While gathering my thoughts to start writing this review, I kept getting the feeling that this was my favorite of the Holmes story collections so far. With this feeling in mind, I moseyed on over to Goodreads to look at my status updates to try to collect evidence to back it up (I rate and do mini-reviews for every story), whereupon I found to my surprise that my reaction to most of the stories was just good, not great. It’s a solid story collection! However, only two out of the thirteen stories I liked enough to really remember and have fond feelings for. But apparently, I liked them enough to entirely color my memories of the rest included here. Shrug.
The first story I have such fond feelings of is the first, “The Empty Hearse,” which is the one where Holmes comes back from the dead. I have, of course, experienced a version of this story already in BBC Sherlock‘s third season opener, “The Empty House,” which is quite different in almost every respect. Holmes and Watson are pretty adorable in the canon version. Watson FAINTS (below is Sydney Paget’s original color illustration of their reunion; Holmes has just removed his disguise, and disappointingly, the fainting is not pictured). Contrast this with Sherlock and John’s reunion in “House”, which I never get tired of. BBC John is such an angry little shit.
It’s now 1894. In the story, after Holmes has made his reappearance after three years away (in real life, it had actually been twelve years between “The Final Problem” and this story), he enlists Watson’s aid in tracking down Professor Moriarty’s notorious henchman, Colonel Sebastian Moran, who is now the most dangerous criminal in London, with Moriarty dead. It’s really pretty standard and a little anti-climactic how they end up catching him, but I liked this story for the dynamic between Holmes and Watson, and for the clear energy that Doyle was obviously bringing to his writing, now that he was back playing in this world after so long. I imagine he had quite a fun time resurrecting his hero, especially after murdering him so brutally years before (Baskerville doesn’t count; it was set before Holmes’s supposed death).
Also, it’s an underappreciated classic, but never forget:
I enjoyed all the other stories here, but some more than others. From what I remember (it’s been over a month), “The Adventure of Black Peter” stands out, because the murdered man was such a terrible person. I liked “The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter” because it had such a bland title, but an unexpected ending. “The Adventure of Abbey Grange” is notable because it’s one of the few times Holmes takes the law into his own hands, refusing to tell Scotland Yard what he’s figured out, and in this one he lets Watson be the jury. “The Adventure of the Dancing Men” was also fun because I love it when characters solve cyphers (see below), but also because I read a fanfic one time that spoiled me for it, but I forgot what happened in the fanfic, so it all worked out okay.
But the real stand out for me was “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton,” where Holmes takes on an infamous blackmailer. This is only the second time I’ve given five stars to a Holmes story, and the first was “The Final Problem.” It figures that I’d go for the stories that feature the villains most people consider to be his two most significant nemeses. It was just a really well done story. A really threatening bad guy, Holmes acting out of a need for justice, Watson being scared about breaking the law but doing it anyway. Amusingly, Holmes is just as much of a manipulative shit here in canon as he was in “His Last Vow” (where the character’s name is Magnussen instead, I think because the actor they wanted was Danish?). He fakes being a plumber to infiltrate Milverton’s house, and gets fake engaged to his house maid. (Dick move, but effective.) The resolution isn’t predictable, but is still satisfying, even when you know what’s going to happen.
All in all, really enjoyed listening to this one over the course of September, and having finished it, am now 67% of the way through the complete Holmes canon.