Monday, December 6, 2010
In Which Trai Reviews 'The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes'
The Book: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock Holmes, Book 3)
The Author: Arthur Conan Doyle
How I Found It: Spurred on by my ardent love for the BBC's modern-day version Sherlock, I've renewed my resolution to read the Holmes canon in order, in its entirety.
The Review: This collection includes some of the more well-known Holmes stories, or at least the ones I'd encountered before I decided to seriously embark upon reading the canon. Not being a Holmes scholar, I'm not sure! But I was glad to encounter some of the famous stories and to be able to go, "Hey, they used that quote in [insert adaptation here]!" My review will be story by story.
"A Scandal in Bohemia": The first and only appearance (in person, anyway; she's mentioned a few more times) of Irene Adler, the only woman to ever outsmart Holmes. I'd read this one before, but it was good to read over again. I do really enjoy this story; it's nice to see Holmes truly respecting someone (although it is true that the outcome of the case would've been the same even if he wasn't there). I'm curious to read Carole Nelson Douglas' series that makes Adler into a detective herself; should be interesting!
"The Red-Headed League": The strange case of a man hired to copy out the encyclopedia, and is then abruptly fired after a few weeks. Allegedly, this story was a favorite of Conan Doyle's, and this was one I had to read in high school. This one I remembered the resolution of; it's not one you'll pick up much on during a reread, but it's still fun to see Holmes' amusement at the client's plight and to see one of the first glimpses (in the stories, anyway, novels notwithstanding) of Holmes' deductive processes.
"A Case of Identity": This is one of the ones I at least partly solved on my own; we'll ignore that it's one of the easier ones! ;) A woman comes to Holmes asking him to investigate the disappearance of her fiance on their wedding day. Holmes pretty much solves the whole case sitting down. The general plot and resolution of this story's been used a hundred times before; I'm curious to know if this was one of the first. There's some interesting critical conclusions about this one on Wikipedia that I hadn't thought about!
"The Boscombe Valley Mystery": Holmes and Watson are asked by Lestrade to solve a murder where the circumstantial evidence seems pretty damning. Holmes, however, believes a third party to be responsible. This is a great example of Holmes' defiance of Lestrade when it comes to the Scotland Yard investigations. It was fun to see how Holmes manages to look past the implications of the circumstantial evidence to come to his own correct conclusion.
"The Five Orange Pips": Holmes and Watson take on the KKK. It's interesting in that there's no true victory here; the mystery's solved, but not everything ends happily. Being an American, it was nice to get a good giggle out of our heroes needing to dig out an American encyclopedia to get their information.
"The Man with the Twisted Lip": A friend of Watson's wife asks him to find her husband in an opium den, and in one of the more amusing incidents in the book, Watson comes across a disguised Holmes in said den. Holmes draws him into the mystery of another woman's disappeared husband. Seeing Holmes' various disguises is definitely interesting; I'm surprised it's not utilized more in the recent adaptations (though in Sherlock, Holmes is a pretty good actor and uses that a couple times).
"The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle": Holmes is brought a goose and a hat belonging to a poor man, and the goose contains a precious gem. The problem is that no one knows how it got there! Holmes and Watson investigate by trekking off to the man who sold it. A Christmas story, it doesn't deviate too far from the normal Holmes formula present in all the stories here.
"The Adventure of the Speckled Band": A woman comes to Holmes and asks him to investigate the strange death of her sister, involving a ventilator and whistling. You'd better believe Holmes can solve it. This one shows his lack of emotion for the criminals he persecutes, not that most of them deserve any type of strong emotion anyway, and it's no wonder why the recent series chooses to classify him as a "high-functioning sociopath."
"The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb": Watson brings a patient of his to Holmes, seeking an explanation for the very odd circumstances surrounding the man's thumb being cut off. The story is primarily told through a conversation with the engineer. I liked that this one had Watson bringing the case to Holmes, rather than the other way around, and the engineer's story is one I can see being played out well on screen.
"The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor": Similar to "A Case of Identity" in plot, Holmes and Watson are asked by a recently married man to figure out the whereabouts of his wife, who disappeared during their wedding breakfast. This one's fairly easy to figure out; I got through at least part of it on my own. (We'll pretend I'm a genius and solved more than the easy ones. Right? Okay.)
"The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet": Holmes is asked to investigate the disappearance of a piece of jewelry strongly implied to belong to Prince Albert and the royal family. Also somewhat easy to figure out, this one had a superb dressing-down of the client involved for the way he treats his son during the investigation.
"The Adventure of the Cooper Beeches": Violet Hunter, a young woman, asks Holmes about whether or not she should accept a governess position she has been offered that has some strange caveats attached. We see a somewhat softer side to Holmes here; he shows genuine interest in Hunter's plight and seems to care about how it's resolved, although Watson takes care to note that his interest ended when the case did. I guessed this one's resolution, but it was one of the better and more mysterious ones in the collection.
Overall, I really enjoyed this collection; I wasn't bored by any of the stories and any gripes I had can simply be attributed to the fact that there were once serialized in a magazine. For example, it's somewhat tiring for Holmes to do the "As you know, Bob..." of listing off the cases Watson recorded for him, given that they're in the book itself, but one assumes that was for the benefit of first-time or infrequent readers picking up the stories and wanting to find others. It was also a little jarring for the stories to be out of chronological order--i.e., Watson will be married and living with his wife in one, only to be a bachelor still living with Holmes in the next. This one also makes sense; one can assume Conan Doyle perhaps wanted to revisit Watson's bachelor days, given that those were over by The Sign of Four.
Other than those complaints, which are due to the style the stories were initially published in, I can give this one a definite recommendation for people looking to start in on Holmes. Prior knowledge of A Study in Scarlet or The Sign of Four isn't necessary, but it's nice to see the progression of Holmes and Watson's friendship in order.