). 21st-century adaptations (film and live action TV) have rectified this.
  • The Gambling Addict: Spends "about half [his] wound pension" gambling on the races. One story even mentions that his checkbook is kept locked in Holmes' desk - a preventative measure that allows Holmes to make sure that Watson does not wager more than he can afford.
  • Game-Breaking Injury: Suffered a major bullet wound to either one of his shoulders or one of his limbs that made him ill-suited for continued military combat, leading to his honourable discharge.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: With Holmes.
  • The Lancer: To Holmes.
  • Love at First Sight: With Mary Morstan, almost instantaneously.
  • Official Couple: With Mary Morstan at the end of The Sign of the Four.
  • One-Hour Work Week: Although Watson goes into medical practice after getting married, he never has any trouble ditching his job for the day to accompany Holmes on a case. The stories do at least nod to this, as Watson frequently mentions busy periods in his practice that keep him from hanging around with Holmes, and often notes that the occasions where he does drop everything to follow Holmes are dry patches where nothing much has been happening. Watson's wife Mary has also encouraged him to spend some time with Holmes when he's been overworking himself. Watson also partners with other doctors, such as Anstruther and Jackson, to serve as "locums" who temporarily fill in for him when he's indisposed.
  • Reformed Bully: Bizarrely enough, he actually messed with one of his old schoolmates, Percy Phelps, during their boyhood, as revealed in the opening to The Naval Treaty. Of course, currently he only makes life difficult for those who have tormented others.
    Watson: [Percy] was, I remember, extremely well connected, and even when we were all little boys together we knew that his mother's brother was Lord Holdhurst, the great conservative politician. This gaudy relationship did him little good at school. On the contrary, it seemed rather a piquant thing to us to chevy him about the playground and hit him over the shins with a wicket.
  • Serial Spouse: If you take all the dates in the stories literally, Watson is either this or a serial widower.
  • Shipper on Deck: Of Holmes and Violet Hunter in "The Copper Beeches".
  • The Stoic: Mary seems to have died sometime between Holmes's disappearance and return. Watson doesn't talk about it and Holmes doesn't press the issue, implying that he probably maintained a stiff upper lip despite his loss.
  • Supporting Protagonist: Sort of; the stories are told from Watson's point of view, but they focus on Holmes' adventures.
  • Undying Loyalty: Would follow Holmes anywhere and do anything Holmes asks of him, no matter how crazy, dangerous or illegal. Despite Holmes' frequent dishonesty and manipulative behavior, Watson always trusts that he knows what he's doing and that it's best to go along with his plans, however little he understands them.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Holmes sometimes accuses Watson of being this; adaptations occasionally toy with this aspect of the Holmes legend.
  • The Watson: The Trope Namer.

    Inspector Lestrade 
A Scotland Yard detective who often comes to Holmes for help — not that he would admit it. Holmes regards him as competent, but unimaginative.
  • Flanderization: Lestrade is quite subdued when placed alongside Holmes' quick wit, but the Universal films in the 1940s turned him into The Ditz. This was ironically inverted as time went on, since in The Hound Of The Baskervilles Holmes declares him to be "the very best of the professionals." In "The Cardboard Box", Holmes also praises Lestrade's tenacity, which is what enabled him to come as far as he has at the Yard.
  • Fake Ultimate Hero: Takes the credit for many of Holmes's successes and gets glowing reviews in the press — Holmes doesn't hold it against him in fact he encourages it.
  • Inspector Lestrade: Well, um, yes. He's not the only official detective who appears in the stories to act as the less-observant foil to Holmes, but he is probably the most iconic. Holmes himself views Lestrade as one of the better examples of the official force that he tends to interact with.
  • Nice Hat: His standard is a black bowler.
  • The Rival:
    • Tries to be this to Holmes, but is ultimately too slow to pull it off. He grows out of it.
    • Has this with Inspector Gregson as well.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: In the beginning his relationship with Holmes was rocky. He went to him for help, but resented that the amateur was the better man, but it developed into one of respect.

