The major characters in Sherlock Holmes are so iconic that you may not have noticed how well-drawn the minor characters are.
My favorites include Jabez Wilson, the red-headed pawnbroker; Charles August Milverton, the worst man in London; Hugh Boone, the man with the twisted lip; Colonel Sebastian Moran, hunter of big game and of men; Baron Gruner, murderer and ruiner of women; Langdale Pike, purveyor of gossip to the trash newspapers and Holmes's source of social gossip late in his career; and Shinwell Johnson, a retired criminal turned informer.
Consider Jabez Wilson. His only role in the story is to present the problem to Holmes. Once he does this, he is gone and we never see him again. But Dr. Watson’s description of him is almost unforgettable:
The portly client puffed out his chest with an appearance of some little pride and pulled a dirty and wrinkled newspaper from the inside pocket of his greatcoat. As he glanced down the advertisement column, with his head thrust forward and the paper flattened out upon his knee, I took a good look at the man and endeavoured, after the fashion of my companion, to read the indications which might be presented by his dress or appearance.
I did not gain very much, however, by my inspection. Our visitor bore every mark of being an average commonplace British tradesman, obese, pompous, and slow. He wore rather baggy grey shepherd’s check trousers, a not over-clean black frock-coat, unbuttoned in the front, and a drab waistcoat with a heavy brassy Albert chain, and a square pierced bit of metal dangling down as an ornament. A frayed top-hat and a faded brown overcoat with a wrinkled velvet collar lay upon a chair beside him. Altogether, look as I would, there was nothing remarkable about the man save his blazing red head, and the expression of extreme chagrin and discontent upon his features.
This description is more static than is common today, but it works well. When we visited the Sherlock Holmes Museum in 2012, my friend looked at the rather lean wax figure that was supposed to represent Jabez Wilson and commented, “not exactly obese, pompous, and slow!”
Like numerous pastiche writers, I found the characters of Langdale Pike and Shinwell Johnson too enticing to ignore. My co-author, Kieran McMullen, and I put them to work in The Amateur Executioner. We used Pike again in The Poisoned Penman. But - alas - that will be the last time for us. He has the title role, and the poison was fatal.
Who is your favorite minor character in the Canon?