Prof. Stephen Alton, of the Texas Wesleyan University School of Law, recently published The Game is Afoot!: The Significance of Gratuitous Transfers in the Sherlock Holmes Canon. If you’ve ever enjoyed any of the Sherlock Holmes stories, and you happen to be a trusts and estates lawyer, you’ll want to read this essay. Prof. Alton writes “in character” from the point of view of Dr. Watson, and does a great job of weaving some pretty complex T&E legal issues into a good piece of story telling. Well worth reading. Here’s an excerpt:
“You are correct, Watson,” replied Holmes, reading my thoughts. “My knowledge of British law—in particular, that of estates of deceased persons, trusts, and possessory estates in land and future interests—has proven most useful on many occasions in our adventures. Indeed, I pursued a number of courses in the law during my years at the university, and I found the field of gratuitous transfers to be one for plowing.”
I did not pause to ask Holmes how he had read my mind. Instead, I continued my part of the conversation—this time, aloud. “Your most celebrated case in which such knowledge proved more than useful—it proved decisive—was The Hound of the Baskervilles.”
“Quite so, Watson. As you will recall, Sir Henry Baskerville was not the last of the Baskerville line. In point of fact, he merely was the penultimate heir to the family title and fortune. Therein lay both the motive for, and the solution to, the mystery.
. . . . .
“My first clue in the chain of inferences that led to the solution of the Baskerville mystery was that Sir Charles, who himself had never married and was indeed childless, had died testate; the baronet’s will left almost all of his quite considerable estate to our friend Sir Henry Baskerville, the son of Sir Charles’s late younger brother who had borne the same name.
. . . . .
However, the main portion of Sir Charles’s estate was the residue, which amounted to almost three quarters of a million pounds and which was left in its entirety to Sir Henry. At the time, I commented that that this vast sum was “a stake for which a man might well play a desperate game.”
. . . . .
“Watson, you would hardly call me naïf in matters of human nature. Instantly, I saw the grave temptation to murder. . . . I began my investigation with the working hypothesis that the man who might profit from the death of both Sir Charles and Sir Henry was behind the reappearance of the family’s cursed hound . . . “