    Irene Adler 
A retired opera singer, who did what no criminal in Watson's chronicles could do — best Holmes.
  • Breakout Character: One of the most famous of Holmes's opponents despite appearing in only a single story.
  • Elegant Classical Musician: Opera singer
  • Flanderization: Treated as a Femme Fatale in a Dating Catwoman relationship with Holmes in just about every appearance except her canonical one, where she loves someone else and her only "crime" is legally possessing a photograph an ex-boyfriend fears she will use to blackmail him (which she never does).
  • Hero Antagonist: She hasn't actually done anything wrong in "A Scandal in Bohemia" other than possessing a photograph that the King of Bohemia would rather she did not (and it's notable that he only fears that she will use it against him; there is no suggestion that she actually has). Furthermore, her final letter makes it clear that she's only hanging onto it for insurance to stop being hassled by him and his goons. Even Holmes and Watson, who agree to help the King get it back, are inclined to view the King as being the bigger Jerkass in the whole situation — Holmes himself only took the job for the money and the challenge.
  • Promotion To Love Interest: Post-canon incarnations have made her a Love Interest for Holmes.
  • Worthy Opponent: To Holmes. The only woman to outfox him and get away with it.

    Mycroft Holmes 
Sherlock's older brother, who works for the British Government in some unnamed capacity, but is never-the-less indispensable.
  • Almighty Janitor: He's indispensable and influential despite his low position, to the point where his analyses can determine government policy to such a degree that Sherlock has claimed that on occasion, Mycroft is the British Government.
  • Always Someone Better: Zigzagged. Mycroft is indisputably better than Sherlock when it comes to analytical skill. On the other hand, Sherlock outdoes Mycroft when it comes to determining how to tactically approach a case. When the title character of "The Greek Interpreter" asks Mycroft to help him with a case, Mycroft's first act is to put an ad in the newspapers asking for the number of the cab that picked the interpreter up. All this does is make the criminals realize that the Greek interpreter ratted them out. Holmes himself points out that while he'll cheerfully admit that Mycroft has him beat on sheer intelligence and analytical ability, Mycroft's indolence and rigidity mean that he's a very poor detective compared to Holmes.
  • Breakout Character: Only appears in two of the original stories and is mentioned in two more, but is one of the most popular characters to appear in adaptations and pastiches.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Even Holmes admits that Mycroft is better in observation and reasoning than himself, but says that he would not make a good detective since he lacks the energy and ambition to apply these skills as anything more than a hobby for his amusement.
  • Celibate Eccentric Genius: He appears to be unmarried, and if anything is even more unsociable than Sherlock, so it's likely he also has this in common with his brother. He is one of the co-founders of the Diogenes Club, which forbids members to talk or even acknowledge one another's presence while they're on the premises.
  • Creature of Habit: Outside of emergencies, he spends his entire life in three places: his office in Whitehall, his lodgings in Pall Mall (within easy walking distance of Whitehall), and the Diogenes Club (which is across the street from his flat). He sticks to that routine so much that a deviation from it is likened to a tram going off the rails and making its way down a country lane.
  • Ditzy Genius: Puts lives at risk in "The Greek Interpreter".
  • Geek Physiques: Of the portly variety
  • Good with Numbers: Has 'an extraordinary faculty for figures" and his cover story is being a government auditor.
  • Gray Eyes: Just like his brother.
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    Professor James Moriarty 
A criminal mastermind and Holmes' most famous nemesis.
  • Affably Evil: He politely waits for Holmes to write a farewell note to Watson before the final showdown.
  • Always Someone Better: He's almost as good as Holmes, but not quite. For all Moriarty's skill, Holmes remarks that there are limits to his intelligence. At some point, he made a very small, but ultimately fatal, error that allowed Holmes to bring down his entire empire.
