Sherlock Holmes is a fictional detective created by author and physician Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A London-based “consulting detective” whose abilities border on the fantastic, Holmes is famous for his astute logical reasoning, his ability to adopt almost any disguise, and his use of forensic science skills to solve difficult cases.
Holmes, who first appeared in publication in 1887, was featured in four novels and 56 short stories. The first novel, A Study in Scarlet, appeared in Beeton’s Christmas Annual in 1887 and the second, The Sign of the Four, in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine in 1890. The character grew tremendously in popularity with the first series of short stories in The Strand Magazine, beginning with A Scandal in Bohemia in 1891; further series of short stories and two novels published in serial form appeared between then and 1927. The stories cover a period from around 1880 up to 1914.
All but four stories are narrated by Holmes’s friend and biographer, Dr. John H. Watson; two are narrated by Holmes himself (“The Blanched Soldier” and “The Lion’s Mane”) and two others are written in the third person (“The Mazarin Stone” and “His Last Bow”). In two stories (“The Musgrave Ritual” and “The Gloria Scott“), Holmes tells Watson the main story from his memories, while Watson becomes the narrator of the frame story. The first and fourth novels, A Study in Scarlet and The Valley of Fear, each include a long interval of omniscient narration recounting events unknown to either Holmes or Watson.
Wilson (Stamp), recently released from a British prison, travels to Los Angeles to investigate the death of his daughter Jenny, who is reported to have died in a car accident. While adjusting to the United States, he finds allies in Jenny’s friends Eduardo (Guzmán) and Elaine (Warren) and comes up with a suspect: Jenny’s boyfriend Terry Valentine (Fonda), a record producer. Valentine has connections with drug trafficking through his security consultant Avery (Newman). After locating the warehouse of the drug importer with whom Avery had done business, Wilson is overpowered and beaten by the drug trafficker’s thugs, who also insult his daughter’s name. After he is thrown out, Wilson retrieves a back-up pistol, goes back and kills all but one of the employees, shouting at the last to “Tell him I’m coming!” The employee relays this threat to Avery who reports it to Valentine.
Wilson reminisces with Elaine and Eduardo about his past relationship with his daughter, whom he only remembers as a child. As he recalls, Jenny always threatened to call the police when she found her father had committed crimes. He states she did not because she truly loved him. His criminal life put strain on his wife and child, but they never left him. He ended up in prison after the thieves he was associated with confessed to his involvement in their crimes.
Wilson and Eduardo infiltrate a party at Valentine’s house, where Wilson searches for evidence. He finds and steals a picture of Jenny. Attracting suspicion from Avery, Wilson is accosted by a guard, who Wilson then throws over a ledge, killing him. Wilson and Eduardo flee, and are chased by Avery who shoots at them with a shotgun. Wilson rams Avery’s car into a ditch and he and Eduardo escape, but not before Eduardo makes the mistake of calling out Wilson’s name within Avery’s hearing. Afterward, Avery hires a hit-man named Stacy (Katt), who tracks down Wilson and Elaine. DEA agents prevent the attempted killing, and escort Wilson and Elaine to meet a DEA agent who is investigating Valentine. After the meeting it is clear the agent will not interfere with Wilson. Stacy and his partner then plot a double cross on Avery and Valentine.
Avery moves Valentine and his girlfriend to a safe house in Big Sur, with Wilson following them. That night, Avery’s guards shoot an intruder, who is revealed to be Stacy. Avery and the guards engage in a shootout with Stacy’s partner, resulting in several deaths. Valentine flees to the beach with Wilson in pursuit. After he falls and breaks his ankle on the rocks, Valentine admits that Jenny found out about his drug business and threatened to call the police. Attempting to restrain her, he accidentally broke her neck. Avery then staged her death as a car accident. Wilson is haunted, knowing that Jenny would not have turned him in. Wilson decides to return to London, saying goodbye to Elaine and Eduardo.
The narrative structure of the film is presented in disjointed flashbacks by Wilson during the plane trip home.