In the 2011 Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,

Moriarty and Irene Adler have an brief conversation in a restaurant. After the exchange, she passes out before exiting. Later in the film, Moriarty converses with Sherlock Holmes and tells him that Irene contracted "a deadly form of tuberculosis" and presents him with a bloodied handkerchief, seemingly as proof to the claim that she is dead.

Holmes accepts the information with little doubt and then the subject is dropped entirely for the rest of the movie. My question is: why would Sherlock Holmes take his enemy at his word? Why wouldn't he investigate these claims to make sure Moriarty wasn't bluffing? Considering his relationship with Irene Adler, I thought more time would have been spent developing this plot element.

  • I believe the official term you're looking for is "British Stiff Upper Lip"
    – DVK
    Jan 11, 2012 at 15:37
  • 1
    The thing that gets me is Holmes sniffed Irene's hankerchief. If she actually had tuberculosis, would that not make the hankerchief "contagious"? Since Holmes is not shown having tuberculosis, could this lead to her still being alive?
    – user1652
    Jul 9, 2012 at 4:34

3 Answers 3


The simplest answer is probably best. Holmes had already taken the measure of Moriarty and knew him to be cold-blooded, methodical, and ruthlessly efficient. Having traced his operations for a number of months, as well as the methods Professor Moriarty was willing to engage (the bomb in the crowded auction hall for instance, the assassination outside said auction hall) he knew that Moriarty would not have hesitated to have Ms. Adler removed from play, treating her as little more than a chess piece in his game to draw Holmes into the open.

Holmes was neither a sentimental man, nor a foolish one, and Professor Moriarty hoped to used Ms. Adler's demise as a means of putting Holmes off-balance. Do not mistake the stoicism displayed by Holmes as a sign of not caring. He cared deeply for Ms. Adler. But with Moriarty making the stakes as high as they were, Holmes could not allow his feelings to be clouded by emotion. Holmes had tried to warn Ms. Adler several times of the threat of Moriarty, and being a capable adventurer, she was certain she could handle herself. Likely, against any other threat, she would have been able to.

Holmes did not follow the lead, because there was no need to. Professor Moriarty did not bluff and was perfectly willing to kill anyone that stood between him and his goal. If her death upset Holmes, so much the better. Icing, nothing more.

  • Although everything you all say makes perfect sense with the way both Holmes and Moriarty were intended to be, if all this were exactly true, then why is it that the character of Irene Adler is rumored to be coming back in Sherlock Holmes 3? Jul 10, 2017 at 2:53

Flip the question around, you know how ruthless and efficient M is.

You know that Adler is in the firing line and is in extreme danger, you have warned her several times. You know if you were M you would kill her, you have half tried once with the bomb.

Why would M be lying about actually killing her?

  • This rather old answer is an extended comment really. Jul 2, 2018 at 19:39
  • Sherlock would Moriarty at his word because there is no reason not to and he has previously tried. Is that not an answer?
    – Stefan
    Jul 3, 2018 at 10:00
  • It is an answer, that's true @Stefan. I can't see that it adds anything to the earlier accepted answer, though, which is more detailed and more clearly argued. Jul 3, 2018 at 11:10

The threat against the Watsons meant Sherlock had no time

At the same meeting that Moriarty revealed his disposal of Irene Adler, he issued a direct threat against John and Mary Watson, which was carried out quickly - note the overwhelming force deployed in the train sequence. Sherlock safeguards Mary by placing her with Mycroft, and John by recruiting him for one final mission. Until Moriarty is conclusively defeated, the Watsons are in terrible and present danger. That cannot wait for Sherlock to investigate the fate of Irene Adler.

Sherlock seems to have accepted Irene's fate

In a quiet moment on the ferry, Sherlock inhales deeply from Irene's bloodstained handkerchief and then throws it overboard. His disinclination to retain possession of such a clue suggests that he has accepted that there is little he can do to help Irene Adler now.

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