  • Animal Motifs: Holmes describes the "reptilian" way that Moriarity moves his head. He also compares Moriarty to a giant, malevolent spider, sitting at the centre of a web of crime, aware of even the slightest touch on its threads.
  • Arch-Enemy: For Holmes, whom spent years trying to take down the professor .... and nearly got killed in the process.
  • Badass Bookworm: According to Holmes, Moriarty's book The Dynamics Of An Asteroid ascends to such high levels of mathematics that it almost boggles the mind.
  • Badass Grandpa: Generally depicted to be older than Holmes, but no less dangerous for all that.
  • Bad Boss: Despite his Benevolent Boss tendencies described below, The Valley of Fear establishes that Moriarty practices strict discipline with his employees and has only one punishment in his code for traitors: death.
  • Benevolent Boss: He seems to be one; Holmes mentions that if an agent of his is caught, money will be found in Moriarty's organization for that individual's freedom or defense; suggesting at least an occasional aversion of You Have Failed Me. He pays Moran an exorbitant salary for his skills, and Holmes talks about three former members of his gang who will stop at nothing to revenge themselves on him after Moriarty's death.
  • Breakout Villain: Though only featured in one story and passively in another, Holmes' mention of his ominous reputation in later stories and adaptations of the character have made him a hallmark of the Evil Genius archetype.
    • Doyle himself must have recognized this, hence his later novel (The Valley of Fear) that features Moriarty as an antagonist (and he even beats Holmes in that one).
  • Character Tics: A 'curiously reptilian' way of moving his head.
  • The Chessmaster: Not for nothing is he called "the Napoleon of crime"
  • Dark and Troubled Past: He held a department chair at one of England's "smaller universities", but given him his intelligence he certainly had a brilliant career before him, except something happened — merely described as "dark rumors" that forced him to resign his position and he was reduced to being an army coach (a private tutor to prepare officers for exams) before he set up his criminal empire.
  • Determinator: A villainous example. Holmes described Moriarty as "inexorable" in chasing the detective across Europe, caring more about revenge than his life in his last rush at the detective.
  • Diabolical Mastermind: One of the earliest examples. He had nearly complete control over London's criminal underworld at the apex of his power.
  • Doing It for the Art (In-Universe): Like Holmes' motivation for investigations, Moriarty engages in criminality purely for intellectual stimulation as to alleviate boredom.
  • Evil Counterpart: To Holmes, he's the consulting criminal to the consulting detective.
  • Evil Genius: Credited by Holmes himself as "a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker." His scientific literature is peerless, and his genius in crime is what takes Holmes so long to catch him (and hard to escape him).
  • Evil Teacher: Was a mathematics professor until dark rumors forced him to resign. The nature of these rumors and how true these rumors were is unknown, but presumably, they were not pleasant and not entirely inaccurate.
  • Generic Doomsday Villain: Moriarty was created to kill off Holmes in "The Final Problem", but became much more popular as time went on.
  • Gray Eyes: Another attribute he shares with Holmes.
  • Lean and Mean: He is described as "extremely tall and thin" by the tall and thin Holmes himself.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Like Holmes, Moriarty dresses as a Victorian gentleman would be expected to.
  • Sneaky Spider: He is compared to a spider, just laying in wait for his plans to bear fruit.
    Holmes: [Moriarty] is the Napoleon of crime, Watson. He is the organizer of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in this great city, He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker. He has a brain of the first order. He sits motionless, like a spider in the center of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them. He does little himself. He only plans.
  • Suspicious Spending: At the time of "The Valley of Fear", the biggest piece of evidence that Holmes had against Moriarty was a painting in his office - that was worth more than the salary his university chair would earn him in a decade.
  • Villainous Friendship: Holmes describes Sebastian Moran in The Empty House as "the bosom friend" of Moriarty. Considering his obvious anger at the death of his boss, he's clearly right.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: He is a well-respected professor who to, all intents and purposes, seems like a humble, soft-spoken man. Only Holmes knows that Moriarty is a crime lord, but he can't prove it. And when Sherlock Holmes can't prove something, you know the bad guy is very good at what he does.
