Wednesday, November 20, 2019

The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Last and possibly least, but still entertaining
Published in 1927, The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes is the fifth and final collection of Sherlock Holmes short stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The twelve stories included in this volume were originally published from 1921 to 1927 in various issues of Collier’s, Liberty, and The Strand magazines. At the end of the preceding volume of stories, His Last Bow, Holmes retired from detective work. These stories are recollections by Holmes and Watson of past cases untold. The narrators cite dates for some of the stories, placing them in the years from 1896 to 1907.

The general consensus among Holmes aficionados is that the earliest stories by Conan Doyle are the best, and as time went on he began to run out of ideas. Thus, The Case-Book, coming at the tail end of Conan Doyle’s career, is typically regarded as the worst of the short story collections. I would agree that of those five books, this is the worst overall, but there is still much to enjoy in this fine collection. A mediocre book by Conan Doyle still surpasses the work of so many lesser storytellers. Even when the mystery is not difficult to figure out, the character development and repartee between Holmes and Watson still makes for an enjoyable read, and if you discover the killer before Watson does, it’s still fun to hear Holmes relate the details of the crime

That said, “The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone” is the worst Holmes story I have ever read. Rather than being narrated by Watson, it is inexplicably told in an anonymous third-person voice. The story is simplistic and rather too conveniently resolved, and Holmes’s behavior seems very out of character. One wonders if Conan Doyle even wrote this. “The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier” is narrated by Holmes himself, with Watson nowhere to be found. Holmes is hired by a Boer War veteran to investigate an old army buddy who may be held in captivity by his father. The resolution is predictable, and the epilogue is an unrealistic cop-out. Another solo adventure, “The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane,” is also narrated by Holmes. It takes place at his retirement property in Sussex, where one of his neighbors is found dead on the beach. This one is so easy to resolve it barely qualifies as a mystery.

The collection does have its share of good stories as well. My favorite is “The Adventure of the Three Garridebs” because it has a bizarre premise reminiscent of my all-time favorite Holmes story, “The Adventure of the Red-Headed League.” In fact, one could say the plot is a direct rip off of that earlier story, but I didn’t mind. The murder mystery “The Problem of Thor Bridge” is a perplexing puzzle with an admirably innovative solution. One of the more entertaining cases, “The Adventure of the Creeping Man,” is a very good story, but it cheats in the end by using science fiction to resolve its mystery. “The Adventure of the Three Gables,” starts out with an interesting premise but unfortunately includes an unflattering depiction of a black character. “The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire” concludes with an ingenious resolution, but if the accused would have just spoken up in the first place there would have been no need to hire Holmes.

This may not be Conan Doyle’s best work, but it is still a good read and far better than his imitators. If you haven’t read the previous four short story collections (Adventures, Memoirs, Return, and His Last Bow), by all means do so first. Save this one for when you just can’t get enough.

Stories in this collection

The Adventure of the Illustrious Client
The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier
The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone
The Adventure of the Three Gables
The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire
The Adventure of the Three Garridebs
The Problem of Thor Bridge
The Adventure of the Creeping Man
The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane
The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger
The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place
The Adventure of the Retired Colourman

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