Crimes. Clues. Adventures. The most famous sleuth of all time is back...now with an introduction by Eoin Colfer A colonel receives five seeds in the mail--and dies within weeks. A young bride disappears immediately after her wedding. An old hat and a Christmas goose are the only clues to a stolen jewel. A son is accused of his father's murder. These mysteries--and many more--are brought to the house on Baker Street where detective Sherlock Holmes resides. No case is too tricky for the world's most famous sleuth and his incredible powers of deduction.
This little “series of tales” was my introduction to Sherlock Holmes; intriguing little stories with odd cases to solve, none of which was beyond Holmes’s logical mind. I thoroughly enjoyed every one of them. It was fun to follow along and listen to ‘Watson’s interpretation’ of his thinking.
(Spoiler alert: these plot summaries are to help remember which story is which.)
A Scandal in Bohemia - Holmes is asked to recover a photograph. Not much detective work here.
The Red-Headed League - Holmes is asked to look into an odd situation, and discovers a crime is being planned
A Case of Identity - A girl asks Holmes to find her missing suitor. He knows the answer immediately.
The Boscombe Valley Mystery - basic murder mystery, with an Australian connection.
The Five Orange Pips - a noir, featuring the KKK. No real detection.
The Man with the Twisted Lip - Holmes finds a missing husband.
The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle - a diamond disappears, then reappears unexpectedly. Holmes tracks its path, just for fun.
The Adventure of the Speckled Band - a lady fears she is marked for death.
The Adventure of The Engineer's Thumb - no detection, just a 'guest' narrative.
The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor - Holmes finds a runaway bride.
The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet - Holmes finds some missing jewels.
The Adventure of the Copper Beeches - a woman's misgivings lead Holmes to a lady kept prisoner.
And it surprised me by being not half bad - much better than the Maltese Falcon, despite breaking the age record by another forty years. I'm actually formulating a theory about that; my edition of the Maltese Falcon was published in the 70s, while my edition of this was published in the 90s. Every book published in the 70s has a very small and irritating font, leading me to subconsciously dislike it.
I like the characters. They are the kind of men whom you can really picture smoking pipes and speaking to each other in verbose, quick sentences in their upper-class British accents, which appeals greatly to me for reasons I'm unsure of. There's just something loveably hilarious about those kind of people, who don't really exist anymore. The plot, as with any anthology of short stories, is sometimes good and sometimes dull. The mysteries are usually fairly interesting, and certainly paint an accurate sketch of London society in the late 19th century. I was also pleased to find that I solved some of them before they were over. It does occasionally require some suspension of disbelief, usually about Holmes' observational skills. Part of this is the abundance of clues themselves, which reminded me of Terry Pratchett's quote that "the footprints in the flowerbed were probably, in the real world, left by the window cleaner."
The other thing that irritated me was that people were constantly amazed by Holmes' skill, even Watson, who after twenty years of friendship with the detective really should have grown used to it. Worse are his Scotland Yard colleagues, who scoff at his "fanciful" solutions and insist that their solution to the crime is the correct one. In the space of a few stories it was quite easy for me to see that Sherlock Holmes is the Jack Bauer of the Victorian era: he is never, ever wrong, and if you want to solve a problem, just step aside and let him do his thing. Everyone he deals with fails to grasp such an obvious fact despite it being repeatedly shoved in their faces, and if this was typical of people at the time, then I guess I can see why the British Empire fell apart.
Fun fact: Sherlock Holmes was addicted to crack!
It's possible for the reader who attends to the details to figure out the solution to many of these cases, generally at least, if not in all the details. The stories in this volume are just the right length to be suspenseful without being stale. It is easy to see why these detective stories have withstood the test of time.
The only story that was substandard for me was “The Blue Carbuncle,” in which the plot was too fantastic to be believed. But even that story is full of the late Victorian atmosphere and Holmes at his best.
We tend to forget how much mystery stories and novels owe to Conan Doyle. His ideas and plots are being used even today as inspiration for authors.
If you long for gas-lit London, hansom cabs, fog, and excellent detecting, try this volume, either for the first or fifth time. You’ll be glad you did.
I was not disappointed in the slightest. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is a fabulous collection filled with suspense, suspicion, and supposition to the truest form and, in my opinion, been the inspiration for not only CSI but most characters and situations permeating our culture.
Sherlock Holmes is, far and away, my favorite all-time literary character and I never get tired of reading him; Watson... ok, if I read too many stories in a row I want to throttle Watson because surely he can't be that obtuse all the time? But he's a big teddy bear and someone needs to play the straight man to Holmes' brilliance.
To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex. It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen, but as a lover he would have placed himself in a false position. He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer. They were admirable things for the observer—excellent for drawing the veil from men’s motives and actions. But for the trained reasoner to admit such intrusions into his own delicate and finely adjusted temperament was to introduce a distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all his mental results. Grit in a sensitive instrument, or a crack in one of his own high-power lenses, would not be more disturbing than a strong emotion in a nature such as his. And yet there was but one woman to him, and that woman was the late Irene Adler, of dubious and questionable memory.
Many of the adventures take place after Dr. Watson has married Miss Morstan, taken up his own residence, and returned to civil practice. Meanwhile, Holmes spends his time "buried among his old books, and alternating from week to week between cocaine and ambition, the drowsiness of the drug, and the fierce energy of his own keen nature."
