“Draw your chair up, and hand me my violin, for the only problem which we have still to solve is how to while away these bleak autumnal evenings.”
This was a fun book to dip in and out of all month. I’m glad I did it the way I did. I think otherwise it might have been easy to grow tired of Holmes and his Watson. The stories are short and a bit slight, so they make excellent little auditory treats every couple of days or so (I’ve been listening to the Stephen Fry audiobook) in between larger offerings. Some stories I of course enjoyed more than others.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes collects the first twelve Sherlock Holmes stories, originally published in The Strand magazine throughout 1891-1892. The first story in the collection, “A Scandal in Bohemia,” is the story that made Holmes and his creator a household name. The first two Holmes novels never made much of a public stir, but in short story format, contemporary readers ate that shit up.
I hadn’t read any of the stories in this one before, though I knew the premises of a couple, and had been spoiled for several as well, either by TV or movie adaptations, or as in the case of “The Red-Headed League,” by this one fanfic I read one time. (I’m sure this will continue to happen as I make my way through the rest of the stories. I’ve read a LOT of Sherlock Holmes fanfic, and I have not by any means been discriminatory about it.)
All of the stories here were enjoyable, but I enjoyed some more than others. The only two stories that come close to being stinkers are “A Case of Identity,” because Holmes is a patronizing shit to his female client in that one, and withholds the solution to the mystery she paid him for, the outcome of which will significantly affect the rest of her life; and “The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb,” simply because Holmes doesn’t actually do anything in that one. He’s just along for the ride. Side note: Okay, now I’m remembering how rankled I was at the end of “A Case of Identity,” and now I’m becoming even more angry about it. It’s just not professional, Holmes! Oh, wait. Wikipedia is informing me that I’m not the only who is upset about this. Warning, spoilers:
“Much as I admire Sherlock Holmes, I am always seized with impotent fury at reading the end of ‘A Case of Identity’. What a patronizing arrogance, to decide for her whether or not she could stand hearing the truth! Anyway, he was manifestly unethical to his client. She engaged him to find Hosmer Angel. He found Hosmer Angel. He should have given his client the information she wanted and let her decide what to do with it. … Anyway, what is this nonsense about the villain being beyond reach of the law? In British law of that time, a man could be sued for breach of promise. Even a bachelor who proposed to a woman with complete sincerity and then changed his mind could be sued. All the more so a married man who went through an elaborate charade and fallaciously courted his own daughter in law! Any half-decent lawyer could have broken him in court. Of course, the young woman might have chosen not to sue him – but Holmes should have left the choice to her. For me, this story is a dark blot on the otherwise admirable career of Sherlock Holmes.” —Margaret Brown
My favorites here, by quite a large margin, are “The Man with the Twisted Lip” and “The Adventure of the Speckled Band.” Both of them set the atmosphere so well, of creepiness and mystery, and both of them have solutions that are far from obvious, so they’re greatly satisfying when you finally get the reveal from Holmes. I would probably put “The Red-Headed League” in the same category, except as mentioned previously, I already knew what was really going on, so the fun in reading that one was more in seeing how it played in its original format, rather than the way it played out in the contemporized version I read, which was written as if the BBC’s Sherlock and John were hired to solve it in like, 2011 or something. (Tried looking up the specific fic so I could link it here, but couldn’t find it. Alas and alack.)
But even in the stories I didn’t enjoy as much, you’ve still got Holmes and his lofty intelligence combined with Watson’s deprecating nature. They play off each other so well, and it’s cute to see Watson’s descriptions change depending on how he’s feeling about Holmes at the time. He can be quite biting towards his friend, and he isn’t afraid to ding him when he feels he’s wrong, or being ridiculous. But he is also incredibly fond of Holmes. Conan Doyle’s prose just drips with affection between the two friends. That Holmes, who is supposedly so cold and logical, “the most perfect reasoning and observing machine,” is the same man who plays his friend to sleep with his violin, is just so perfectly lovely.
Tackling The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes in June. I think the only one I know about in that one is the infamous “The Final Problem,” so hopefully some good ones in store.