Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Mycroft, Moriarity, and more marvelous mysteries
The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, published in 1893, is the second anthology of Holmes short stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, following 1892’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. The American edition contains 11 stories; the British edition has 12 (too complicated to go into here, but the missing story was included in a later collection, His Last Bow), all of which were originally published in the Strand Magazine. Overall, the quality of the stories in The Memoirs doesn’t quite measure up to the groundbreaking Adventures collection, but it is still an excellent volume of detective fiction, and a few of its mysteries are among Holmes and Watson’s greatest cases.

Although this is only the second volume of Holmes tales, at times the franchise feels like it’s already losing a little steam. “The Stock-Broker’s Clerk,” for instance, is a fine mystery, but it feels a bit like a rehash of “The Red-Headed League” from the first collection. The boring and confusing “The Reigate Puzzle,” is the worst Holmes story I’ve read so far, and I’m still not quite clear on the motive for the crime. “The Resident Patient” is also a bit of a dud and features little of Holmes’s trademark deductive reasoning. There are also a few stories in which the mystery itself is not particularly puzzling, but merely serves as a vehicle for Conan Doyle to provide a back story similar to what might be found in his non-Holmes fiction. “The ‘Gloria Scott’” is just an excuse to tell a sea story, while “The Crooked Man” is yet another tale of the British military in India. Conan Doyle also seems to feel the need to vary the plot template so the stories don’t become too formulaic. Sometimes this works to his advantage and sometimes not. There are a couple of stories where Holmes relates mysteries from earlier in his life—before his fictional debut in A Study in Scarlet—and all Watson gets to do is sit in an armchair and listen. One of these is the aforementioned disappointment “The ‘Gloria Scott,’” but the other is “The Musgrave Ritual,” one of Holmes’s best stories and much better than the Basil Rathbone movie it inspired.

As a whole, The Memoirs contains more hits than misses. Like “The Musgrave Ritual,” “Silver Blaze,” about a missing racehorse, is often regarded as one of the best Holmes mysteries. On the other hand, “The Yellow Face,” is usually rated by Holmes fans as falling towards the bottom of the pack, but I enjoyed it because of the interesting view it provides into Victorian perspectives on a particular social issue. “The Greek Interpreter” is a fun and notable entry because it introduces Sherlock’s smarter older brother Mycroft Holmes, a fascinatingly quirky character who nightly attends a club for those wishing to avoid human contact. It may not be the most puzzling of mysteries, but the story is exciting throughout. “The Naval Treaty” is yet another suspenseful adventure in which Holmes and Watson must recover a missing document in order to avoid an international incident. Lastly, “The Final Problem” introduces us to Professor James Moriarity, one of the truly great villains in the history of fiction. In Conan Doyle’s original take on the character, the evil professor of crime oozes a chilling malevolence that is unmatched among his countless film portrayals.

By the time he finished the stories collected in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle may have grown tired of the character, but there’s still plenty for the reader to get excited about. Though we have been inundated by countless adaptations over the past century, the original Holmes and Watson stories are still the best incarnations of these immortal characters and still a joy to read.

Stories in this collection
Silver Blaze 
The Yellow Face
The Stock-Broker’s Clerk 
The “Gloria Scott”
The Musgrave Ritual
The Reigate Puzzle 
The Crooked Man
The Resident Patient
The Greek Interpreter
The Naval Treaty 
The Final Problem

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