    • Sherlock is well aware of what Moriarty is capable of doing, and even warns Watson to be cautious at calling Moriarty a criminal in "The Valley of Fear":
    Sherlock: But in calling Moriarty a criminal you are uttering libel in the eyes of the law -— and there lie the glory and the wonder of it! The greatest schemer of all time, the organizer of every devilry, the controlling brain of the underworld, a brain which might have made or marred the destiny of nations -— that's the man! But so aloof is he from general suspicion, so immune from criticism, so admirable in his management and self-effacement, that for those very words that you have uttered he could hale you to a court and emerge with your year's pension as a solatium for his wounded character. Is he not the celebrated author of "The Dynamics of an Asteroid", a book which ascends to such rarefied heights of pure mathematics that it is said that there was no man in the scientific press capable of criticizing it? Is this a man to traduce? Foulmouthed doctor and slandered professor -— such would be your respective roles! That's genius, Watson.
  • Worthy Opponent: Holmes admits that "My horror at his crimes was lost in my admiration at his skill."

     Colonel Sebastian Moran 
A retired army officer and Moriarty's right-hand man. He managed to avoid justice ... initially.
  • Animal Motifs: When the colonel is caught in "The Empty House", he's so furious Watson thinks the old tiger hunter looks like a tiger himself with his wild eyes and protruding mustache.
  • Badass Mustache: He has an impressive mustache, and in addition to being a veteran of the Second Anglo-Afghan War, he's a renowned tiger hunter and an expert sharpshooter. After his boss Moriarty, he is the most dangerous man in London.
  • Breakout Villain: Like his boss, he's a very popular bad guy who often gets a more prominent role in adaptations.
  • Card Sharp: After Moriarty's empire was dissolved, Moran made a living by cheating at cards around London's various gentlemen clubs. It worked just fine... until he was caught in the act and killed the young man who threatened to expose him unless he quit. Killing this said gentleman is what gave Holmes the opportunity to finally have him arrested.
  • Cold Sniper: His primary jobs for Moriarty were assassinations, which he carried out with the most deadly rife ever designed; an airgun that fired revolver bullets.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: He was a celebrated officer in the British India Army, but according to Holmes "even without any open scandal, he still made India too hot to hold him". So he retired and moved to London, where he was recruited by Moriarty.
  • The Dragon: To Moriarty. Holmes calls Moran the professor's chief of staff, and Moriarty enlisted him in two extremely demanding missions well beyond the abilities of ordinary crooks.
  • Dragon Their Feet: Moran spends three years trying to get revenge on Holmes for killing Moriarty.
  • Egomaniac Hunter: His record for tigers bagged goes unrivaled.
  • Evil Counterpart: To Dr. Watson. Watson is the closest friend and assistant of Sherlock Holmes, while Colonel Moran is the reliable chief of staff for Professor Moriarty's criminal empire. Both men took part in the Second Anglo-Afghan War before first meeting their friend/employer. Watson is a medical doctor and also helps people by assisting Holmes in his adventures, while Moran assists Moriarty as an assassin.
  • Karma Houdini: Possibly. The penalty for murder in Victorian England was the hangman's noose but in The Illustrious Client, Holmes refers to him as "the living Colonel Sebastian Moran". So either he was somehow given a life sentence instead of the death penalty or never went to prison at all.
  • Sniper Rifle: Moriarty gave him a special air gun that was designed to be as quiet as possible and fire soft-nosed revolver bullets.
  • Undying Loyalty: To Moriarty, to the point that Holmes faked his death for three years, knowing that if Moran ever found him, he'd be killed as vengeance for his friend.
  • Villainous Friendship: With Moriarty, as a kind of dark reflection of the close bond between Holmes and Watson.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: So much so that even when Moriarty's gang was rounded up, Moran was never implicated.

    Charles Augustus Milverton 
A hated blackmailer, whom gets under Holmes' skin in a way that no other criminal can.

