Why does the case of the "Red-Headed League" interest Holmes?
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Early in that story, Holmes remarks to Watson "“You will remember that I remarked the other day, just before we went into the very simple problem presented by Miss Mary Sutherland, that for strange effects and extraordinary combinations we must go to life itself, which is always far more daring than any effort of the imagination.”
When he's presented with the actual announcement that led Wilson into the adventure, we're told "Holmes chuckled and wriggled in his chair, as was his habit when in high spirits. “It is a little off the beaten track, isn't it?” "
This is evidence that Holmes loves the strange, the odd, the bizarre, and the apparently irrational; he takes pride in showing the rational and logical reasons behind the absurd.
Sherlock Holmes made a lot of money from some of his cases, and therefore he was in a position to lead an enviable life of luxury and to accept only clients whose personalities or problems interested him. Often he would work on what lawyers call a pro bono publico basis, meaning they were expending their time and effort "for the public good" and not getting paid. Holmes always seemed deeply concerned about the security of his country. He felt there was a perpetual war of good against evil and that it was his duty to do what he could to protect the innocent against the hordes of wrongdoers who threatened civilization.
When Jabez Wilson comes to him with his petty complaint, it is obvious that there is little money involved. Wilson only earned a total of thirty-two pounds, and he is obviously looking for a pro bono relationship with Sherlock Holmes, since he is unlikely to want to part with any of those thirty-two pounds. Holmes takes the case because it is unusual and also because he is already suspecting that there is something serious behind it. As is often the case, he draws on his wide experience with crime and criminals to speculate whether John Clay might be the assistant willing to work for half wages. In a later story the reader will learn that the notorious Dr. Moriarty was himself deeply involved in the attempt to steal the French gold and that John Clay was only working for him.
Other stories in which Holmes is working on a pro bono basis are the one about the Six Napoleons, the one about the Speckled Band, and the one about the Solitary Cyclist. He frequently complains that he needs constant challenges to his analytical powers to keep him from becoming bored and depressed. His reputation as a great detective and also a humanitarian often attracts humble clients who could hardly afford to pay the fees to which a consultant of his stature is entitled.
Holmes is extremely interested in "all that is bizarre" or unusual. The nature of this case and its clues are definitely unique, so the interest of Holmes and Watson is peaked. Because this case is so unusual, Holmes finds it intriguing.
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