Friday, December 31, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes'

Hello, 100th post! :)

The Book: The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock Holmes, Book 4)

The Author: Arthur Conan Doyle

How I Found It: See below; renewed resolution to go through the canon in order. This one was the result of a two-day reading binge.

The Review: I swear that there will be less Sherlock on this blog soon; once I finish The Hound of the Baskervilles, I'll make an effort to read some different things, given that half(ish) of the canon will be out of the way! More variety heading your way soon, I swear.

I actually think I liked this one, as a collection, a little bit more than I liked Adventures. Seeing the stories narrated by Sherlock was fun, and the little developments in Holmes and Watson's friendship are so much fun to read. I still kind of love how Mary got the shaft here; I guess Conan Doyle regretted marrying Watson off so soon, and started to write more stories about the bachelor days or when Mary is ridiculously obliging and lets Watson run off to all corners of the country. (I should be more outraged about this, as a feminist, but mainly I just find it hilarious.) Anyway! Onto the reviews!

"Silver Blaze": Holmes and Watson investigate the disappearance of a racehorse along with the murder of his trainer. I read somewhere that this one caused controversy over the inaccurate way Doyle portrayed the racing industry; I guess I can see why, given the outcome! It was fun to see Holmes work with a competent police officer, Inspector Gregory, although Lestrade has improved once we see him in Baskervilles. I enjoyed this one a lot; I was right along with Watson in trying to unravel the clues.

"The Adventure of the Yellow Face": Watson notes in the beginning that this is one of the few cases where Holmes didn't reach the correct conclusion, though the truth comes out anyway. What appears at first to be a straightforward blackmail tale ends up being something heartwarming for the client involved, and Holmes is even humbled just a bit. It was a sweet story and I was definitely smiling by the end!

"The Stockbroker's Clerk": Very similar to "The Red-Headed League". A man asks Holmes and Watson to help him look into some strange aspects of his new job. Because it was similar to the earlier story, it was a little boring to read, but I did notice Doyle reusing basic elements of certain plots in other stories as well, so it was something he seemed to do at least occasionally.

"The Gloria Scott": This one is told mainly by Holmes, and is about his first case, which took place during his college days. He treats his skills as a hobby more than a profession at this point (which is actually how it's portrayed in Sherlock, as Sherlock doesn't seek payment). Similar to "The Boscombe Valley Mystery", it features a man who wishes to conceal past misdeeds from his child. Instead, he is caught up in a blackmail plot that Holmes helps to unravel. I really enjoyed seeing the two stories narrated by Holmes (this one and the next); it was interesting to see his younger days.

"The Musgrave Ritual": The second story narrated by Holmes, although it's framed by Watson's narration. Watson finally asks Holmes to clean up the papers in their apartment, and Holmes instead tells him of another of his early cases. Another instance of Holmes developing his deductive powers; perhaps not as complex as the later cases, but still a good example of the detective in his younger days.

"The Reigate Puzzle": I truly loved this story; it's definitely one of my favorites out of what I read so far! Holmes suffers a nervous collapse after working himself too hard, and a concerned Watson takes him to the country home of a friend to recover. While there, a series of thefts and a murder puzzle the residents, and against Watson's better judgment, Holmes takes on the case. Even while ill, Holmes still manages to solve the crime. I loved seeing Watson having to manage Holmes during his illness; the passage that really amused me was Holmes' reaction to hearing about the thefts (basically, "OOOH!") to which Watson's basic reply is "Oh, no you don't," leading to Holmes huffing and lying back down. So entertaining, and a good testament to Holmes' abilities.

"The Crooked Man": Holmes is asked to investigate the death of a husband who was part of a bad marriage, but trying to make the best of it. His wife is the prime suspect, and her best friend might have the key to solving the mystery. This one was definitely interesting; I was pretty surprised with what the solution ended up being.

"The Resident Patient": This one concerns the investigation of an epileptic patient and his son who visit a doctor and then seem to vanish whenever the doctor leaves the room. Something is disturbing the patient, and the case's resolution probably isn't what Holmes would expect. I liked the somewhat dark ending and how we do occasionally get to see a case that doesn't work out for Holmes. Even the greatest detective can't win 'em all, right?

"The Greek Interpreter": Sherlock receives a case from his older, just as brilliant, but lazy brother Mycroft. A Greek interpreter has a strange experience and suspects criminal activity, thus calling in Sherlock. This one had a pretty awesome ending; it's got another strong female character like Irene Adler or Violet Hunter in the mix.

"The Naval Treaty": An important naval treaty disappears from the desk of the worker entrusted to copy it, and the worker, desperate to get it back, calls in Holmes and Watson. Retrieving it involves some complex maneuvers. The plan to get it back was quite fun to read about; I loved Holmes' dramatics towards the end and the fact that Watson is still amazed by his friend's talents. I'm also intrigued by Wikipedia's assertion that this was one of the first spy thrillers; it definitely felt like it, international intrigue and whatnot.

"The Final Problem": The famous instance where Doyle, tired of the character, attempted to kill him off in a confrontation with Moriarty, only to revive him when financial and public pressure mounted once more. (The Hound of the Baskervilles is meant to be a case from before his "death", whereas his true return is in, well, The Return of Sherlock Holmes.) Anyway, even if modern readers know it's only temporary, Holmes' death and confrontation with Moriarty are pretty much awesome. I was getting teary-eyed reading the letter to Watson and cheering on Holmes during his confrontation. (Bonus: the dialogue from the Reichenbach Falls incident is used in the amazing final scene of "The Great Game", the first season finale of Sherlock.)

Overall, this collection gives us some great insights into the character of Sherlock Holmes: we see his early days, we see him foiled and confounded, and we see him go out in a true blaze of glory. I liked this one even better than Adventures and it was definitely enjoyable reading!


  1. I plan to read The Complete Sherlock Holmes in 2011, and my big question was: "What order should I read it in?" I know there is a debate about whether or not to read it in chronological order of publication or chronological order of story-line, or not chronological at all.

    What's your suggestion? :)

  2. Hi, Adam!

    Personally, I enjoy reading them in order. I started with A Study in Scarlet two years ago (only just getting around to the rest now), and to me, it was fun to see the progression of Holmes and Watson's friendship, given how legendary it is. Seeing Holmes in his first appearance, all glad because he just discovered luminol, is just really entertaining to me! So is Watson being told by the friend introducing him to Holmes that he can't blame him if he doesn't like Holmes. It's nice to see their friendship really become something great, and to see how Watson's perceptions of Holmes' abilities change over time.

    Basically, I've been going in publication order, though I will admit that it sometimes gets confusing when the stories leap between Watson being married, then Watson's bachelor days, etc. If there's a reliable timeline out there and you want to read them in the order of the storyline, I'd say it couldn't hurt, but I've been fine puzzling out the storyline through publication order! :)