08 February 2008

Book Review: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes This first of a three-volume collection reproduces the original magazine publications of Conan Doyle’s stories from A Study in Scarlet to Holmes’s apparent death. (From which he had to be resurrected to appease the mourning public.) The cases range from murder to the most baffling of non-criminal mysteries, but they all share the unique methods of the detective. Nothing is too small for Sherlock Holmes to notice, and his deductive abilities leave both Watson and the police far behind.

The idea of reproducing the originals is an interesting one, but hard on the eyes; you need small type to fit two columns onto and ordinary-sized page. That inconvenience aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to become acquainted with the great Sherlock Holmes at last (and with his brother Mycroft, last seen haunting Thursday Next). In a (very) few instances I was able to grasp the significance of clues before Holmes revealed his reasoning, but much of the time I was as at sea as the police. Everything made perfect sense once explained, even seemed obvious; and I’d love to be able to exercise such brainpower myself (but I suspect modern life has made picking up clues from appearance much more difficult that it was). The time period of the writing also makes itself felt with touches of Victorian melodrama; some stories have links to vengeful Mormons, the KKK, Indian jewels and Australian bushrangers. Despite the best efforts of his biographer Watson, Holmes does seem rather inhuman; just a vessel for that remarkable mind. But then, does anyone read these stories for the character development? It’s all about the deductions.

Rating: A-

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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776