My Copy: 9780880292610 (image from Abebooks.com)
I am not writing these reviews to spoil the stories for you. However, if you’re like me, you’ve probably heard a “Sherlock-ism” and then tried to remember where it came from. If you tend to go on reading binges, after a time you may get them mixed up. This is my reasoning for writing these reviews.
Well, this collection of 12 stories that became part of this master volume is a great bunch of Holmes and Watson adventures. I love how Doyle was able to write such varied and wonderful short stories, in addition to the novella-sized features “A Study in Scarlet” and “The Sign of Four” (reviewed here).
And so, without further ado:
A Scandal in Bohemia
“To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman.” (pg 161)
That may just be the best beginning sentence of any of these short adventures I’ve read yet. The story begins with the King of Bohemia, set to marry a princess, but a previous relationship with Irene Adler (and a photograph of them together) might wreck the whole thing. So, Holmes and Watson are on the case to find the photograph and get it out of her hands.
It’s no secret that this particular story has been made and remade in many incarnations. Several stories give readers a glimpse of how Holmes views women, and for him to have a seeming interest in one–case-wise or otherwise–makes good story fodder. Worth a read, even if you’ve seen the various takes on it (because let’s face it, they rarely get it accurate, even if they’re all good).
“Women are naturally secretive, and they like to do their own secreting.” (pg 171)
“When a woman thinks that her house is on fire, her instinct is at once to rush to the thing which she values most. It is a perfectly over-powering impulse, and I have more than once taken advantage of it.” (pg 173).
The Red-Headed League
This one’s a rather funny story. Mr. Jabez Wilson comes to Holmes to inquire about The Red-Headed League and it’s seemingly bizarre nature. A few weeks after he was accepted, the League abruptly dissolved, and he was out of a nice paycheck. Too many questions, which leads to a pretty interesting little ending.
“I begin to think, Watson, that I make a mistake in explaining. ‘Omne ignotum pro magnifico,’ you know, and my poor little reputation, such as it is, will suffer shipwreck if I am so candid.” (pg 177).
A Case of Identity
A young woman with a modest inheritance and a job wants to find out what happened to a man she met at a dance. Her mother and stepfather told her to forget about him, but she’s very concerned and wants Holmes to find out why he ditched her before the altar.
“I have found that it is usually in unimportant matters that there is a field for the observation, and for the quick analysis of cause and effect which gives the charm to an investigation.” (pg 191)
The Boscombe Valley Mystery
Mr. James McCarthy is accused of killing his father, and his testimony seems to damn him. However, the other inhabitants of the property offer some interesting insights as to the father’s behavior, the son’s disposition, and the truth that binds them all together.
“Singularity is almost invariably a clue. The more featureless and commonplace a crime is, the more difficult it is to bring it home.” (pg 202).
The Five Orange Pips
John Openshaw knocks on the door and has with him a story of an uncle and his father, who both received 5 orange pips and then died soon after. Mr. Openshaw just received an envelope of his own, and wants to know what all this means. This is a story involving an uncle’s secret papers and the KKK, and of course, death.
“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 utilize 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 encyclopedias, 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.” (pg 225)
“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.” (pg 225)
The Man With the Twisted Lip
Watson finds Sherlock in an opium den on an unrelated case (Moriarty info, methinks) and gets roped into helping him find Mr. St. Clair, who lives outside the city but was last seen near the same opium den. When his wife thinks she sees him pulled away from a window in the room above, the only possible witness to his abrupt disappearance is the room’s owner, Hugh Boone. What answers does he have?
“I think, Watson, that you are now standing in the presence of one of the most absolute fools in Europe. I deserve to be kicked from here to Charing Cross. But I think I have the key of the affair now.” (pg 240)
The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle
This is a fun little story about a lost hat, a Christmas goose, a jewel robbery, and a lot of very confused and upset people.
This is probably one of my favorite short stories ever.
Watson: “But his wife–you said that she had ceased to love him.”