These adventures may seem pale compared to today’s often bloody and grisly murder mysteries. Many of the cases seem rather mundane at first glance, although as Holmes points out in this conversation, the blandest-appearing mysteries often turn out to be the most complex:
“It seems, from what I gather, to be one of those simply cases which are so extremely difficult.” [Holmes]
“That sounds a little paradoxical.”
“But it is profoundly true. Singularity is almost invariably a clue. The more featureless and commonplace a crime is, the most difficult it is to bring it home.”
While it was only beginning to be alluded to in earlier two books, we see Holmes here as the master of disguise. We also learn some more about Holmes’s methods from his lips (“It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.” and "I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.") as well as from Watson's observations of Holmes's work ("there was something in his masterly grasp of a situation, and his keen, incisive reasoning, which made it a pleasure to me to study his system of work, and to follow the quick, subtle methods by which he disentangled the most inextricable mysteries.")
When Doyle finishes the collection with “The Adventure of the Copper Benches,” he begins that story with a reflection again on his own writing, vis-à-vis a conversation between Holmes and Watson:
To the man who loves art for its own sake,” remarked Sherlock Holmes, tossing aside the advertisement sheet of the Daily Telegraph, “it is frequently in its least important and lowliest manifestations that the keenest pleasure is to be derived. It is pleasant to me to observe, Watson, that you have so far grasped this truth that in these little records of our cases which you have been good enough to draw up, and, I am bound to say, occasionally to embellish, you have given prominence not so much to the many causes célèbres and sensational trials in which I have figured but rather to those incidents which may have been trivial in themselves, but which have given room for those faculties of deduction and of logical synthesis which I have made my special province.”
“And yet,” said I, smiling, “I cannot quite hold myself absolved from the charge of sensationalism which has been urged against my records.”
“You have erred, perhaps,” he observed, taking up a glowing cinder with the tongs and lighting with it the long cherry-wood pipe which was wont to replace his clay when he was in a disputatious rather than a meditative mood—“you have erred perhaps in attempting to put colour and life into each of your statements instead of confining yourself to the task of placing upon record that severe reasoning from cause to effect which is really the only notable feature about the thing.”
… “At the same time,” he remarked after a pause, during which he had sat puffing at his long pipe and gazing down into the fire, “you can hardly be open to a charge of sensationalism, for out of these cases which you have been so kind as to interest yourself in, a fair proportion do not treat of crime, in its legal sense, at all. The small matter in which I endeavoured to help the King of Bohemia, the singular experience of Miss Mary Sutherland, the problem connected with the man with the twisted lip, and the incident of the noble bachelor, were all matters which are outside the pale of the law. But in avoiding the sensational, I fear that you may have bordered on the trivial.”
“The end may have been so,” I answered, “but the methods I hold to have been novel and of interest.”
All in all, this is indeed a work “of interest” despite its perhaps “trivial” mysteries. (Although I would argue that the mysteries are not trivial but rather interesting brain teasers for the armchair sleuth.) One thing I enjoyed about this book being a collection of short stories rather than a novel was that I could take my time and stretch out the enjoyment of this book by reading only a story or two at a time and then pausing to read something else before coming back to enjoy some more Holmes with another round or two. This is definitely a must-read for any Sherlock Holmes fan as well as a good introduction to the world-famous detective for others.
Doyle has an excellent turn for description; "All day the wind had screamed and the rain had beaten against the windows, so that even here in the heart of great, hand-made London we were forced to raise our minds for the instant from the routine of life and to recognise the presence of those great elemental forces which shriek at mankind through the bars of his civilisation, like untamed beasts in a cage."
Some of my favorites in this collection are The Adventure of the Red-Headed League (hilarious!), The Adventure of the Speckled Band, The Adventure of the Copper Beeches and The Boscombe Valley Mystery, which are all rife with an intriguing mystery and dramatic intent. We see the extent to which Holmes has come to depend on Watson, as well, and are introduced to more of the man's peculiar habits - cocaine, bending steel pokers, and loitering in opium dens which makes for a hilarious opening sequence (even in a rather lackluster story).
I must say that I have had some mixed opinions about the book. The fact that it, like many of the Sherlock Holmes stories, are told from the point of view of Watson instead of from the third person perspective diminishes the book to some degree. The author in essence took the easy way out of telling detective stories from the point of view from someone who doesn't know about solving mysteries--in other words, the author--Sir Conan Doyle--apparently did not know about what he was writing about. Mysteries were being solved sometimes as quickly as he was being given the facts--and there were quite a few facts that the reader is never given but yet what Sherlock Holmes apparently "knew."
I'm someone who likes to try to solve the mystery along the way as I'm reading, and with most of the stories, that just isn't possible. With the exception of the last story in the book, which I would have to say is my favorite, which can be solved easily by reading it. Maybe that means it's too predictable or the plot has been overdone many times throughout the years, I don't know.
In these stories, you will find the story of the women who was able to defeat Sherlock Holmes, the mention of his drug addiction, as well as his axom of "once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, most be the truth."
The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle (Steals the jewel then loses it. Good.)
The Adventure of the Copper Beeches (Hired to impersonate, daughter because she's locked up.)
The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb (Not really a mystery. Just a tale. Bad guys got away too.)
The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor (Bride finds outher old husband is alive and disappears.)
The Boscombe Valley Mystery (Average, Holmes style mystery with killer who is not really a bad guy.)
The Five Orange Pips (Way to short. Cool that the KKK guys died but Holmes didn't get a chance to punish them.)
The Red-headed League (Too short but the red-headed league was very original.)