Completed: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Book cover - The Adventures of Sherlock HolmesThe Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
1892

For some reason I seem to be avoiding a post about my latest Sherlock Holmes read, albeit subconsciously. Really, I liked it! But I thought, with  R.I.P. VII starting tomorrow I’d better finally post today lest it be mistaken for an R.I.P. read, when I actually completed this selection of short stories earlier this summer.

This is the first set of Holmes short stories I’ve read, and although many seem to prefer the shorter tales to the novels, I find myself unconvinced. I think there are two reasons: 1) they’re so short there’s just not enough of Holmes and Watson  and 2) I’m pretty sure my dad read some of the stories to my brother and me when we were little—and it took away a bit of the excitement when I knew what was coming. True too in some instances, I knew enough of the conventions of mysteries that I could anticipate what was coming, but that’s not quite the same as knowing in advance that the bank’s going to be robbed when a bank hasn’t even been mentioned yet. I believe the received wisdom is that a well-written story—short or long—can be read again and again even though the ending may already be known, even if it is in fact a mystery. I confess myself dubious of this assertion when it comes to a mystery in short story format. There is so much that must be included—the introduction of wronged party, the statement of  the mystery at hand, and the final explanation and resolution—and in such a short space, that there is little room for anything but the mystery itself, and thus my gripe that we don’t see enough of Holmes and Watson. Perhaps I am wrong, and in the hands of a master of the short story a mystery could be created that rewards many readings. In Doyle’s hands, however, the pattern seems to overwhelm the story.

Perhaps this is why one of my favorite of the stories included in this collection is “The Man With the Twisted Lip.” Here we are introduced to the mystery mid-stride, when Watson stumbles across Holmes in the middle of an opium den, in pursuit of information. The investigation underway, we follow along with Holmes. And I find this much more fun than the standard recitation of Watson’s bewilderment. I am spoiled here too by the recent BBC TV adaptation—set in contemporary London, I find that Sherlock gives us a preferable Watson, one who is intelligent, just not in the sphere of Holmes. Doyle’s original seems at times downright dim-witted. Has he not been around Holmes long enough to begin to understand his methods? In the TV series too, we have better opportunity to see the relationship between the character—there is a clear strengthening in the Holmes-Watson friendship over the course of two seasons—which again, I miss in the short stories.

Despite my disappointments, I found the stories perfect for dipping in and out of in spare moments. Some stories contained the element of adventure I enjoyed so much in The Sign of Four. And I should say I didn’t always know the ending! I am still looking forward to the later stories/novels (The Hound of the Baskervilles especially).The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes are the earliest stories, so perhaps Doyle develops as a writer sufficiently that I will enjoy the later stories better, or maybe (fingers crossed), they’ll just be a tad longer. After all, my biggest complaint really boils down to “there’s not enough!”

Read as part of The Classics Club and for my Mysteries and Detective Fiction project.

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19 Comments

  1. I think I know what you mean in your grouse against short stories. I, too, have often been loath to pick up such short story collections because they’re over so quickly! And there just isn’t enough of it! That being said, I’m a HUGE Holmes fan – short story or long and have in fact, re-read all of his stories several times. (If you have a problem with Watson’s narration you should read those written in Holmes’s :-| Talk about killing a mystery.)

    Nonetheless, you can’t take credit away from the man for being the forerunner of all detective novels written since. Whether they agree with Holmes or deride him they can’t take away from him! And to think Doyle actually had something of a real life model for Holmes.

    That being said, the longer versions are probably better. Have you read the Speckled Band? And of course, Hound of the Baskervilles. (Did you know Doyle was once accused of not having written but stolen the story after murdering its original author?) There’s another one the name of which I forget and if I start going ‘the one where…’ then there’ll probably be no point in you reading it. But that one’s my favourite :P

    Reply
    • I’m not against all short stories–I’ve read quite a few that have been absolutely lovely and that I wanted to read over again immediately. In this case, though, I’m less satisfied. I want more of the characters, less of the mystery! “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” is one of the stories in this collection, and another of my favorites here. (Actually, it’s probably good I didn’t read that one at night!) I’d never heard that about the accusation against Doyle. The problems of fame, I suppose. :)

      Reply
  2. I tried reading The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes a few months ago, and got bored really quickly. I found I could anticipate the ending and the the stories followed a similar formula. But most of all, I think Holmes’ supercelious attitude really put me off. I never completed this selection. I was even wondering if I just ought to give up on Holmes altogether. But I suspect I might still give his Hound of the Baskervilles and The Sign of Four a try. I didn’t have any issues with A Study in Scarlet.