Holmes: “This hat has not been brushed for weeks. When I see you, my dear Watson, with a week’s accumulation of dust upon your hat, and when your wife allows you to go out in such a state, I shall fear that you also have been unfortunate enough to lose your wife’s affection.” (pg 247)
The Adventure of the Speckled Band
Ms. Helen Stoner asks for guidance in a state of fear. She’s to be married and lives with her stepfather. Her sister died in the house they live in and things have become peculiar, so she fears she might die soon as well. It’s up to Holmes and Watson to find out what’s up, especially after seeing the stepfather’s temper first hand.
“Ah, me! it’s a wicked world, and when a clever man turns his brains to crime it is the worst of all.” (pg 268)
“Violence does, in truth, recoil upon the violent, and the schemer falls into the pit which he dig for another.” (pg 272)
The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb
Mr. Victor Hatherley, a hydraulic engineer, is taken to Watson to be patched up. Turns out he lost his thumb during a job that paid an irresistible amount of money and the client tried to kill him. However, Hatherley has no idea where he had been, how he got to safety, or why he was still alive. Holmes joins in.
“Experience…indirectly it may be of value, you know; you have only to put it into words to gain the reputation of being excellent company for the remainder of your existence.” (pg 287)
The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor
Lord St. Simon married an American woman and the bride vanishes the morning after the wedding, last seen with the woman who had caused a disturbance outside the church before the ceremony–an apparent “friend” of St. Simon’s. Holmes and Watson tackle several theories (along with Lestrade on his own) in an attempt to find the missing woman and why she was gone.
Now, I found this particular story interesting, and it made me wonder what I would do in the woman’s shoes…though in this day and age I probably wouldn’t have done what SHE did. Nope, not spoiling it!
“My correspondence has certainly the charm of variety, and the humbler are usually the more interesting. This looks like one of those unwelcome social summonses which call upon a man to be bored or to lie.” (pg 287)
“The case has been an interesting one because it serves to show very clearly how simple the explanation may be of an affair which at first sight seems to be almost inexplicable. Nothing could be more natural than the sequence of events as narrated by this lady, and nothing stranger than the result when viewed, for instance, by Mr. Lestrade, of Scotland Yard.” (pg 300)
The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet
Okay, before I could get through this, I had to consult the dictionary to really get the gist of what a beryl coronet was. Well, once I had the picture in my head, it made it a little easier to get.
Anyway, Mr. Alexander Holder, a partner if his own prestigious bank, gets a rare item–a Beryl Coronet–as collateral and brings it home for security. That night, however, he finds his son with the item, damaged with some of the jewels missing. The son is accused, but no one can find the jewels, and he hadn’t the chance to get out of the room before the police came.
And any quotes I might want to give you may lead to spoilers, so, moving on.
The Adventure of the Copper Breeches
Ms. Violet Hunter, a governess, consults with Holmes on whether or not to take a job with a rather eccentric client, which will pay very well but has some strict provisions that must be adhered to. She considers the offer, but then finds herself afraid and wondering at the suspicious locked doors, a child’s behavior, a drunk servant, and a vicious dog. Holmes and Watson arrive to help her determine if her life is in danger and the secret of the house.
“Crime is common. Logic is rare. Therefore it is upon the logic rather than upon the crime that you should dwell. You have degraded what should have been a course of lectures into a series of tales.” (pg 317)
“Man, or at least criminal man, has lost all enterprise and originality. As to my own little practice, it seems to be degenerating into an agency for recovering lost lead pencils and giving advice to young ladies from boarding-schools. I think that I have touched bottom at last, however.” (pg 317)
My verdict: a great way to spend one’s time. It’s not so much “can I follow along and solve it” so much as a great attempt. It’s one of those things that if you’re not reading carefully, you will miss it, and then when you read it again it’s like, “oh, of course.”
I will be happy to keep going and read the next story collection in this volume, “Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.”
Happy reading/investigating/whatever you want to call it!