by Arthur Conan Doyle
“…life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of a man could invent.”
‘A Case of Identity’
Having read A Study in Scarlet (1887) and The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902) in quick succession over two years ago, I felt the time was right to return to 221B Baker Street, the London home of fictional private detective Sherlock Holmes. I opted, therefore, to tick another title off The Classics Club list and indulge in an evening of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1892 short story collection: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
The twelve stories making up this compilation were originally serialised in The Strand Magazine between 1891 and 1892 and were hand-picked for inclusion by Conan Doyle because he felt they were the very best of his Holmes writings – ‘The Adventure of the Speckled Band’ (the eighth tale in the book) apparently being his overall favourite.
Delivered without exception in the first-person narrative (from the point of view of his staunch friend and disciple, Dr John Watson), the stories are entertaining and highly readable, evoking in me a cosy nostalgia for evenings spent sitting in front of the TV set with my family watching Basil Rathbone play Holmes in old black and white film reruns from the 1930s.
In these short pieces we are again treated to Holmes’ acute observational powers aided by forensic science and logical reasoning, all of which he employs to investigate cases for Scotland Yard and a cast of clients ranging from businessmen and bankers to pawnbrokers, royalty and several sniffling ladies in fear of their lives or fortunes – the great detective, of course, being less than enamoured by the opposite sex (or as he once famously described himself: “not a whole-souled admirer of womankind”).
Perhaps partly because of this, my personal favourite from the collection is ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’ – in which the notorious adventuress and opera singer Irene Adler features. On this occasion, the “best plans of Mr Sherlock Holmes [are] beaten by a woman’s wit” and, according to Watson, he forever after refers to her as “the woman”.
Conan Doyle wrote a total of four novels and 56 short stories about his eccentric detective, all published between 1891 and 1927, but of those I have read, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes has appealed to me the most. These sensational tales suit the short form and the famous Holmesian deduction techniques are at their most compelling.
“Holmes […] loathed every form of society with his whole Bohemian soul.”
‘A Scandal in Bohemia’
This is my ninth choice for The Classics Club.