    Reply
    • Although I haven’t read Hound of the Baskervilles myself, I know the story, (I think maybe my dad read it to my brother and I?) and I’m really looking forward to it anyways. Holmes’ does have a bit of a superiority complex, but oddly that’s the least of my concerns here! I think it’s more striking because of Watson’s occasional dimwittedness. The only problem I had with The Sign of Four is that there’s a definite strain of (true-to-the-era) racism regarding a character from the Andaman Islands, but otherwise it was a very fun adventure.

      Reply
  3. I haven’t read Sherlock Holmes’ stories in many years, but I was crazy for them during my youth. I think the short fiction is better than his novels. Admittedly I don’t remember them very well. Perhaps it’s time to re-read them to refresh my memory.

    Reply
    • You know, it seems like the general consensus is that the short fiction is better, so I guess I’m just out on my own on this one! Of course, I’ve only read one of the short story collections, so there is still plenty of reading to change my mind.

      Reply
  4. I am one who loves Sherlock Holmes and find his method inspirational. I think we are not tought to stop and observe nowadays, but if we did, everything would be easier and we would be more alert, not just “passing”.

    My favourite short story is “A Scandhal in Bohemia” because THE woman appears and dismantles all the assumptions you, as a reader, have about Sherlock.

    “The Hound of the Baskervilles” was my first Sherlock reading and it was an amazing experience. I hope you like it more than the stories.

    Reply
    • Holmes’s method is great–it was one of the things I had so much fun reading about in Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. I’m afraid I’m not terribly observant in my own life–although–I think that but I’ve been surprised on occasion to find that I’ve noticed things others haven’t–which perhaps reflects just how badly we are in general at imitating Holmes!

      I thought your favorite was probably “A Scandal in Bohemia.” :) Irene is a great character–it’s no wonder she so often appears in movie versions. I can’t remember if you’ve seen it, but the second series of Sherlock opens with an adaptation of “A Scandal in Bohemia” and I was really surprised to find how much of the TV version came directly from the original story. I’m definitely looking forward to The Hound…, as it is such an iconic story.

      Reply
      • Can you believe I don’t watch the Sherlock series? I feel awful about it because I actually liked the pilot but somehow I never find time to watch them (but I do find time to watch Law and Order, so my excuse is pretty cheap).

        I’ve found myself more and more observant as I grew up and especially when it comes to people telling lies. Once I spotted this couple having coffe and I immediately knew they were having a secret affair for the way they behaved. They paid separately and then went their opposite ways. I thanked my Holmes obsession for that!

        Reply
  5. I loved the Advertures of Sherlock Holmes when growing up. But honestly I cannot remember any of the stories since it wa such a long time ago. I would not want to re-read it though.

    Reply
    • Ah, the problem of passing time! I’m actually a little surprised at how many of the stories I’ve heard before have come back to to me. I’m a fan of detective fiction though, so I don’t mind rereading (too much–I’d like it better if I remembered a little less). Thanks for stopping by!

      Reply
  6. I had the same reaction as you did when I first read these short stories: they simply move too quickly. I grew tired of the formula within a few stories. I think that Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes is the better short story collection of the two, and The Hound of the Baskervilles is a great book in its own right, so I hope you enjoy those two if/when you read them.

    Reply
    • I’m glad to hear that about Memoirs, it’s next on my Sherlock list–and I was hoping that the stories would get better anyways. My plan is to read ALL of the Holmes stores, so I’ll get to them eventually. (Really looking forward to The Hound of the Baskervilles.)

      Reply
  7. I haven’t read any of these stories as an adult, but I definitely remember some as a child (if they were abridged in any way, I really don’t know). So I totally understand how the plot points would come back to you way too early while reading them now… doesn’t sound like it works as well as a reread, though I suppose that is probably true for any mystery! -Sarah

    Reply
    • The funny thing is I’ve both seen adaptations of The Hound of the Baskervilles AND my dad read it to us as kids, yet I’m really looking forward to reading it! I think it really comes down to the fact that there’s so little room for much outside the bare bones of the mystery in the stories that rereading them doesn’t work as much as I think it will for the novel-length mystery. I hope!

      Reply
  8. I love two more in this collection than others the blue carbuncle which I read every christmas the ggreat break up of whose hat it is and the five orange pips just because it is one of my favourite rathbone films the film based on this story ,all the best stu

    Reply
    • I don’t think I’ve seen a single Rothbone film–I probably should rectify that! I’d say “The Blue Carbuncle” is one of the stories I preferred from this set–it does have that great hat bit.

      Reply
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