Friday, May 25, 2018

The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Good to have him back
The Return of Sherlock Holmes, originally published in 1905, is the third collection of short stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle featuring Sherlock Holmes. The volume contains 13 Holmes mysteries that originally ran in issues of the Strand Magazine and Collier’s Magazine in 1903 and 1904. Conan Doyle had killed off his famous character a decade earlier, but popular demand brought the great detective back to life. After the 1902 publication of the successful novel The Hound of the Baskervilles, which takes place before Holmes’s death, Conan Doyle decided to fully resurrect the character by negating his previous demise at the hands of Professor Moriarity.

In the book’s opening entry, “The Adventure of the Empty House,” Holmes reappears and explains to Watson how he faked his own death. Though necessary to get Holmes back in action again, the explanation is more convenient than convincing. In fact, the story isn’t really much of a mystery, just a lot of Holmes telling Watson what’s what. Still, it delivers some thrills as Holmes goes up against Moriarity’s right-hand man, a killer sharp shooter. Another interesting villain is introduced in “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton.” The title character is a professional blackmailer, and to stop him even Holmes and Watson must enter some ethical gray areas.

The Return of Sherlock Holmes is loaded with great stories, like “The Adventure of the Dancing Men,” in which Holmes uses cryptography to catch the criminal, and “The Adventure of the Six Napoleons,” an ingenious tale in which Holmes tracks down a burglar with a bizarrely specific taste in loot. “The Adventure of the Norwood Builder,” “The Adventure of the Priory School,” “The Adventure of Black Peter,” and “The Adventure of the Abbey Grange” are all skillfully crafted cases of murder and abduction. Conan Doyle provides the supporting characters with some really elaborate and complicated back stories, which are revealed through intricate clues parceled out in a tantalizingly measured and piecemeal manner.

Conan Doyle doesn’t hit it out of the park every time. Sometimes the criminal’s back story overpowers the mystery narrative, as in “The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez.” Sometimes the crime itself isn’t all that compelling, as in “The Adventure of the Three Students,” a case of who cheated on a test, or “The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter,” in which a Cambridge rugby player goes missing the day before the big game against Oxford. Even the latter example, however, ends up with an unexpected and touching resolution. The book ends on a high note, “The Adventure of the Second Stain,” in which Holmes has to track down a lost document that might mean war for Britain if it falls into the wrong hands. In this last entry, Watson informs us that Holmes has now retired from detective work, but somehow I suspect he will be back for more.

Though Conan Doyle may have been reluctant to revive his dead hero, you won’t find any indication of a lack of enthusiasm in any of the selections included here. Overall, the stories in The Return of Sherlock Holmes are better than those in the second volume of short stories, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, which at times felt a bit tired. Though not all masterpieces, the 13 stories in The Return are fastidiously crafted with care and detail. Holmes’s earliest stories in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes will always be the best and most memorable, but The Return of Sherlock Holmes is a satisfying return to form.

Stories in this collection
The Adventure of the Empty House
The Adventure of the Norwood Builder
The Adventure of the Dancing Men
The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist
The Adventure of the Priory School
The Adventure of Black Peter
The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton
The Adventure of the Six Napoleons
The Adventure of the Three Students
The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez
The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter
The Adventure of the Abbey Grange
The Adventure of the Second Stain

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