Monday, May 22, 2017

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

A delightful dozen
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, originally published in 1892, is the first collection of short stories featuring the world’s most famous detective. This volume contains the first 12 Holmes stories that were published in The Strand Magazine from June 1891 to July 1892, following the publication of two Holmes novels, A Study in Scarlet (1887) and The Sign of the Four (1890). The stories included here may not be the absolute 12 best adventures of Holmes and Watson, but there are several here that certainly rank among their greatest cases. Overall, this is the best of the five collections of Holmes stories published during Conan Doyle’s lifetime.

The collection opens with “A Scandal in Bohemia,” which is famous for introducing the character of Irene Adler, perhaps the only woman who could have been a match for Holmes. Another choice selection, “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” has been the top-rated Holmes story in numerous reader polls, and Conan Doyle himself chose the story as his personal favorite. Personally, I didn’t find the mystery in that case all that baffling, but it is a great suspense story with delightfully spooky atmosphere. A few other cases, like “The Man with the Twisted Lip” and “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches” are not too difficult to figure out, given the clues that Conan Doyle provides, but it doesn’t really matter because the storytelling is so good. What sets these adventures apart from those of so many other fictional detectives are the complex, well-developed recurring characters and the entertaining process they go through to follow each mystery to its conclusion. Even the supporting casts are well-drawn; clients and criminals alike often have rich back stories and compelling motivations for their actions. Of course, if its a baffling puzzle you want, there are plenty of ingenious crimes to be had as well. “The Red-Headed League” is one of Conan Doyle’s most original creations, a case so wonderfully bizarre one can’t help but laugh, while “The Five Orange Pips” is an example of a darker, more sinister murder case.

Although the Holmes stories have served as a template for countless imitators and subsequent detective literature, what makes the Holmes stories so wonderful is that Conan Doyle never allowed them to get formulaic. Each is unique in tone, approach, and plot structure. In the rich fictional world he created, the narrative possibilities are endless and unpredictable. Sometimes a client comes to Baker Street seeking help, and sometimes Holmes and Watson simply fall into a case by accident. In “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,” Holmes starts out trying to a return a misplaced Christmas goose to its rightful owner, and ends up stumbling upon a jewel heist.

If you’re only going to read one Sherlock Holmes book, this should be it. The only other possible contenders would be A Study in Scarlet, which introduced the characters, or The Hound of the Baskervilles, which is Holmes’s greatest adventure in novel form. The short stories, however, with their concise focus on the puzzling cases and deductive detective work, come closer than the novels to the popular conception of Sherlock Holmes that one finds in the film adaptations. If you’re familiar with Conan Doyle’s works, then you likely already know how good this book is and should treat yourself by reading it again. I would go so far as to say this may be the best collection of short stories in the English language. When judged not only on literary quality but also on popularity, influence on subsequent literature, and prominence in the world’s cultural consciousness, I think it would be tough to argue otherwise.

Stories in this collection
A Scandal in Bohemia 
The Red-Headed League
A Case of Identity 
The Boscombe Valley Mystery
The Five Orange Pips 
The Man with the Twisted Lip
The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle 
The Adventure of the Speckled Band
The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb
The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor
The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet 
The Adventure of the Copper Beeches

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