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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

Sometime back in the 70s when I was a kid and wanted to try reading a mystery, some well-meaning adult told me to read Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie. I couldn't get into either back then (they both seemed snooty and stuffy). Other than reading Edgar Allan Poe for classes, I didn't give mysteries a try again until I was in my early 30s and saw a review of Nevada Barr's The Track of the Cat in an outdoors magazine. Barr opened the door to mysteries for me and I've been a mystery reader since then.

When the publisher asked if I'd like to review The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes I thought it was time to give the world's most famous detective another go. I am so glad I did. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed all of the stories in this edition. Earlier this week I heard Nathaniel Philbrick in a radio interview talking about Melville first reading Shakespeare at midlife. Philbrick said that some literature is best read after we've had more life experience. I'm in that boat when it comes to Sherlock.

The stories in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes are:
  1. Silver Blaze
  2. The Yellow Face
  3. The Stockbroker's Clerk
  4. The Gloria Scott
  5. The Musgrave Ritual
  6. The Reigate Squires
  7. The Crooked Man
  8. The Resident Patient
  9. The Greek Interpreter
  10. The Naval Treaty
  11. The Final Solution
If you're like me and haven't read Sherlock Holmes yet, these seemed like fine stories to start out with. Each story is only about 20 pages long, so they're perfect for a lunch break or a little bed-time reading. For me there wasn't a dud in the bunch. Each tale presents a very different cast of characters and situations. Overall the stories were interesting both for the mystery involved and for representation of class and race in late 19th century England. Holmes only annoyed me once (at the beginning of "The Crooked Man" where he offers a bunch of unsolicited observations. Yes, I know it sets the reader up for his brilliant observations later, but it seems rather heavy handed) and I found myself wanting to know more about Watson's life (particularly his time in Afghanistan).

My favorite story of this collection is perhaps "The Naval Treaty." In this tale Watson receives a letter from an old school chum who has been down with brain fever for nine weeks after a top secret naval treaty that he was copying is stolen. The friend asks if Watson could bring Holmes around to help solve the mystery, since the authorities couldn't get to the bottom of it. I enjoyed the lessons in the art of detection that Holmes teaches in this story: That crimes of opportunity can be harder to solve then those that are well planned, and too much evidence can get in the way: what is vital is overlaid and hidden by what is irrelevant. And what Holmes said back then is seemingly still true today: "The authorities are excellent at amassing facts, though they do not always use them to advantage" (216).

Do you have a favorite Sherlock Holmes story? Which one and what appeals to you about it?

This new edition of The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes is labeled as inspiration for the new Sherlock Holmes movie, The Game of Shadows, which opens Dec 16th. You can watch the trailer here. I enjoyed the first movie, although it was a bit over-blown at times for my tastes. This second film seems to have taken some of its plot from "The Final Solution", the last story in Memoirs. This is the story where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tried to get rid of Sherlock in an effort to be done with the fictional character that seemed to be taking over his life. Graham Moore's novel, The Sherlockian made much of this. Now that I've read some Sherlock Holmes and especially "The Final Solution," I just might go back and re-visit The Sherlockian (see my review here).  In "The Final Solution" Sherlock takes on Professor Moriarty, the evil mastermind who just might be his equal. The final show-down is at Reichenbach Falls. Perhaps you've heard of it?

I now have plans to read all the Sherlock Holmes stories and novels and have already downloaded The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

Cheerio mates!

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
Arthur Conan Doyle
Penguin Group USA
ISBN: 978014312015
Source: review copy, digital edition

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