  • Acrofatic: Watson's narration describes him as "quick as a rat" when he feels the need to move.
  • Animal Motifs: Holmes compares Milverton to one of the particularly loathsome snakes at the zoo that just stares at you, revolting you with everything from their creepy stare to their cold, slithering manner.
  • Antagonist Title: The only villain in the Holmes canon to have his story named after him; other titles at most allude to them. Even Moriarty never got that honour.
  • Asshole Victim: He is shot by an unidentified woman near the end of the story, another victim of his blackmail schemes. One fan theory is that Holmes himself is the one who shot Milverton and Watson made the woman up to protect his friend. (The official story is that the woman in question was the wife of a well-regarded nobleman and statesman before her husband was ruined by Milverton. Watson recognizes her photograph and reads the name and title of her husband, but never divulges exactly who it was.)
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Downplayed. Defeating him seems so hopeless that Holmes hasn't even been hired to stop him — he was hired to negotiate the best possible terms, and even in that, he fails utterly. Holmes, for perhaps the first time in his career, has to go to highly unethical and outright illegal means to win, and even that only involves stealing back the incriminating letters, not actually trying to bring Milverton down.
  • Blackmail Backfire: While one specific act of blackmail did ruin the intended target, it also brought about his demise when the target's wife sought revenge.
  • The Dreaded:
    Everything that is in the market goes to Milverton, and there are hundreds in this great city who would turn white at his name.
  • Evil Genius: Holmes concedes that Milverton is far too crafty to be caught by legal means (even saying he is "as cunning as the Evil One"). He can hold onto an incriminating document for years because he is patient enough to wait for the time it can cause maximum damage to profit from it and has destroyed prominent families with only a few lines on a note.
  • Evil Virtues: Holmes — without even the feeling he had for Professor Moriarty as a Worthy Opponent — credits him with not only genius but being more dangerous by how patient he can be.
  • Famous Last Words: ”You’ve done me”.
  • Faux Affably Evil: While he's quite polite and jovial in his meeting with Holmes and Watson, he is also clearly enjoying how repulsive Holmes finds him and how little they can do to stop him. He tells them that he doesn't care if the client Holmes works for would be financially ruined if she paid him the money he is asking for, and remarks before leaving that he has two other "interviews" to get to and is blackmailing several other victims simultaneously.
  • Four Eyes, Zero Soul: Wears "broad, gold-rimmed glasses" behind which are the "hard glitter of those restless and penetrating eyes".
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: When Holmes and Watson break into his house they nearly run into him and watch as he is smoking a long black cigar whilst reading yet another blackmail document at his leisure.
  • Hate Sink: In-Universe, Holmes hates him more than any of the criminals he's faced. He respected Moriarty, but Milverton repulses him.
  • Jerkass: The "King of Blackmailers" who comes into possession of sensitive letters and information by encouraging housemaids and servants to rob their employers or even criminals to flat out burgle or mug people in return for payment. He shows zero remorse and even takes sadistic delight in threatening and ruining the lives of vulnerable men and women and is indifferent to whether they can afford to actually pay him or not, reasoning that he can at least make an example out of them to encourage future "clients" to pay up. Holmes calls him "the worst man in London" and remarks that he finds him more disgusting than any of the fifty murderers he had dealt with in his career (which presumably includes Moriarty).
  • No-Nonsense Nemesis: Supreme Smug Snake or not, Milverton's no fool — when Holmes and Watson get desperate enough to just brute-force him into submission, he immediately pulls a gun and keeps his distance, while remarking that they are fools for thinking he would actually walk into their flat with the incriminating documents on his person.
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: Holmes remarks that just the sight of Milverton repulses him, reminding him of looking at snakes at the zoo.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: A disguised Holmes gets himself engaged to Milverton's housemaid in order to break into his house.
  • Smug Snake: While he genuinely is very clever, he's also too full of himself for his own good, and his dialogue is positively dripping with condescension.

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