Houses attractive new edition of The Adventures and Memoirs
of Sherlock Holmes,
part of their Modern Library series, includes
the first twenty-four short stories to feature Sherlock Holmes.
In the opinion of many readers, from casual fans to rabid Sherlockians,
these stories are the best of the fifty-six short stories and four
novels to feature Sherlock Holmes, an assessment that probably places
them ahead of any other mystery fiction.
made his first appearance in 1887, along with his friend and biographer
Dr. Watson. Over the course of more than one hundred years, Holmes
has become many things to many people. He is the stereotypical Great
Detective who appears in advertisements and cartoons, and an archetypal
figure with Jungian overtones who brings light to the darkest corners
of the human psyche. He is also, as portrayed by Basil Rathbone
in the films of the 1930s and 40s, an unemotional reasoning
machine with a gift for the occasional bon mot. This unimaginative
approach is still popular today among the reams of "previously
unpublished cases" which imitators of Conan Doyle produce every
year. A few individuals, more perceptive than others, manage to
draw out the emotional undertones of the character, making him into
a profoundly human figure. They include Jeremy Brett, whose portrayal
of Holmes on TV in the 80s and 90s will probably never
be surpassed, and Laurie R. King, whose novels team Holmes with
a precocious young woman who shares his talents, and succeed triumphantly.
portrayals of Holmes, whatever form they take, are amusing failures:
a few shed new light on the one character in literature who is almost
universally recognized throughout the world. But there is still
no substitute for the original stories. In his helpful introduction
to this collection, John Berendt (author of Midnight in the Garden
of Good and Evil
) comments: "They are erudite, brilliant,
and often enough, funny
there is no question that Sir Arthur
Conan Doyles sophisticated light touch has been a major reason
for the enduring appeal of the Sherlock Holmes series." In
the very first story in the collection, "A Scandal in Bohemia,"
Holmes needles Watson about gaining weight since his marriage. A
few minutes later, he chides Watson for not being aware that there
are seventeen steps from the ground floor of 221B Baker St. to the
upper sitting room. Holmess continuing popularity has much
to do with such quietly humorous moments, which make him more sympathetic
to the reader, despite his unbelievable brilliance. These little
vignettes also highlight the friendship between Holmes and Watson,
who, incidentally, does not deserve the reputation for stupidity
that still dogs him to this day.
There are several
undisputed classics among the twenty-four stories, including the
grotesquely funny "The Red-Headed League" and "The
Speckled Band," a story that is unparalleled in the hair-raising
tension it induces. A mysterious bell-rope that doesnt work,
a bed that has been fixed to the floor, a sudden and terrible death
by night"The Speckled Band" is one of the most deliciously
frightening short stories ever written. But there are other, lesser-known
gems in the collection, such as "The Copper Beeches."
In this story, a governess unwisely accepts a position at a sinister
country house, where her duties include cutting her beautiful hair
quite short and wearing an electric blue dress at certain times.
Conan Doyles bizarre sense of humor is in full force in these
stories, but the cases are always grounded by Holmess reassuring
(though somewhat eccentric) presence, and Watsons kindly helpfulness.
Other notable stories include "Silver Blaze," a racing
mystery that must be one of the most tightly constructed Holmes
stories, and "The Gloria Scott", Holmess
very first case as told by him to Watson. The volume concludes with
"The Final Problem," the story of Holmess confrontation
with his arch-enemy, Professor Moriarty. Readers will have to seek
out other Sherlock Holmes collections to learn how the showdown
in Switzerland really turned out.
Unlike so many
other popular characters of the 19th century and since, Holmess
popularity shows no sign of ending. These well-crafted stories,
with their sly humor, striking villains, and the incomparable team
of Holmes and Watson, should be required reading for anyone interested
in the development of the short story and the creation of a great