I have been re-reading the mysteries penned by Arthur Conan Doyle and have arrived at The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. This is probably the most-read book featuring Holmes and the 12 stories featured here are probably the most adapted too. These first appeared in the Strand Magazine between 1891 and 1892.
What continues to amaze me about Doyle is how his primary characters and the settings of more than a century ago continue to cast a spell on me. There is a fantastic mix of stories here, spread across the entire bromance timeline of Holmes and Watson. Some are from their early days and some are after Watson married and moved out of Holmes’ apartment.
Many of the yarns here catch you just by their intriguing premise. You are reeled in and await the reveal to discover the why. For example, in The Adventure of the Red-Headed League, a man is paid to just to go sit at a desk every day because of his red hair! Or similarly, in The Adventure of the Copper Beeches, a woman is given a well paid job as governess just because she looks like someone else.
Though Holmes always gets to the bottom of a mystery, he is not always successful in saving his clients. There are a few of such unsuccessful cases here, the best of which is The Five Orange Pips where every character who receives orange pips in a letter dies soon after in an accident. Readers of A Study in Scarlet will be in familiar territory here since the story rewinds back to the USA and the Ku Klux Klan.
The most chilling story in this collection and the one which could have been a novella by itself is undoubtedly The Adventure of the Speckled Band. The setting is grim and dark and the deathly danger reminds one strongly of The Hound of the Baskervilles. There is no way anyone can not be up biting nails and turning each page with dread on this one.
Not all stories touch the high bar though, a few are plain whodunits of the variety that appeared in magazines of that era. However, for me this book was a great trip down memory lane. The stories are short and polishing off a couple of mysteries every night before bedtime turned out to be a great treat. There is simply quite nothing like The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and if you have never read a Holmes mystery, this is the one to try!
The mind of Holmes:
It is hard to come away from an intelligent book without some notes. Here are a few excerpts that show how Holmes uses an analytical bent of mind in his life and in his cases. It was also a pleasant surprise to note how well organized Holmes is with his data too.
“I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”
“Kindly look her up in my index, Doctor,” murmured Holmes without opening his eyes. For many years he had adopted a system of docketing all paragraphs concerning men and things, so that it was difficult to name a subject or a person on which he could not at once furnish information. In this case I found her biography sandwiched in between that of a Hebrew rabbi and that of a staff-commander who had written a monograph upon the deep-sea fishes.
“It is quite a three pipe problem, and I beg that you won’t speak to me for fifty minutes.” He curled himself up in his chair, with his thin knees drawn up to his hawk-like nose, and there he sat with his eyes closed and his black clay pipe thrusting out like the bill of some strange bird. I had come to the conclusion that he had dropped asleep, and indeed was nodding myself, when he suddenly sprang out of his chair with the gesture of a man who has made up his mind and put his pipe down upon the mantelpiece.
“Circumstantial evidence is a very tricky thing,” answered Holmes thoughtfully. “It may seem to point very straight to one thing, but if you shift your own point of view a little, you may find it pointing in an equally uncompromising manner to something entirely different.”
Sherlock Holmes closed his eyes and placed his elbows upon the arms of his chair, with his finger-tips together. “The ideal reasoner,” he remarked, “would, when he had once been shown a single fact in all its bearings, deduce from it not only all the chain of events which led up to it but also all the results which would follow from it. As Cuvier could correctly describe a whole animal by the contemplation of a single bone, so the observer who has thoroughly understood one link in a series of incidents should be able to accurately state all the other ones, both before and after. We have not yet grasped the results which the reason alone can attain to. Problems may be solved in the study which have baffled all those who have sought a solution by the aid of their senses. To carry the art, however, to its highest pitch, it is necessary that the reasoner should be able to utilise all the facts which have come to his knowledge; and this in itself implies, as you will readily see, a possession of all knowledge, which, even in these days of free education and encyclopaedias, is a somewhat rare accomplishment. It is not so impossible, however, that a man should possess all knowledge which is likely to be useful to him in his work, and this I have endeavoured in my case to do.”
Holmes grinned at the last item. “Well,” he said, “I say now, as I said then, that a man should keep his little brain-attic stocked with all the furniture that he is likely to use, and the rest he can put away in the lumber-room of his library, where he can get it if he wants it.”
As to Holmes, I observed that he sat frequently for half an hour on end, with knitted brows and an abstracted air, but he swept the matter away with a wave of his hand when I mentioned it. “Data! data! data!” he cried impatiently. “I can’t make bricks without clay.”